Ellen's Visit To The US

By Sam Togba Slewion
08 December, 2005

MONROVIA, December 8 -- President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's visit to the United States comes at the heels of her just-ended tour of six African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Mali, where she met with African leaders and apprised them of her Administration's agenda for her country emerging out of a 14-year civil war.

She also solicited the assistance of African leaders and regional financial institutions, including the African Development Bank to help create a viable conducive environment to revive the Liberian economy.

Her itinerary in the United States is expected to include a visit to the United Nations, where she worked as Director of the Africa Bureau of the United Nations Development Program in the early and mid 90s. There she will discuss her Ddvelopment agenda for war-ravaged Liberia.

She is also expected to visit Washington, D.C., where she will meet with Sec retary of State Condeleeza Rice who, like Madam Sirleaf, is one of world's most powerful women. The visit to the State Department is based upon the special invitation of Secretary of State Rice, who is also making history as the first African-American woman to occupy the most senior American cabinet post, that of Secretary of State.

The details of their agenda have not yet been revealed, but there are reports that the discussion will focus on many bi-lateral issues between the US and Liberia, two historical and longstanding traditional friends. The talks will most likely include an improvement in those relations and how the two nations can work together to revive the Liberian economy and society as a whole.

Madam Sirleaf's talks with Secretary of State Rice may also include the extradition of former war lord, Charles Taylor, to Sierra Leone to face trial for alleged war crimes. He has already been indicted by the Court with an arrest warrant hanging over his head.

The former Liberian le ader is now in exile in Calabar, Nigeria, based on a deal brokered between the United States and Nigeria, which has insisted that Taylor will only be turned over to an elected Government in Liberia, if the Liberian government makes such a request. But the Nigerian government continues to come under mounting pressure from the UN, EU and the United States to let Taylor go to Sierra Leone and exonerate himself from the charges brought against him by the Special Court.

President George Bush, in a recent telephone call to President-Elect Sirleaf congratulated her on her election. But, according to Edward Burrier, acting coordinator of the Foreign Policy Press Office of US Congressman, Ed Royce, the US leader also raised the importance of bringing Taylor to justice. Congressman Royce is also reported to have written Ellen Sirleaf, asking that she immediately call upon the Nigerian Government to transfer Taylor to the custody of the Special Court in Sierra Leone.

But the President-elect, who received President Bush's call in Abuja, Nigeria, told Liberian journalists that she and the U.S. leader agreed to permit the new Liberian government first to take its seat, stabilize things in the country, and then deal with such delicate matters later. President Bush agreed, she said.

Madam Sirleaf is also expected to visit the World Bank, where she served for many years, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Her talks with these two most powerful financial institutions is expected to center around Liberia's economic and social development following 14 years of civil strife, and, as with the State Department, the forgiving of Liberia's $3 billion plus external debt.

Aside from the diplomatic headaches, President-Elect Sirleaf is expected to be pampered and showered with honors by some US-based organizations, including the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation and Liberians for Ellen (LIFE), a non-political civic group which was very active in raising funds for her campaign in the United States. The event s are slated to take place during her visits to four States, including Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia.

On December 14, she will attend a dinner in her honor hosted by the Sullivan Foundation in Washington, D.C. Guests for the occasion will include prominent representatives from the US government and business communities, according a press release issued by the Foundation. "We are going to give the President-elect the opportunity to talk about the way forward for Liberia and her vision for what the future holds," Hope Masters of the Sullivan Foundation told the press recently.

In Philadelphia, plans for the LIFE program slated for December 17 are underway, and there is yet no confirmation from the leaders of the organization as to whether President -Elect Sirleaf will be attending the event. But the venue for the occasion (a prestigious hotel) and the admission fees being charged ($50 per person) point to the presence of Ellen Sirleaf at the occasion, where she is expect ed to thank her supporters in Philadelphia for a victorious campaign.

Her visit to Boston will witness similar gestures and meeting with authorities at her alma mater, Harvard University. She will also meet with government officials and the Liberian community in Los Angeles, California.

Madam Sirleaf will meet with the foreign press during a Press Conference on Thursday, December 15 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The Conference will take place at 2 p.m. in the Press Club's Zenger Room. According to a Press Club release, which is signed by Peter Hickman, Vice Chairman of the National Press Club Newsmaker Committee, the Liberian President-elect “will address several key issues of post-elections in Liberia, including the allegation of irregularities in the elections that brought her to power."

There are also reports that she will be seeking medical attention in the United States to obtain a clean-bill of health as she prepares to officially take over leadership of Liberia for six years on January 16, 2006.