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CGD had the honor and privilege of hosting Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—the first elected female head of state in Africa—on June 23. At the event, President Sirleaf set a hugely ambitious goal of being aid-free within ten years. Given that aid currently accounts for more than half of GDP, this would imply serious increases in other sources of revenues, but it’s a well-calibrated message both to Congress and to audiences back home.
For me, the highlights of last week’s event, aside from Sirleaf announcing the goal of being aid-free in a decade and a middle-income country by 2030, was seeing the president in her element. She continues to be a crowd favorite and an engaging, inspirational speaker. Having watched her for many years, she seems on top of her political game, enrapturing a packed room, speaking without notes, and weaving together Liberia’s dramatic story, the innards of policy wonkdom, and her own humor.
I was also impressed by the speech topic which, at President Sirleaf’s request, was not about not aid or U.S. security assistance, but the private sector and generating more investment in Liberia. Her main point was that jobs and economic growth can only happen sustainably through the private sector. For Liberia, this means not only reaping the gains from better-run traditional extractive sectors of timber and mining, but also exploiting new extractives (oil!) and, hopefully, services.
Watch Sirleaf’s speech below. The full video of the event is available here.