Swedish Ambassador Applauds Liberians For Commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Accord 20-Years On…. -As BFF, Partners Launch Search for Liberia Unification Hero/Heroine

MONROVIA: Swedish Ambassador H.E. Urban Sjostrom has applauded Liberians for their demonstrated commitment to sustaining peace and security  in the country, 20-years on, since the signing of the Accra “Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA),” by all belligerent forces, the Women of Liberia, and CSOs, under the auspieces of the then Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG); and with support of the international community that brought an effective end to the brutal 14-years Civil War in Liberia.

Addressing Liberia’s 59th National Unification Day program held at the University of Liberia on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, Ambassador Sjostrom, commended Liberia for striving over the years to have become one of the countries in Africa where democracy has immensely flourished.

Ambassador Sjostrom used the occasion to remind Liberians with caution that this year (2023), marks their 20-years milestone achievement since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Accra, Ghana, which has subsequently, provided the much needed assurance for nurturing the culture of peaceful democratic transitions currently flourishing in the country.

The Swedish Envoy pointed out that though Liberia has a centralized governance system, and there is a need for national unification and healing to discourage what he called the “culture of inequality“ amongst Liberians.

“We see a centralized governance and the need for a centralized approach for more unity; We see challenges when it comes to governance; We heard about corruption that needs to be taken on seriously for delivery of sustainable development; We also see the tendencies of what I would say, the misuse and manipulation of democratic tools and mechanisms; We also see reports about registration of under age children to participate in elections; We see reports about voters trucking… all of which  reflect a classic misuse of democratic system,’’ Ambassador Sjostrom cautioned political stakeholders.

Swedish Ambassador : ‘‘But, we also witnessed recently in Monrovia among political parties, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the implementation of a minimum 30% Gender Quota for candidates listings in the general elections.’’

According to Ambassador Sjostrom, this commitment marks an important step for inclusive women’s political participation and empowerment, aimed at expanding and sustaining democracy in Liberia.

‘‘It is the Women of Liberia who fought to bring peace to this country. It is also prudent for political parties to strengthen and enable women candidates to run for political positions in the Presidential and Legislative elections slated for 10th October 2023,’’ Ambassador Sjostrom stressed.

Ambassador Urban Sjostrom, who served as one of the panelists and spoke on the sub-theme of the National Unification Day celebration, styled: ‘‘Reconciling Liberia for the 21st Century: Political Challenges and Prospects of the October 10th Legislative/Presidential Elections,’’ emphasized that inclusive women representation in the Liberian Legislature is key for inclusive policymaking and good governance to ensure sustainable peace and development in the country.

The Swedish Ambassador also praised BFF and its collaborating partners including the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict transformation of the University of Liberia (UL), Youth Beyond Barriers (YBB), and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) under the umbrella of Partners for Democracy & Good Governance (PdG), and leaders, representing ECOWAS Member States and citizens residing in Liberia.

Speaking at the historic occasion, on behalf of the Government of Liberia (GOL), and through the Office of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Varney Sirleaf, Liberia’s Acting Peace Ambassador, Amb. Eric Quaqua, expressed delight to launch this year’s National Unification Hero and Heroine Award.

In launching the National Unification Hero and Heroine Award, initiated by BFF and partners, Ambassador Quaqua cautioned Liberians to remember the peril, where we, as a Nation and People, came from, and where we are now’’ and not to dwell on the disagreements that divide us.

According to Amb. Quaqua, “There are too many violence and hate in our country, and too little trust and common ground among us. Despite the gains made since the war, we still have a lot of work to do to actualize peace and unity in the country.”

The Liberian Acting Peace Ambassador indicated that ‘’So much sacrifices have been made by Liberians; and with the support of the International Community including ECOWAS, UN, United States, European Union, African Union (AU), among others over the years, securing for us a platform of immense development opportunities that we must not allow for our country, and by extension, the sub-region to relapse into conflict.’’

Amb. Quaqua: ‘’I am of the conviction that we are stronger together, when not shouting over each other. Our economy will become stronger when everyone can contribute to it, and everyone benefits from the work we do.

“Our communities can be stronger when we all pool together to solve our problems and restore our faith in each other. We must detest violence in all forms and continue to promote tolerance, peace and unity. This I believe is the True Tenant of Democracy’’, Ambassador Quaqua emphasized.

The Acting Peace Ambassador, on behalf of the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Government of Liberia then, declared the National Unification Hero/Heroine Award launched.

The Liberian peace envoy, also appreciated BFF and its collaborating partners for their persistent commitment and dedication to organizing annual celebration of the National Unification Day in the country.

The Acting Peace Ambassador also used the occasion to express the Liberian Government’s continuous support to the BFF, and its collaborating civil society organizations for the national peace-building and consolidation initiative which, he said, is in the best interest of the country and its people.

In his keynote address, the European Union Ambassador to Liberia, H.E. Laurent Delahousse, stressed that the Unification and Integration policy initiated by Liberia’s 18th President, William V.S. Tubman, in 1964 has inspired the successive governments to give equal rights and opportunities to all Liberians.

According to Ambassador Delahousse, the focus of many government policies has been put on the less fortunate, as is the inspiration behind Liberia’s current administration’s flagship national development program, styled: “Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development,” to which international partners have brought enthusiastic and complimentary support.

The EU Ambassador therefore stressed the need for Liberians to appreciate the measure in which targets and objectives have been met.

Ambassador Delahousse pointed out that in this pre-elections period, it is for Liberian registered voters to reflect on their political preferences and on the choice of the candidate best suited to deliver on their needs and expectations.

“It is for Liberians, with their vote later this year on October 10th, to map the future of this Unification and Integration Policy which has transformed Liberia from a post-colonial State to a land of Peace, Democracy, Human Rights and Progress where no one is left behind.”

Addressing the occasion, on behalf of the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Davidetta Brown-Lansanah, NEC Commissioner Josephine Gaye applauded BFF and partners for its national peace-building effort aimed at supporting credible elections and peace in Liberia.

Commissioner Gaye reaffirmed NEC’s unwavering commitment to conducting free, fair, transparent and credible elections at all times in Liberia.

While acknowledging that the Biometric Voters Registration Exercise (BVR) conducted by NEC had faced some challenges, Commissioner Gaye assured Liberians that with the support of the International Partners and other stakeholders, those challenges would be resolved.

She used the occasion to caution Liberians to fully comply with electoral rules and regulations as clearly spelled out by NEC, and called on the civil society and development partners for their usual cooperation and support.

Also addressing the National Unification Day program, Professor Sekou Konneh, Vice President of the University of Liberia and Dean of Students Affairs, who spoke on the sub-theme : ‘’Socio-economic Challenges & Prospects of the October 10 Legislative and Presidential elections in Liberia’’ indicated that   Liberia is a country that faces numerous socio-economic challenges, but it also has prospects for growth and development.

Prof. Konneh told the forum that poverty is a major challenge that affects all aspects of life in Liberia, including access to education, healthcare, and basic needs such as food and shelter. He further indicated that Liberia’s infrastructure is underdeveloped, with poor road networks, limited access to electricity and clean water, and inadequate healthcare facilities.

He stressed that this makes it difficult for the country to attract investment and promote economic growth.
Touching on corruption, Prof. Konneh disclosed that corruption is a significant challenge in Liberia, with high levels of corruption in government, academia and other institutions. This situation, he said, undermines public trust in the government and hinders economic development.
Commenting on prospects, the UL Vice President told the forum that Liberia has significant natural resources, including iron ore, timber, and diamonds, which can be a source of economic growth and development.
He also stressed that Liberia has a large youth population, which can be harnessed for economic development through education, training, and employment opportunities.
In addition, Prof. Konneh indicated that Liberia is a member of several regional organizations, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which can provide opportunities for trade and investment.
He maintained that addressing these challenges and harnessing these prospects will require a concerted effort from the government, civil society, and the private sector.

Addressing the Sub-theme: Development Challenges & Prospects of the October 10th Elections at the National Unification Day celebration, Prof. Adam Kyne, Executive Director of the A. M. Kyne Collegiate Resource Center and Samuel Grimes’ Initiative for At-risk Youth, disclosed that drugs addiction, which is a brain disease, seriously poses threat to peace, security, democracy and development in the Liberian nation.

Referencing a recent Survey Report by the Ministries of Health and Youth and Sports, Prof. Kyne informed the forum that the number of people affected by drug addiction in Liberia has increased from 85,000 last year (2022) to more than 100,000 this year (2023).

He also disclosed that through countless studies and two decades of experience in working with drug addicts, ‘‘we are now convinced that institutionalizing drug addicts and single organization’s response are ineffective in solving the drug addiction problem in the country.

He stressed that with the lack of an intentional collaboration, armed with appropriate empirical and culturally contextualized treatment and support in Liberia, the existence of ghettos full of addicts will continue to increase at an exponential rate in the country.

Making remarks earlier at the program, former Minister of Education Dr. D Evelyn S. Kandakai, on behalf of the organizers, welcomed all dignitaries, students and all for showing up to honor Liberia’s 59th National Unification Day.

‘’On this day’,’ she stressed that ‘’it is important to recognize some of Liberia’s personalities and icons who went out of their ways to promote national unification and integration’’.

The former Education Minister referenced  Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman, former President of the state-owned University of Liberia and First female to serve as president of a university on the African Continent; Liberia’s legendary literary icon, Bai T. Moore (late), who once served as the Deputy Minister of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT);  and the proponent of today’s National Unification and Integration Policy Day program, Rev. Augustine S. Arkoi, Ambassador of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Better Future Foundation (BFF).

Dr. Kandakai said, these icons, among many others, who are also in this gathering should be appreciated by the Liberian Nation for supporting the actualization of the Unification and Integration Vision of President William V. S. Tubman.

Dr. Kandakai also cautioned Liberians to examine how education, gender and religions can factor into the promotion of genuine national unification and integration in Liberia.

‘’How far gender transformation and religion can factor into our national unification and integration? Let us also consider peace, let us consider justice. And let us examine how far is our achievement vis-à-vis  this National Unification Celebration and the pending National Elections which are slated for October 10, 2023,’’ Dr. Kandakai recommended.

Special Prayers for reconciliation, peace, unification and integration were offered by Rev. Christopher W. Toe, Secretary General of the Liberia Council of Churches; and Bishop George Washington, who proxy for Bishop Isaac Winker of the Dominion Christian Fellowship.

Giving background of the Liberia National Unification and Integration Day celebration, BFF CEO Rev. Augustine Arkoi indicated that 59 years ago in 1964, Liberia’s 18th President William V.S. Tubman, initiated the National Unification and Integration Policy.

According to Rev. Arkoi, the policy was aimed at reducing the social and political differences between the Americo-Liberians and the indigenous Liberians.

The National Legislature then enacted an Act to proclaim May 14 as a National Unification Day to be observed as a holiday and to create four additional counties — Bong, Grand Gedeh, Lofa, and Nimba – and their subsequent integration into the Republic of Liberia under one system of governance.

He disclosed that beginning 2014, the Better Future Foundation (BFF) and its collaborating institutions embarked on spearheading the annual celebration of the National Unification Day (NUD) in recognition of the shared desire to create national awareness and rally public Unification Day 2023 Participants support for genuine national healing, peace, unification and development.

Rev. Arkoi told the audience that the first Liberia National Unification Hero/Heroine Award (NUHA) will be officially given out at the formal program to celebrate the 60th National Unification Day in Monrovia on 14 May 2024. Before then, the NUHA Committee will work with regional sub-committees and county authorities to conduct the regional awards in the respective regions. The Committee will issue a calendar of key events to that fact.

Serving as moderator for the occasion, Prof. T. Debey Sayndee, Director of the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation, University of Liberia, in closing remarks said: “on this occasion, we must ask ourselves the  question- what has Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties have to show 59 years after the launch of the National Unification & Integrity Policy; and what has Liberia, as a country, got to show in terms of achievement, 59 years after the declaration of the Unification & Integrity Policy.“

Prof. Sayndee challenged Liberians, particularly policy makers and the Government, to at all times, remain genuinely committed to the true spirit, intend and motive of actualizing the Unification & Integration Polity for the benefit of all Liberians and the country.

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