Liberia Deserves Attention, Not Desertion

A Statement by Aaron Kollie

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 16, 2002

Statement by Charge d’ Affairs Aaron B. Kollie of the Liberian Embassy in Washington, DC at the Congressional Black Caucus Issue Forum entitled: “Dialogue on Peace and Harmony in the Middle East and Africa: How should the US change its Foreign Policy?” at the Washington Convention Center, September 12, 2002.

The Chairman & members of the Congressional Black Caucus
Congressman John Conyers, Jr.
Fellow Panelists and Participants

Let me begin by calling for the observance of a moment of silence on the anniversary honoring the victims of the 9/11 horrific attacks, -- attacks not only on the United States but the entire civilized world by cowards and terrorists. Liberia's solidarity with the United States in this respect, remains firm.

I bring you greetings from the President, the Government and People of Liberia on the Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and to implore you to join me in applauding the dynamic and resourceful Congressman John Conyers, for his demonstration of extraordinary leadership. I am indeed deeply elated for your invitation extended me to address this Forum, dealing specifically with “how US policy should change towards Liberia.” Your invitation is a clear manifestation of the unique connection between Liberia and the United States, more importantly the African-American community here. As the oldest Republic in Africa, the United States was very instrumental in the founding of Liberia as a nation state in 1822, - gaining independence in l847. Founded as a haven of freedom and independence for blacks suffering the scourge of slavery, Liberia is a brain child of the United States, when the search became apparent for a homeland for men of color who resided here, and were no longer needed. Could we then say by extension, there is a 53rd state of the United States somewhere in Africa? Well, that’s debatable. Amidst the ongoing debate about reparation for slavery, the pains and energy of our forefathers who came here, contributed towards the making of this nation, and Liberia, the oldest black Republic in Africa, is proud to be the beacon of African-Americanism, given our shared values and commonality of interests. The historical context of this unique connection is written in text, and cannot be distorted. This is why we are calling on the United States to take a leadership role in matters that pertain to Liberia. America's refusal to do so, will be a reflection of her neglect of its own creation, which appears to be the case today. Britain has clearly demonstrated its support in favor of Sierra Leone, its former colony. Liberia, given its uniqueness, not as a colony, but formed by the American Colonization Society, a Christian philanthrophy, should not be deserted, as the rest of Africa and the world, will judge America by its treatment of Liberia. There appears to be what the Foreign Minister of Liberia calls "a policy of punitive disengagement" by the United States when it comes to Liberia. Let me make it clear that Liberia seeks the best of friendship with the United States, and remains open to constructive engagement on all fronts of our bilateral interaction. United States’ strategic and/or security interest has never been, is not and will never be at stake in Liberia. Whilst we agree that there may be concerns about internal matters, Liberia remains open to dialoging with the United States in addressing these concerns for better partnership within the global context.

The current United Nations sanctions on Liberia, spearheaded by Britain and the United States, for its alleged involvement in the war in Sierra Leone, has imposed untold sufferings on the population of Liberia. The war in Sierra Leone has since ended and general and presidential elections held, yet Washington continues to hold Liberia hostage under the pretext of consolidating the peace in Sierra Leone, -- an internal conflict unconnected to Liberia. Washington must act now in spearheading the lifting of the UN sanctions on Liberia, and begin to channel the needed economic assistance for reconstruction and development in Liberia.

Armed non-state actors, supported by neighboring Guinea, continue to wreck havoc in their war campaign against the people of Liberia. While this is ongoing, the United States that has maintained a standing military treaty with Liberia in the past to assist in times of aggression, is ironically supporting the Guinean army and long-time military Leader Gen. Lansana Conte with non-lethal military assistance. We call for Congressional intervention to place a blockade and/or stoppage on the pending three million dollar US assistance for the Guinean army and sanction the Guinean authorities for their destabilizing military role in Liberia. The lack of firm U.S. and international condemnation of the LURD dissidents and the support being provided by the Guinean authorities, continue to embolden the non-state actors to repeatedly unleash death and destruction on the people of Liberia. Our Government is therefore asking the United States to demonstrate its moral obligation by helping to stop the war in Liberia, and address the key issues of security, reconciliation, resettlement, and the holding of elections in keeping with constitutional provisions. In order to achieve these objectives, the enabling environment must be created. One way to do so is for the United States to lend its full support and financial assistance to the deployment of a multinational peace-building force in Liberia, to work alongside the Government in disarming all non-state actors, including state militia armed specifically for war efforts, thus paving the way for the creation of a new restructured, trained and balanced national army, aimed at building confidence for assured security.

There have been no rewards for Liberia’s compliance with international demands, thus placing Liberia in a very difficult position. We therefore call on the Congressional Black Caucus to swiftly intervene in leading the way for constructive United States engagement with Liberia. We also want to challenge the Black Caucus to deploy a fact-finding delegation to Liberia for independent verification, in an effort to rekindle the historical ties between the two countries.

State Department Officials in Washington have branded Liberia as a weak state. Accepting this reality, it now brings to the fore, the need for the United States and the international community to help in building the capacity of nations they consider weak, in recognition of our global interdependence and the moral obligation of the strong and wealthy to assist the weak and poor. Liberia, coming out of seven years of war and elections, has not enjoyed the empathy and support of the international community, particularly the United States. Liberia is currently under United Nations sanctions, coupled with a United States travel ban and advisory, which have sent out the not too subtle message by Washington that Liberia is an insecure environment for private foreign investment. As a result, unemployment remains high, creating a ripe atmosphere for dissent and threatening the fragile democracy. Democratic experiments cannot flourish in Liberia and the rest of Africa if the people remain unemployed, hungry and disenchanted. A democracy deserted is a democracy destroyed. If the United States and its allies cannot come to the aid of the Liberian democracy, precedence is set and the democratic gains made across Africa in the last decade, will become a pipe dream, reverting to the dictatorships, coup d'etat, and rebellions characterizing much of Africa today. Liberia wants to constructively engage the United States, but was taken aback sometime ago to see the House Africa subcommittee led by Congressman Ed Royce stage a hearing entitled: "confronting Liberia." Why must a great power like the United States through Congress, seek to confront little Liberia, its traditional ally that has always stood behind United States' position at all international fora. Equally disheartening has been calls by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Russ Feingold for the isolation of the Government of President Taylor. Liberia does not have a regime to warrant any such isolation, as there is a constitutionally elected Government in Liberia, a process that was observed by the United States and rated to be free and fair. American officials seeking to keep Liberia in perpetual misery because of their personal dislike for Liberia’s democratically elected President Charles Taylor, must be stopped and brought to book. Let me therefore use this occasion to once again call on the Congressional Black Caucus to take the lead in opening a new page in US-Liberia relations through dialogue and constructive engagement on all matters of concern. The first step in this direction, I wish to propose is the formation of a Congressional Caucus on Liberian interests. This Caucus must assist Liberia in addressing the immediate challenges of restoring peace, internal stability, the continuation of national reconciliation and respect for the constitutional proces in addressing problems, as opposed to violence.

Once again, I wish to thank you for this invitation and I look forward to more fruitful collaboration with the Caucus, -- many of whom could very well find their roots in Liberia, - a nation founded by the United States more than 150 years ago. I wish you well.

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