In the past three quarters of a century there have been quite a number of Liberian Presidents who have had close contacts with the nation which is considered the Mother Country of Liberia—United States of America. Perhaps the longest and closest relationship with the USA was the administration of President William V.S. Tubman.
Tubman’s first contact with the USA came in 1943 when, as the newly-elected President of Liberia, he was taken by President Edwin J. Barclay to Washington, D.C., to meet the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was during that visit that President Barclay negotiated with President Roosevelt for the building of the Free Port of Monrovia, completed in 1948. The two Liberian leaders again met President Roosevelt in 1945 when he became the first U.S. President to visit Liberia.
The three men, Roosevelt, President Tubman and former President Barclay, met at Robertsfield (now Roberts International Airport—RIA), where the American leader had visited to inspect the U.S. troops that fought World War II in the African Theatre. From Robertsfield, the troops flew to North Africa to join the war effort.
That same year President Tubman sent former President Charles Dunbar Burgess King to serve as Liberia’s first Ambassador to Washington, D.C. In 1945, too, President Tubman sent his Vice President Clarence Lorenzo Simpson, as head of the Liberian delegation to San Francisco, California, to participate in the founding of the United Nations (UN). The following year Liberia received the first major American assistance package, the United States Public Health Mission to Liberia.
That is when the National Public Health Service was established, just across from the Antoinette Tubman Stadium. A strong contingent of American Public Health officials, led by Colonel Dr. Hildrus A. Poindexter, was sent in to help launch the nation’s Public Health Program. That led to the founding of the National Public Health Service (NPHS), headed by Dr. Joseph N. Togba. The NPHS is now the Ministry of Health, R.L. The American government next assisted in the establishment of the Central Agricultural Experimental Station (Government Farm) in Suakoko (now the Central Agricultural Research Institute—CARI).
Later came the ICA—International Cooperation Administration, which lasted until 1961 when the newly-elected President of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy, renamed ICA the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). President Tubman’s first visit to the White House came in 1954, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The second was President and Mrs. Tubman’s visit with President and Mrs. Kennedy in 1961, when the Liberian leader appealed to President Kennedy for the erection of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK) in Monrovia, to which, of course, he graciously agreed.
President and Mrs. Tubman were again guests at the White House in April 1968, on a state visit with President and Mrs. Lyndon Baines Johnson. In 1972 President and Mrs. William R. Tolbert were guests of President and Mrs. Richard M. Nixon. The next White House visit of a Liberian leader came in 1981, when Head of State Samuel K. Doe, who overthrew President Tolbert on April 12, 1980, was invited for an official visit by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
President Reagan embraced Doe and supplied him with tons of military equipment, which he used in his reign of terror in Liberia from 1981-1990. It was under President Reagan that Liberia received the highest amount of U.S. aid per capita in Africa. Then came the civil war, started by Charles G. Taylor, many say with the assistance of the Americans. But Taylor disobeyed his benefactors and they fell out with him and switched to one of Taylor’s closest men, General Prince Y. Johnson.
It was a matter of time before the Americans and others caught up with Taylor, landing the former elected Liberian President in The Hague to be convicted of war crimes, and ending up in a maximum security prison near London, United Kingdom. Taylor was succeed by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of Liberia, who became, after Tubman, the closest Liberian leader to the Americans, she at many levels, including the American presidency (George and Laura Bush who visited Liberia, Barack and Michelle Obama); the private sector; and academia (Harvard University in particular).
And now President George Manneh Weah, who, to no one’s surprise, represents a new generation of Liberian leadership. Like Samuel Doe, Weah hails from the rank and file. Doe was an enlisted man (Master Sergeant) from the Armed Forces of Liberia, while Weah is from the football field, an Invincible Eleven star player who made it to Europe and became a super star. President Weah gives great credit to Europe which he said “made me who I am.”
That is most likely why he felt his first foreign visit as President had to be Paris, France, where he in earnest commenced his rise to stardom on the football pitch. He has then been visiting several of his West African colleagues and later some in Central Africa, Congo Brazzaville to be exact. The President knows of the special relationship Liberia has had for a very long time with the USA—1818 until now.
It is a relationship that no one can ignore. It is only a matter of time before President Weah finds his way to Washington, of course on the invitation of the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, President Donald J. Trump.