The President of the Republic of India, His Excellency Pranab Mukherjee, on Wednesday, September 11, hosted a Banquet in honor of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on the occasion of the first State Visit of a Liberian Head of State to the world’s largest democracy.
According to a dispatch from India, the official State event, held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Palace), in New Delhi, was attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Speaker and Members of the Indian Parliament, officials of the Indian and Liberian Governments, members of the Diplomatic Corps, and other invited guests.
A Reception preceded the Banquet, at which the Ministers on the Indian side and the members of President Sirleaf’s delegation were announced and shook hands with the two Presidents and with each other.
Before the guests partook of a multi-course dinner showcasing the best in Indian cuisine, President Mukherjee delivered a speech, to which President Sirleaf responded.
Welcoming the Liberian President on her first State Visit to India, President Mukherjee described her as “the first elected lady President in Africa, an icon of women’s empowerment.” “And though you are known as ‘the Iron Lady’, you have been an angel of hope, optimism and change in Liberia,” he stated.
Elaborating, the Indian President observed that since her momentous election as President for the first time in 2006, President Sirleaf has been on a mission to realize her vision of freedom, democracy and peace in Liberia.
He said: “You have toiled relentlessly to spread education, change attitudes and establish a new social order. Your Government has introduced and implemented wide-ranging reforms. You have made it a priority to foster gender equality and empower the women of Liberia with the right of equal participation in the decision-making processes. You have used the resources of your country – which God has given you so amply – for the good of your people. Your steadfast determination and inspiring leadership has helped Liberia become a land of opportunity. You have, indeed, dramatically altered the course for Liberia, and are, today a guiding light, an example of women’s leadership that will inspire communities and nations not only in Africa, but across the globe.”
President Mukherjee remarked on the centuries-old relationship between India and African nations which has evolved and been shaped into a very comprehensive partnership, having moved beyond trade and investment to technology transfers, knowledge sharing and skills, and is moving forward under the India-Africa Forum Summit process.
He believed that India’s own experience, since emerging from colonial rule, could be of relevance to Liberia’s socio-economic development. He stressed that India’s development partnership with Liberia “will respond to your requirements as you choose your priorities and options – and forge your independent path of advancement and growth.” India’s bilateral dialogue with Liberia focuses on building capacity, human resource development, establishing institutions and helping to develop social and physical infrastructure, President Mukherjee said, adding, “We remain committed to our work with Liberia and to leverage our strengths to assist in whatever way we can.”
Observing that President Sirleaf would, the following day, receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development, President Mukherjee called it an apt recognition of her exceptional dedication towards her country and fellow citizens. He continued: “Your remarkable vision and leadership, grounded in the principles of good governance and accountability will, no doubt, generate and sustain transformative economic growth and development in Liberia.”
President Sirleaf, responding, thanked her Indian counterpart for his kind words. She felt deeply honored to be in India, one of the world’s oldest civilizations and its largest democracy. Her visit was historic, being the first State Visit to India by a President of Liberia.
“We have come here for several reasons, explained the Liberian President: to say thank you to the Government and people of India for their contribution to the restoration of peace in Liberia, after nearly a quarter-century of turmoil and fratricidal conflict. India is one of the troop-contributing countries to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), and its all-female Indian Police contingent, contributes to the security and serves as role models for young Liberian females who have been inspired to become security officers,” Pres. Sirleaf said.
Through its membership on the UN Security Council, India has consistently supported UNMIL and the United Nations Peace Building Country Configuration for Liberia, the President said. In August, Liberia celebrated ten years of continuous peace thanks to India and all the troop-contributing countries in UNMIL, the Security Council and the entire United Nations membership.
A third reason for coming to India, President Sirleaf acknowledged, was to explore ways in which India can assist in Liberia’s human capacity development. She mentioned her visits to the Medanta Medicity Hospital in Delhi and the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, and being most impressed by the advances which India has made in health care delivery.
She added, “We were pleased to launch an initiative with the Institute and look forward to the installation of the country’s second CT Scan Unit donated by India, to be installed in an Imaging Center to be supported by another Indian company, the Jindal Group.”