NDI Joins the House Democracy Partnership and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Support of Democratic Consolidation in Liberia
On September 25, 2017, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf addressed Members of the U.S. Congress, congressional staff and leaders in the democracy community at an event sponsored by the House Democracy Partnership (HDP) in cooperation with NDI and the International Republican Institute (IRI). Because she is the first elected woman to lead an African nation, and Liberia is a founding HDP partnership country, it was especially appropriate to honor the trailblazing democracy work of President Sirleaf.
“Allowing the freedom that our people have is all part of building this democratic culture and restoring the reputation of our country,” said President Sirleaf during her remarks. “Liberia used to be the poster child of destruction and violence, but today we can embrace a democracy that is blooming.”
President Sirleaf’s address comes at a particularly momentous time in Liberian history. She has led her country for over a decade, and in October Liberia will celebrate the first peaceful transfer of power between two democratically elected governments. NDI began working in Liberia during the 1997 elections, and efforts to strengthen Liberia’s democracy have continued since the end of the civil war in 2003. In continuance of this work, NDI will field an international team of observers to monitor the election on Tuesday, October 10, to help ensure a peaceful and transparent process. NDI is working to promote citizen engagement in the election, including the involvement of youth and women. Given the historic nature of this election, it will be more critical than ever that Liberians have confidence in the peaceful transfer of power and feel that their votes have been properly tallied.
In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was peacefully elected the President of Liberia and the first elected woman head of state on the African continent. During her two terms as president, she has set her sights on bringing Liberia forward. Her administration has received credit for stimulating Liberia’s economy, lowering the poverty rate, increasing life expectancy, reshaping the armed services and, most importantly, serving as a model of democracy for the next generation of Liberians.
The Washington, DC, celebration of President Sirleaf’s legacy of democracy and peace began with a panel discussion on Capitol Hill, co-hosted by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and two of its core institutes, IRI and NDI. In a strong showing of bipartisanship, Congressman Ed Royce (CA), Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Chris Coons (DE), Member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, participated in the panel. Both Members of Congress praised Liberia’s resilience under President Sirleaf and expressed hope for the future of the country.
Joining President Sirleaf at the HDP-sponsored event that followed were HDP Co-Chair Representative David Price (NC); USAID Administrator, Ambassador Mark Green; former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Constance Berry Newman; NDI Board Member, Ambassador Johnnie Carson; and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA). Other representatives who attended include Gwen Moore (WI), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Susan Davis (CA), David Cicilline (RI) and Alma Adams (NC).
Providing opening remarks, Congressman Price commented on Liberia’s relationship with HDP. “All through this work, we have consistently met with President Sirleaf and benefited from her council and encouragement,” he said “She has been a consistent supportive of [HDP] and I think it is a sign of her vision and strength.” The HDP Co-Chairman continued, “There is no question that working with the legislature in Liberia has its challenges, but she has always had the perspective that this is a sign of a healthy democracy.”
Shortly after President Sirleaf’s inauguration, in July 2006, the House Democracy Partnership approved a bilateral partnership with the Liberian legislature. Over the past eleven years, this program has concentrated on training and developing the skills of legislators and their staff, which includes comprehensive seminars on ethics and integrity in parliament, impartial and nonpartisan library and research services, budget forecasting, legislative drafting, administration and structuring parliamentary staff. To additionally support the legislative body and help to provide the necessary tools to properly legislate, HDP renovated and equipped a legislative library for legislators and staff to utilize as a research space and for storage of legislative records.
NDI is an enthusiastic advocate of Liberia’s progress towards stability and transformation. Strengthening the foundation of Liberia’s institutions is key to supporting this and future elections, and the success of this election will only further bolster Liberia’s institutions as it looks to the next chapter of its democratic history. President Sirleaf has made significant contributions to her country and the international community and will continue to do so through this peaceful transfer of power.
“When we were in Liberia we saw the leadership President Sirleaf was providing her country, and we said, ‘her election electrified Liberia and now her policies will do so as well, because of her sheer determination and strength’” Leader Pelosi said, in reflecting on her visit to Liberia.
Standing in the United States Capitol, President Sirleaf concluded with a statement that resembled both an epilogue and a preamble:
"For the first time a generation of kids won’t know anything about a gun, they don’t have to run."
And in the lingering days ahead of an election that will one day be a mark of pride in Liberia’s history, her conclusion was exactly that: a declaration of a new beginning.
Watch President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's full remarks:
HDP is a bipartisan, twenty member commission of the U.S. Congress that promotes responsive, effective government and strengthens democratic institutions by assisting legislatures in emerging democracies. Central to HDP work is peer-to-peer cooperation to build technical expertise in partner legislatures that will enhance accountability, transparency, legislative independence, access to information, and government oversight. The work of HDP is facilitated by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.