Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Text of The Inaugural Address by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia
What follows is the text of the inaugural address by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia as delivered on Monday, January 16, on the Capitol grounds in Monrovia.
Let us first praise Almighty God, the Arbiter of all affairs of humankind whose omnipotent Hand guides and steers our nation.
Before I begin this address, which signifies the high-noon of this historic occasion, I ask that we bow our heads for a moment of silent prayer in memory of the thousands of our compatriots who have died as a result the many conflicts.
I also ask your indulgence as I reflect on the memory of my two rural illiterate grandmothers and my mother and father who taught me to be what I am today, and the families who took them in and gave them the opportunity of a better life.
Let us also remember in prayers during his affliction, His Grace Archbishop Michael K. Francis, the conscience of our nation.
Vice President Boakai and I have just participated in the time-honored constitutional ritual of oath-taking as we embark upon our responsibilities to lead this Republic. This ritual is symbolically and politically significant and substantive. It reflects the enduring character of the democratic tradition of the peaceful and orderly transfer of political power and authority. It also confirms the culmination of a commitment to our nation's collective search for a purposeful and responsive national leadership.
We applaud the resilience of our people who, weighed down and dehumanized by poverty and rendered immobile by the shackles of fourteen years of civil war, went courageously to the polls, to vote - not once but twice, to elect Vice President Joseph Boakai and me to serve them. We express to you, our people, our deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to serve you and our common Republic. We pledge to live up to your expectations of creating a government that is attentive and responsive to your needs, concerns, and the development and progress of our country.
We know that your vote was a vote for change; a vote for peace, security and stability; a vote for individual and national prosperity; a vote for healing and leadership. We have heard you loudly, and we humbly accept your vote of confidence and your mandate.
This occasion, held under the cloudy skies, marks a celebration of change and a dedication to an agenda for a socio-economic and political reordering; indeed, a national renewal.
Today, we wholeheartedly embrace this change. We recognize that this change is not change for change sake, but a fundamental break with the past, thereby requiring that we take bold and decisive steps to address the problems that for decades have stunted our progress, undermined national unity, and kept old and new cleavages in ferment.
As we embrace this new commitment to change, it is befitting that, for the first time, the inauguration is being held on the Capitol Grounds, one of the three seats of Government. We pledge anew our commitment to transparency, open government, and participatory democracy for all of our citizens.
Fellow Liberians: As I speak to you today, I am most gratified by the caliber of the delegations of our own African Governments, Foreign Governments, partners and local partners as well, who have come to join us to celebrate this triumph of democracy in our country. I am particularly touched by those you see - our dear brothers, the delegation from the United States, headed by the wife of President Bush and my friend, our mediator, who has been with us so long and brought us to this day. We pay homage to all of you. We respect you. We welcome you. Bien vene a tous.
My dear Brothers and Sisters of West Africa: You have died for us; you have given refuge to thousands of our citizens; you have denied yourselves by utilizing your scarce resources to assist us; you have agonized for us, and you have prayed for us. We thank you, and may God bless you for your support to Liberia as well as for your continuing commitment to promote peace, security, stability, and bilateral cooperation within our sub-region - and beyond.
I wish to acknowledge the stewardship of the National Transitional Government under the leadership of its former Chairman, Mr. Gyude Bryant, for their contribution to peace and to the successful electoral process. I also recognize and thank the former National Transitional Legislative Assembly for their service to the nation. And I welcome the members of the 52nd Legislature who were sworn in a few moments ago. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I congratulate you as you assume your individual responsibilities of representing our people. I look forward to working with each of you as we strive to build a better nation.
I thank and applaud our gallant men and women of the Armed Forces of Liberia who have rendered sacrificial service to our nation and are now being willingly retired to facilitate the training and restructuring of the new Armed Forces of Liberia.
I also thank the leadership and gallant men and women of the United Nations Military Mission in Liberia who daily labor with us to keep the peace that we enjoy.
Fellow Liberians, Ladies and Gentlemen: No one who has lived in or visited this country in the past fifteen years will deny the physical destruction and the moral decadence that the civil war has left in its wake here in Monrovia and in other cities, towns, and villages across the nation. We have all suffered. The individual sense of deprivation is immense. It is therefore understandable that our people will have high expectations and will demand aggressive solutions to the socio-economic and societal difficulties that we face.
Our record shows that we are a strong and resilient people, able to survive; able to rise from the ashes of civil strife and to start anew; able to forge a new beginning, forgiving if not forgetting the past. We are a good and friendly people, braced for hope even as we wipe away the tears of past suffering and despair. Our challenge, therefore, is to transform adversity into opportunity, to renew the promises upon which our nation was founded: freedom, equality, unity and individual progress.
In the history of our nation, in the history of every nation, each generation, each Administration is summoned to define its nation's purpose and character. Now, it is our time to state clearly and unequivocally who we are, as Liberians, as your leaders - and where we plan to take this country in the next six years.
First, let me declare in our pursuit of political renewal, that the political campaign is over. It is time for us, regardless of our political affiliations and persuasions, to come together to heal and rebuild our nation. For my part, as President of the Republic of Liberia, my Government extends a hand of friendship and solidarity to the leadership and members of all political parties, many of them sitting right in front of me, which participated in our recent presidential and legislative elections. I call upon those who have been long in the struggle - and those who recently earned their stripes - to play important roles in the rebuilding of our nation.
Committed to advance the spirit of inclusion, I assure all Liberians and our international partners and friends that our Government will recognize and support a strong democratic and loyal opposition in Liberia. This is important because we believe that our democratic culture and our nation are best served when the opposition is strong and actively engaged in the process of nation building.
Moreover, we call upon our colleagues of all political persuasions now in the Diaspora to return home and join us in meeting this exciting challenge of national renewal.
We make a similar appeal to the thousands of our citizens who continue to live in refugee camps throughout the sub-region and beyond. We recognize and sympathize with your plight and will explore with our development partners ways and means to facilitate your early return home as a national imperative for our renewal and development.
To those who are still internally displaced, we pledge to work with our partners to get you back to your communities to enable you to start the process of rebuilding your lives.
We must have a new understanding. Your job, as citizens, is to work for your family and your country. Your country's only job is to work for you. That is the compact that I offer you today.
A New Era of Democracy
My Fellow Liberians, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Ours has certainly not been an easy journey to where we are today. Indeed, the road has been tortuous and checkered. The tendencies of intolerance of each other's opinion rooted in parochial and selfish considerations - and greed - have driven us into our descent into recent tragedies and paralysis as a nation and as a people. These negative national tendencies have, in the past, bred ethnic suspicion and hatred, led to injustice, social and political exclusion. They have also weakened our capacity to peacefully co-exist as a people with diverse socio-cultural, economic, and political backgrounds. Consequently, we have witnessed needless generalized conflicts that have profoundly affected the Liberian family, the foundation of our society.
I know of this struggle because I have been a part of it. Without bitterness, or anger, or vindictiveness, I recall the inhumanity of confinement, the terror of attempted rape, the ostracism of exile. But I also recall the goodness and the kindness of the many who defied orders and instruction and saved my life, and gave food to the hungry and to give water to the thirsty. I recall their humanity - and thank them.
And so, my Fellow Liberians let us acknowledge and honor the sacrifices and the contributions of all as we put the past behind us. Let us rejoice that our recent democratic exercise has been a redemptive act of faith and an expression of renewed confidence in ourselves. Let us be proud that we were able to ultimately rise above our intense political and other differences in a renewed determination as a people to foster dialogue instead of violence, promote unity rather than disharmony, and engender hope rather than disillusionment and despair.
My Administration therefore commits itself to the creation of a democracy in which the constitutional and civil liberties and rights of all of our people will be respected.
In a similar quest for economic renewal, we start on the premise that we are a wealthy people. Our nation is blessed with an endowment, rich in natural and human resources. Yet, our economy has collapsed due to several civil conflicts and economic mismanagement by successive governments. The task of reconstructing our devastated economy is awesome, for which there will be no quick fix.
Yet, we have the potential to promote a healthy economy in which Liberians and international investors can prosper. We can create an investment climate that gives confidence to Liberian and foreign investors. We can promote those activities that add value in the exploitation of our natural resources. We can recognize and give support to our small farmers and marketers who, through their own efforts over the years, have provided buoyancy and self-sufficiency in economic activity. We can revisit our land tenure system to promote more ownership and free holding for communities.
This will call for a transformation of our economic vision into economic goals that are consistent with our national endowment and regional and global dynamics. We will ensure that allocation of our own resources reflect those priorities formulated on the basis of sequential measures of structural change that need to provide this transformation. And we will call upon our development partners to likewise recognize that although they have made significant investment to bring peace to our country, this peace can only be consolidated and sustained if we bring development to our people.
With this in mind, we are working with our partners to identify key objectives and deliverables in the first one hundred and fifty days of our Administration, which coincides with the remaining budgetary period of the former government. We must meet our commitment to restore some measure of electricity to our capital city. We must put Liberians back to work again. We must put our economic and financial house in order. Most of all, we must revive our mindset of courage, hard work, honesty, and a can do spirit.
Our strategy is to achieve quick and visible progress that reaches significant number of our people, to gain momentum, consolidate support, and establish the foundation for sustained economic development.
For the long term, more will be required from us and our partners. We will formulate a multi-year economic reconstruction plan tied to a Poverty Reduction Strategy Program that relieves our country from a staggering US$3.5 billion debt and paves the way for acceleration in our national effort to make progress in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. We will also tackle the HIV/Aids problem, thereby enduring that this threat to our human capital and growth and prosperity is addressed.
We know that our desire for an environment for private sector-driven sustainable growth and development cannot be achieved without the political will and a civil service that is efficient, effective and honest. The workforce in our ministries and agencies is seriously bloated. Our Administration will therefore embark on a process of rationalizing our agencies of government to make them lean, efficient, and responsive to public service delivery. This will require the creation of a meritocracy that places premium on qualification, professionalism, and performance.
Fellow Liberians, Ladies and Gentlemen: Across this country, from Cape Mount in the West to Cape Palmas in the East, from Mount Nimba in the North to Cape Monsterrado in the South, from Mount Wologizi in Northcentral to Mount Gedeh in the Southeast, our citizens at this very moment are listening by radio - some are watching by television. I want to talk to you!
As you know, in our various communities and towns, our children have a way of greeting their fathers when they come home after a long, tiring day of trying to find the means to feed the family that night and send the children to school in the morning. They say, "Papa na come."
For too many times, for too many families, Papa comes home with nothing, having failed to find a job or to get the help to feed the hungry children. Imagine the disappointment and the hurt in the mother and the children; the frustration and the loss of self-confidence in the father.
Through the message of this story, I want you to know that I understand what you ordinary citizens go through each day to make ends meet for yourselves and for your families.
Times were hard before. Times are even harder today. But I make this pledge to you: Under my Administration, we will work to change that situation. We will work to ensure that when our children say "papa na come", papa will come home joyfully with something, no matter how meager, to sustain his family. In other words, we will create the jobs for our mothers and fathers to be gainfully employed. We will create the social and economic opportunities that will restore our people's dignity and self-worth.
We will make the children smile again. The thousands of children who could not present their voting cards, but repeatedly told me whenever I met and shook their hands that they voted for me. Indeed, the voted with their hearts. To those children and other Liberian children across this nation, I say to you: I love you very, very much. I shall work to give you hope and a better future.
Now, I would like to speak in particular to our youth. You are out there. You can believe my word that our Administration will do its utmost to respond to your needs. We will build your capacity and empower you to enable you meaningfully participate in the reconstruction of your country. We will give you the education that you asked for, and the skills training that we know you desire. We shall actively pursue the Kakata Declaration resulting from the National Youth Conference held in 2005 and the implementation of a National Youth Policy and Program.
Fellow Liberians, we know that if we are to achieve our economic and income distribution goals, we must take on forcibly and effectively the debilitating cancer of corruption. Throughout the campaign, I assured our people that, if elected, we would wage war against corruption regardless of where it exists, or by whom it is practiced.
Today, I renew this pledge. Corruption, under my Administration, will be the major public enemy. We will confront it. We will fight it. Any member of my Administration who sees this affirmation as mere posturing or yet another attempt by another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should think twice.
In this respect, I will lead by example. I will expect and demand that everyone serving in my Administration leads by example. The first testament of how my Administration will tackle public service corruption will be that everyone appointed to high positions of public trust, such as in the Cabinet and heads of public corporations, will be required to declare their assets. I will be the first to comply, and I will call upon the Honorable Speaker and President Pro-Temps to say that they comply.
My Administration will also accord high priority to the formulation and passage into law of a National Code of Conduct, to which all public servants will be subjected.
My Fellow Liberians: If we are to achieve our development and anti-corruption goals, we must welcome and embrace the Governance and Economic Management Program, which the National Transitional Government of Liberia, working with our international partners, has formulated to deal with the serious economic and financial management deficiencies in our country.
We accept and enforce the terms of GEMAP, recognizing the important assistance which it is expected to provide during the early years of our Government. More importantly, we will ensure competence and integrity in the management of our own resources and insist on an integrated capacity building dimension initiative so as to render GEMAP non-applicable in a reasonable period of time.
My Fellow Liberians: Our nation's foreign policy has historically been rooted in our core values as a nation and people in the practices of good neighborliness, non-interference in the affairs of other nations and peoples, peaceful co-existence, regional cooperation and integration. These values will continue to guide the conduct of our foreign policy under my Administration. Our foreign policy will take due cognizance of the sacrifices and contributions that have been made by our brothers and sisters to restore peace, security, and stability to our country. We will therefore work to be a responsible member of sub-regional, regional, and international organizations, including the Mano River Union, Economic Community of West African States, African Union, and the United Nations. We will do all that we can to honor our obligations, past and current, and enforce all international treaties to which our country has subscribed.
To our sister Republics West, East, and North of our borders, we make this pledge: under my Administration, no inch of Liberian soil will be used to conspire to perpetrate aggression against your countries. In making this commitment, we will work for a new regional security that is based upon economic partnership aimed at enhancing the prospects for regional cooperation and integration.
My Fellow Citizens: Let me assure you that my Presidency shall remain committed to serve all Liberians without fear or favor. I am President for all of the people of the country. I therefore want to assure all of our people that neither I, nor any person serving my Administration will pursue any vendetta. There will be no vindictiveness. There will be no policies of political, social, and economic exclusion. We will be inclusive and tolerant, ever sensitive to the anxieties, fears, hopes, and aspirations of all of our people irrespective of ethnic, political, religious affiliation, and social status.
By their votes, the Liberian people have sent a clear message! They want peace; they want to move on with their lives. My charge as President is to work to assure the wishes of our people. We will therefore encourage our citizens to utilize our system of due process for settling differences. We will make sure that we work together as a people, knowing, however, that we will forcefully and decisively respond to any acts of lawlessness, threats to our hard earned peace, or destabilizing actions that could return us to conflict.
As we savor the new dawn of hope and expectation, I pledge to bring the Government closer to the people. The days of the imperial Presidency, of a domineering and threatening Chief Executive are over. This was my campaign promise, which I intend to keep.
And now, before I close, I would like to talk to the women - the women of Liberia, the women of Africa, and the women of the world. Until a few decades ago, Liberian women endured the injustice of being treated as second-class citizens. During the years of our civil war, they bore the brunt of inhumanity and terror. They were conscripted into war, gang raped at will, forced into domestic slavery. Yet, it is the women who labored and advocated for peace throughout our region.
It is therefore not surprising that during the period of our elections, Liberian women were galvanized - and demonstrated unmatched passion, enthusiasm, and support for my candidacy. They stood with me; they defended me; they worked with me; they prayed for me. The same can be said for the women throughout Africa. I want to here and now, gratefully acknowledge the powerful voice of women of all walks of life.
My Administration shall thus endeavor to give Liberian women prominence in all affairs of our country. My Administration shall empower Liberian women in all areas of our national life. We will support and increase the writ of laws that restore their dignity and deal drastically with crimes that dehumanize them. We will enforce without fear or favor the law against rape recently passed by the National Transitional Legislature. We shall encourage families to educate all children, particularly the girl child. We will also try to provide economic programs that enable Liberian women - particularly our market women - to assume their proper place in our economic process.
My Fellow Liberians: We are moving forward. The best days are coming. The future belongs to us because we have taken charge of it. We have the resources, and we have the resourcefulness. We now have the right Government. And we have good friends, good brothers and sisters who will work with us. Our people are already building our roads, cleaning up our environment, creating jobs, rebuilding schools, bringing back water and electricity.
We are a good people; we are a kind people. We are a forgiving people - and we are a God-fearing people.
So, let us begin anew, moving forward into a future that is filled with promise, filled with hope!
"In Union Strong, Success is Sure! We cannot - fail. We must not - fail. We will not - fail."
God bless you all - and save the Republic.
I thank you.
This transcript was published by All Africa.com
Tuesday, January 17, 2006