Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Liberian President Outlines Goals

After nine months in office marked by lingering turmoil, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said in a speech Tuesday in Gaston Hall that her administration has made progress in reforming the nation’s government, but still has a ways to go.

Johnson-Sirleaf, who became Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state last November, said that her first year on the job was crucial in stabilizing Liberia. She took office in January, ending a two-year transitional government following the resignation and exile of former president Charles Taylor.

“We must find a way to break the cycle of continuing crisis,” she said.

Johnson-Sirleaf also discussed the domestic problems Liberia faces, including a lack of infrastructure, high unemployment, low literacy rates and a justice system in shambles. She said that her administration has rebuilt roads and bridges and has restored power and clean water to areas of the capital, Monrovia, for the first time in 15 years.

Johnson-Sirleaf has also enacted reforms within her own government. Measures aimed at preventing corruption have increased government revenue by 20 percent, and Johnson-Sirleaf expects that figure to rise to 50 percent before the end of her term.

“There has been a restoration of hope. But we’ve got to deliver fast to keep any hope alive,” she said. “The movement toward an accountable government is underway.”

Still, the conflict and its aftermath have devastated the country. Only one in 10 Liberians has access to health care, and less than one-third of Liberian adults can read and write, Johnson-Sirleaf said. She said that while children were until recently recruited as soldiers, they are now being drawn more into a rebuilt school system.

“We must address the needs of our youth. They are the area that will determine whether we turn this around or face difficulties in the future,” Johnson-Sirleaf said.

Johnson-Sirleaf also said that years of fighting have created a “criminal culture” in the country, which has taken the form of weapons trafficking, stolen water pipes and cases of mob justice and violence. She added that the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, as well as conflicts in Cote D’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, threaten local security, and said that countries must take a more active stand toward restoring peace.

To address these problems, she said that her administration has strengthened police forces and created a long-term plan to restore an effective national army to help restore peace and security.

Still, Johnson-Sirleaf said that her administration still has much to do in achieving its goals.

“Our people voted for change and visible change has been too little and too slow,” she said.

Johnson-Sirleaf called on the United Nations and other countries to give more aid to Liberia, though she praised the United States as the most generous bilateral contributor toward reconstruction efforts.

Liberia and the United States, she noted, were both founded by people fleeing persecution – religious dissidents in the case of the United States and freed American slaves in the case of Liberia.

Johnson-Sirleaf said that as both nations were “born in the quest for human freedom, we must enlarge our founders’ visions to meet the challenges of our time.”

The speech was sponsored by the Mortara Center for International Studies.

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