France at 232: A Salute to a Worthy and Strategic Partner
EVERY NATION BE it big or small has a significant date in its history that has a defining moment on its existence. So is France and July 14, 1789, a day otherwise referred to as NATIONAL DAY in the country. It marked a major watershed in the political history of France as the Fall of Bastille, a hitherto maximum prison center where political prisoners and others condemned for various offences were kept, was announced. It was a major turning point as the masses commonly called the Third Estate gained power, triggering the French Revolution and forcing the supreme ruler King Louis XVI to publicly acknowledge a new constitution.
SOME HISTORIANS ARE of the opinion that the end of the Middle Ages in Europe can be contributed to the French Revolution due to the fact that it effectively punctuated feudalism in Europe.
INDEED FRANCE HAS a cherished past, emerging from feudalism, to inspiring others to end such an unpopular political system and leading others to a new direction of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, as the slogan of the revolution maintained then. It is something that must be celebrated.
SO ON THIS 232nd National Day of this country, we want to salute the government and people of France for this long period of development, peace and prosperity on one hand and on the other hand associating with and helping other least developed countries to get on their feet.
BE AS IT may, the main thrust in this endeavor is to go doing memory lane to do a reflection on how France became so important to our political history and then appreciate her for the level of cooperation and friendship that have gone on to spur national development in Liberia.
FRANCE WAS THE second major country in the world, next to Great Britain (the first) to recognize Liberia as a sovereign state not too long after the declaration of independence was made public in 1847.
THE ADVENT OF the brutal civil war adversely impacted the relationship between the two countries. The Embassy of France was closed down permanently in 1996. The Embassy was reopened in 2007, one year after Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had visited France upon her inauguration. She visited France for the second time In November of 2012 where she was received by then President Hollande. The French played very crucial roles in collaborating with her counterparts in the larger European Union set up to support Liberia’s recovery program through grants and other forms of funding to capital projects following the end of the civil war in 2003 and the inauguration of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006.
FOR INSTANCE, LIBERIA, France signed a debt relief and development contract (C2D) worth 3.9 million euros on August 16, 2012 for a period of five years which expired in 2016. However, its resources were allocated to Liberia’s Health Sector Pool Fund to support the National Health and Social Welfare Policy and Plan 2011-2021.
IT IS VERY important to note that the relationship between the two countries received a major boost when President George Manneh Weah, upon his ascendency in 2018, probably tilting towards shifting the Liberia’s foreign policy towards upgrading existing cooperation with countries that have the potential to meaningfully contributing to the national development objectives of the country. So, unlike previous administrations that will want to court the continuous relationship with the United States of America, he preferred France on his first major trip outside of the country upon ascending to power.
FRANCE IS NOT a strange country to Mr. Weah for indeed it was where he got his major international exposure playing professional football in Europe and had rewarding career exploits playing for top clubs like Monaco, PSG and Marseiles. He cultivated some cult hero figure there for which even the French President Emmanuel Macron admitted being his admirer and fan as a kid and remains up to date.
THE FRENCH TRIP did not end without any tangible result. Liberia got an initial 10 million euros to support skills acquisition and youth employment and is being administered by Mercy Corps with partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Liberia was also listed as one of the countries to benefit from direct French support in Africa, though not a member of the Francophone speaking countries that are traditionally tied to France.
WHEN THE COVID19 virus broke out in the country, The Minister of Health, Mrs Wilhelmina Jallah, the French Ambassador and the representative of the French NGO Action Contre la Faim (ACF) signed a project agreement aimed at strengthening the fight against Covid-19 and support health services, particularly in the counties of Montserrado, Margibi and Nimba. This project was within the framework of the “Common Health” initiative launched in April 2020 by the French Development Agency, in response to the pandemic.
IN JUNE THIS year, Liberia received France’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the highest profile French official to ever visit the country in 40 years. He had very fruitful meetings with both President Weah and Foreign Minister Dee Maxwell Kemayah and immediate impacts were felt. He signed two agreements with Minister Kemayah amounting to 8 million euros to support urban development and the cities of Monrovia and Paynesville will benefit from the grant through rehabilitation of infrastructures. The money will be processed through the World Bank and another 10 million dollars which was deposited through ECOBANK intended to ensure the empowerment of small and medium Liberian businesses.
A GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY was also performed for the construction of the French learning and Cultural center, the Alliance Francais which has not been functioning for years.
IN JUNE THIS year, President Weah made use of the Gender Equality Forum to meet President Macron once again in France to put the country’s problems before the French leader especially against the upsurge of the delta variant. At the end of the discussion, France made available 58,000 rapid antigenic testing kits and 4 osiris3 transport respirators and committed 23 million euros for urban projects which will be undertaken by the Agency for French Development (AFD).
IN THE AREA of investment, France’s economic presence has grown in recent years. Orange is the second-largest telephone company (but has the most subscribers); Total has a 70% market share in fuel distribution; Bolloré is the leader in maritime and airport logistical services; CMA-CGM is the second-largest shipping company (behind Maersk) ; AGS practically has a monopoly in removals; SIFCA and Bolloré, through its control of almost 40% of shares in SOCFIN group companies, are involved in the three largest plantations of hevea rubber trees behind that of Firestone (Salala Rubber Corporation, Liberian Agricultural Company and Cavala Rubber Corporation); and Renault, CFAO, Bureau Veritas, Gras Savoye, etc. are active in their respective sectors. Air France-KLM made its return to Liberia in late March 2017, with a KLM flight between Amsterdam and Monrovia.
INDEED THE RELATIONSHIP between Liberia and France has been mutually beneficial to both parties and their peoples and there is no other way to express satisfaction and urging both parties to continue to work together and advance the cause of freedom, justice, democracy and development all over the world other than on this unique day that set a new dawn for this great country.