Pledged To Help Liberia overcome 'Terrible Past’
By Bill K. Jarkloh, FPA Staff Writer
The arrival of President George W. Bush brought a massive turn out of students, ordinary Liberians as well as foreigners that lined up along the route to welcome the American chief executive to the country.
President Bush is the third of American president who have so far landed on the Liberian soil.
The first was President Franklin D. Roosevelt during President Edwin Barclay’s regime in 1948 and the second being President Jimmy Carter who visited President William R. Tolbert in 1978.
U.S. President George W. Bush and LIberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at the Foreign Affairs Minister Thursday.
The American President’s Airforce-1 Bush landed in Liberia via the Roberts International Airport at about 9:30AM Liberian time and flew aboard an American built chopper to the James Spriggs Payne Airfield where he and entourage were met by his Liberian host, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. President Bush was later piloted to the Foreign Ministry, where the Liberian President’s temporary office is located.
Protocol, as earlier announced, also took President Bush to the Executive Mansion, the Barclay
Training Center (BTC) and the University of Liberia’s main campus on the Capitol Hill.
A red carpet welcome
Our reporter who covered the visit reports that the routes the United States President used Thursday to attend ceremonies planned for his visit were beautifully decorated with the U. S. and Liberian flags flown on lights poles, major buildings while students of various schools, ordinary Liberians and other residents who lined the routes were seen waving both Liberian and United States flags in jubilation.
On the UN Drive, the dresses of various organizations and interest groups that turned out to welcome President Bush depicts a rainbow colors however dominated by red, white and blue, which are the national colors of both countries. They carried banners welcoming President Bush while acrobatic cultural display were been carried out along the road.
Some of the banners read, “Concerned Widows and Children of Armed Forces of Liberia Welcome President and Mrs. Bush, Republic of Liberia National Traditional Council Welcomes President and Mrs. Bush and Unity Party Welcomes President and Mrs. Bush amongst others.
‘Misbehaving man’ arrested
A team of Liberian officials and U.S. officials including Bush and SIrleaf hold bilateral discussions Thursday.
Some officers of the Liberia National Police, in its effort to secure the route while awaiting
President Bush, arrested and handcuff a man who was said to have misbehaved. The man, according to our reporter, was taken away by the police. The high enthusiasm to catch a glimpse of the United States President at the UN Drive was characterized by massive security presence which on the other hand deprived students and others who went to welcome the American leader and delegation.
At about 2:00 PM, President Bush’s siren was heard, and suddenly the executive convoy came to sight heading towards the Barclay Training Center where the ever ready AFL band welcomed the President with songs to which the anxious crowd and Presidents Bush and Sirleaf danced. There were laud cheers and waving of the red, white and blue American and Liberian flags as the Motorcade scurried through into the BTC shortly before the AFL band sounded.
The American President finally appeared, ridding in a motorcade with President Sirleaf in another, both waving incessantly as Liberians in return reciprocally waved the flags and applauded while President Johnson-Sirleaf wore a great smile on her face in appreciation.
Bush expects professional army in Liberia
At the Barclay Training Center, President Bush Spoke to the hear to the Liberian civil war. “Madam President, you're right, we have met four times, and every time I'm the better for it. I appreciate the warm welcome we've received from the people of your beautiful country. He established the American people’s greeting and said, “I'm proud to be traveling today not only with a strong delegation, headed by my wife, but also the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. I'm so honored to be with your troops. I'm looking forward to the display of talent and professionalism we're about to see. I thank those who have worked hard to help them become professional soldiers, all in the cause of bringing peace and security to the people of Liberia.”
Bush furthered: “Though we're over 4,500 miles from the United States, I feel pretty much at home here. In Liberia, you fly the "Lone Star" flag. Of course, I was the former governor of Texas. We call ourselves the "Lone Star State." Your capital is named for an American President, and of course, I am an American President. The name of your country, Liberia, means, "land of the free," and there is no place I feel more welcome than a land where liberty is love and the hope of freedom reigns,” President said.
The U.S. President traced the linkage of Liberia and America: “This country was founded by former American slaves who came here seeking the freedom they had been denied in my country. Through hard work and determination, they established the first independent republic on the continent of Africa.”
According to Bush, ”The free country they built became a source of pride for her people, and a strong ally in the cause of freedom.”As the President said, Franklin Roosevelt came here in 1943 to confer with your great President, Edwin Barclay. Together, our two nations helped defeat the forces of fascism. Together, our two nations helped save millions from lives of tyranny and despair.”
In the intervening years, he said, Liberia saw days of challenge and sorrow. “They [Liberians] suffered the descent into dictatorship and chaos. Civil wars took the lives of hundreds of thousands of your citizens. Yet even in their darkest moments, the Liberian people never gave up on the hope that this great nation would once again be the land of the free that its founders intended.
Bush said Liberians reclaimed their liberty in 2005 when they elected the first woman ever elected to lead an African nation, adding, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been a strong leader for the Liberian people. She has been a strong partner of the United States of America. I'm proud to call her friend, and I'm proud of the work we are doing together to help the people of this nation build a better life.
United States'commitments to Liberia
The United States President committed his country to the eradication of malaria from the African Continent, saying that it is irresponsible for comfortable nations to stand by knowing that young babies are dying from mosquito bites. It is unnecessary, and the United States will continue to lead the cause to eradicate malaria from the continent of Africa.
Besides, he said his administration was working to lift the burden of debt, so that Liberia can achieve her potential, and unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of her citizens, help the children of Liberia get a good education, so they'll have the skills they need to turn their freedom into a future of prosperity and peace.
To this end, he announced that the United States will provide one million textbooks over the next year -- as well as desks and seating for at least 10,000 Liberian school children by the start of the new school year. “Together with the help of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, we're working to heal the wounds of war, and strengthen democracy, and build a new armed forces that will be a source of security for the Liberian people instead of a source of terror.”
Bush said there’s progress made in all those areas. “You know, one of the things I've learned, and I suspect the people of Liberia have learned: It's easier to tear a country down than it is to rebuild a country. And the people of this good country must understand the United States will stand with you as you rebuild your country.”
He said the progress made in these areas is possible because of the iron will of the lady you lovingly refer to as "Ma." That would be you, Madam President. I appreciate the fact that you've ushered in an age of reform, and you've opened up a new chapter in the relationship between [Liberia and] our country.”
At UL campus, a health, educated group
The visiting American President also visited the main campus of the University of Liberia where he and President Johnson Sirleaf Participate in Roundtable on Education. At the University, President Bush expressed appreciation for leadership of Madam Sirleaf, saying it's one thing to be for freedom, but it's really important to have a healthy, educated group of folks to be able to realize the blessings of freedom.
He said it is the United States desire to answer the universal call to love a neighbor and to help others not only realize the blessings of liberty, but to fight disease when they find it and to deal with illiteracy where it is encountered. He added, “I believe to whom much is given, much is required. A lot has been given the United States of America, and I firmly believe it's in our national interest to help.”
According to Bush, Liberians should understand and know that the United States of America is with them, “and we'll stay with you, because we want you to succeed. It's in the interests of the United States of America that Liberia do well.”
Concluding his address at the University, President Bush said, “I believe African leaders can run African countries. But I do believe the United States of America can help.”
President Bush has also spent time in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana in a trip focused on health and economic aid. For Bush, Liberia is the perfect cap to a journey of goodwill — in both directions. He's been offering aid and attention to Africa, and in return, been showered in adulation.
Previous report quoted President Bush as saying Thursday that the United States is committed to helping restore lives of "hope and peace" to Liberia, a poor African nation that ties its founding and its renewed freedom to America.
Bush landed in Monrovia, the capital city named for President James Monroe. This nation — founded by freed American slaves and ruined by a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003 — is proudly trying to revive itself under a democratic government.
"The U.S. message is we want to help you recover from a terrible period," Bush said.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf welcomes U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady, Laura to Liberia Thursday. Liberia is in depressingly poor shape. Many rotted houses look like they're held together by sheer will. Billboards warn against mob violence, rape, corruption and AIDS.
The U.S. government is pumping in money for education, security, construction and disease prevention. Direct U.S. aid has totaled more than $750 million since the war ended. The president is to announce that the U.S. aid will provide 1 million textbooks to children by the start of the next school year and desks and seating for 10,000 students, White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
"They're making rapid progress, but there's a long way to go," Perino told reporters on Air Force One before Bush landed in Monrovia.
Bush took a helicopter into the city from the airport, avoiding a long, bone-jarring car ride that reflects the deep dysfunction in this war-shattered country. Though peaceful now, the prevalence of weapons in Liberia coupled with its other problems made this — his last stop in Africa — the most nerve-racking for the president's security detail.
Blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeepers with guns and riot-guard shields patrolled ahead of Bush's arrival.
The centerpiece of Bush's quick stop here is a meeting with Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman ever elected president in Africa. No leader on the continent has warmer relations with the American president.
Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist who once fled her own country for survival, won office in 2005. First lady Laura Bush attended her inauguration in Liberia, and Bush has since given her the highest civil honor he can bestow, the Medal of Freedom.
Red, white and blue flags of Liberia were hoisted side-by-side with the American flag on the main avenue leading to Liberia's Executive Mansion. Student groups turned out to receive the president, but most access roads to the city were blocked for security reasons.
The U.S. President inspects guard of honor upon arrival in Monrovia Thursday.
Bush's first trip as president to Africa in 2003 was overshadowed by talk of the brutal civil war in Liberia, then led by dictator Charles Taylor. Prodded by international appeals to intervene, Bush sent in the Marines later that year. It helped drive Taylor into exile.
Bush is meeting with Sirleaf, visiting a training center for Liberia's armed forces and holding an education event before flying back to Washington. He has also spent time in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana in a trip focused on health and economic aid.
For Bush, Liberia is the perfect cap to a journey of goodwill — in both directions. He's been offering aid and attention to Africa, and in return, been showered in adulation.
Bush got a day named in his honor in Benin and a highway named for him in Ghana. Huge crowds of cheering, flag waving Liberians lined Bush's drive to his meeting with Sirleaf.
All this is a world away from Washington, where Bush's public approval has been mired around 30 percent for months, and the candidates gunning for his job get more headlines.
The United States is viewed honorably here for helping Liberia shift from a dictatorship to a fledgling democracy.
Many Liberians remain nervous about whether their road to recovery is going to last. Part of Bush's goal is persuade them they won't be forgotten even when his presidency ends.