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A Conversation with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Speaker: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President, Republic of Liberia
Presider: George Rupp, President, International Rescue Committee
September 28, 2012



GEORGE RUPP: I'm very pleased to welcome all of you to this Council on Foreign Relations meeting with the president of the Republic of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

I have the usual housekeeping requests. Please turn off all cellphones, everything electronic, not on vibrate but off. I'm reliably informed it interferes with the -- with the amplification system, so that would be very helpful. I remind all of us that this meeting is on the record.

We're very honored that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is visiting us again. This is the third time, at least in my attending these sessions with you, and I'm delighted that you're able to be here.

You all have a written biography in the materials that were handed out, so I will -- I will be brief and touch really only very much the highlights. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th president of Liberia. She was first -- began her first term in 2006 and was re-elected and began her second term in 2012. She is the first elected head of state of any African country, in a pattern that others have already followed and will continue to follow.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was educated in Liberia and in the United States. She has a very extended career in the financial sector, beginning in 1965, when she worked in the Treasury Department of her home country, Liberia. She was then also finance minister and president -- and after that, president of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment. She has been a VP in Citigroup's Africa regional office in Nairobi, a senior loan officer in the World Bank and vice president of the Equator Bank. She's participated in international development, in particular through UNDP.

President Sirleaf was jailed for a year by former President Samuel Doe and then went into self-imposed exile during the presidency of Charles Taylor. She has a great many honors and awards, and many of those or a subset of those are listed in your written biography that you have in your program. I'll just mention the top-of-the-line ones: Nobel Peace Price in 2011, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, 15 honorary doctorates from distinguished institution (sic).

Please join me in welcoming President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (Applause.)

Now, President Sirleaf, I had the occasion and privilege of visiting Liberia a number of times, and the relevant ones are twice before your election, when Charles Taylor was president, and then twice after the election. And so I have a vivid sense of the huge difference that just the occasion of your election made, from the kind of despair that characterized the last of the Taylor years to really a terrific euphoria when you were first elected. And I would say, in my most recent visit, after your re-election, the euphoria has given way to sort of more reasonable awareness of how tough the challenges are but still pride at progress that's being made.

So I think we'd all be interested in hearing your own -- well, if we use crude metaphors, we could say scorecard. It might be better, given your financial background, to see your -- what -- how you think the balance sheet comes out in terms of gains and losses, positive achievements and challenges that remain for the now almost seven years that you've been in office.

PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF: I welcome the opportunity to do that. We've come a long way. As you know, when we started off in 2006, after 14 years of war that devastated the country, a criminalized economy, dysfunctional institutions, brain drain, most of our people out of the country, infrastructure all destroyed because of lack of maintenance and work over the years of conflict, and so we had to start from scratch, so to speak.

Immediately we put into place a poverty reduction strategy around four pillars: peace and security, economic reconstruction, governance and infrastructure and debtor services.

We've first of all, knowing that peace and security is vital to anything, put an emphasis on that, and that enabled us to do a complete new army, disband the entire old army because they comprised people from the warring factions. With the support of the U.S., we trained a 2,000-person army. Today they're in place, very professional, well-equipped; tried to do something with the other security sectors, like the national police.

But the main thing was to get things functioning again, economic reconstruction.

Because Liberia is natural resource-rich, it made it easier for us to go after the private sector because we do believe the private sector is our main engine of growth. And so we went for attracting investment to reactivate operations in our basic natural resources, which are mining, agriculture, forestry. Sanctions that had been imposed were lifted as a result of the policies we put in place. And so as a result of that, we mobilized 16 billion in direct foreign investment across these sectors.

We would -- we had -- we had a large debt overhang, external debt of some 4.9 billion that had not been serviced for over 20 years. And so we entered the HIPC program, and under the HIPC program we think in record time we -- in three years we were able to reach the completion point and it was able to wipe out most of that debt, thereby giving us the fiscal space to be able to do more.

At the same time, domestic revenue mobilization was important, and so we tackled that, looking at the tax base and seeing what we could do. We -- 80 million dollars -- when we started off in 2006 -- I always compare that to the budgets of one of your high schools. (Laughter.) We just had a new budget that --

RUPP: Or the Council on Foreign Relations.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: Or the Council on Foreign Relations. (Chuckles.) That's right. (Laughter.)

But you know, we just passed a new budget of $670 million, hardly enough, but a big jump. And building those institutions was tough, trying to get them working. It means we had -- we had to formulate new laws and policies and strategies.

And infrastructure also is tough -- no lights in the country. We turned on the first set of streetlights and subsequently begin to provide lights, building the schools and the clinics and the water systems, all of which had gone into a state of disrepair, none functional at all.

So at the end of the six years, where we are? Growth -- experienced growth of average annual 6.5 percent. This year we estimate, the IMF, it will be 8.8 percent growth. (Inaudible) -- fiscal space, we can now -- we can now begin to mobilize resources, not only our own, but to access facilities (under ?) very, very tough conditions because we don't want to get debt-distressed again. But at least the soft windows of the World Bank and other institutions provide us the means whereby we can begin to do things.

Our institutions are functioning again. We've put in systems that didn't exist. We have a training program. We enforce compulsory education to try and get people back into school. Enrollments have more than quadrupled.

And so now comes the hard part. Like you say, you notice the euphoria is gone because success has its pitfalls. One of the things is, because we've done so much, everyone wants more. And so they raise expectations. Every time you turn lights in one community, five of the communities complain, you know, why don't you give me lights? Every time you build a road in one area of the country, you know, 10 other areas say, why not my road? So we have to tackle that.

So what we decided -- to a long-term vision -- visioning exercise. So we now have some -- Lift Liberia development agenda 2030. It took us two years to put that in place. (It ?) involved robust consultation around the country to see what the Liberian people want as their future, what do they see. We've got that ready to be commenced early November. We -- we're now -- that strategy is all done.

Now, what are some of the challenges that remain?

RUPP: Well, you've just -- you've just named a big one, namely, to keep this now solidly grounded process moving forward.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: That is true. But there are some specific areas.

Youth development, youth unemployment. We've got thousands and thousands of young people who were bypassed with an education during the years of conflict. They were child soldiers. So they never had that opportunity. Today they're unskilled. How do we respond to that?

We're going into a massive vocational technical training, see if we can give them skills. Education is a long-term endeavor. But at least in the short term, if we can give them a skill, at least we can make them employable. And we see them as a pool that will fit into the operations of our mining sector. (So we're ?) just getting started.

Integrity. Corruption. Even though we put in place the pillars integrity (issue ?) straight in our General Auditing Commission, establishing a Liberian anti-corruption commission -- we joined the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. I'm pleased that we've done well there, became one of the first to become compliant. Whistle-blowers (act ?) some of those things that we've done. Freedom of Information Act, I think we're the first country to have -- to have to done that.

But still, we have to keep fighting corruption because it is ingrained in a society coming from two decades of deprivation. It became a way of life, of survival.

So we've tackled it in so many ways. One is to increase compensation, thereby reducing vulnerabilities. Put in systems that did not exist that would minimize discretion. Capacity, training of people so that they understand the laws, our new procurement laws, public financial management laws. We've put all of those in place to do that.

One of that areas where, again, there's a challenge, our judicial system. Again, a part of the whole microcosm of the whole ills in the society where judges, jurors can be compromised. And so we -- that's one of our areas to tackle now, judicial reform.

Infrastructure. Still a big challenge, but our main concentration now in our new budget is to focus on power, ports and roads because those are essential to meet the new agenda of moving from being a primary commodity exporting country to adding value. And to add value, for example, for our rubber -- as you know, rubber is one of our mainstay traditional -- going back to Firestone in 1926. They're -- they had their replanting. How do we add value? By processing our rubber instead of shipping old rubber out.

Our mining -- in the mining sector, we've got iron ore, gold, diamond. We're pleased that -- iron ore has been our tradition. Our first export of iron ore from the company ArcelorMittal was in 2010, so we shipped the first ore out in 20 years. And so those operations are ongoing.

We -- are we going to be able to move to produce some elements of, you know, some steel? Can't do it without power. Today we have 21 megawatts of power, 21. Just think about that. What that translate into is a cost of over 50 cents per kilowatt-hour. I mean, compare that with yours -- must be about 9 cents, thereabout.

So focusing on the reconstruction of a hydro plant which was destroyed in the war is a focus, is our priority.

RUPP: Well, now, let me interrupt --


RUPP: -- not because I -- I know there's a long list of priorities that you still have that you can address. But I think we should pause to really take in and to applaud the progress that's been made. As someone who has been in Monrovia when there was no -- when there were no lights, I can say that getting lights into the capital city is a -- is a substantial achievement. Six and a half to 7 percent, and now with higher rates projected, growth is phenomenal. And it is an example that -- it sets an example for the rest of Africa and for the world. So I think you should feel very good about the progress that's been made. And the list of challenges that you outline is so daunting that I find myself grateful that Liberia is of a scale that your impact can be substantial for the country as a whole. It's now what, 3 1/2 million people, more or less? And that means that you really can have an impact across the whole country in the time that you've got.

Let me give you -- ask you to comment a little on one example that you haven't yet mentioned. I know you've made it -- made it a priority to develop basic health care across the country, and the International Rescue Committee has worked with Ministry of Health on that priority. And that's the vantage point that we have, where we can see how the civil servants are rising to the occasion of trying to be responsible and effective and transparent, rather than the standard pattern that was in those ministries before.

But maybe you can say a little bit about the priority of expanding basic medicine. And the a second area where it would be interesting to hear you comment a little further is your focus on the challenges faced in particular by adolescent girls and your priority in over -- in countering domestic violence. Maybe those three places, you could comment a little more.


RUPP: And then we'll open it up for others.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: Basic health care -- we've established what is called a basic health care package, trying to open up clinics in the rural areas, immunization programs for the children. And we've done very well. Two areas that continue to challenge us in health care delivery service are child mortality, maternal mortality. This year, the latest report we have, the child mortality rate has dropped, and that's because we have made health service free in the rural areas for five years and below. And so that's beginning to make an impact. We have --

RUPP: An area where the United States might emulate Liberia. (Laughter.)

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: We're still fighting with maternal mortality, and that's because we had to reactivate the system of -- what do you call? Those, they -- those who helps mothers in something --


JOHNSON SIRLEAF: Midwife -- the midwifery system. That's what they were -- they were accustomed to, and that has sort of, you know, gone down also too. But we have to train them, because these were volunteer midwives that were performing operations without the tools, without the knowledge. And so the training program (is on ?).

But basically, with the -- with the hospitals and clinics that we've built and the free service health care delivery -- and we get a lot of support from nongovernment organizations. The philanthropic organizations here support a lot of -- a lot of that. And I must say that our health ministry is the one that's going today and is going to do the pilot, what you call FARA now. You may know this (through ?) AID intervention: Fixed Account Reimbursement. So we're -- and our health service system is -- has been proven to be so good that we have pool fund with which all the donors contribute, and then they agree on the priorities, and they take care of that.

Your second area was --

RUPP: Well, adolescent girls in particular, but then also domestic violence.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: Deep problem. When we enforced compulsory education, the enrollment went up, as I say, quadruple. And the majority of those were girls. And we put emphasis on them because the girl child has been elected, you know, because of poverty, where they give preference for the boy. But retention is a problem because once they've passed primary and get into middle class and into high school, then teenage pregnancy becomes a problem.

And we are still looking for solutions to that, trying to maybe move them into what we -- what historically we've been a great mission school country, where the churches have these boarding schools. And so we're trying to reactivate that as a means of keeping these girls in a controlled environment until they pass high school. But the population -- our population growth rate is 3.3 percent. You know, that's a big problem. If we're not able to control that, we -- right now you mentioned 3.5. Already we are 3.9 million.

Controlling violence -- the only thing we can do is to, as I say, put these young people to work, because the violence comes from the young unemployed. Drug trafficking is a problem in our West Africa region. We continue to try to do that. But getting them unemployed -- I mean -- I mean getting them employed. But they're great entrepreneurs. I mean, I think one of the biggest business among our young unemployed is motorcycling for transport. So they do a lot of the transporting of people around without -- our public transport system is there but still not at the level where it serves a lot of the people. (Inaudible) -- but then there are some of them who are still traumatized and resort to violence and extortion as a means. So we have to just continue to work on them, counseling, schooling, skilling, to be able to that -- address that.

RUPP: Well, you've personally endorsed a program that goes by the acronym EPAG, the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls. Maybe say a word about that.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: There's -- it's being supported. There's the Goldman Sachs program 10,000 Girls (sic). And the EPAG actually trains them for specific jobs, mainly for the blue-collar jobs, train them in the catering business, security business, domestic work, farming. And so they have a selection process where the girls apply for it, and based upon the resources for the period -- (inaudible) -- number of girls, take them to training for about nine months or so and then have a follow-up service to have them placed in accordance with their training. So that works.

The Goldman Sachs program -- I think we've had 264 girls trained. That one is taking business entities, people that have small restaurants and shops, and teaching them how to -- how to have a better business, teaching them how to keep books, how to -- how to calculate profits and all of that. So those are helping some of these girls who may not be ready or able to go back to school.

RUPP: Well, I'm going to turn to -- so that we can have questions from our members, who are, as you can see, eager to ask questions.

Let me -- let me close this part of the program off, though, by thanking you for your warm support and endorsement of the recommendations of our commission on -- the IRC Commission on Domestic Violence. We enjoyed meeting with you, and your minister of gender has been very proactive in helping to implement the recommendations, and I just wanted to say thank you very much.

So, questions from the floor? Oh, yes, you -- (inaudible). (Applause.)


QUESTIONER: Thank you so much, Madam President. I'm Professor Bernadette Atuahene from Fordham Law School. I wanted to talk briefly about this issue of corruption. One way to fight corruption is to give people increased salaries. But what we see now is in the 2012-2013 budget law -- each lawmaker's entitled to up to US$30,000 in benefits. So at what point do we go too far and at what point is this idea of good governance or legitimacy corroded by these kinds of salaries we're giving the legislators, especially since other -- you know, in order to balance the budget, we're expecting all sectors of societies to take cuts, but legislators, lawmakers are still receiving these very hefty salaries? I just want to get your thoughts and opinions on how that fits into your vision of good governance and perhaps your critique or -- of that particular practice.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: We didn't give it to them; they took it. (Laughter.)

We're still fighting that battle.


JOHNSON SIRLEAF: We have a legislature that's aggressive in terms of their own interest. And there's a public protest against their salary levels because -- particularly in the light of our inability to increase civil servants' pay.

But the reason we did not increase civil servants' pay is that we have to do a payroll cleanup exercise. There are too many ghost names on the payroll, too many duplicated names on the payroll, and if we have put in the civil service increase, it would have gone -- much of it was going to the wrong hands. But I have an agreement with the legislature that once we've cleaned up the payroll, the savings that results from that exercise will be used for a civil service pay increase. I have that commitment from them. I'm going to make sure that that commitment is met.

As to their own benefits, it was a long -- a long wait. We had run out of continuing resolution because a budget had not passed for a whole month and after that we had to stop -- (sighs) -- tough.

RUPP: You know, we have a -- we have a hard time imagining a legislative process -- (laughter) -- that has to have to have continuing resolutions. (Laughter.)

Yes. I'm sorry. Yes.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, and congratulations, President Sirleaf. Early on in your presidency --

RUPP: Can you tell -- can you tell us who you are?

QUESTIONER: Oh, sorry. Cora Weiss from the Hague Appeal for Peace. Early on in your presidency you were considering bringing -- welcoming the strategic command post for Africa to Liberia. Now that you're a Nobel peace laureate, are you still considering bringing a strategic command post to Liberia for Africa?

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: You know, I see that strategic command post, the AFRICOM, in quite a different way than perhaps is perceived by others. I don't see it as a forced -- as a force that would incite violence or militarism. I see it as a force that would train our own military personnel, giving them the capacity to do things.

Similar type of training is going on in Francophone Africa by the French. And so, you know, AFRICOM is still something that I still endorse because I think it's had good effects of promoting infrastructure development for us and training our people not only in Liberia but in the West Africa subregion. And while there were protests against this before, I think in the light of what's happening now with drug trafficking and child trafficking in our area, I think their presence is much more appreciated today. But they're not there yet. They may not even get there.

RUPP: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much, Madam President. I'm Natalie Hahn.

I would be delighted if you would tell all of us about the women's market and the transformation that it's making in Liberia. And I ask that for two very specific reasons. First of all, it's going to be applicated in Malawi. You and President Joyce Banda are not only transforming your own countries but really the face of Africa. And secondly, because I think it's a way that we can help you. It's a way that we can make a difference. And as I hear you speak, I think for all of us, with our passion, our hearts for Africa and for your phenomenal leadership, the women's markets and the (fund ?) there may be a way that we can better partner with you.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: No, it's a great, great love fest, the market women -- (laughter) -- with me because they've been my greatest supporters. And I also recognize what they go through to be able to feed their families. They sit in the sun, in the rain, you know, marketing. They go across borders at great risk to be able to get commodities, you know, to the market. And so my commitment to them is to give them better working conditions.

And so we've been building markets. You've probably heard of the Sirleaf Market Women's Fund where we mobilize resources, some of it from many of your institutions and yourselves in this room. And we try to go out and build new markets for them. We're moving into an area where now we will add to the markets places where their young kids can go to school. So we have primary schools in the marketplace. If we can move one step further, we should begin to move them into commercial activity by giving them cold storage, whatnot, where they can -- they can keep their produce and thereby manage (that ?). We're even encouraging the banks to put small banking windows in the market so they can begin the savings habit of taking their daily proceeds and depositing it in the bank instead of taking it home where it could be stolen. And so it's a -- it's a great program.

But the market needs -- our biggest -- our biggest problem is that there's a strong sense of individualism. You can't get them to going to large megamarkets and sit because each one wants to have a place where there'll be seen by the traffic or the passer-bys. And so the markets spill over with (their good ?) markets, and they still come in, sit on the sidewalk because they want to be seen. We have to sort that problem (in good time ?).

RUPP: OK. Let's -- I'm -- let's go to the back of the room there. Yes. No --

QUESTIONER: Good morning, and thank you for being here. I'm Bill Abrams with Trickle Up. We're an NGO that works in the region, in Mali and Burkina Faso.

So my question is, if you would look around sort of the region and assess any number of countries that Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, that have had a lot of turbulence and how you see that affecting Liberia and sort of what you see as the risks in the region in the coming years.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: A very vulnerable subregion. And this is why we have a peacekeeping force as yet. Numbers are down to 7,000, then we've got a transition program that's going to take it down continuingly. But still, we're talking about three to five years exactly because of the vulnerability in the region.

The Mali situation, particular in the north, is concerning. If it -- if it ends up being an Islamic movement, it could affect many countries, not only Mali. The political situation in the country itself has not yet been resolved because they still have competing political leadership, despite the fact that ECOWAS took a very strong and firm position against not accepting anything that resembles a takeover of power through undemocratic means.

In our own region, Cote d'Ivoire, there's border problems between us and them because there's a growing rebellion against the Ouattara government because of people who had allegiance and still have ties to the previous government, President Gbagbo, and we have to manage it. Fortunately, we all -- Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia work very closely to try to manage that problem.

Guinea is still unsettled, trying to find its way. And the elections are coming up in Sierra Leone in November. So all of that says that we're all still very vulnerable and must manage it very carefully. The one good thing we have going is that today there are excellent relationship among the leadership of the four countries. And so we have a common purpose of maintaining the peace and making sure that we stay on track with being able to get our development goals going and preserve democracy. So --

RUPP: Yes. You're next. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Oh. Lucy Komisar. I'm a journalist. Regarding the problem of teenage pregnancy, what access do teenage girls have to contraception and abortion, and are you doing anything to improve their access?

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: Our laws do not interfere with their rights to that. All we do is education. We have our minister of gender and development that meets with girls' groups and talk to them. We like to just see them stay in school. And what I say, we're trying to move them into these controlled environment, whereby they can -- they can concentrate on their learning. The abortion issue is not on our radar screen right now. But nobody interferes with the -- with the right of anyone. What we're trying to do is to improve parental concern, parental responsibility for the children, and so strengthening parentage as association, strengthening the community, women leaders, to do much more sensitization of the girls, the approaches that we're using.

RUPP: I should add, I think the -- you can state this yourself as easily as I can state it on your behalf. The elevation of the aspiration of girls in Liberia just by virtue of your career is really very substantial. And I don't mean it's protection against -- it doesn't -- in contrast to some people running for office in this country, I don't think that protects against conception, but it nonetheless is a -- (laughter) -- very important fact about Liberia -- (inaudible) --

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: You know, and let me say that my compatriot Lima Bowie (ph) has a foundation. And Lima (ph) has been doing a lot of great work with some of the girls, particularly in the rural areas. So I hope that will also be a positive impact.

RUPP: You might tell the story that you've -- I've heard you tell before about the boy and the girl in terms of aspirations to be president, or vice president, as the case may be.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: (Chuckles.) Well, I think I told that story with some of the -- (inaudible) -- the other day. It was just a quick story about the UNICEF person who went into one of the rural villages and saw an altercation between a little girl and a little boy. And so the principal came out and admonished the little girl and said, you know, girls don't fight; you're not supposed to do that. So she was a little bit taken aback. And then she went up to him and said, Principal, don't speak to me like that; don't you know a woman is president? (Laughter.)

Now, I thought it was a great story until I heard the second story a few months ago, in which those 6-year-olds were in class, the teacher went around the room and asked a little boy, what do you want to be when you grow up? He said, I want to be vice president. (Laughter.) So the teacher was startled. Why do you want to be vice president? Why don't you seek to be president? Oh, do you want my friends to laugh at me? President is women's work. (Laughter, applause.)

RUPP: OK, you've been waiting patiently.

QUESTIONER: Ronnie Heyman, GAF Industries. Madam President, I think you are truly amazing. It's a privilege to listen to you today. My question is you alluded to the United States government giving you help in certain areas, in -- with the military. I wondered if you would elaborate on some of the other help that the United States has given you in your development process and whether there are other foreign governments who have similarly come to your aid in Liberia.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: The United States is helping us in every area of our endeavor. Security is just one big one. In the health sector, they're there. In the educational sector, they're there. Building infrastructure, institution-building, in all U.S. is too our number one partner, with allocations on the order of 200 million (dollars) a year. So United States is there in every way you can think of.

We also have other bilaterals program. The European Commission is supporting us in our infrastructure. We've got an infrastructure fund that they contribute to. Fighting unemployment (for short term ?), the World Bank. They all -- in terms of bilaterals, you don't want to hear this, but China is there too. And they're helping -- China likes the big-footprint items. They're still one of the most modern hospitals in the rural area in terms that they've just built -- helped us to build -- started to rebuild the university, new university campus.

These are big things that -- but the U.S. is into everything. They never like these big footprints because -- because of the fear of becoming white elephant. But China is there. And increasingly traditional relationships are coming back. We're getting support from Norway, particularly in our power sector. They're supporting the management of our electricity corporation and they're part of the consortium for the rebuilding of the hydro. Germany is also there. And many of them channel resources not only through -- not only to government programs but a lot of NGO programs, humanitarian aid. So, you know, Australia is in the educational sector, where they're giving us a lot of scholarships. We've gotten many of our young people now training there. And so it's support from so many places.

RUPP: World Bank you didn't mention, but that's --

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: Oh, World Bank is big. I mean, World Bank is helping us mainly with infrastructure. African Development Bank is helping us restore the water systems.

RUPP: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Jacques-Philippe Piverger. I run a company called MpowerD, a renewable energy company. My first question -- well, my questions relates to --

RUPP: You only get one question. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: I realize that. That's why I stopped myself. I was going to say it's a two-part question, but it's really two. So my one question relates to the energy sector. You mentioned that you currently have 20 megawatts of capacity for the entire country. I'd like to get a better understanding of your overall need and, as part of your plan for 2030, how do you intend to get to the full capacity and the processes that are not in there. Thank you,.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: All right. In three years we should have the hydro back on. That will restore up to 64 megawatts. That was the original capacity. There is the potential for an upstream dam and storage. If we can find the resources to be able to do that, that should give us the potential of a thousand megawatts. Between now and the three years when the hydro comes onstream, we've got to expand power service from 21 megawatts, so we've got to keep going for high diesel thermogeneration units. And we've got three things under way ourselves -- putting in a 10-megawatt from our own resources; the World Bank is working on the 10-megawatt from theirs; and Japan is working on a 10-megawatt. So in those three years, we might be able to bump it up to about 60 megawatts.

We welcome IPP arrangements, and we're going to have some EUIs (sp) that will go out in that regard. We're looking at alternative sources of energy, many hydro because Liberia is a great water country. The first one, with USA support, the first model hydro, small in rural areas, will come onstream in December, and we're trying to assess where other potentials are. Solar, solar is also a possibility. In some of our rural schools, there have been some solar installations to pilot them and test them. And the whole thing about alternative source of energy, a study on that is being done, and we hope that will lead us into how else we can meet this need.

RUPP: So you can pursue your further questions by going to Liberia --

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: There you go.

RUPP: -- and developing a business plan for all kinds of micro-projects around the country.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: There you go.

RUPP: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Good morning, Your Excellency. My name is Saran Kaba Jones. I'm the executive director of FACE Africa, working on clean water projects in Liberia. You spoke earlier of a projected growth rate of 8 percent, but I believe that growth is largely driven by natural resources and the extractive industries, which does not lead to real job growth. What programs and plans does the government have in place to encourage and promote small industries, and especially homegrown and indigenous small-to-medium-sized businesses in Liberia, which I think are the best vehicles for job creation and true economic growth?

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: You're absolutely right. Liberia has been in the extractive industry business traditionally, and we know it led to growth without development. Our aim is to try to reverse that, and the biggest thing to do is to move from the enclave operations to where you create the linkages with small and medium-sized businesses. We have to develop that entrepreneurship to enable them to be able to take opportunities. We are going to require outsourcing by the major concessionaires so that they do not operate in a situation in which they provide all their services, whether it's transportation, whether it's hospitality, whether it's that, to have -- (inaudible). But we have to develop that entrepreneurship, that middle class that would take advantage of it.

There's money in our budget to be able to develop Liberian entrepreneurs starting now, to make sure that they can take advantage of some money. and we're going to have to require it so we do not experience the situation of the past.

RUPP: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Peggy Hicks with Human Rights Watch. It's a pleasure to be here today, hear about the progress that's been made. But I wanted to ask the extent to which you see building a stable foundation for Liberia's future also being based on providing justice for the horrible abuses that occurred during the conflict and what prospect there is for victims of those crimes to see domestic prosecutions for them.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: The chances are good. Our system allows anyone aggrieved to seek justice to our courts and to get the support from us to be able to seek their justice. We also recognize that while justice is important, reconciliation is also an important part of it. Our nation is very complex, has been from its very beginnings, where cleavage is strong, cleavages exist and the wounds of the war run very, very deep. And so we have to find a right balance between justice -- very important, no doubt -- but reconciliation, because if we went fully with justice and prosecuted everybody, you'd have to prosecute thousands and thousands of people, and that in itself might have an unacceptable response. So that's why we have in this year's budget a huge sum for reconciliation. We have a road map. We've worked with some of our partners on developing an appropriate road map. But like I said, anyone wanting to seek justice, we must give them that right and that support.

RUPP: OK, yes.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Mike Howard, and I'm an adjunct fellow here at the council. And we've been doing round-table series on Asian populations, this demographic shift in our 21st century to older societies. And although I know we haven't talked about it today, I'd like to ask your -- you a question about perhaps your global role. We know you will be taking on this review of the Millennium Development Goals. It's an indicator of how the world looks at your great courage and position integrity. And I wonder whether there is a way for these Millennium Development Goals, as we review that, to incorporate this challenge that our 21st century is now addressing of more older people than younger. It requires a sort of look at things over the course of decades, and the World Report will be coming out on Monday from the U.N. Population Fund, Babatunde, on aging and development.

And so looking at it not just from the standpoint of United States or Europe or Japan but from the standpoint of the needs in the developing world, I wonder whether you've -- perhaps you could give us some insight as to how we could cover that topic in the Millennium Development Goals.

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: We'll have to look at all of these studies that have been done, to see the implication for development and for the new world order. The -- I'm part of, as you said, the group, the high-level panel that's going to be looking at post-2015.

We don't have any preconceived idea of what the new world development agenda should look like, and we should. We -- you know, we have no monopoly on those kinds of ideas. It must come from a wide range of consultation around the globe, from studies that have been done by various groups that tend to point out, you know, what the trends are, what is the aging trend or demographic trends or -- and be able to see how we can tease out where we find consensus arising around certain themes, whether it's youth employment, you know, or environment or continuation of some of the indicators. And then the MDGs, that's important also. There are three years left for the MDGs, and we shouldn't forget that. We can still accelerate our work.

So right now we're all just full of ideas but have to now settle down and see what that agenda should look like that everybody would feel a part of and identify with.

RUPP: You've been waiting patiently.

QUESTIONER: Madam President, hi. Tim Crowhurst with White Oak. It's fascinated me for a long time that Liberia as a country has a significant number of international ships that are registered in Liberia. And as I heard you talk about -- ports on your agenda for development, I wondered, is there more of an industry that you can create from an asset like that, where you have all these ships registered in Nigeria -- or in Liberia?

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: It fascinates me, too. (Laughter.) You know, the Liberia maritime program started here, and it's still run here, from here. It brings in significant revenues for us, we're trying, but fortunately, it's now well managed. The safety record compares. We're the second-largest registered fleet, second to Panama. We want to see if we can promote it and get into some shipbuilding activities and what not. That's part of the -- that's part of the plan.

But for now, it's still, for us, a useful program, a contributory program. How we can scale it up so that it's much more than, quote-unquote, "flag of convenience" to something where it really has an important part in our economic growth, as some of the plans that are being looked at now.

RUPP: Ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Pat Mitchell, president of The Paley Center for Media. Good morning, Madam President. You yourself are a role model for a new kind of leadership, not only on your continent but around the world. And the programs and priorities you've mentioned this morning are certainly examples of your investment in women and girls, a priority you set.

What do you see now with the challenges particularly on the continent to the kinds of leadership that are needed? What qualities are you calling on? What values do you put forth that are identifying a new kind of leadership and one that can be effective and change the future in Liberia and other places?

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: We hope that we can inculcate the value of ownership participation. Too often, because we get support, we tend to get complacent and let our partners or something determine our destiny, dictate our priorities. And that has to change. We have to take responsibility for our own development. We have to determine that our resources first and foremost will be used for our development. And if we can send that kind of message to our younger generation who will be assuming leadership, you know, over the next few years, then I think the sustainability of our effort will be secured.

I mean, today globalization is real -- we're not going to reverse it -- the interconnectivity of the world, the communication revolution and the demonstration effect that results from that, all the realities that we all have to face in this world.

And until, you know, each one not only takes responsibility to recognize this, that that interrelationship and interconnectivity will not go away, then when you begin to look at the dynamics of your own situation and how they relate to the rest of the world and how you fit yourself, you know, into that moving spectrum, that's going to be the how challenge, and that's the challenge we have to inspire and pass on to the generations that follow.

RUPP: Well, that's a terrific note on which to end. (Applause.)

JOHNSON SIRLEAF: May I just say one last thing? May I just say one last thing?

Let me just end it on the commitment we keep making to ourselves and to our people and our people to us.

Liberia in 10 years does not want to have official development assistance. (Applause.) And in 2030 we're determined to become a middle-income country. Thank you. (Applause.)

RUPP: On behalf of all of us, I thank you very much. We admire the leadership you're exhibiting, and we look forward to that next 10 and 20 years. Thank you.






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A Conversation with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (audio)

Speaker: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Presider: Princeton N. Lyman

Listen to Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female head of state, speak about the challenges facing her country.