Considered as a woman of substance with phenomenal global standings, President of Liberia Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa and ranked by Forbes in 2012 as among the Top 100 most powerful women in the world. Accolades for her work came in abundance as after decades of fighting for freedom and justice and equality, she shared the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace with two other women in 2011. She has been awarded honorary doctorates by over 17 global institutions. Among her other distinguished honors include France’s highest award and public distinction, the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development and also the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by an American President. In September this year, before a crowd of more than 60,000 fans attending the 2013 Global Citizen Festival at Central Park’s Great Lawn, President Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia received Global Citizen Movement Award 2013 for championing the cause of gender equality.
During her recent visit to Kuwait to participate in the Third Africa Arab Summit, Her Excellency took time off from her busy schedule to speak with The Times Managing Editor, Reaven D’Souza on the outcome of Afro-Arab summit and the amazing development taking place in her home country Liberia.
“The expectations of the recently held Afro-Arab summit have not only been met, but have exceeded,” Her Excellency told The Times in an exclusive interview after the successful conclusion of the summit
Describing Kuwait as a long term friend of Africa President Sirleaf pointed out that the whole of Africa was pleased that Kuwait had agreed to take over the leadership of the Afro-Arab summit. “We feel it was well deserved because Kuwait has been a major partner to several African countries for so many years with continuity, and the summit was fully represented by leaders from both Arab and African countries.”
Applauding H H the Amir’s gracious hospitality, Her Excellency pointed at the warmth and care shown to all the heads of delegations at the summit.
Elaborating on the summit, Her Excellency noted “Everybody was concerned on the substance of the meeting as we had the 2nd summit in 2010 in Sirte and not too much happened after that, we had to make sure that the declaration made in Sirte was also relevant today.”
“Everybody was committed to make sure that there would be no interruptions in the meeting of the activities of the different working groups of the summit, the coordination committees would all carry out their functions as we move to the next summit three years from now,” remarked Her Excellency, adding that the next summit would be held in an African country to be decided later.
Commenting on the Kuwait Declaration, the president noted that it was a very full draft and consisted of various topics covering African and Arab agenda and all areas of partnership.
“You can’t cover everything in a summit but the focus should be on critical areas,” she noted stating that working groups were now expected to take this forward as they consisted of smaller number of states from both sides and would have to encourage different countries to look at their own development agenda and make sure the areas of focus and priorities have been identified by the summit. Working groups could provide monitoring and evaluation,” she noted.
“One of the things that came strongly from the African point of view was on infrastructure and that helped ideas to concentrate on partnership between certain countries, Africa on one side and the Arabs on the other, and help develop infrastructure whether it is power, ports and roads because that is very central to the African common position for the global agenda.”
Her Excellency also emphasized that she would love to see different countries decide on private-public partnership whether it was Kuwait and Liberia or Saudi and Somalia, the private sector should play a major role in development, and hoped that many nations would explore this type of partnership.
During her short visit to Kuwait the president said she was very pleased that after many months of negotiations and discussions the Kuwait Ministry of Finance signed a US$12 million loan for Liberia to be used for the power sector.
“Our technical ministers who accompanied us during the visit also met with representatives from Kuwait Fund and held discussions on the support they were getting for port development and road development,”
“Liberia is going through an Agenda for Transformation, it is a five year phase for their long-term 23rd national vision”. The agenda focuses on infrastructure and has mobilized around $16 billion of Foreign Direct Investment during the past four years.
President Sirleaf’s vision of turning that investment into opportunity is now becoming a reality. Liberia is witnessing more exports and jobs as the country begins to add value to its resources. As a natural resource rich country Liberia has been exporting primary commodities that had been constraining the growth of its industrial and manufacturing sector.
Focus on infrastructure is now enabling companies to operate at the anticipated level, adding value and growing at a rate of seven percent. “Our priorities will always be education, health and agriculture, but even in these three areas if we don’t have electricity, roads and water we won’t have the benefit of the investment we make in social infrastructure,” she pointed out
Having achieved so much both in personal and professional life President Ellen Sirleaf adds with all modesty “I wish to maintain peace and stability in my country and achieve the development goals set, and to make sure that Liberia is better off after I leave office.”
She also hopes the country will by then have a mature political system and transition of power take place peacefully.