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Liberia Celebrates 169 Years of Independence

FILE - Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Liberia celebrates 169 years of independence Tuesday. Some Liberians say there is little to celebrate in the face of economic difficulties. But Liberia’s ambassador to the United States, Jeremiah Sulunteh, said while there are some challenges, the country has made remarkable progress under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

“This year, we are celebrating our independence with the theme: ‘Consolidating Progress Toward Transformation’ of Liberia. As you know, the Agenda 2030 that has been encouraged by our president is a long-range plan. And so every progress we are making toward the transformation of Liberia needs to be celebrated,” he said.

Ambassador Sulunteh said much progress has been made in the government’s effort to rehabilitate some of Liberia’s broken infrastructure as a result of civil war.

“The Mount Coffee Hydroelectric project is coming alive, hopefully in December; we have miles of roads that have been paved that were never touched during last 20-30 years. So, there’s a lot of progress being made, but at the same time we still have challenges,” he said.

Sulunteh, who has been Liberia's ambassador in Washington for the last four years, said this year’s Independence Day celebration will be his last. He said he hopes to be part of the political process in 2017 when the country will be electing a successor to President Johnson Sirleaf.

“Usually, diplomats are posted for four years, but at the same time you serve at the will and pleasure of the president. So are calculating and assuming that we will be here for four years. This should be my last independence celebration, and we look forward to serving the Liberian people in another capacity,” he said.

Ambassador Sulunteh said some presidential candidates have been speaking with him for what he calls possible collaboration.

“The truth of the matter is many of the presidential candidates are talking not only to me. I know everyone is talking to someone. So people have been asking us what role we might want to play in their own camp. But the bigger picture is for Liberia,” Sulunteh said.

Marking the independence anniversary, there have been cultural performances at the Liberian embassy as vendors from across the Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia area sold Liberian food, including cassava leaves, fufu and soup, check rice with gravy, and a lot more.

Some Liberians like former journalist Jerry Wion said Liberia has made very little progress under President Johnson Sirleaf apart from the fact there has been no war.

“We have nothing to celebrate. The army, police, immigration, health care workers in President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s hometown of Bomi, Tubmanburg, they have not been paid for three months. The American dollar is now scarce in Liberia. The rate of exchange is now 100 Liberian dollars to 1 US dollar. What is there to celebrate?”

The U.S. and Liberian dollars are both legal tenders for Liberia.

Wion also said the government has neglected the country’s health care system.

“Yesterday, the minister of state for Presidential Affairs, Edward McClain died in a hospital in South Africa; the former associate justice to the Supreme Court Emmanuel Wureh died in Ghana. Why are they not going to JFK [main government hospital in Liberia] instead going to foreign countries? Because the government has neglected the health care system in Liberia,” Wion said.

Another Liberian, Lahai Swaray, vice chair of the Patriot Movement - a group that wants to elect Vice President Joseph Boakai to succeed President Johnson Sirleaf - said the vice president will solve the country’s economic problems if elected in 2017.

“I’m excited to be here to celebrate our country’s independence today. Mostly importantly the reason for my being here is to mobilize our Liberian youth and our Liberian public to tell them more about Honorable Joseph Boakai. I will tell you that he has the solution to take us to the next level economically,” Swaray said.