Liberia’s political, social and economic growth before and particularly after the ruinous civil war has been largely pillared on external interventions and cooperation. A few unsung heroes—foreign governments and peoples and organizations—stand out most profoundly and prominently in this regard. Amongst them is the Nordic country, the Kingdom of Sweden, which over the last decade has ramped up its altruistic intervention at all levels of Liberia’s growth and development. And worth noting is that those who have followed Sweden’s spiraled development in the country would hardly end their testimonies without mention of a compassionate, shrewd and Liberia-centered ambassador in the person of Ingrid Wetterqvist, who served as the foremost fulcrum of SIDA interventions in the country for the last four years. She ends her tour of duty last month but spoke to The Analyst in an exclusive interview before departure.
When the list of Liberia’s good friends is finally drawn out, friends who during and after the civil conflict have lent massive helping hand towards the country’s recovery and development, the Kingdom of Sweden will be amongst those at the top. That Nordic country has come down massively lavishly in helping address Liberia’s challenges in critical sectors such as good governance, women protection and empowerment, youth unemployment, environment and climate change, water and sanitation, etc.
For the past several years, and particularly under the ambassadorial leadership of the empathetic but forthright Ingrid Wetterqvist, the development assistance channeled through the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), quadrupled.
As she departs the country, Madam Wetterqvist has spoken rather glowingly about the excellent relationship existing between Liberia and Sweden—a relationship she facilitated by ensuring that Sweden made more meaningful contributions to the revival of country after a protracted period of brutal civil war, especially during her tenure as her country’s emissary here.
“It was a great pleasure working with Liberians to achieve what is needed to recover from all the years of the civil war. Sweden has been making some contributions in that direction and we look forward to a long lasting relationship between the two countries,” Ms. Wetterqvist said in an exclusive interview with The Analyst.
During her many years of stay in Liberia as Swedish ambassador, she exposed Liberia to enormous international aid particularly from her home country, doing so with gender glasses.
She asserted: “If you take peace negotiation for example, men were the combatants mostly, carrying weapons and killing people more often than women. Women were the care keepers. They were and are still taking care of women and children. So there is a difference between them because of the vantage point. If you are to take decisions that affect them you have to look at their roles so that no party will be at a disadvantage, especially the women.”
According to her, her government places high premium on gender issues because it boils down to what she called the “3R’s”, which she defined as Representation, Rights and Resources.
The ongoing Swedish ambassador expounded further: “In Liberia, you have two women as senators and 28 men as senators; then you have 7 women as representatives against 66 men. So, there are very few women voices in the decision making body to talk about where resources to go. So, you find out in the Liberian national budget more priorities given to projects that are supported by men like building of roads, big stadiums, big cinemas, schools, etc. and less priorities to projects that affect women and children.”
She said access to resources affect one’s realization of individual’s rights, which are political and civil, some of which require political will, adding that some of the rights are social and economic, dealing with rights to education, decent living, work, amongst other things, and any disadvantaged group will be affected.
“So, this is where the concept of Feminist Foreign Policy comes from,” Madam Wetterqvis said. “You remove your glasses and ask yourself, the difference between a male and a woman. Look at the representation of men and women; look at what affects resources and you look at what affects rights. Any group with more resources has more rights against the other. In the case we have explained about Liberia, the women have little rights.”
She gave a passing mark to her own way of elevating gender issues in Liberia, saying: “I think I have had an impact on gender issues in Liberia because everywhere I went, I talked about it and people have been saying women are being relegated from the decision making process. So, there is no way the Swedish embassy is going to talk about development without talking about gender issues.”
Ms. Wetterqvist also saluted the courage and resilience of the Liberian women for their push for the affirmative right as well as support to some of their kinds in recent elections like the mobilization to be in solidarity and support for Madam Botoe Kanneh through the LAPPA REVOLUTION during the last special senatorial election when her victory was nearly ruined by her opponents.
On the issue of corruption, the outgoing Swedish Ambassador she said her Government through its Embassy over the years has been assisting the General Accounting Commission (GAC) with capacity development and that they had a good working relationship with the former Auditor General Madam Yusador Gaye, who unfortunately passed on sometime this year.
She said she was sure that there will be a similar good relationship with her successor, Garswa Jackson.
“We have also been supporting other Liberian integrity institutions, such as the Good Governance (GC) and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC),” she reflected. “Whether they have been effective or not depends on the staff and the resources given to them.”
She further said that the Embassy participated in a conference on corruption last year on the invitation of President Weah, which according to her left behind a plan of action that she believes the government should be implementing.
Ambassador Wetterqvist also commented on ongoing agitations for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). She said the Swedish government supported the commission 10 years ago, stating that her government believed in the TRC and its works in addressing the legacy of the civil war.
She added: “I see that there is a call for the Transitional Justice Commission. I don’t know if it is a new proposal entirely. That means you are approaching it again. My own take on the War and Economic Court is that if the Liberian people decide that it is what they are yearning for, we will contribute to the funding. But we are not going to tell the Liberian people what they should do.”
She also said there are some aspects of the recommendation of the TRC which are commendable such as having memorial for the dead, recognition of day people died, where they died, national apology and reparation to victims of the carnage. She added that the society has to conceptualize and understand what they want to do.
Madam Ingrid Wetterqvist also spoke of another area of their support to Liberia, climate change. She noted that Liberia is at risk of losing most of her coastal land due to the encroachment from the sea as well as losing its rich tropical rainforest due to cutting down of trees for commercial purposes.
She said Liberia’s huge rainforest represents an immediate source of income because the country can afford to cut down the trees and sell to make money but warns that that that could cause Liberia to lose its natural oxygen and carbon dioxide harbored by the forest.
She said there is a need to assist Liberia negotiate a global deal that will benefit Liberia so that it does not have to deplete its forest reserves by cutting down the trees.
The outgoing Swedish diplomat spent some time discussing youth empowerment and the intervention her government has made over the years. She said it is a fundamental concern that Liberians have a country that is so young, with most of the population falling within the youthful bracket. According to her, not so many countries in the world have that skewed demography and that means a lot of them are not productive.
Ingrid Wetterqvist said further: “One needs to look for money to support them for a better living condition but there are less opportunities available and that is the reason why the Swedish government has been involved with working along international institutions like the World Bank, so as to lift the young people for the future.”
She stated that as part of the programs for youth empowerment, her government has been supporting skills acquisition and peace building programs that have benefited a lot of young people like the various interventions they have given through Mercy Corps, an international NGO implementing projects on behalf of international donor partners.
She also mentioned the massive intervention in technical and vocational education (TVET) including the rehabilitation of the Voinjama Multilateral High School, among the many projects supported by her country for educational institutions.
Ms. Witterqvist whose tenure expires on August 14, 2021 said there is no flagrant violation or abuse of human rights in Liberia but maintains that human rights issues have manifested because the country does not have the resources to spend on the improvement of prison conditions, rehabilitation of prisons, funding activities to help those in prisons to be reintegrated in society to live productive lives; you have people in pre-trial detention, maybe they commit crime or not that are taking time to be processed to court.
“So some of these delays to get justice are human right abuse but not human rights abuse in the sense that the government has decided to behave that way,” she said, adding that much could be done if there were adequate resources to make system stronger enough.
When she was asked whether the Swedish government attaches specific conditions for a country to receive aid or assistance of any kind, Ms. Wetterqvist said that there is no specific pre-conditions but said, generally, a country must have good human rights record to get the attention of Sweden otherwise it will not be possible to get such support.
She said further that in the situation the government does not have good human rights records, the Sweden assistance will be given through civil society groups to implement projects.
The Sweden envoy said it was a pleasure working in Liberia for such a long time and thanked all those she came in contact with through her tenure here.
She spoke well of the hospitality of Liberians and advised anyone coming to Liberia to try as much as possible to visit counties outside Monrovia because it is wonderful out there.
“I advise those coming in the country to visit places outside of Monrovia, it is wonderful out there. Monrovia is not Liberia, go to other places and see for yourself that Liberia is a wonderful and beautiful place”, she concluded her parting words.
Earlier in the interview, Ms Wetterqvist had given a brief on the Strategy of the Sweden’s International Development Cooperation, an initiative adapted in December, 2020 and which started on January 1, 2021 and runs until December 31, 2025 to provide funding in thematic areas such as Human rights, democracy, the rule of law, gender equality, environment, climate change, sustainable use of natural resources, Peaceful and inclusive societies.
She said the government will be committing approximately $280 Million towards the package during the period.
The outgoing Ambassador took her assignment in 2017, having presented her credentials to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She has a rich background from her previous diplomatic postings which saw her serving for 6 years in Brussels, Belgium with the European External Action Service (EEAS), the Swedish Permanent representation to the EU (2016-2017), following with 6 years (2004-2010) at International IDEA in Sweden. She has also worked in the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs as well as in the Swedish embassies in Tanzania, Zambia and Chile.
The renowned Diplomat holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and French and has three children with Mr. Casper Wahlund
The tenure of the outgoing Ambassador has been seen as very impactful to the overall development of the country and Liberians from various backgrounds have been pouring encomium on the lady whom they say will forever be remembered.
One of the prominent persons our team spoke to was Bishop Kortu Brown, President of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) who spoke glowingly of Ambassador Witterqvist as someone who exemplifies a true sense of representation of her Government and people as well as being a good friend of Liberians and also the religious community.
“Ambassador Ingrid Witterqvist has been a good friend of people of our country and also the religious community. She brought a deep sense of commitment to her representation of Sweden and devoted her time to strengthening Liberia-Sweden ties. She has been everywhere in the communities engaging, listening and contributing to Liberia’s recovery process. She brought Sweden closer to Liberia. She will be missed. We wish her success in her future engagements. Farewell, Madam Ambassador”, Rev. Kortu Brown said.
As a mark of recognition for her role the Outgoing Ambassador played in impacting the various sectors of Liberia’s development, culture icon Ambassador, Mrs. Juli Endee released a song which was recorded on video that has since gone viral on the social media, praising Ms Witterqvist for being a help to the country.
“Ingrid, you are a woman of substance, Ingrid you are a beautiful woman, you came to serve your country but you serve Liberia ”, some of the lines in the beauty song went.
Frontage from the video presents the outgoing Ambassador walking into one of the many gatherings she attended to meet Liberians from various backgrounds. The video also showed pictures of high profile government officials including President George Manneh Weah, VP Jewel Howard Taylor, Senator Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence, GSA Director General Mary Broh, some women groups, etc.
The video illustrates how far the Sweden Ambassador related to so many people, both high and low and her passion to be totally involved in the development of the Liberia, especially putting the issues of gender and women empowerment on the front page of her engagements.
“I don’t know how to describe her but from her work and what she has been able to do in Liberia tell me that she came to work for Liberia than serving her country”, said Jeremiah Tamba, a youth activist who said he benefited from series of workshops and trainings in peace building and reconciliation sponsored by the Swedish Embassy.
A lecturer in political science Swen Sampson said Ms. Ingrid elevated the relationship between Sweden and Liberia to an enviable height and that she will be highly missed.
“We have been seeing various ambassadors coming to serve their respective countries but for the Outgoing Swedish diplomat, I can only say she was exceptional. She was all over the place finding one or two things to do for the country. She will be missed. I just hope that her successor will follow her footsteps”, he said.