‘Time for Big Push for Peace, Reconciliation and Development,’ President Sirleaf Declares on Return Home from Successful Visit to Japan
(MONROVIA, LIBERIA – Thursday, October 18, 2012) President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf returned home from Japan, on Thursday, to a tumultuous welcome, with thousands of people, particularly women and students, on hand to greet her at the Roberts International Airport, and at the ELWA Junction, culminating in a jam-packed Welcome and Intercessory Service held at the Paynesville Town Hall, in Paynesville City.
In her remarks, President Sirleaf told her compatriots that it is time for “the Big Push” for peace, for reconciliation and for development, and called upon fellow Liberians to “lead, follow, or get out of the way!” She also reported on her visit to Japan.
Among those in attendance at the Service were Vice President and Mrs. Boakai; members of the Legislature and the Judiciary; the Dean and members of the Cabinet; members of the Diplomatic Corps, including the new female Ambassadors of Nigeria and the United States and the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Liberia, also a woman; representatives of international organizations; county superintendents; representatives of women’s organizations; traditional chiefs and elders; and more.
Taking part in the program were: Rev. Dr. Keturah York Cooper, Founder and Pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church; the Minister of Gender and Development, Hon. Julia Duncan Cassell; the Minister of Justice and Acting Chair of the Cabinet, Hon. Christiana Tah; the Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Rev. Dr. Herman Brown; Madam Kebeh Monger, President of the National Rural Women; and Madam Haja Maima Jallebah Freeman, of Muslim Women for Peace. The program included a selection by the Crusaders for Peace, with Ambassador Juli Endee, singing “Jesus is the King of Kings”; and a performance by a Sasa Group.
Upon President Sirleaf’s arrival at RIA, the spokeswoman for several women’s organizations, Mrs. Una Kumba Thompson, read out a statement on their behalf, and the President responded.
President’s Special Remarks
In her remarks at the Welcome and Intercessory Service, in which she spoke of “the Big Push,” the President elaborated on the three aspects. Of peace, she said “it can only come when there’s peace in your own heart, peace within yourself. You then have peace with your neighbor, and you have peace with someone else. So that Big Push for Peace has to come from inside each and every one of us.
On reconciliation, she said, “again, one has to recognize that Liberia belongs to everybody – big, small, rich, poor, Christian, Moslem. Whatever you are, you can’t change the fact that you were born here, and you live here, and you are to be here. The Constitution gives you the right to travel, and that’s fine; but by the end of the day, Liberia’s success, Liberia’s progress, rests in the hands of each Liberian. If we do not do it, nobody will do it for us.”
As for the development, the Liberian leader said “the Big Push requires that each of us has to carry out our responsibility to the fullest, whether you are Superintendent, whether you’re an Assistant Minister, whether you are a Director, whether you are a Minister, whether you are a legislator. All of us have a part to play. And at the end of the day, this development that we’re pushing for is something which affects each and every one of us, irrespective of party affiliation, irrespective of where you come from. If we build a road, or expand the power, or we increase water supply, it benefits you in your community, I don’t care who you are.”
The President began her remarks with a review of her week-long visit to Japan, where she said she joined the Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to bring an African voice into the high-level discussion on globalization and for some “intellectual resuscitation.” She had used the occasion, she said, to bring to the consciousness of high-level financiers and officials the fact that in today’s world, globalization makes us all interconnected and there’s no escaping the effects of what happens in the developed countries when it comes to the underdeveloped countries. She had also used the occasion to focus on women and development, particularly how to move women up to the place where they can become full-fledged entrepreneurs of large-scale enterprises.
The visit had also been utilized for bilateral work, the President said, in meetings with the Emperor, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to talk about Japan-Liberia relationship. She had focused on putting a timetable on Japan’s commitment to supply a 10-megawatt generator, as well as the four-lane pavement of the Freeport to Red Light road. She had also met with members of the Japanese parliament, the Diet, to get the commitments approved and to encourage Japan to re-establish its Embassy here in Monrovia.
The President mentioned being impressed when she met with a Japanese doctor in a wheelchair, who has built hospitals in Japan and has started to construct others in Africa. Unable to speak, he had developed a system where he uses Japanese symbols with his fingers and his eyes to communicate. He had promised, she said, to support the establishment of a Dialysis Center and an Emergency Center in Liberia.
In her capacity as one of the three co-Chairs of the post-2015 High-Level Panel established by the UN Secretary-General, said the Liberian leader, she had attended meetings on what to do about the new global development agenda when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reach their target date of 2015. She observed that Liberia may reach two of the eight Goals – on the empowerment of women and the reduction in infant mortality – and had done very well in the area of partnerships. While there had been impact in reducing poverty, being able to reduce it by 50 percent by 2015 was “a tall order.” She said Liberia needed to concentrate now on which of those indicators could be achieved, and to direct resources into those areas to achieve at least a few of them.
The post-2015 Agenda would build upon the MDGs, she said, and include such new circumstances as climate change and sustainable development, as well as women’s empowerment and youth employment. The Agenda would emerge from a robust consultative process across the regions, working with UN agencies and civil society to find what exactly the people wanted done.
On the home front, the President mentioned that the Mo Ibrahim governance indicators had been released, which showed that Liberia and Sierra Leone have made tremendous progress. However, Sierra Leone was ahead of Liberia, which had slipped because “we keep fussing among ourselves,” she said, adding, “We need to be able to get ourselves back on track. Yes, we’ve made progress; yes, we’ve had some success, but we have not reached our potential. A potential based on our capacities, our commitment, our collective will can propel us to a higher level.”
As the Welcome & Intercessory Service got under way, Rev. Dr. Keturah York Cooper, Founder and Pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church, gave the Invocation, in which she called on Liberians to move the nation forward. In earlier remarks, she said that as an advocate for the full empowerment of women, it was time for Liberian women to unite. She continued: “First, we must learn to respect each other. We must respect leadership. We must work hard to respect those who have opinions different from us. This shows maturity and strength. We must find the right language to voice our differences. We must find a way to build a bridge of reconciliation among us. We must build that bridge constructively and strategically, focusing on the important issues that affect our lives and the future of our children. Women, channel your energy wisely. All this month we are celebrating International Day of the Girl Child. Our girl children are looking to us and watching how we are handling ourselves. What are we teaching them about respect?” she asked.
In welcome and introductory remarks, the Minister of Gender and Development, Julia Duncan Cassell, said it was a very special day on which the women of Liberia from the 15 political sub-divisions of the country had gathered, not only to welcome the President back but to hold a round table to dialogue about issues concerning Liberia’s women. October was a very important month for women, she pointed out: the celebration of the Day of the Girl Child; National Rural Women’s Day; Breast Cancer Month; and the month in which the three women Nobel laureates were named. She said the women had thus asked permission from the Dean of the Cabinet, the Foreign Minister, that this Thanksgiving Service be led by the women of Liberia, and that was what was happening.
Justice Minister Christiana Tah, Acting Chair of the Cabinet during the absence of the President from Liberia, welcomed the President and her delegation back from Japan, where she was engaged in matters on behalf of the people of Liberia. She wished to report that “the ship of State is relatively calm, relatively, notwithstanding the usual challenges that portend in times like these.” She recalled how, last October, Liberians were very happy on the special day when the world learned that President Sirleaf and Ms. Leymah Gbowee had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. We still have this lingering euphoria and we are still very proud of both of you.
The Justice Minister continued: “But I’d like to say something about the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a very important Prize. It is coveted by the most powerful and the most famous people in the world. It’s not an ordinary Prize. And the custodians of this Prize do their utmost to ensure that its sanctity is not defiled, and the value is not diminished. Our President and Ms. Gbowee have an awesome task, but we also, as Liberian people. They did not win this Prize as individuals; they won it on behalf of all of us. All of us, as Liberians, have a responsibility to ensure that we respect ourselves and we respect this Prize and continue to hold Liberia up, because the winning of this Prize signifies the role, the aspirations that we have to put us back on the map and put us back on the road that we used to be on before we went into a civil war.” She concluded by saying that while she was deeply honored to be selected to Chair the Cabinet in the absence of the President, she was also equally happy that the President had returned and she was “happy to give it back to you in one piece, and to say that the peace and stability that you left two weeks ago, we still have.”
In his Exhortation, the Rev. Dr. Brown prayed for the President to have “a rightful spirit.” He also said special prayers for the President of the Republic and for peace and sustainability of the nation.
The President of the National Rural Women, Madam Kebeh Monger, gave the vote of thanks, and Madam Haja Maima Jallebah Freeman, of Muslim Women for Peace, gave the closing prayer.
At the welcoming ceremony at Roberts International Airport, a spokeswoman for various women’s organizations, Mrs. Una Kumba Thompson, read out and presented a statement to President Sirleaf. She said that women of Liberia, from all walks of life, warmly welcomed President Sirleaf back to Liberia, and thanked God her safe return. They gave thanks to the Almighty for her courage and humility in leadership which she continued to show in the midst of challenges, including the most recent and unfortunate statements made by Ms. Leymah Gbowee. “We say it is unfortunate because our traditional and cultural values require not just respect to you as a person, but the Office of the Presidency.”
She continued: “We believe in the freedom of speech, the tenets of good governance and that collectively we hold the conscience of society and can speak to issues when needs be and at the appropriate forum. We say it was wrong – Ms. Gbowee enjoyed your confidence and had unhindered access to you – to attempt to cast a shadow not only on your person but also on the great image you have tried to rebuild for a country known in the past decade for war, destruction and striving towards a developed, better Liberia, peace and reconciliation.”
Madam Thompson told President Sirleaf that the women of Liberia want her to know that, “when we look back to where God has brought us from, and see where we are now, words are inadequate to say that you have, indeed, brought pride to womanhood in Liberia, Africa and the world. Your many accomplishments in steering the affairs of our country; numerous academic, regional and global awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize you have received in recent times, is a manifestation of the good works you have done. We believe the best is yet to come and that you will continue your good works for our country, Africa and the world at large. We believe in your vision for Liberia and hope for our children’s future as you set a trajectory for education, especially for the girl child, for peace reconciliation, stability in Liberia and the region.”
She went on to tell the President, that the women of Liberia appreciate her. “Our presence here today demonstrates our trust in your leadership. Our country continues to face challenges, and we recognize the daunting challenges to your leadership and administration. Therefore, it is our continuous prayer that the Almighty God will grant you the wisdom, strength and courage to lead your people and to remain focused, committed and faithful to this calling.”
She said that the women and children of Liberia do not take the peace they now enjoy for granted, and neither their freedom, fame and fortune. As Liberians’ only home, they knew they must make it a hundred times more beautiful. She concluded: “We hold our hands, our heads high and plow our space for genuine peace and reconciliation in our beloved land of liberty.”
Responding, President Sirleaf thanked Mrs. Thompson for reading the statement and, through her, to all the women of Liberia, for that strong statement of solidarity and support, adding, “I appreciate you all and I thank you for coming to greet me, and thank you for that statement.”