Address to Joint Session of Liberian National Legislature

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Capitol Building, Monrovia, Liberia
August 13, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you for this great honor of having the chance to address the democratically elected legislature of Liberia. (Applause.) Thank you, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, President pro-tem, all of the members of this legislature in joint session, other dignitaries who are with us today, and especially the people of this country, a country that was engulfed in war just a few years ago.

I know that some of you in this chamber bore arms against each other, but the people of Liberia demanded peace, stability, and a better future. (Applause.) And (inaudible) your being here, committed to the peaceful resolution of dispute, is a great message that the people of Liberia have representatives of a unified government in a parliament and in a presidency entrusted to serve the Liberian people, to help rebuild the nation, and to realize the goals of development that will once again give every boy and girl in this country a chance to fulfill his or her God-given potential. (Applause) That 14 years of bloodshed and lawlessness could produce peace, free elections, and a democratic government is not so much a triumph of might, but a triumph of the human spirit.

And that is what I would like to talk with you about today – how to keep that spirit alive, how to build strong, democratic institutions, honest and competent leaders, engage citizens on a foundation of human dignity.

I bring greetings from President Obama. (Applause.) The President considers himself a son of Africa, and in his historic speech in Ghana, he said much about what he hoped for (inaudible) on his heart. Remember that he said that the future of Africa is up to the Africans. The future of Liberia is up to the Liberians. (Applause.)

But it is also true that there are paths toward that future which will lead in a positive direction, and there are others that will lead in a negative direction. The choices that are made every day will determine which path Liberia chooses.

When President Johnson-Sirleaf gave her inaugural address to this assembly just three-and-a-half years ago, she identified the core ideals that have guided Liberia’s democracy movement through this nation’s darkest days – peace, liberty, equality, opportunity, and justice for all. The challenge for every democratic government, whether it is three years old or 233 years old like ours, is how to translate those ideals into results in the lives of people.

Democracy has to deliver, and both President Obama and I believe that dignity is central to what is at the core of successful democracies: a voice for every citizen in the decisions that affect your life, your community, and your country; the opportunity to earn a decent wage and provide for your family and live without fear; an equal chance, no matter what your background, your gender, your faith, ethnicity, or station in life; to combine your motivation and ambition with the opportunity that every society should present to its people; and a government elected freely and fairly, accountable to the people it serves.

This vision of a democratic society is at the root of the democracy that began to flourish just those three-and-a-half years ago. It is still the vision that should guide not only presidential leadership, but parliamentary leadership as well.

Now, I have been on both sides of the street, so to speak. I have been in the White House when my husband was president. I have been in the Senate for eight years in both the majority and the minority for most of the time. (Applause.) And now I am back in the executive branch, working for President Obama. So let me tell you that sometimes it appears to be from both sides of the street. When I have been in the executive branch, I have wondered what the Congress was up to and worried about the Congress. When I was in the Congress, I wondered what the President was up to and worried about the President. (Applause.) Where you stand is often determined by where you sit.

But what I know is how important it is, especially in the beginning, to have a level of cooperation toward meeting the common goals to serve the people, and that no matter where that service finds you, to be resolved, to try to constantly ask yourself what I think is the most important question for any of us in public service: Is what I am doing today – the decision I’m making, the bill I’m writing, the vote I’m casting – likely to make life better for the last and the least among us? (Applause.)

In just three years, there are encouraging signs of progress. Your nation has adopted sound fiscal policies with the support of this legislature. That was not easy, and it is noted around the world. We encourage your legislature to continue developing your budgetary oversight role. You have begun to attack corruption and promote transparency. Liberia has made progress on debt relief, and the economy continues to grow despite the global economic crisis. (Applause.) Land tenure issues that remained persistent impediments to economic progress have resulted in the legislature taking the important step in passing the Land Commission Act. Your president is working hard to build a competent and professional security sector, and all of Liberia can take pride in the fact that this nation now has free and compulsory education for primary school children, including your girls. (Applause.)

So you have been climbing up that mountain that sometimes looks like there is no end in sight. But you still face huge challenges, and we stand ready to help you in partnership and friendship. There are forces at work trying to undermine the progress and fuel old tensions and feuds. Many Liberian people still need jobs, electricity, housing, and education. Law enforcement is still inadequate, and after years of war and lawlessness, institutions have been left crippled, unable to function properly or serve the public efficiently or effectively.

So it is, I think, important to note that given the progress you’ve made, you must hold on to that and continue up that mountain together – (applause) – because there is no guarantee that the progress remains. Change is inevitable; progress is not. We live with change every day. What each of us has to do is to master the forces and winds of change to make sure that it results in real, tangible progress for this country.

Now, there are no magic wands or I would have brought one for every one of you. There are no quick-fixes for countries making the transition from violent conflict to lasting peace and stability. But one thing I know for sure – Liberia has the talent, the resources, and the resilience to succeed if everyone works together on behalf of the common good. (Applause.) And Liberia also has the opportunity to be a model not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world.

There is an agenda ahead of us that I stand ready on behalf of our government to continue to offer our assistance to achieve. First, (inaudible) build strong, democratic institutions that work and are accountable and deliver results. If you remember President Obama’s speech, he said something which I’ve heard throughout my travels in Africa, that what Africa needs is not more strong men, but strong institutions, institutions that will stand the test of time, that will, frankly, survive good leaders and not-so-good leaders, but which are strong enough to engender the faith and confidence of the people of Liberia.

Ending corruption is necessary to growing and sustaining such institutions and restoring the public’s trust. I have been to countries that are far richer than Liberia. These democracies have been in existence far longer, but because they never tackled corruption, their future is repeating before their eyes.

I will say to you what I said in two days in Nigeria, a country that has the fifth-largest supply of petroleum and gas, so many riches, and yet the number of people living in poverty is growing. Nigeria is now further away from achieving the Millennium Development Goals than they were ten years ago. That is a travesty. That does not have to be either Nigeria’s future, and it should not be Liberia’s future.

So how do we recognize the importance of ending corruption? I think steps are being taken with the Anti-Corruption Commission. But this legislature should also decide to pass a code of conduct. It is something that – (applause) – allows you to hold not just yourselves but each other accountable. We have over the years in our Congress realized that human nature being what it is – and I’m a Methodist so I know human nature gets us into most of the trouble we get into – we have to have codes of conduct, regulatory frameworks, ethical standards that guide the pursuit of the common good.
It is also critical to have an electoral system that is credible, that will produce free and fair elections in 2011. (Applause.) The world is watching, and we take a personal interest in the elections to come in Liberia because we know that this election, where there will be a peaceful transition of power from one civilian authority to another, will set in motion the future legitimacy of elections for years to come.

The legislature can and must do its part by acting on the threshold bill so that the process can move forward. (Applause.) You’ve already taken steps in rebuilding effective institutions, and I congratulate you. Conducting a census in the last three years was a very important accomplishment, registering voters, ensuring that the three branches of government are both competent and independent, demonstrating a unity of purpose.

And I think too that as a famous former governor of the state I represented for so many years (inaudible) and I know a place that many of you know well and even lived in from time-to-time, Mario Cuomo once said, “Politics is poetry, but governing is prose.” (Laughter.) You go out and campaign as I have. It’s easy to say all kinds of things. You get into this chamber, the job becomes harder. (Applause.)

That’s why it’s important not to let politics, which is a noble and critically essential profession, overwhelm governing. As you prepare and gear up for the upcoming election, keeping in mind that hard, contested elections are part of a democracy, but then to (inaudible).

Now, I’ve been, again, on both sides. I’ve won elections, and I’ve lost elections. (Laughter.) In a democracy, there is no guarantee you’re going to win. I spent two years and a lot of money running against president Obama, and he won. And then I went to work to elect him. And then, much to my amazement, he asked me to be his Secretary of State. (Applause.) And I must say that one of the most common questions I’m asked around the world, from Indonesia to Angola, is: How could you go to work for someone you were running against? I said, because we both love our country. (Applause.) And I would argue that it is that love that every successful country has to inculcate in its people and its leaders so that the political process of a democracy doesn’t break apart the country, doesn’t create so much bad blood and ill feelings that people won’t accept the outcome of an election, or not believe that they could have lost or refuse to move forward under those circumstances. And that is what we know Liberia can do.

We also know that there must be more done to enhance security for the people of Liberia. Later, I will visit the National Police Academy, where I will announce additional and accelerated U.S. support for the police. (Applause.) As you know, our government is also training the Liberian Armed Forces, and in my meetings with the president and ministers of your government today, we talked about additional ways we could provide security, particularly maritime security, so that the coastline of Liberia, one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, one of the – (applause) – treasures of this country, will be protected.

We are committed to supporting you as you move forward on this positive, progressive agenda. W e supported you for many years, but now our support is really grounded in our confidence in your capacity, your competence to deliver. (Applause.) Since the peace accords in 2003, we have provided over $2 billion in assistance. We have supported the United Nations security effort. We are committed to helping lift Liberia by building a stronger economy that can spread opportunity and prosperity to more people.

Right now, only 15 percent of the Liberian people work in the formal sector. So job creation and raising incomes is a critical task before you. So we will work with you to strengthen the private sector, enhance trade opportunities, and rebuild infrastructure, including roads, electrification, and information technology. (Applause.) We are assisting your government with natural resources management, food security, education for children, and adults who missed the opportunity to go to school because of the war. And this country is a focus for our Malaria Initiative.

I want to congratulate Liberia for recently gaining eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act. I started my trip in Africa in Nairobi at the AGOA conference, and I and the U.S. Trade Representative and our Secretary of Agriculture emphasized that we want to do more to help countries access and utilize AGOA, and we want to help Liberia to work to achieve more products that can be exported duty-free into the United States market. (Applause.)

I also applaud your efforts to qualify for the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative that will complement the progress that you have made in bringing greater transparency to the management of natural resources. This will improve the business climate, attract investment, and stimulate the creation of jobs. And I want to add that if done right, if you create the legal framework for the exploitation of your natural resources, you will see a revenue stream that will help to build the roads and the infrastructure and the jobs that you’re seeking.

There are examples of this around the world, but let me use one example from Africa: Botswana. When diamonds were discovered in Botswana, the Botswana Government, the then-president and the legislature, decided that they were not going to let outsiders or corrupt insiders exploit what was the natural right to the riches of their country of the people. So they created a legal framework, and they required that any company wishing to do business in the diamond industry had to provide significant revenue for the Government of Botswana. They then put that money into an airtight fund. And if you have ever been to Botswana, you can drive anywhere. The roads are in excellent shape. You can drink cool water anywhere, because every time you buy a diamond from DeBeers, some of that money you spend goes to pave roads in Botswana. That’s what I want to see for Liberia. (Applause.)

But before I leave this afternoon, at the airport I will present equipment to help make the airport fully operational again. (Applause.) In addition, our Transportation Security Administration through its ASSIST program is working with the Liberian Civil Aviation Authority, the airport, and the Bureau of Immigration to ensure that the airport can meet international safety standards. This will increase domestic and international flights, including those from the United States. And I look forward to that day. (Applause.)

It’s a particular honor for be to be addressing you, because I remember when President Johnson-Sirleaf addressed our joint session of Congress when I was sitting where you are sitting. (Applause.) (Inaudible.) Thank you. I love that. I want to take him with me wherever I go. Thank you. Excellent.

And I remember when the president described Liberia as a land rich with rubber, timber, diamonds, gold, iron ore, fertile fields, plentiful water, and warm and welcoming sunshine. That paints a really beautiful picture. But even more beautiful are the people of Liberia – (applause) – hardworking, resourceful, and resilient, but damaged by years of conflict.

We can’t mince words; you know that. In the briefing that I and my delegation received from the minister of agriculture, I was stunned when she said there are no livestock left. At the end of the conflict, anything that could be eaten was eaten. People (inaudible) rebuilding agriculture, rebuilding the tools that are needed for each individual to pursue his or her destiny is what this is all about. The talent and resources exist here (inaudible) overcome division, expand opportunities, and ensure that prosperity is more broadly shared across society.

Some of you have seen a film that tells the story of a Liberian woman’s efforts to end the war. Tired of the killing and the conflict, she organized women at her church and then other churches and in mosques until thousands of Liberian women had joined a vocal, public movement demanding peace. I remember meeting some of those women years ago. These were women who woke up one day and said, “Enough, enough. We’re better than that.”

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” He could have been talking not just about these Liberian women, but about everyone in this chamber who have determined to make Liberia’s story be one of hope and opportunity.

I know that the suffering of the people of Liberia has been broad and deep. But now, you each have a chance, both personally and publicly through your service here, to make a stand against the past and for a future that is worthy of the sacrifice and the suffering that went on too long. The United States is proud to support you. We are proud to be your partner and your friend, and we are proud to work with you to realize the full potential of Liberia and its people. God bless Liberia. (Applause.)

PRN: 2009/T11-49