Liberia was one of the final stops on Secretary Clinton’s 11-day trip across Africa. I was proud to welcome her to the capital of Monrovia, and I jotted down a few thoughts and impressions throughout the day…
It’s 5:00 a.m. and like many in Liberia, I am up thinking about last minute details of the Secretary’s arrival – five hours from now. Just heard President Sirleaf on BBC, which means she is also up. Good sign that it is not raining this morning in this country that has the distinction of having the highest rainfall in all of Africa.
The Secretary has already visited five African nations on this trip. I wonder what she will think about this country that is in the throes of rebuilding after years of war. Will she notice how much progress has been made in the three short years since Africa’s only woman president has been in power? Will she see the untapped potential of Liberia’s lush, green, agricultural resources as we take the long 45-minute drive from the airport to downtown Monrovia? Will she see the excitement on the faces of Liberians who will line the streets to welcome her on her first visit to Liberia as Secretary of State?
It’s now 10:45 a.m., and it’s raining. As Liberians say “it’s the rainy season!” Everyone is anxiously awaiting the Secretary’s plane: dancers wearing shirts with Secretary Clinton’s picture are dancing, drummers are drumming, and the skies are letting loose with a “Welcome to Liberia” torrential rainstorm. As Secretary Clinton descends from the plane, beaming in the downpour, the Liberians’ welcome becomes even more frenetic.
Cheering crowds greet our drive into the city. I am particularly struck by a banner reading, “Hillary Rodham Clinton: Iron Lady of the U.S.,” comparing her to Liberia’s Iron Lady, President Sirleaf. And then there she is in person, warmly greeting the Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At noon, the two women sit down together to discuss Liberia’s transition from conflict to reconciliation.
It’s mid-afternoon and the Secretary Clinton is about to address a joint session of the National Legislature. This is probably the highlight of the day for most Liberians. She gets nervous laughs and somber looks when she mentions that several of the legislators here in the chamber had taken up arms against each other during Liberia’s years of war. But when she notes that she works with her own former political rival, President Obama, “because we both love our country,” the legislators give her an extended standing ovation. In the end, the speech is received as “inspiring.”
In the late afternoon, I am happy to have the opportunity to introduce Secretary Clinton to my dedicated staff at the U.S. Embassy. It is great to hear her commend their service. The embassy, though often drawn down, never closed through 14 years of conflict. Many of our Liberian staff members and Inter-Con guards who helped keep the embassy open are in attendance and thrilled to meet the Secretary.
At 5:00 p.m., we’re at the National Police Training Academy, and I am struck by the honored guests sitting on the dais with the Secretary. The President of Liberia, the Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs, and the Special Representative of the Secretary General are all women. Only one man, Police Inspector General Marc Amblard, shares the dais with them. What an inspiring message for young women in Africa today, especially the 51 female trainees, preparing to serve and protect Liberia. The honor guard, members of an all-women Indian police unit of the UN that is helping to improve the security sector in Liberia, also serves as an inspiration to the young recruits.
As the day draws to a close and we head back to the airport, the rain ends just in time to bid farewell to Secretary Clinton. She leaves on schedule at 7:00 p.m., and we finally pause and reflect on a successful visit, knowing the Liberians were elated, and sure that Secretary Clinton was also pleased with the results.