President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid an extraordinary visit to our sister Republic of Sierra Leone last Thursday afternoon. The visit was not in response to an invitation; nor was it for a celebration of some sort. On the contrary, this visit followed a great tragedy that afflicted that country and its people, a disastrous mudslide that resulted in the loss of over 600 lives, with thousands more still missing.
Claudia Smith, our reporter on the ground in Freetown, said in a dispatch that President Sirleaf was gravely shaken as she, accompanied by President Ernest Bai Koroma and other Sierra Leonean leaders, approached the burial place, where army truckloads of corpses, including some victims’ only limbs, were waiting to be buried. Claudia said the thousands of grief-stricken Sierra Leoneans were overwhelmed by the presence of the Liberian President, as they seriously and anxiously looked to her for comfort, hope and relief. Ellen did not disappoint.
She expressed the profound condolences of the government and people of Liberia for this great tragedy, then quickly reassured Sierra Leoneans that Almighty God was able to comfort them, give them hope, relief and succor. Claudia said the people were so moved by Ellen’s presence among them at this terrible time that they were, in their desperation, looking to the Liberian leader for a miracle.
She could not have given them a miracle, because, yes, she is President of Liberia, not a miracle worker. And given the dire economic and financial straits her own country is facing in this election season, there is a limit to what she could pledge. Nonetheless, even before her visit, her Press Secretary, Jerolinmek Piah, confirmed to the Daily Observer that Liberia’s Inter-Agency Relief Committee, which includes the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs, the Armed Forces of Liberia and the National Red Cross Society, had already dispatched to Sierra Leone 12 to 14 truckloads of food, including rice, medicines, cement and tents as part of Liberia’s emergency relief package. In doing this, Ellen is following a great Liberian tradition wherein we have always been there for our neighbors.
We recall that in 1958 when Guinean President Ahmed Sekou Toure said “No” to French President Charles De Gaulle’s ultimatum to choose between joining the French Federation or going it alone as an independent republic – President Toure declined joining the French Federation. President De Gaulle’s reaction was immediate, decisive and ruthless. He sent his troops to Guinea and stripped the entire country of all that France had given them, including the curtains in various offices, leaving the country desperately deprived and bare.
President Sirleaf has done for Sierra Leone the exact same thing that President W.V.S. Tubman did for Guinea. He dispatched truckloads of rice, palm oil and other foods, medicines and other dry goods, plus a handsome purse to the Guinean leader and people, in a swift act of compassion and solidarity. During the Ebola crisis, too, though Liberia had been the hardest hit among the three affected countries, including Guinea and Sierra Leone, we were the first to be declared Ebola-free. And immediately following that announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Liberian government and people started reaching out to Sierra Leone and Guinea with help to bring them, too, out of their distress. In addition to GOL’s efforts, District 13 Representative Saah Joseph and his team, First Responders, traveled to Sierra Leone with ambulances, medicines and medical equipment, to assist that country in its continuing fight against the deadly virus.
President Sirleaf deserves our thanks and commendation for what she has done for our Sierra Leonean brothers and sisters in their distress, following the great Liberian tradition of being there for our neighbors in distress. It was Christ who admonished His disciples that if your brother or sister needs one shirt, give him two; and if he needs you to walk with him one mile, walk with him twain (meaning two).