Liberia: EU, Swedish Ambassadors, Other Scholars Demystify Liberia’s Unification & Integration Policy

EU Amb. Laurent Delahousse Addresses Liberia’s 59th Unification Day: (L/R) Liberia Peace Amb. Eric Quaqua; Swedish Amb. Urban Jostrom; Dr. D. Evelyn S. Kandakai, Former Minister of Education; Prof. Adam Kyne; Bishop George Washington; Hon. Allen Brown; NEC Commissioner Josephine Gaye; Mr. Gabriel Salee & Prof. T. Debey Sayndee, Director, Kofi Annan Institute, UL.

MONROVIA – The Better Future Foundation (BFF), has celebrated the 59th National Unification Day in Monrovia with calls by the Head of Delegation of the European Union to Liberia, Ambassador Laurent Delahousse; Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, Urban Sjostrom; Ambassador Eric Quaqua, Liberia’s Acting Peace Ambassador, among other distinguished personalities and scholars calling on the Liberian nation to strive for genuine national unification and integration, sustainable peace, reconciliation and healing as well as socio-economic development and progress, leaving nobody behind.

The National Unification Day Celebration, organized by the Better Future Foundation (BFF), in collaboration with the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation of the University of Liberia, Youth Beyond Barriers (YBB), and civil society organizations (CSOs) under the umbrella of Partners for Democracy & Good Governance (PdG), Political Party Leaders, and leaders representing ECOWAS Member States and citizens residing in Liberia was held on May 16, 2023, on the Capitol Hill Main Campus of the University of Liberia.

In his keynote address, the European Union Ambassador to Liberia, H.E. Laurent Delahousse, stressed that the Unification and Integration policy initiated by Liberia’s 18th President, William V.S. Tubman, in 1964 has inspired the successive governments to give equal rights and opportunities to all Liberians.

According to Ambassador Delahousse, the focus of many government policies has been put on the less fortunate, as is the inspiration behind Liberia’s current administration’s flagship national development program, styled: “Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development,” to which international partners have brought enthusiastic and complimentary support.

The EU Ambassador therefore stressed the need for Liberians to appreciate the measure in which targets and objectives have been met.

Ambassador Delahousse pointed out that in this pre-elections period, it is for Liberian registered voters to reflect on their political preferences and on the choice of the candidate best suited to deliver on their needs and expectations.

“It is for Liberians, with their vote later this year on October 10th, to map the future of this Unification and Integration Policy which has transformed Liberia from a post-colonial State to a land of Peace, Democracy, Human Rights and Progress where no one is left behind.”

At the well-attended occasion, Ambassador Delahousse highlighted the similarity of Liberia’s National Unification and Integration Day celebration and that of the European Union (EU) and how Liberia and other countries in the ECOWAS sub-region could draw more inspiration from the EU in consolidating national and regional unification, socio-economic and political integration and collaboration aimed at strengthening and enhancing development within ECOWAS Member States and the livelihood of its Community citizens.

Pinpointing a historical parallelism between Liberia and the EU, Ambassador Delahousse passionately informed the audience that the EU was built on the same concepts of Unification and Integration that the Liberian Nation has been celebrating since 1964 or 59 years after the National Unification and Integration Policy was formally launched by President William V.S. Tubman (late).

The EU top diplomat told the gathering that Unification and Integration were the driving force and the ultimate goal of the movement set forth in Europe by the Schuman Declaration that is today being celebrated annually on 9th May, by EU member states, known as “Europe Day.”

The Ambassador told the forum that Europe Day celebration came about when on the 9th of May 1950, Robert Schuman, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, presented a vision for a united and peaceful Europe.

Ambassador Delahousse asserted that EU and Liberia coincidentally and happily celebrate Europe Day and National Unification Day respectively but clarified that such celebrations fall within the same week, although separated by 14 years.

According to Ambassador Delahousse, in 1951, following the Schuman Declaration, the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community was signed by six founding States: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

The treaty, he said, provided for the creation of the first supranational European organization, the European Coal and Steel Community.

While the immediate objective of this first treaty was to establish a common market for coal and steel, it also aimed to lay the foundations of an economic community that would gradually become a political union.

In 1957, the six member states decided to establish an economic community based on the free movement of workers, goods and services. That year, they signed the Treaty of Rome and the European Economic Community (EEC) was founded in order to establish economic unity in other sectors besides coal and steel.

The main goal of the EEC, he narrated, was to set a common market where there is a free movement of goods, workers, services and capital, within a customs union with common tariffs for imported goods, so finally to reach political integration.

Similar to the European Economic Community, the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) was established by the Treaty of Rome to coordinate the research programs of member states to ensure that the use of nuclear energy is safe and limited with peaceful purposes.

In 1967, the Merger Treaty combined these three communities (European Coal and Steel Community, European Economic Community, and European Atomic Energy Community) and set out single institutions, the Council and the Commission, for all. Since then, these communities were named as the European Communities.

Throughout successive enlargements and treaty reforms, the European Communities have become the European Union, with 27 member States (the United Kingdom was the 28th but pulled out with Brexit) and a population of 450 million people.

In terms of the economy, Ambassador Delahousse indicated the European process has met with tremendous success.

With a Gross Domestic Product this year close to 18 trillion US dollars, the EU is the third most powerful economy in the world after the United States of America, quite far ahead with a GDP of 27 trillion dollars, and China, close ahead with 19 trillion dollars.

Ambassador Delahousse further asserted that the EU is the most integrated regional organization in the world as it has developed a vast set of common policies, from agriculture to citizenship, from justice to foreign policy, from regional integration to international development cooperation.

With the Schengen policy, associating 23 EU countries and 4 outside (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein), people travel from one country to another without border controls, cars don’t even stop on motorways, you don’t see that there is a border between these 27 countries.

With the Euro, the same currency is used in 20 of the 27 member States. With the recent decision on free cellphone roaming, you can use your national plan at national cost all across Europe without having to pay roaming charges.

He maintained that the process towards unification and integration in Europe has been active and successful and that new countries have regularly become members of the EU and since most of them were not as rich and developed as the first members, they have benefitted from special EU policies to catch up with the others.

“The main instrument for this has been the Cohesion Policy, which is the EU’s main investment policy. It targets all regions and cities across the EU in order to support job creation, business competitiveness, economic growth, sustainable development, and improve citizens’ quality of life and adaptation to climate change,” the envoy told the forum.

 In order to reach these goals and address the diverse development needs in all EU regions, an amount of 392 billion euros, that is 426 billion US dollars at yesterday’s exchange rate – almost a third of the total EU budget – has been set aside for Cohesion Policy for 2021-2027.

Ambassador Delahousse further narrated that with the national co-financing by member States, almost 600 billion dollars will be available to finance the programs in the EU regions and countries.

Ambassador Delahousse: “If you travel today in countries like Portugal or Poland after having been there at the time of their accession, 1986 for the former and 2005 for the latter, you would not recognize these countries. They have motorways and fast trains and modern factories and climate-smart buildings and fantastic shopping malls that are the results of the cohesion policy. Unification and Integration policies have succeeded and they have transformed many European countries.”

At the same time, Ambassador Delahousse noted, Europe has been very careful to respect the national identity of its member states and that public policies like education and culture have remained in the hands of national governments to decide.

Frequent public opinion polls have shown that European citizens are deeply attached to their national identities and cultural specificities. This has shaped the motto of the European Union, which is, since 2000: “United in diversity”.

He informed the forum that the success of the EU integration process has been the result of a combination of factors: a post-war historic moment and the need for peace, strong political will from the governments, support of the citizens of European countries and economic growth generating the necessary financial resources.

“When any of these elements lacked, the process has experienced difficulties,” he maintained.

He referenced that in 2005, the citizens of two founding member states, France and the Netherlands, voted against a proposed new treaty, the European Constitution.

“A movement of EU fatigue was developing in some countries, with economic hardships. This European Constitution project had to be altered and renamed Treaty of Lisbon for it to be ratified, and in France it was by the Parliament, not through a referendum,” he added.

The EU Envoy pointed that national and regional unification and integration process demands hard work, strong commitment and political will, constant public support and a solid economic base to generate openness among partners rather than fall back on national interests.

On the other hand, he indicated that the unprovoked and unwarranted attack by Russia against Ukraine has had far reaching effects thus increasing popular support of European citizens for the EU and to strengthen solidarity among European member states, probably the opposite of what “war criminal” Putin expected, including the extension of NATO to countries like Sweden and Finland. He pointed out that regional organization such as ECOWAS, has made similar significant progress since its inception in 1975.

Ambassador Delahousse named ECOWAS’ arbitration role in regional conflicts through ECOMOG that has facilitated peace, democracy, regional security, socio-economic integration, cross-border trade and commerce in Liberia, Sierra Leone, among other countries.

He recalled that the non-aggression treaty signed in 1976 by its member states has promoted peace in West Africa.

The EU diplomat also referenced the creation and economic dividends of the West African power pool which has allowed for the development of the CSLG power line from neighboring Ivory Coast that now feeds Liberia with electricity in the dry season when Mount Coffee hydropower delivery is at its lowest.

He further indicated that ECOWAS has ensured free mobility of people, goods and services, and a roadmap has been adopted for the launch of a common currency, the “Eco” in 2027. However, he asserted that much still remains to be done to reach the full potential of actualizing regional integration and unification and economic cooperation in Liberia and the sub-region.

Meanwhile, the EU Ambassador has lauded the organizers of the 59th Liberia National Unification Day program, the Better Future Foundation (BFF) and its collaborating partners.

Also addressing the National Unification Day program held at the UL Auditorium, the Ambassador of Sweden, H. E. Urban Sjostrom, applauded Liberia which, he said, is one of the countries in Africa where democracy has immensely flourished.

Ambassador Sjostrom reminded Liberians that this year (2023), marks their 20 years milestone achievement since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Accra, Ghana, which led to the end of the country’s civil war that spanned a decade.

The Swedish Envoy pointed out that though Liberia has a centralized governance system, there is a need for national unification and healing to discourage what he called the “culture of inequality“ amongst Liberians.

 ‘’We see a centralized governance and the need for a centralized approach for more unity; We see challenges when it comes to governance; We heard about corruption that needs to be taken on seriously for delivery of sustainable development ; We also see the tendencies of what I would say, the misuse and manipulation of democratic tools and mechanisms ; We also see reports about registration of under age children to participate in elections ; We see reports about voters trucking… all of which  reflect a classic misuse of democratic system’’, Ambassador Sjostrom cautioned political stakeholders.

Swedish Ambassador : ‘‘But, we also witnessed recently in Monrovia among political parties the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the implementation of a minimum 30% Gender Quota for candidates listings in the general elections.’’

According to Ambassador Sjostrom, this commitment marks an important step for inclusive women’s political participation and empowerment, aimed at expanding and sustaining democracy in Liberia.

‘‘It is the Women of Liberia who fought to bring peace to this country. It is also prudent for political parties to strengthen and enable women candidates to run for political positions in the Presidential and Legislative elections slated for 10th October 2023,’’ Ambassador Sjostrom stressed.

Ambassador Urban Sjostrom, who served as one of the panelists and spoke on the sub-theme of the National Unification Day celebration, styled: ‘‘Reconciling Liberia for the 21st Century: Political Challenges and Prospects of the October 10th Legislative/Presidential Elections,’’ emphasized that inclusive women representation in the Liberian Legislature is key for inclusive policymaking and good governance and to ensure sustainable peace and development in the country.

The Swedish Ambassador also praised BFF and its collaborating partners including the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict transformation of the University of Liberia (UL), Youth Beyond Barriers (YBB), and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) under the umbrella of Partners for Democracy & Good Governance (PdG), and leaders, representing ECOWAS Member States and citizens residing in Liberia.

Speaking at the historic occasion, on behalf of the Government of Liberia (GOL), and through the Office of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Varney Sirleaf, Liberia’s Acting Peace Ambassador, Amb. Eric Quaqua, expressed delight to launch this year’s National Unification Hero and Heroine Award.

In launching the National Unification Hero and Heroine Award, initiated by BFF and partners, Ambassador Quaqua cautioned Liberians to remember the peril, where we, as a Nation and People, came from, and where we are now’’ and not to dwell on the disagreements that divide us.

According to Amb. Quaqua, ‘’There are too many violence and hate in our country, and too little trust and common ground among us. Despite the gains made since the war, we still have a lot of work to do to actualize peace and unity in the country’.’

The Liberian Acting Peace Ambassador indicated that ‘’So much sacrifices have been made by Liberians; and with the support of the International Community including ECOWAS, UN, United States, European Union, African Union (AU), among others over the years, securing for us a platform of immense development opportunities that we must not allow for our country, and by extension, the sub-region to relapse into conflict.’’

Amb. Quaqua: ‘’I am of the conviction that we are stronger together, when not shouting over each other. Our economy will become stronger when everyone can contribute to it, and everyone benefits from the work we do.

‘’Our communities can be stronger when we all pool together to solve our problems and restore our faith in each other. We must detest violence in all forms and continue to promote tolerance, peace and unity. This I believe is the True Tenant of Democracy’’, Ambassador Quaqua emphasized.

The Acting Peace Ambassador, on behalf of the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Government of Liberia then, declared the National Unification Hero/Heroine Award launched.

The Liberian peace envoy, also appreciated BFF and its collaborating partners for their persistent commitment and dedication to organizing annual celebration of the National Unification Day in the country.

The Acting Peace Ambassador also used the occasion to express the Liberian Government’s continuous support to the BFF, and its collaborating civil society organizations for the national peace-building and consolidation initiative which, he said, is in the best interest of the country and its people.

Addressing the occasion, on behalf of the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Davidetta Brown-Lansanah, NEC Commissioner Josephine Gaye applauded BFF and partners for its national peace-building effort aimed at supporting credible elections and peace in Liberia.

Commissioner Gaye reaffirmed NEC’s unwavering commitment to conducting free, fair, transparent and credible elections at all times in Liberia.

While acknowledging that the Biometric Voters Registration Exercise (BVR) conducted by NEC had faced some challenges, Commissioner Gaye assured Liberians that with the support of the International Partners and other stakeholders, those challenges would be resolved.

She used the occasion to caution Liberians to fully comply with electoral rules and regulations as clearly spelled out by NEC, and called on the civil society and development partners for their usual cooperation and support. 

Addressing the National Unification Day program, Professor Sekou Konneh, Vice President of the University of Liberia and Dean of Students Affairs, who spoke on the sub-theme : ‘’Socio-economic Challenges & Prospects of the October 10 Legislative and Presidential elections in Liberia’’ indicated that   Liberia is a country that faces numerous socio-economic challenges, but it also has prospects for growth and development.

He identified some of the key challenges that the country faces as poverty, poor infrastructure, corruption, and inadequacies within education sector.

According to Prof. Konneh, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with high levels of poverty and unemployment.

He told the forum that poverty is a major challenge that affects all aspects of life in Liberia, including access to education, healthcare, and basic needs such as food and shelter. He further indicated that Liberia’s infrastructure is underdeveloped, with poor road networks, limited access to electricity and clean water, and inadequate healthcare facilities.

He stressed that this makes it difficult for the country to attract investment and promote economic growth.

Touching on corruption, he disclosed that corruption is a significant challenge in Liberia, with high levels of corruption in government, academia and other institutions.

This situation, he said, undermines public trust in the government and hinders economic development.

He also asserted that Liberia faces significant challenges in the education sector, with limited access to quality education and low levels of literacy. This limits opportunities for social and economic mobility and contributes to persistent poverty.

Commenting on prospects, the UL Vice President told the forum that Liberia has significant natural resources, including iron ore, timber, and diamonds, which can be a source of economic growth and development.

According to him, Liberia has the potential to develop its agricultural sector, which can provide employment opportunities and contribute to food security and that the country has a rich cultural heritage and natural beauty, which can be developed for tourism, providing a source of revenue and employment.

He also stressed that Liberia has a large youth population, which can be harnessed for economic development through education, training, and employment opportunities.

In addition, Prof. Konneh indicated that Liberia is a member of several regional organizations, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which can provide opportunities for trade and investment.

Overall, Prof. Konneh narrated that Liberia faces significant socio-economic challenges, but there are also prospects for growth and development.

He maintained that addressing these challenges and harnessing these prospects will require a concerted effort from the government, civil society, and the private sector.

Addressing the Sub-theme: Development Challenges & Prospects of the October 10th Elections at the National Unification Day celebration, Prof. Adam Kyne, Executive Director of the A. M. Kyne Collegiate Resource Center and Samuel Grimes’ Initiative for At-risk Youth, disclosed that drugs addiction, which is a brain disease, seriously poses threat to peace, security, democracy and development in the Liberian nation.

Referencing a recent Survey Report by the Ministries of Health and Youth and Sports, Prof. Kyne informed the forum that the number of people affected by drug addiction in Liberia has increased from 85,000 last year (2022) to more than 100,000 this year (2023). 

He also disclosed that through countless studies and two decades of experience in working with drug addicts, ‘‘we are now convinced that institutionalizing drug addicts and single organization’s response are ineffective in solving the drug addiction problem in the country. 

He stressed that with the lack of an intentional collaboration, armed with appropriate empirical and culturally contextualized treatment and support in Liberia, the existence of ghettos full of addicts will continue to increase at an exponential rate in the country.

Making remarks earlier at the program, former Minister of Education Dr. D Evelyn S. Kandakai, on behalf of the organizers, welcomed all dignitaries, students and all for showing up to honor Liberia’s 59th National Unification Day.

‘’On this day’,’ she stressed that ‘’it is important to recognize some of Liberia’s personalities and icons who went out of their ways to promote national unification and integration’’.

The former Education Minister referenced  Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman, former President of the state-owned University of Liberia and First female to serve as president of a university on the African Continent; Liberia’s legendary literary icon, Bai T. Moore (late), who once served as the Deputy Minister of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT);  and the proponent of today’s National Unification and Integration Policy Day program, Rev. Augustine S. Arkoi, Ambassador of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Better Future Foundation (BFF).

Dr. Kandakai said, these icons, among many others, who are also in this gathering should be appreciated by the Liberian Nation for supporting the actualization of the Unification and Integration Vision of President William V. S. Tubman.

Dr. Kandakai also cautioned Liberians to examine how education, gender and religions can factor into the promotion of genuine national unification and integration in Liberia.

‘’How far gender transformation and religion can factor into our national unification and integration? Let us also consider peace, let us consider justice. And let us examine how far is our achievement vis-à-vis  this National Unification Celebration and the pending National Elections which are slated for October 10, 2023,’’ Dr. Kandakai recommended.

Special Prayers for reconciliation, peace, unification and integration were offered by Rev. Christopher W. Toe, Secretary General of the Liberia Council of Churches; and Bishop George Washington, who proxy for Bishop Isaac Winker of the Dominion Christian Fellowship.

Giving background of the Liberia National Unification and Integration Day celebration, BFF CEO Rev. Augustine Arkoi indicated that 59 years ago in 1964, Liberia’s 18th President William V.S. Tubman, initiated the National Unification and Integration Policy.

According to Rev. Arkoi, the policy was aimed at reducing the social and political differences between the Americo-Liberians and the indigenous Liberians.

The National Legislature then enacted an Act to proclaim May 14 as a National Unification Day to be observed as a holiday and to create four additional counties — Bong, Grand Gedeh, Lofa, and Nimba – and their subsequent integration into the Republic of Liberia under one system of governance.

He disclosed that beginning 2014, the Better Future Foundation (BFF) and its collaborating institutions embarked on spearheading the annual celebration of the National Unification Day (NUD) in recognition of the shared desire to create national awareness and rally public support for genuine national healing, peace, unification and development.

Rev. Arkoi told the audience that the first Liberia National Unification Hero/Heroine Award (NUHA) will be officially given out at the formal program to celebrate the 60th National Unification Day in Monrovia on 14 May 2024. Before then, the NUHA Committee will work with regional sub-committees and county authorities to conduct the regional awards in the respective regions. The Committee will issue a calendar of key events to that fact.

Serving as moderator for the occasion, Prof. T. Debey Sayndee, Director of the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation, University of Liberia, in closing remarks said: “on this occasion, we must ask ourselves the  question- what has Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties have to show 59 years after the launch of the National Unification & Integrity Policy; and what has Liberia, as a country, got to show in terms of achievement, 59 years after the declaration of the Unification & Integrity Policy.“

Prof. Sayndee challenged Liberians, particularly policymakers and the Government, to at all times, remain genuinely committed to the true spirit, intent and motive of actualizing the Unification & Integration Polity for the benefit of all Liberians and the country.