WASHINGTON, D.C. — The West African nation of Liberia recently celebrated 169 years of independence as Africa’s oldest republic.
In Washington, celebrations marking the 169th independence anniversary, which included a daylong Cultural Extravaganza/Family Day, Intercessory Worship Service, and Diplomatic Reception, concluded Sunday, July 31 with a fashion show to showcase the best of Liberian and African attires and clothing.
The celebrations kicked off July 23 on the grounds of the embassy, where several thousand Liberians and friends of Liberia gathered to showcase the nation’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.
The Cultural Extravaganza/Family Day, which started with the parade of flags of the 15 counties (political subdivision) and the national flag of Liberia, included performances by a culture troupe and traditional mask dancers, as well as musical artists. Crowds of party revelers sang and danced to the melodies of popular Liberian and African music late into the night.
At the well-attended Intercessory Service, hosted by the Association of Liberian Christians Ministers of Washington, D.C., and Metro Area at the Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Landover Hills, Maryland; Rev. Joseph W. Boayue Jr., senior pastor of Christian Baptist Church, Silver Spring, Maryland, said all Liberians have a responsibility for the success of their country.
Boayue, who was the guest preacher at the service, added that despite the many challenges Liberia has faced since its founding, 169 years of existence should remind Liberians how fortunate they are as a people and country.
On July 26, 1847, Liberia, founded by former slaves and freeborn Blacks from the U.S., declared her independence to become Africa’s first republic.
On July 26, the diplomatic reception, held at the residence of the ambassador, was attended by an array of U.S. government and Liberian officials, members of the diplomatic corps, Liberian community, business and religious leaders, friends of Liberia and well-wishers.
Speaking at the ceremony, Liberia’s ambassador to the United States, H.E. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, underscored the special historical relationship between Liberia and the U.S., and reaffirmed Liberia’s unshakable determination to foster closer and more fruitful relations with the United States.
The ambassador noted that Liberia and the U.S. share a common commitment to the advancement of international peace, security and respect for human rights, adding that Liberia will continue to cooperate with the U.S. and other members of the international community in combating terrorism.
“We will also remain steadfast against any attempts to reverse the achievements made in the spread of democratic values and good governance in Africa and other parts of the world,” he said.
Sulunteh said the U.S. has been a strong bilateral partner in supporting Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction program. He added that Liberia cannot forget U.S. leadership role during the fight against the Ebola epidemic, nor can the country fail to recognize the critical contribution of the U.S. of $257 million grant through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) for the rehabilitation of the Mount Coffee Hydroelectric Plant that will provide electricity to Monrovia and its environs.
He expressed deep appreciation for U.S. contribution in capacity building, as well as other invaluable assistance given in the overall security sector reform, especially during this critical period of drawdown in Liberia by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
“We also express appreciation for the support in the rehabilitation of our educational and health infrastructure, including the renovation of teachers training institutes and the continuation of the Peace Corps program,” he said.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. assistant secretary of state, said U.S.-Liberia bilateral relationship is rooted in both countries’ deep historical ties. She added that like the Founding Fathers of the United States, Liberians share the vision of a nation based on respect for the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thomas-Greenfield, who was the first female U.S. ambassador to Liberia, said while there have been setbacks such as wars, diseases and poverty, Liberia has made tremendous progress.
Highlighting a few of the accomplishments Liberia has achieved this year, Thomas-Greenfield said Liberia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) as its 163rd member after nearly 10 years of negotiating its accession terms.
“This represents a major step for Liberia’s economic integration into the global trading system, and it adds another key African voice to this important forum,” she added.
She also pointed out that the UNMIL turned over full security responsibility to the Liberian government after 13 years of deployment, noting that this historic transition reflects Liberia’s steady advances toward restoring peace and stability across the country.
“Looking ahead,” Secretary Greenfield said, “Liberia is on track to accomplish much more, and we are proud to partner with Liberia on many different initiatives.” After successfully signing a U.S. $257 million Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact last year, she added, the U.S. and Liberia made extensive progress in improving road infrastructure and expanding access to reliable and affordable electricity.
Thomas-Greenfield also pointed out that another key priority for both countries is empowering Liberia’s youth, adding that 25 young Liberian leaders were presently in the U.S. for academic and leadership training through President Obama’s Young African Leaders initiative.
“Empowering youth also means improving the education systems, and ensuring that young women have the same opportunities as young men,” she said.
Thomas-Greenfield spoke of the recent visit to Liberia by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama to support the Peace Corps-implemented program “Girls Leading Our World,” which aims to promote girls’ education. She added that in connection with the visit, the first lady announced a new U.S. funding commitment to Liberia of $27 million to directly support the “Let Girls Learn” initiative through several new education programs in Liberia.
Thomas-Greenfield said even though Liberia faces many challenges, they can be turned into opportunities for the country to succeed. One key challenge she highlighted was the forthcoming 2017 presidential and legislative elections.
“These elections are an historic opportunity for Liberia to create its own destiny, establish its own path and legacy for the future,” she said.
Thomas-Greenfield lauded President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s decision to step down after two terms in office.
“That decision gives the people of Liberia an opportunity to be the first generation to see the peaceful transition of power from one living, sitting president, to another, both elected by the people,” she said. “When this happens, Liberia will be a huge example of a true democracy in Africa, and a leader for other countries on the continent to emulate.”
A major highlight of the reception was the conferral of “Distinguished Service Order” upon retired Lt. Gen. William “Kip” Ward, who served as the first commander of the United States Africa Command, for his contributions to the transformation of the Armed Forces of Liberia under the Security Sector Reform. The order was conferred upon General Ward on behalf of Sirleaf by Sulunteh.
The independence anniversary celebrations concluded July 31 with a fashion show intended to showcase the best of Liberian and African attire and clothing. The fashion show was held in partnership with Ms. Kimma Wreh of TeKay Designs and Excel Magazine International.
During the show, held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., Sulunteh spoke of the need to promote Liberia’s rich and diverse culture and huge tourism potential.
With 350 miles coastline along the Atlantic Ocean lined with white sandy beaches, palm and coconut trees, Liberia also has 43 percent of the remaining rainforest in the West African subregion, with unique plant and animal species, including the pygmy hippopotamus. With a population of 4.5 million, Liberia is well endowed with natural resources, including rubber, timber, iron ore, cocoa, coffee and diamonds, while oil is a new discovery.
Liberia was established in the early 1800s as a haven for people of color the world over. Ten of the country’s past presidents were American-born, the Liberian flag of red, white and blue bears close resemblance to the American flag and its capital of Monrovia is named after James Monroe, fifth president of the United States during whose administration the country was founded. Many areas in Liberia are named after places in the U.S., such as Maryland, Georgia, Louisiana and Lexington.