About the Author: Undersecretary William J. Burns serves as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
I made my first visit to Liberia this past week as part of a seven-country tour in Africa. It was remarkable to see how far the country has come since it held its first free and open post-conflict election in 2005. But equally evident is that much work remains for Liberia to fully recover after years of horrific civil war. My message was a simple one: the United States will stand by Liberia as it continues to make progress towards reaching its full potential as a democratic state.
I was pleased to make this commitment a little more tangible by informing President Sirleaf that the United States will provide $19.75 million in funding to further advance Liberia National Police force training, fulfilling a promise made by Secretary Clinton during her visit last August.
Strengthening the security sector here, along with the judiciary, is key to maintaining stability and fostering democracy. President Sirleaf and her cabinet offered a thorough briefing on the progress Liberia has made through its Poverty Reduction Strategy, "Lift Liberia," and the challenges that remain to be met. We want to see Liberia succeed and contribute to a secure, prosperous continent, which is why the United States will continue to provide assistance that creates opportunities for Africans to improve their lives. Our food security and global health initiatives are just two examples of ways we are working together with our African partners to achieve the promise of a bright future.
The most common issue I was asked about during my visit was Liberia's 2011 legislative and presidential elections. I explained what America wants to see, and what the Liberian people need to see: free, fair, and transparent elections. The process is critical because a successful election run by Liberia's own National Elections Commission will help establish a firm tradition of democratic elections. I also had a chance to meet leaders from opposition parties, who are contributing to a lively debate on political issues ahead of the elections. In the end, though, a successful democracy is not only about elections or politics. It's about the strong democratic institutions that Liberia is building to withstand time and personalities and give its citizens the stable life they deserve.