Liberia celebrated 168 years of independence Sunday with mixed feelings about the state of progress in areas like the economy. In an informal survey conducted by the independent FrontPage Africa newspaper of Liberia, some Liberians said their country has regressed in the quality of education, health care, the fight against corruption, employment, and good governance.
Here in Washington, hundreds gathered Saturday at the Liberian Embassy to participate in an all-day cultural extravaganza to mark the occasion.
Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh said, although Liberia faces some difficult challenges, still people have reasons to celebrate their 168th independence anniversary.
“A year ago when Ebola struck Liberia and whole West African region, Liberians could not celebrate their independence the way we do today. Our hearts are broken for the lives lost, including 4,700, including 192 health care workers, who were helping trying save lives. But today, we thank God that we have the courage, the opportunity to celebrate another independence of our country,” he said.
At an Independence Day diplomatic reception on Friday, the ambassador honored and paid tribute to some of those who helped Liberia during the Ebola crisis, particularly health workers.
Doctors Samuel Brisbane, Abraham Borbor and Michel du Cille, who died while fighting the Ebola disease, were honored posthumously. Dr. John T. Wulu and the People’s Congregational United Church of Christ were also honored for giving material support to the fight against Ebola.
Sulunteh also thanked the international community, including the United States, for what he called their “robust and outstanding support.”
"We remember those who suffered; we remember those who died; we remember those who labored to get us where we are. Even as we do so, we appreciate the international community and our development partners, especially the United States, who came up with an outstanding, robust support, and [the] resilience of the Liberian people, together with the strong leadership of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to get Liberia where it is today,” Sulunteh said.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Bisa Williams said the longstanding special bond between Liberia and the United States will remain forever strong.
She said Liberia has overcome many challenges since independence and will continue to do so in the face of the Ebola epidemic. She promised continued U.S. support for Liberia and all of West Africa.
“We will remain fully engaged in a partnership with West Africa to build the capacity within the entire region to prevent, detect, and respond to future outbreaks before they become epidemics. As Liberia’s unwavering partner, we will also remain committed to supporting Liberia’s development and post-Ebola recovery plan,” Williams said.
Olivia Shannon, former director of the Liberia Broadcasting System, who is visiting the United States, had a message for Liberian parents. She said they should teach their children well about the country of their birth.
“We have a lot to teach the population at home and abroad. There’s a little boy who came to the table where I am sitting that talks about education in Liberia. He saw the picture of little girls with [computer] tablets and he asked what do they know about tablet? That tells me in his home he has been told that the children in Liberia know nothing. So, my thinking is that the parents in America themselves have to be taught about Liberia and what is happening there so that they will give their kids the right information about their country,” Shannon said.
Former Liberian broadcaster Jerry Wion said he and other Liberians were thankful that there is no more war in Liberia. But, he said the government has failed to deliver on the development it promised Liberians 10 years ago.
“All is not well, the economy and the hardships of our people. But, we are thankful there is peace, there’s no more fighting except that this president (Sirleaf) has not delivered the promises she made to the Liberian people. It’s 10 years now, still no water and electricity,” Wion said.
Despite their misgivings, Liberians danced to the music of various Liberian artists as vendors sold all a variety of Liberian food, clothes and artifacts.