US strengthens development cooperation with Liberia

    Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after their bilateral meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washinton in June 2011. The two have recently signed the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue. Photo by: U.S. Department of State

    Liberia’s reputation as one of Africa’s success stories was strengthened Jan. 15, as the country forged a pact to expand its diplomatic and economic cooperation with its biggest bilateral donor.

    While visiting Washington, D.C., Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue, alongside outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The initiative focuses on what observers consider as three complex issues and therefore requiring open and consistent dialogue between the two nations: agriculture and food security, energy and power infrastructure, and human development.

    This deal doesn’t come with any new aid money. But working groups will be established on those three areas, according to Clinton, to help Liberian farmers use their land and get their crops to market more efficiently, give citizens access to affordable and reliable energy that is essential to job creation and growth, and create more economic opportunities through expanding access to education and jobs.

    The dialogue cements U.S. resolve not to let Liberia’s progress go to waste, tackling jobs and economic growth now to prevent another Arab Spring-like movement that could reverse the country’s development gains.

    “I think it is more than fair to say that this last decade has been a success story for Liberia,” Clinton said during the event. “The people of Liberia have emerged from a time of violence and lawlessness and have made tremendous commitments to both economic and political reform.”

    Liberia’s economic woes are undoubtedly still enormous as it is recovering from two civil wars, spanning 1989-1996 and 1999-2003. The country remains highly dependent on foreign assistance.

    However, with the 2006 election of Sirleaf, a subsequent Nobel laureate and perceived reformer and peacemaker, Liberia’s fortunes have seemingly taken a turn for the better. The West African country’s most important alliance, that with the United States, has flourished, as evidenced by Liberia’s selection in December as one of the countries eligible for compacts from the Millennium Challenge Corp.

    “I have always seen Liberia’s progress as underpinned by its special relationship with the United States,” Sirleaf said in her remarks at the signing. “The launching today of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue is an historic achievement, one that will cement the strategic cooperation between our two countries for generations to come regardless of the occupants of the White House or the Executive Mansion.”

    Already, Sirleaf has her eye on the future, as she underscores the importance of a smooth working relationship with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the nominee for the next U.S. secretary of state.

    “We look forward to carrying out the first meeting of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue under the leadership of secretary of state-designate, Sen. John Kerry, who also has been an essential supporter of Liberia during his long service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including his time as chairman. We recognize that this will not just be a job for our two governments, but also for the business communities of both countries and other stakeholders in Liberia,” she said.

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    About the author

    • Louie-An Pilapil

      Louie-An is a former senior development analyst at Devex Manila. She has held consulting and editorial positions at the Asian Development Bank in Manila and a business-to-business media company in Hong Kong and mainland China.