March 15, 2006
Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of the United States Congress distinguished
I am deeply touched by the honor bestowed on my small but proud West African
Republic of Liberia and on myself by inviting me to address this body of
representatives of the people of the great United States of America. By this
invitation, you have paid one of the greatest tributes there is to those who
laid down their lives for my country to be free and democratic. I can only say a
big thank you.
The people of Liberia and the people of the United States are bound together by
history and by values. We share a deep and abiding belief in the power of
freedom, of faith and of finding virtue in work for the common good.
The national motto of Liberia founded, as you know, by freed American slaves is,
"The love of liberty brought us here." We became the first independent Republic
in Africa. Our capital, Monrovia, is named for your president James Monroe. Our
flag is a star in a blue field and red and white stripes; its one star makes us
the lone star state in Africa. Our constitution and our laws were based upon
yours. The U.S. dollar was long our legal tender and still is used alongside the
Liberian dollar today.
But our ties greatly exceed the historical connection. I stand before you today,
as the first woman elected to lead an African nation, thanks to the grace of
Almighty God; thanks to the courage of the Liberian people, who chose their
future over fear; thanks to the people of west Africa and of Africa generally,
who continued to give hope to my people. Thanks also to President Bush whose
strong resolve and public condemnation and appropriate action forced a tyrant
into exile and thanks to you the members of this august body who spurred the
international effort that brought blessed peace to our nation.
It was the leadership of the 108th Congress, more than two years ago, that paved
the way for a United Nations force that secured our peace and guaranteed free
and fair elections. It was your 445 million dollar addition to a supplemental
appropriation that attracted additional commitments from international donors.
With those funds, we have laid the foundation for a durable peace, not only in
Liberia, but in the whole West African sub-region. Special appreciation goes to
this 109th Congress for the effort, in recent weeks, to meet Liberia's
Honorable ladies and gentlemen of this Congress, I want to thank you. The
Liberian people have sent me here to thank you. Thank you for your vision.
Our triumph over evil is also your triumph.
Our special relationship with the United States brought us benefits long before
the autumn of 2003. Thousands of our people, including myself, have been
educated in American missionary schools and gone on to higher training in this
country. You have generously welcomed tens of thousands of our people as they
fled war and persecution.
I was among them. In 1985, after challenging the military regime's failure to
register my political party, I was put in jail with several university students
who also challenged the military rule. This House came to our rescue with a
resolution threatening to cut off aid to the country unless all political
prisoners were released. Months later, I was put in jail again, this time in a
cell with 15 men. All of them were executed a few hours later. Only the
intervention of a single soldier spared me from rape. Through the grace of
Almighty God and the mercy of others, I escaped and found refuge here, in
Washington, D.C. But long before that, our country and I benefited from
Liberia's special relationship with the United States.
My family exemplifies the economic and social divide that has torn our nation.
Unlike many privileged Liberians, I can claim no American lineage. Three of my
grandparents were indigenous Liberians; the fourth was a German who married a
rural market woman. That Grandfather was forced to leave the country when
Liberia in loyalty to the United States declared war on Germany in 1914.
Both of my grandmothers were farmers and village traders. They could not read or
write any language as more than three-quarters of our people still cannot today
but they worked hard, they loved their country, they loved their families and
they believed in education. They inspired me then, and their memory motivates me
now to serve my people, to sacrifice for the world and honestly serve humanity.
I could not, I will not, I cannot betray their trust.
My parents were sent at a young age to Monrovia, where it was common for elite
families to take in children from the countryside to perform domestic chores.
They endured humiliations and indignities, but my mother was fortunate to be
adopted by a kind woman, and both my parents were able through this system to go
to school; a rarity at that time for poor people. My father even became the
first native Liberian in the Liberian National Legislature.
I was not born with the expectation of a University education from Harvard or
being a World Bank officer or an Assistant Secretary-General of the United
Nations. When I was a small girl in the countryside, swimming and fishing with
twine made from palm trees, no one would have picked me out as the future
president of our country.
I graduated from the College of West Africa, a United Methodist high school. I
waited tables to support my studies in the United States--college in Wisconsin
and graduate school in Massachusetts. I went on to enjoy the benefits and
advantages of a world-class education.
So my feet are in two worlds--the world of poor rural women with no respite from
hardship, and the world of accomplished Liberian professionals, for whom the
United States is a second and beloved home. I draw strength from both.
But most of our people have not been as fortunate as I was. Always poor and
underdeveloped, Liberia is only now emerging from two decades of turmoil that
destroyed everything we managed to build in a century and a half of independence.
The cost of our conflict run wide and deep, manifested in varied ways:
mismanagement, corruption, bad governance, massive looting of public treasury
and assets. Unlike the Tsunami in Asia and Katrina here in your own country,
where the destruction and human casualty were caused by nature, we participated
in or stood silently by in our own self destruction. Our country agonized with
your citizens and victims and families of these natural tragedies and our
country also agonized with itself over the effects of a senseless civil war.
In the campaign months, I traveled to every corner of our country. I trudged
through mud in high boots, where roads did not exist or had deteriorated past
repair. I surveyed ruined hospitals and collapsed clinics. I held meetings by
candlelight, because there is no electricity anywhere including the capital
except from private generators. I was forced to drink water from creeks and
un-sanitized wells all of which made me vulnerable to the diseases from which so
many of our people die daily.
I came face to face with the human devastation of war, which killed a quarter of
a million of our three million people and displaced most of the rest. Hundreds
of thousands escaped across borders. More, who could not, fled into the bush,
constantly running from one militia or another, often surviving by eating
rodents and wild plants that made them sick and even killed them.
Our precious children died of malaria, parasites and mal-nourishments. Our boys,
full of potential, were forced to be child soldiers, to kill or be killed. Our
girls, capable of being anything they could imagine, were made into sex slaves,
gang-raped by men with guns, made mothers while they were still children
But listening to the hopes and dreams of our people, I recall the words of a
Mozambican poet who said, Our dream has the size of freedom. My people, like
your people, believe deeply in freedom and, in their dreams, they reach for the
I represent those dreams. I represent their hope and their aspirations. I ran
for president because I am determined to see good governance in Liberia in my
lifetime. But I also ran because I am the mother of four, and I wanted to see
our children smile again.
Already, I am seeing those smiles. For even after everything they have endured,
the people of Liberia have faith in new beginnings. They are counting on me and
my administration to create the conditions that will guarantee the realization
of their dreams. We must not betray their trust.
All They Want is a chance
All the children I meet when I ask what they want most, say I want to learn. I
want to go to school. I want an education. We must not betray their trust.
Young adults, who have been called our lost generation, do not consider
themselves lost. They, too, aspire to learn and to serve their families and
their communities. We must not betray their trust.
Women, my strong constituency, tell me that they want the same chances that men
have. They want to be literate. They want their work recognized. They want
protection against rape. They want clean water that won't sicken and kill their
children. We must not betray their trust.
Former soldiers tell me they are tired of war; they do not want to have to fight
or to run again. They want training. They want jobs. If they carry guns, they
want to do so in defense of peace and security, not war and pillage. We must not
betray their trust.
Entrepreneurs who have returned from abroad with all their resources risking
everything to invest in their country's future tell me they want a fair and
transparent regulatory environment. They want honesty and accountability from
their government. We must not betray their trust.
Farming families who fled the fighting for shelter in neighboring countries or
found themselves displaced from their communities want a fresh start. They want
to return home. They want seeds. They want farm implements. They want roads to
get their goods to market. We must not betray their trust.
I have many promises to keep. As I won elections through a free and peaceful
process, I must preserve freedom and keep the peace. As I campaigned against
corruption, I must lead a government that curbs it. As I was elected with the
massive vote of women, I must assure that their needs are met.
We are not oblivious to the enormity of the challenges we face. Few countries
have been as decimated as ours. In the chaos of war, our HIV rates have
quadrupled. Our children are still dying of curable diseases, tuberculosis,
dysentery, measles, malaria and parasites and malnutrition. Schools lack books,
equipment, teachers and buildings. The telecommunications age has passed us by.
We have a 3.5 billion dollar external debt, lent in large measure to some of my
predecessors who were known to be irresponsible, unaccountable, unrepresentative
and corrupt. The reality that we have lost our international creditworthiness
bars us from further loans although now we would use them wisely.
Our abundant natural resources have been diverted by criminal conspiracies for
private gain. International sanctions, imposed for the best of reasons, still
prevent us from exporting our raw materials. Roads and bridges have disappeared
or been bombed or washed away. We know that trouble could once again breed
outside our borders. The physical and spiritual scars of war are deep indeed.
So with everything to be done, what must we do first?
We must do everything we can to consolidate the peace that so much was paid to
secure, and we must work to heal the wounds of war. We must create an emergency
public works program to put the whole nation to work and give families an income
through the rebuilding of critical infrastructure, strengthening security and
We must rehabilitate the core of an electricity grid to high-priority areas and
institutions and visibly demonstrate to the people that government can provide
We must bring home more of our refugees, and resettle the displaced. We must
give them the tools to start anew, and encourage more of our skilled expatriates,
who have the knowledge and the experience to build our economy to return home.
For those unable to come home now, we must appeal to you to grant them
continuing protective status, and residency where appropriate, to put them in a
condition to contribute to their country’s reform and development.
We must complete the demobilization of former combatants and restructure our
army, police and security services. We must create legal systems that preserve
the rule of law, applied to all without fear or favor.
We must revive educational facilities, including our few universities. We must
provide essential agricultural extension services to help us feed ourselves
again, developing the science and technology skills to insure that we prosper in
a modern global economy.
We must create an efficient and transparent tax system, to ensure the flow of
government revenues and create a hospitable investment climate.
With few resources beyond the will of our people, I want you to know we have
made a strong beginning. During my first few weeks in office, by curbing
corruption we have increased government revenue by 21 percent, relative to the
same period last year. We have cancelled non compliant forestry concessions and
fraudulent contracts. We have required senior government appointees to declare
financial assets; implemented cash management practices to insure fiscal
discipline and sharpen efficiency; met the basic requirements for eligibility
under the US general system of preferences and initial Exim Bank support. We
have restored good relationships with bilateral and multilateral partners;
commenced the process leading to an IMF Staff Monitoring Program; accelerated
implementation of the Governance Economic Management Plan the G-Map; and we have
also launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the abuses of
But while we seek national unity and reconciliation, we must not sacrifice
justice. I respect the life-saving role that our West African neighbors,
particularly Nigeria, played at no small cost to them in accepting to host Mr.
Charles Taylor. Liberians are deeply grateful. But I say here, as I have said
before, Liberia has little option but to see that justice is done in accordance
with the requirements of the United Nations and the broad international
I know that my government must go beyond these strong beginnings; must do much
more than we have done so far, and we must do it quickly. Our people's courage
and patience are formidable, but their expectations are high. And their needs
This does not mean that we want big government. We cannot afford it, and we
believe that government should not attempt to do what civil society and business
can do better.
The people of Liberia know that government cannot save the country only their
own strength, their determination, their creativity, resilience and their faith
can do that. But they have the right to expect the essentials that only a
government can provide.
They have the right to a government that is honest and that respects the
sanctity of human life. They need and they deserve an economic environment in
which their efforts can succeed. They need infrastructure and they need security.
Above all, they need peace.
That is the task of my administration. To meet that challenge, to do what is
right, I ask for the continuing support of this Congress and the American people.
Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, my appeal comes with the recognition of all that
you have already done. In addition to the financial assistance to disarm our
fighters, to feed and house our displaced, the artful diplomacy of the United
States was central to ending our long conflict. We thank you with all our hearts.
As small and as impoverished as we are, we cherish the friendship we have had
with you. During the Second World War, we stood together, even if only
symbolically, to fight Nazi expansionism and tyranny. At the request of
President Roosevelt, we planted rubber trees after the Japanese seized the
Indonesian supply. When U.S. laws prohibited sending ships to a Europe at war,
we agreed to establish a shipping registry to help transport American goods.
During the Cold War, we hosted a submarine tracking center, an intelligence
listening post and one of the largest Voice of America transmitters in the world.
Again, we ask that we continue working together but we do not ask for patronage.
We do not want to continue in dependency. The benefits of your assistance must
Honorable members of Congress, much is at stake for all of us.
Liberia at war brought misery and crimes against humanity to its neighbors a
toll that is beyond calculation. A peaceful, prosperous Liberia can contribute
to democracy, stability and development in West Africa and beyond.
Nine times, nine times in the past 15 years, the United States has been forced
to evacuate official Americans and their dependents from our country, at
enormous cost to your taxpayers. Monrovia, I am told, is the most-evacuated U.S.
embassy in the world. I am determined that you will not need to rescue your
people from our shores for a tenth time. You contribute hundreds of millions of
dollars to a UN Peacekeeping Force in Liberia. A fraction of this will be
required to support a peaceful and stable Liberia.
Honorable Members of this great Congress, think with me about this. What is the
return on an investment that trains young combatants for life, rather than death?
What is the yield when our young men can exchange their guns for jobs? What is
the savings in food aid when our people can feed themselves again? What is the
profit from educating our girls to be scientists and doctors? What is the
dividend when our dependence ends, and we become true partners rather than
Honorable Members, we know that there is no quick fix for the reconstruction of
our country, but Liberians, young and old, share their government's commitments
to work, to be honest, to unite, to reconcile and to rebuild. A nation so well
endowed, so blessed by God with natural resources, should not be poor. We have
rubber and timber and diamonds and gold and iron ore. Our fields are fertile.
Our water supply is plentiful. Our sunshine is warm and welcoming.
With your prayers and with your help, we will demonstrate that democracy can
work, even under the most challenging conditions. We will honor the suffering of
our people, and Liberia will become a brilliant beacon, an example to Africa and
the world of what the love of liberty can achieve. We will strive to be
America's success story in Africa, demonstrating the potential in the
transformation from war to peace; demonstrating the will to join in the global
fight against terrorism; demonstrating that democracy can prevail, demonstrating
that prosperity can be achieved.
The people of Liberia have already rolled up their sleeves, despite overwhelming
obstacles, confident that their work will be rewarded, confident in the hope and
promise of the future.
The women of Liberia and the women of Africa, some in the market place and some
in high level of Government have already shared their trust and their confidence
in my ability to succeed, and ensure that the doors of competitive politics and
professionalism will be opened even wider for them.
Honorable members, I will succeed. I will not betray their trust. I will make
them proud; I will make you proud - of the difference which one woman with
abiding faith in God can do.
God bless you.