Monrovia — Why is this trip important? What is the significance to the United States – and to you, specifically – having served as ambassador here?
Well, first, for the United States, Liberia is a long historical partner and ally of the United States. Our histories are intertwined with each other” – “The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly” – and there was a lot of bad and ugly during Liberia’s civil war. We really worked to help Liberia come out of that war and to heal from that war. Having Liberia today [as] the example in West Africa – what a smooth transition can look like – I think is very, very powerful. Having this inauguration is extraordinary! We’re proud of what the Liberians have been able to accomplish as a country. You still have a long way to go. I’m not ignoring that there are issues that still need to be addressed. But you’re an example for West Africa. We wanted to be part of this as the U.S. government.
Liberia has a long way to go, but this moment is exhilarating.
For me personally, having served here as the ambassador, having lived here in the 1970s, I have a long history with this country. So I was really, really honored when President Biden asked that I lead this delegation. It’s a proud moment. I’m really exhilarated to be here – and proud of what Liberians have done.
You talk about Liberia as an example in the region. But there has been a lot of democratic backsliding with some countries. What would be the message in light of what is happening in Liberia today to other nations?
Well, one is other nations should look at Liberia. Liberia is an example – a country having come out of war, and yet still able to have a democratic election and a transition of power to an opposition party. This is what all countries want. People are not voting for military governments; they are not voting for coup d’etats. They’re not voting for war. They’re voting for peace. They’re voting for opportunity. And they’re voting to see their democracy deliver to their people.
Countries want peace and opportunity.
Expectations of the Liberian people of President Boakai, will be very, very high. Managing those expectations will be extraordinarily difficult. But I think you’re on a path in Liberia that other countries should try to emulate.
With this administration, do you expect to see an increase U.S. support?
We’ve never diminished our support for Liberia. Because we do see Liberia as a partner. And we see Liberia is friend. There have been times when that friendship has been difficult, of course: when Liberia was in war, when the government is not delivering to its people, when we see corruption rampant.
One thing I think former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf can tell you, one of the things that I committed to doing when I was ambassador here, was always to tell her the truth. That’s what friends do. We’re going to continue to work with this government. We’re going to be the truth sayer to this government. We’re going to be the harshest critic of this government. Because that’s what friends do for each other. It’s constructive criticism, and it is an effort to help Liberia prosper.
From here you’re going on to Sierre Leone. You’ve been to Guinea Bissau before then. What’s your message to them?
The message is to continue to encourage these countries to stay on the democratic path. The meeting that I had in Guinea Bissau with President [Umaro Sissoco] Embalo, who I’ve known for many, many years, was a conversation to reaffirm our alliance, our commitment, our friendship and to talk about some of the issues that he is addressing. There were two coup attempts in Guinea Bissau, as you know, and we wanted to encourage him to stay on a democratic path.
As a Security Council member, Sierra Leone plays a role on the world stage.
Sierra Leone is different. They are one of the A3 – the three elected African countries on the United Nations Security Council. So they are playing a significant role both in the continent of Africa, but on the world stage as well. And so my visit there is a consultation with a fellow Security Council member to talk about the issues that we will be addressing in the Security Council.
Your visit to west Africa coincides with that of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Does that reflect, in the aftermath of the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit a year ago, an increase in relations with the continent? There’s been some concerns that Africa has been pushed aside as a result of the crises in Ukraine and Israel.
You know, we can chew gum and walk at the same time! We have never diminished our commitment to the African continent. The [U.S.] President committed during the African Leaders Summit that we were going to be regularly visiting the continent across the board. The fact that there are two cabinet officials on the continent right now, Secretary Blinken and myself, is significant. We also had a delegation to Democratic Republic of Congo’s inauguration. So, actually, there were three missions on the continent [in the past week].
There were three high-level U.S. delegations in Africa in the past week.
But we’ve had regular engagements across the continent over the course of this administration. Certainly, we look to continue that engagement. Africa is important. Africa is on the cutting edge of what is happening in the future, as we deal with issues related to climate change, as we dealt with a pandemic that had a devastating impact. Africa’s population is growing at an extraordinary rate. You have a very youthful population. The median age is 19.
Africa cannot be ignored. We ignore Africa to our own peril. And we’re not going to do that. We’re committed to the people of Africa. We’re committed to this continent, and we want to see Africa continue to prosper.