PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN yesterday welcomes Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to his official residence..
(photo credit: GPO)
Liberian President and Nobel Prize laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf met with President Reuven Rivlin at his residence on Monday, where the pair discussed fundamentalism, terrorism, and ties between the two countries.
Johnson-Sirleaf thanked Rivlin for Israel’s help in overcoming the Ebola crisis and praised Israel’s ambassador to Liberia, Ami Mehl, for being instrumental in helping the country move faster toward the realization of its goals.
Johnson-Sirleaf, who is the first female head of state in Africa, then turned her attention to the fundamentalism now plaguing the world.
All the countries of West Africa have been hit by terrorism instigated by Muslim fundamentalists, she said. “This kind of penetration by terrorists can undermine the peace we have had.” Liberia can benefit in this regard from any additional knowledge and intelligence that Israel has to offer, she added.
The Liberian president previously visited Israel in 2007, and returned now to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa on Tuesday.
The two presidents discussed the long friendship between their countries, with Johnson-Sirleaf commenting that the relationship goes back to Israel’s very beginnings as a state. Liberia voted in favor of the partition of Palestine in the United Nations vote taken on November 29, 1947.
In tandem with other African states, Liberia severed relations with Israel in 1973 in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, and renewed them in August 1983. However, the civil war that erupted in Liberia caused Israel to close its embassy in Monrovia. Relations were upgraded following Johnson-Sirleaf’s election in 2006.
Though softly spoken, the Liberian president is an extraordinarily influential woman, who has spent a couple of spells in prison on political grounds and who has served in senior positions at the United Nations, the World Bank and other prestigious financial institutions.
Her role models used to be powerful women such as Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi, in whose footsteps she followed until she ran into Nelson Mandela.
“He made us more conscious of humanity,” she said, adding: “We have tried to bring back some of the freedoms lost during years of militancy and conflict.”
Ebola was more than a health crisis for Liberia. It also affected the country’s economy. Many investors left the country and it is now going through a period of re-growth.
Similarly, during the years of conflict as well as the health crisis the educated class left the country, and Liberia is now in the process of rebuilding its education system.
“The challenges are many, but we continue to be resilient,” said Johnson- Sirleaf.
When Rivlin asked Johnson-Sirleaf to see whether she could influence her colleagues to grant Israel observer status in the African Union, she explained that many African countries “have friends on both sides, and we have relationships on both sides.”
If there is some way in which to help she pledged, she would do so.
“One of the things we all say is that we need peace in the world.”