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Five Former African Presidents to Grace Liberia's 161st Independence Anniversary Celebration

Five former African presidents who are members of the Africa Forum are expected to begin arriving in Liberia's capital, Monrovia Thursday. They include Africa Forum chairman and former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, former Benin President Nicephore Soglo, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, Quett Masire of Botswana and Sam Nujoma of Namibia.

The core mission of the Africa Forum is to promote democratic governance as well as peace making and post-conflict reconstruction and development in Africa. Their visit comes as Liberia prepares to celebrate its 161st independence anniversary this Saturday.

Cletus Sieh is Liberia's acting minister of information. He told VOA the five former heads of state are coming to show their solidarity with Africa's first elected female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

"What this is trying to show is that people can leave office as heads of state and still be meaningful to Africa in the area of bringing peace and in the area of bringing about reconciliation. So these former heads of state are coming together, some of them are very much interested in the health sector, specifically the area of HIV/AIDS. Also some of them are interested in education and agriculture. So they are coming to bless this occasion but also to have discussions with the Liberian government," he said.

Sieh said the visit of the five former presidents is a testament to President Sirleaf's commitment to rebuild Liberia after 14 years of civil war.

"Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has tried very hard to put Liberia back among the comity of nations and leaders around the world are very much impressed with the kind of leadership she is providing. She also the first elected female president in Africa. So these former heads of state are coming to show their solidarity but also to lend a helping, especially as Liberia has started her poverty reduction strategy, and these old hands are coming to give their advice to our president as to the way forward," Sieh said.

The visit of the former African presidents comes as preparations for the celebration of Liberia's161st independence anniversary this Saturday are in full swing.

But for many Liberians, this year's celebration comes amid skyracketing food and fuel prices. But Sieh said despite these problems, Liberians should have reason to be enthusiastic about this year's 161st Independence Day celebration.

"In the midst of the problems you've just highlighted, it was something to see today (Wednesday) when the president went to Kakata City to turn on the lights after so many years of darkness. Also the pipe-borne water was turned, and people were happy and drinking from these pumps, things that had not happened for a very, very long time. So this is a way of giving hope to our people. In the midst of what is going on, the government is trying her best to restore basic services to our people. So a cause for some celebration," he said.

Sieh said the official festivities of this year's 161st Independence Day celebration would take place in the provincial city of Kakata as part of the government's efforts to decentralize the annual Independence Day celebrations.