Drumming Up Third World Challenges -Former President Sirleaf Speaks to US Graduates -Says Africa Deserves Concerted Int’l Efforts


Out of the Liberian presidency but still well visited in the international corridor, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is seemingly amongst first picks for wisdom and counsel on world affairs. According to her aide, speaking invites saturate her mailbox, many times confusing her where to turn first. This time, she picked the prestigious George Town University of the United States of America, which in May 2020 graduated a horde of students in various disciplines. She was asked to make remarks, and she did as usually powerfully. And, as her custom is, Africa’s first female democratically elected president, did not forget to share the political, economic, and social development challenges of Africa with her esteemed guests. The Analyst reports.

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has once again been trumpeting the social, economic and political woes of the development world and attracting serious, concerted attention and support.

“Development is never easy, even in the best of times,” the former Liberian Chief Executive noted speaking to hundreds of graduates of the George Town University and other distinguished guests at the occasion.”

She said the worlds’ poorest countries struggle with inadequate skills, too little funding, and weak institutions, and they battle every day against deep poverty, disease, corruption, inequality, dictatorship, and war.

She however noted that through hard work, determination, and partnership, developing countries have made tremendous progress over the last two decades.

“And yet that progress had already begun to slow in the last few years with reversals in democracy, increases in conflict, weakening global leadership, and the initial terrible impacts of global climate change,” she lamented, adding: “And now, on top of all these struggles, we are faced with the biggest global pandemic in 100 years.”

Former President stressed that COVID-19 virus “knows no boundaries, respects no political systems and has spread to every corner of our globe.”

“It reminds us of how interconnected we are, and how intertwined the fate of humanity truly is. It is affecting rich countries and poor countries, dictatorships and democracies, stable countries and fragile states – from all parts of the world. And yet, as is all too often the case, the poor are disproportionately affected and are the least able to protect themselves.”

All around the world, former President Sirleaf asserted further, “the poorest countries have the weakest health systems, and the poorest people are most vulnerable to losing their jobs and being exposed to the disease. It will be several years before we know the final toll of this terrible pandemic, but we know the impacts will be devastating, especially to the global poor.”

She added that that’s why the graduates’ commitment to fighting poverty, disease, and dictatorship is so important right now.

“That’s why the world needs you – NOW!  The work you have chosen has never been so important. The world’s poorest countries are being hit hard by the pandemic. But with your ideas, energy, skills, and creativity, and with collaboration from people working together, these countries will rise again.”

This, she said, is not just a naïve and optimistic hope.

Liberian Experience

“I know from personal experience how countries can rise again from the ashes. My nation, Liberia, was decimated by 14 years of brutal civil war. More than 250,000 Liberians were killed, and over 500,000 more were forced to flee their homes and became either internally displaced persons or refugees in neighboring countries. Families were shattered; entire communities were uprooted; and social, political, economic, and governance systems were destroyed. Schools and clinics were closed for years at a time, and there was no electricity or running water for more than a decade. The economy crashed, with GDP falling by over 90%, one of the largest economic collapses ever recorded in the world.”

The former President however noted that “We rose again. With sheer grit and determination, our people fought back. Liberians themselves led the efforts to rebuild.”

She said it took a team effort, working in partnership with people from around the world, to help provide the ideas, energy, and funding necessary for us to get back on our feet.

She added: “When corruption and entrenched interests tried to knock us down, we fought back, and got back on our feet. When crippling debt tried to knock us down, we fought back, and got back on our feet. When the Ebola virus tried to destroy us, we fought back, and got back on our feet.  Like a heavyweight boxer in a championship match, we get knocked down, but we get back up again – every time. And each time, we get up stronger, and more determined.

In Liberia, the former President to her audience, “we have learned that we need to take the lead ourselves in building lasting solutions for our own country. But we have also learned that we can’t solve our problems alone. We have learned the importance of working together, and of sharing ideas, knowledge and resources with people from around the world.”

“We learned this lesson the hard way in fighting Ebola. At the height of the outbreak in 2014, when more than 2,000 Liberians had already perished, I pleaded to the world for solidarity to work together to provide the skills and resources needed to avert a global pandemic. After some initial delays, the world responded boldly. By working together, we defeated this terrible scourge.”

The time for similar coordinated action has come again, Madam Sirleaf said. “Recently, I wrote a letter to the world pleading for a cooperative global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If we are to defeat this disease, we must act – together – to slow it down, break the chain of transmission, and flatten the curve. We must share knowledge, scientific discovery, equipment, medicines, and personnel. Every person, in every nation, needs to do their part.”

She said the importance of cooperation is true no matter where you are from, and no matter what global challenge you are confronting.

“Whether you are from Liberia, the United States, China, South Africa, Mexico, or Italy, you cannot solve your major problems alone. It is foolish to think you can. Whether those challenges are fighting pandemic disease, combatting terrorism and violence, slowing the global flood of refugees, stopping the international drug trade, or fighting the effects of climate change, we need to honor each other’s dignity, respect each other’s experience and knowledge, and work together. To solve the world’s most pressing problems, we need local leadership coupled with global ideas, cooperation, and partnership.”

Former President Sirleaf concluded: “So, I say this to the graduates of the Global Human Development Program: I know this is a truly global program.  Whether you are from Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa, Taiwan, or the United States, we need your ideas, your knowledge, and your energy. Whether you’re from Flint Michigan, Palm Springs California, or Johnson City Tennessee, we need you to join the fight. We need all hands on deck! There’s never been a more important time, a more exciting time, or a more challenging time to confront our most difficult global challenges. And so I charge you to go forth, full speed ahead, and join the fight against poverty, disease, and inequalities. Be the one that makes a difference. Be the one that have the courage to challenge wrongs. When you become the best in whatever you do remember those days in the walls of Georgetown.”

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