U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue:Cementing Strategic Cooperation Between Both Countries

By Gabriel I.H. Williams

A year ago, at a ceremony held at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made history as they signed a Statement of Intent launching a Partnership Dialogue that institutionalizes the long-standing bilateral relationship between Liberia and the United States of America.

Following that historic ceremony on January 15, 2013, the inaugural session of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue was also held in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2013, with the signing of a Joint Statement, following a day-long deliberation involving senior government officials of both countries.

With the second session of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue scheduled to be held in Liberia’s capital Monrovia March 4, 2014, this article is intended to highlight the historical significance of this institutional framework, through which the United States and Liberia affirm to expand the cooperation between both countries.

The U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue is intended to promote diplomatic and economic cooperation between the two countries by providing a flexible, non-binding mechanism to ensure sustained, high-level, bilateral engagement on issues of mutual interest. It will allow the two countries to look at their relationship strategically, with a view towards the long term, and to focus on those areas that encourage broad-based economic growth, including agriculture and food security, energy and power infrastructure, and human development.

As a manifestation of her visionary leadership, President Sirleaf conceived the idea of a Partnership Dialogue that would institutionalize the special relationship between Liberia and the United States. Accordingly, during an official visit to Washington in June 2012, Madam President approached Secretary Clinton, whose support for the establishment of a Partnership Dialogue was instantaneous.

Seven months later, at the State Department ceremony for the signing of the Statement of Intent launching the Partnership Dialogue, President Sirleaf underscored the significance of this institutional framework to concretize the relationship between both countries.  She said: “The launching today of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue is an historic achievement; one that will cement the strategic cooperation between our two countries for generations to come, regardless of the occupants of the White House or the Executive Mansion.”

President Sirleaf said that the establishment of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue was the fulfillment of a wish for the institutionalization of the long-standing bilateral relationship between Liberia and the United States. “I have always seen Liberia’s progress as underpinned by its special relationship with the United States,” President Sirleaf noted.

In remarks at the launching ceremony, Secretary Clinton noted with satisfaction that the partnership between the U.S. and Liberia was strengthened under the leadership of President Sirleaf.

Continued, Secretary Clinton: “Today, we are taking another important step to deepen the partnership between our nations and to support Liberia as it continues down the path of democratic and economic reform. The Partnership Dialogue we are about to sign will expand the cooperation between our countries and ensure high-level engagements for years to come.”

Secretary Clinton further noted: “This agreement establishes working groups in three key areas; first, agriculture and food security. Helping Liberia’s farmers use their land more effectively and get their crops to market more efficiently will be critical to improving the health and prosperity of Liberians under the Feed the Future Initiative; look for new opportunities to attract private investment in the agriculture sector; and recommend policies to promote food security and better nutrition.”

In the second area, energy and power infrastructure, Secretary Clinton said, “we know that access to affordable, reliable energy is essential to creating jobs and sparking growth that helps to build a strong economy. So we will take stock of all outstanding needs for the generation, transmission and distribution of energy; promoting a regulatory environment that’s friendly to new investments in energy; and look for ways to accelerate development of well-governed and inclusive energy sector.”

Regarding the third area, the U.S. Secretary of State said that the Partnership will look at human development with a real emphasis on creating more economic opportunities for the people of Liberia, to expand access to education and employment so that many more Liberians have a chance to not only better themselves and their families, but make a contribution to their nation.

Secretary Clinton said she believed that it was fair to say that “this last decade has been a success story for Liberia. The people of Liberia have emerged from a time of violence and lawlessness, and have made tremendous commitments toward economic and political reform.”

At the May 2013 inaugural session of the Partnership Dialogue, which was held at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, Liberia and the U.S. reached another historical milestone in the relationship between both countries with the signing of a Joint Statement at the end of the session. The Foreign Minister of Liberia, His Excellency Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, signed on behalf of Liberia, while Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, U.S. Department of State Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, signed on behalf of the Government of the United States.

The inaugural session of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue focused on two of the three Working Groups established under the Dialogue, which are Agriculture and Food Security, and Energy and Power Infrastructure.

In the area of Agriculture and Food Security, participants at the Partnership Dialogue discussed policy and institutional constraints to private sector-led development of Liberia’s agriculture sector, and ways to address those constraints.

The two sides committed to explore opportunities to expand bilateral cooperation to increase food security and nutrition, especially under the “Feed the Future Initiative,” a U.S. Government program.

Regarding the Energy and Power Infrastructure, the Partnership Dialogue also reviewed Liberia’s efforts to meet its growing power generation, transmission and distribution requirements.

Both countries underscored the need to continue to collaborate on how to encourage private sector investment in Liberia’s energy sector by improving regulatory policies and to accelerate the development of a well-governed and inclusive Liberian energy sector.

The Partnership Dialogue was climaxed with a public outreach event, which was attended by community and opinion leaders of the Liberian Diaspora, representatives of the private sector, NGOs, among others.

The second session of the Partnership Dialogue, scheduled for March 4 in Monrovia, will also focus on Human Development, which is the third Working Group of the three key areas currently covered under the Dialogue.

That the Monrovia session will also focus on Human Development is very timely and noteworthy, considering Liberia’s human resource challenges.

It goes without saying that the U.S. has assisted immensely in Liberia’s transition from war to peace and economic recovery. As Foreign Minister Ngafuan noted during the inaugural session of the Partnership Dialogue, Liberians note with “appreciation an endless list of positive U.S. assistance to Liberia including but not limited to the rebuilding of the Liberian army and coast guard; U.S. support to the cancellation of Liberia’s huge debt  overhang; the consolidation of the culture of democracy; the restoration of social services; the building of infrastructure; the rebuilding of public sector capacity; the improvement of public financial management; and a host of significant interventions through the Millennium Challenge Corporation ….”

Indeed, the bilateral relationship between Liberia and the United States has become stronger during the Administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

About the Author:  Gabriel I.H. Williams is Minister Counselor for Press and Public Affairs at the Embassy of Liberia in Washington, D.C. He last served as Deputy Minister of Information for Public Affairs in the Sirleaf Government.