United Nations, New York – Two impactful addresses heralded the start of the 72nd United General Assembly Tuesday – U.S. President Donald Trump spoke the world body for the first time since his election, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman head of state bid farewell, marking the historic closing of one of the high points of her presidency, a much-heralded foreign policy.
“Today, I address you for the last time as I bring to closure my two terms of elected office. Liberia is just 22 days away from historic legislative and Presidential elections."
"It will mark the first time in 73 years that political power will be handed over peacefully, and democratically, from one elected leader to another. This paves the way for the next generation of Liberians to lead the country into the future” – Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President, Republic of Liberia
For President Sirleaf, Tuesday marked one of the poignant moments of her presidency.
Dogged by a rugged domestic policy, Sirleaf’s contribution in raising the profile of Liberia, a nation mired in abject poverty and plagued by more than a decade of war, helped to provide a cushion that brought numerous goodwill to Liberia over the past twelve years.
Now in the final few weeks of her reign, Sirleaf on Tuesday underscored the importance of the upcoming Presidential elections, viewed as a key transition gauging point for Liberia’s bourgeoning post-war democracy.
“Today, I address you for the last time as I bring to closure my two terms of elected office. Liberia is just 22 days away from historic legislative and Presidential elections. It will mark the first time in 73 years that political power will be handed over peacefully, and democratically, from one elected leader to another.
This paves the way for the next generation of Liberians to lead the country into the future,” Sirleaf told the body.
Ahead of the President’s address, Mr. Lewis Brown, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations proclaimed that Sirleaf’s historic leadership of a troubled country has inspired women everywhere, and has returned Liberia to its rightful place of respect in the international community.
“You would be hard-pressed to find a time, at least in recent memory, when Liberia spoke in the morning of the first day, and was invited to share the high table with the Secretary-General and the President of the United States. The collective sense is that Liberia is back in the fold me respected nations of the world,” Mr. Brown told FrontPageAfrica Tuesday.
For Pres. Sirleaf, the 72nd Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly is being convened at a time of historic transition in Liberia, one she says is taking place during a period of acute challenges to our global order.
“Today, we face the threat of climate change, the violence of terrorism, the risk and indignation of migration, and a nuclear escalation on the Korean peninsula"
". More over there is a race against time to accommodate a restless youthful population in search of opportunity and a brighter future.”
The President paid homage to the progressive and creative leadership of Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, during which he assured the world of his commitment and action to reform the United Nations for increased efficiency, better coordination and gender parity by 2021 at the senior leadership level.
She said Liberia is also pleased with the initial steps taken toward the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Sirleaf averred that this year’s UNGA theme, Focusing on People – Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for all on a Sustainable Planet, aptly captures a universal aspiration. “I hope that at the conclusion of our deliberations, we will forge a consensus and renew our commitment as leaders to transform the lives of our people and meet our responsibility to our planet. The work of the United Nations has never been more important to the search for peace and the sustenance for global stability than it is today.”
The Liberian leader said the purpose of the United Nations still represents the genius of our collective ability to live together in peace and harmony and offers great hope to a troubled world. Liberians bear witness to this truth, and remain grateful to the United Nations, and all of its organs and agencies, for the critical security interventions, and continued support toward Liberia’s recovery and democratic aspirations.
Recalling her first addressing to the world body, President Sirleaf said: “Eleven years ago, in September of 2006, I stood before this august body as the newly elected President of the Republic of Liberia, and, the first woman to be democratically elected as head of State on the African continent.”
The President said the upcoming elections in Liberia will signal the irreversible course that Liberia has embarked upon to consolidate its young, post-conflict democracy.
"Indeed, democracy is on the march in Liberia and, I believe, on an irreversible path forward on the African continent as she trumpeted praise on all of Liberia’s partners who made meaningful contributions, financial and in-kind to ensure peaceful elections, and those organizations which will deploy observer missions to attest to the integrity of the elections process.
Sirleaf recalled that she assumed office after 25 years of development reversal which was further compounded by a 15-year civil war.
As he embarked on a journey toward the end of her presidency, she said Liberia, under her watch has made great progress and laid the foundation for the next democratic government.
“We have reshaped the Armed Forces of Liberia and the Liberia National Police, professionalized our customs and immigration services and small Liberian Coast Guard. We are proud to report that since the formal turnover of the security responsibilities to the Government, Liberia has remained stable, peaceful and secured.”
The Liberian leader also said her administration has been successful in transformed the economy from a growth rate of less than zero to more than 8.7% in 2013, until the health crisis and plummeting commodity prices brought a downturn to our economic recovery.
“Liberia has adjusted, we are resilient, embracing diversification. Our focus today is towards strengthening the agriculture sector for value addition, and infrastructure development with emphasis on roads and energy for industrialization.”
Previously dysfunctional public institutions, she added, now have the capacity to respond to the needs of our citizens through decentralized county service centers with ownership by strong local governments.
“And from the tragedy of the health crisis, we are strengthening our healthcare systems, prioritizing prevention and delivering capacity at the community level.”
The President said her administration has made immense impact on life expectancy which progressed from a low 47 years to a hopeful 62 years with reduction in maternal death from 1400 to 1100, an annual rate of reduction of 3.4%.
“Poverty rate has decreased from 63.8% in 2007 to 50.9% in 2016,” she said.
The Liberian leader said that infrastructure has been repaired and restored, even as her government continues to rehabilitate damaged roads and construct new ones.
“With the increasing provisions of electricity, potable water and technology, cities and towns are bustling with new life. It is now possible to receive voice and data on your phones and mobile devices from virtually everywhere in the country, at competitively low rates.”
Liberia, she said has enjoyed the benefit of multilateralism through full support provided by the United Nations, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“From a pariah state, Liberia has gradually regained the confidence of nations and even risen to assume leadership roles in regional bodies, specifically ECOWAS and the Mano River Union.”
Sirleaf described as a privileged the role she played in the formulation of the Sustainable Development Agenda as Co-chair of Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon’s High-Level Panel on SDGs and in framing the Common Africa Position (CAP) as Chair of the AU’s High-Level Committee.
She added that there is so much more to share about Liberia’s post conflict transformation, how we have empowered ordinary citizens and a shared sense of citizenship, giving women, including market and rural women a voice and the rights to be heard.
“We have continued to transform the healthcare and education systems, engendered the entrepreneurial spirit in our youth, in our vibrant media and civil society."
" We are establishing trans-border development corridors to enhance regional trade and strengthening the rule of law to tackle systemic corruption. Liberia is experiencing the birth of a post-conflict artistic community, in song, hip-hop, painting, poetry, storytelling and fashion.”
The Liberian leader said while the country has come a long way in the past twelve years, it could not have made the marks and accomplished so much without the UN.
“Its political leadership, the generosity of its economic development support, humanitarian contributions, and, most importantly, the stabilization and security provided to our country through the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).”
She paid homage to the UNGA’s current leadership and its predecessors, the member nations, and UN civil servants around the world who made sacrifices for Liberians to see the very first generation of school-aged children growing up in an environment of peace, free of the violence of civil conflict.
The President added that Liberia’s transformation was powered by a world community that made a shared commitment to deliver peace to a country, and a sub-region, beset by civil conflict and cross border destabilization.
“The UN and its partner nations were of one mind, and from that global unity, a new Liberian democratic state was born. Liberia is a post conflict success story. It is your post conflict success story.”
As she bid farewell to the world body, the Liberian President said, the post-war nation is making valiant effort to apply the tenets of democracy.
“Consider the lives saved, the wealth created, the stability assured, because this global body led at a time of great uncertainty in our sub-region and around the world. I ask member states to continue to lead, to spread the values of democracy, human rights, and good governance while strengthening solidarity for economic transformation and social resilience. It is often in times of transition that great leaders emerge and institutions are strengthened.”
She reminded the body that two years ago, the 70th Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Agenda containing 17 goals, which encapsulate the aspirations of member states to eradicate poverty and reduce, if not eliminate, inequalities within and between countries. Today, she said that commitment to achieving those goals must be unwavering because progress here is inextricably linked to ending conflict and sustaining peace.
President Sirleaf added that real progress remains elusive in the lingering effort to reform the Security Council and make it more responsive to current global realities.
“The call for this reform must be pursued more robustly towards early conclusion. Africa’s views are well articulated in the Ezulwini Consensus. Today, African nations are participating in strong sub-regional and regional bodies, which are evolving - adopting measures to secure and preserve peace and security, while strengthening economic integration.”
She said that United Nations, as the preeminent world body must also continue to evolve, to more effectively serve the common interest of all Member States.