FULL SPEECH: ‘Corruption is an act of robbery,’ Special Assistant to U.S. President Dana Banks Says At Liberia Bicentennial Launch

Thank you, President Weah, for warmly welcoming President Biden’s delegation to Liberia, and for hosting this bicentennial opening event. On behalf of President Biden and Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who so deeply regrets being unable to be here, thank you for allowing us to be with you to mark such an important occasion.

It is so good here with you today to mark the 200th anniversary of free Black men, women, and children from the United States arriving on Providence Island.

They were leaving a country that legalized slavery. They were sponsored, in part, by the American Colonization Society, a racist project – supported even by the Great Emancipator himself, President Abraham Lincoln – with the goal of removing free Black people from America.

It was a hard journey, and an even harder life for those who arrived. But we know why they made the journey. As it says upon your coat of arms, “the love of liberty brought us here.”
When I think about what it must have felt like for those first free people arriving to establish Monrovia – feelings of apprehension, nervousness, excitement, returning to a home they’d never known – I can’t help but reflect on the deep, strong, historical ties between the United States and Liberia – the very ties we are here today to reflect upon and commemorate.
Under President Abraham Lincoln, the United States recognized Liberia as a sovereign nation in 1862, sending a diplomat to represent the United States in what would be its only direct diplomatic relationship with an African nation for the next several decades.

160 years later, President Biden remains committed to the U.S.-Liberian relationship, despite troubling events elsewhere in the world, sent a delegation on his behalf to demonstrate the unique bond that the United States shares with the founding of Liberia. Today, on President Biden’s behalf, we have presented President Weah with a framed archival copy of the 1861 Act recognizing Liberia as a sovereign nation.

In my short time here, I have been struck by the warmth and kindness of the Liberian people. Although I have only been here a few hours – after an absence of nearly 15 years – it has felt like a homecoming.

Liberia is a country where the sense of purpose to succeed is tangible. From finding the strength and grace to leave behind nearly a decade and a half of civil war, to making history by electing the first female head of state not just for Liberia, but in all of Africa. A milestone, I might add, we have yet to achieve in my own country.

You then went on to have a peaceful transition of power, from one democratically elected president to another democratically elected president – an achievement to be proud of.
In short, you have overcome your divisions and built a democracy from the bottom up.
At a moment when we are seeing democratic setbacks and a rash of dangerous coups across Africa, Liberia stands as an important example of democratic elections and peaceful transitions of power.

You have made progress on empowering the free press by decriminalization defamation and insult. You have taken steps to combat human trafficking.

Liberia needed a UN peacekeeping mission here until 2018 – now you are contributing to the UN Mission in Mali. That is remarkable.
But, as President Biden has often said, this is a unique moment in history, when the community of democracies should seriously ask themselves whether they are delivering the blessings of liberty and prosperity to their people. And like the United States – like every democracy – Liberia is not perfect.

Like many democracies, Liberia still has work to do to seriously address and root out corruption. We bring this up as your friends who are eager to help.

Corruption is an act of robbery. It robs Liberia’s citizens of access to health care, to public safety, to education.

It robs you of the healthy business environment we all know Liberia could have, which would lift countless Liberians out of poverty.

It subverts economic opportunity, exacerbates inequality, and erodes integrity. It eats away at the democracy you have worked so hard to build.
Liberia has a host of anti-corruption institutions. But while these institutions are nominally and legally independent from the Government of Liberia, the truth is that the government fails to adequately fund them and exerts its influence upon them.

Too many of Liberia’s leaders have chosen their own personal short-term gain over the long-term benefit of their country.

The expectation, sometimes, is that the United States and the rest of the international community will step in to solve Liberia’s long-term problems.

So let me be clear. The United States is a proud and dedicated partner and friend of Liberia.
But ultimately, only the Liberian Government and the Liberian people can tackle corruption, fight for accountability and transparency, and move this country forward.

Still, in the meantime, we will continue our strong and unique partnership for taking on all kinds of challenges – especially on issues that affect us all like climate change and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The truth is, when it comes to this pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Which is why the United States is committed to leading the global fight against COVID-19.

That is why, already to date, we have provided over 5 million dollars in direct COVID-19 relief to Liberia.

The cornerstone of our response effort is, as President Biden says, becoming the world’s arsenal for safe and effective vaccines.
We’ve provided nearly one million doses of vaccines, in partnership with COVAX, to Liberia. And we were working here in Liberia to establish more vaccination sites, train more health workers to administer vaccines, and counter vaccine misinformation.

On that last point – countering the false rumors about vaccines – we have to work together.
We need you to tell your families, your friends, and your neighbors what we all know to be true: the vaccines are safe and effective.

They have been used by hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the world. Getting vaccinated could save your life – or the life of your loved ones.

Of course, the pandemic hasn’t only affected our health – it also threatens to undo decades of progress on economic growth, education, gender equity, poverty reduction, and food security.
It is so important for us to address these secondary effects too.

That’s why we have supported Liberian farmers, through Feed the Future, to pivot their business models during lockdown restrictions.
It’s why we have worked with Liberian small businesses to provide direct cash transfers to sustain their livelihoods.

And it’s why we have implemented school feeding programs to help keep thousands of Liberian grade school students fed and in school.
Liberia has fought back against COVID-19. You have drawn from your experiences with Ebola, implemented lockdowns to stop the spread, worked to vaccinate your fellow citizens, and even drafted a National Action Plan for Health Security to ensure you are prepared for future pandemics.

The work we are doing together to counter COVID-19 is emblematic of our partnership, and the work we are doing to take on Liberia’s challenges together.

These are difficult, weighty challenges.
But here, on this 200th anniversary, I wonder if you all feel the same way I do. The way I imagine those first Liberians felt when they arrived here all those years ago.

Aware of the challenges, of the complications of history. But excited and filled with hope.
Because I know that Liberia, with its persistent people and firm belief in democracy – a people whose love of liberty brought them here – will once again succeed.

Thanks

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