USAID at 59

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Liberia and the United States: Fifty-Nine Years of Development Partnership

By Sara Walter, Mission Director, USAID Liberia

On November 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act, creating the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)—the world’s premier development agency that has been delivering development results in more than one hundred countries on virtually every continent for 59 years.  Fittingly, Liberia was among the first countries in which USAID established a mission and today many iconic Liberian institutions stand as powerful testaments to the development results we have jointly achieved over the years.  Some of those institutions, almost as old as USAID itself, are embodiments of the special ties that bind our two countries and peoples.

The John F. Kennedy (JFK) Medical Center is one of those institutions–the result of an October 1961 Oval Office meeting between President John F. Kennedy and President William V.S. Tubman.  That meeting made President Tubman one of the first world leaders to meet President Kennedy, and secured the new American President’s commitment to help Liberia establish a first rate medical institution, capable of providing Liberians quality care and training succeeding generations of health care professionals.

In 1965, just four years after its founding, USAID made good on that commitment, extending Liberia a $16 million assistance package to establish a national medical center. Many Liberians still remember the deep sense of national pride felt across Liberia when the modern, fully equipped, professionally staffed, and appropriately named John F. Kennedy Medical Center opened its door in 1971 as one of the best tertiary health care providers in all of Sub-Saharan Africa at the time.  

Today, almost fifty years later, and with continued USAID assistance, the JFK Medical Center continues to sit at the apex of Liberia’s health care system, annually providing care for thousands of Liberians and producing a regular stream of medical doctors and nurses through its component institutions, the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine and the Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts.

Presidents Kennedy and Tubman meeting in the Oval Office, a meeting that laid the foundation for the establishment of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, built with USAID assistance

USAID’s commitment to providing all Liberians access to quality health care is undiminished. We have worked with our Liberian partners over the last five years to establish a vibrant community health program with hundreds of fully trained, equipped, and compensated community health workers bringing preventive and curative care to hundreds of thousands of rural households. That partnership also helps provide Liberians access to safe, effective, and affordable drugs and health commodities, including all of the malaria rapid diagnostic tests for the public sector, a significant percentage of all malaria treatments for adults and children, as well as half of all family planning commodities used in government owned or operated health facilities.

And there is more we have achieved with our Liberian partners in the health sector.  Our joint investments in infectious disease prevention and surveillance are paying huge dividends. They ultimately helped Liberia achieve success in the fight against Ebola and have proved useful in containing COVID-19. 

Just like the health sector, Liberia’s education sector also boasts enduring reminders of our special development partnership. Perhaps no Liberian educational institution better exemplifies this partnership than the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS), which dates back to 1961, the very year of USAID’s founding, when USAID agreed to a request from the Liberian Minister of Education to help build an integrated school system for Monrovia’s fast-growing student population. Starting in 1962, a $5.3 million USAID-funded package of development grants and loans facilitated the construction of new MCSS school buildings that opened to students in 1968 and are today major Monrovia landmarks:  G.W. Gibson Elementary, Matilda Newport Junior High, and William V.S. Tubman Senior High.   

But USAID did more than erect school buildings. It made early investments in the long-term sustainability of the MCSS, sending scores of Liberians to the United States for advanced training as teachers, school administrators, and curriculum consultants. Representing a combined 140 instructional years, these education professionals and other Liberians to whom they passed on their skills and knowledge have over time made the MCSS—now 52 years old—a national leader in the education of Liberian youth. And Tubman High, the MCSS flagship school, enjoys a well-deserved reputation for producing Liberian leaders with its graduates going on to hold key positions at the most senior levels of government.

The Liberian Civil war erased some of the early gains in the education sector, challenging us to respond with an array of initiatives that continue to generate strong results across a broad swath of the Liberian educational sector, including an early post-war emphasis on training for hundreds of teachers and rebuilding three war-damaged Rural Teacher Training Institutes in Kakata, Zorzor and Webbo, to current efforts aimed at improving early grade reading for tens of thousand of first and second graders, providing numeracy, literacy, livelihood skills training for thousands of youth, as well as  scholarships for Liberians to pursue advanced degrees in critical fields like engineering and agriculture, and constructing new classrooms and modern science laboratories for community college students in Bassa, Lofa, Margibi, and Nimba Counties.

President John F. Kennedy greeting President William V. S. Tubman in October 1963 on his arrival in Washington, D.C., for an official a visit

But the Liberian civil war also taught us all that to maintain and build on these gains, Liberia needs to address the underlying causes of its conflict by strengthening democratic and rule of law institutions critical for transparent and accountable governance.  And the results Liberia has achieved in strengthening its young democracy with the support of development partners like USAID speak for themselves:  Three peaceful presidential and legislative elections since 2005; a historic transfer of power in 2017; and judicial resolutions of the most heated elections disputes—all signaling the maturation of Liberia’s democratic order.  Meanwhile, Liberia’s open and engaged civil society and active community-based media continue to foster strong popular participation in the democratic process.

Another important lesson we’ve learned together is the importance of inclusive private sector-led growth to Liberia’s long-term stability.  Improved agricultural productivity and value chain development has been the cornerstone of our effort to help Liberia spur growth. As a result, thousands of rice farmers now have access to high yielding seeds, fertilizers, and modern rice milling facilities. Farmers of other crops with export potential like cocoa, coffee, and cashew stand to benefit from targeted assistance. Some of these farmers and other rural communities are beneficiaries of USAID’s investments in farm-to-market roads, safe drinking water, and reliable and affordable electricity.

USAID is committed to creating jobs and improving economic opportunities for all Liberians. We have thus worked with the Government of Liberia and other development stakeholders to identify the potential for a special economic zone in Buchanan to attract investors who can help diversify Liberia’s export base, add value to major export products, create jobs, and increase tax revenues to fund the national development agenda.  At the same time, our assistance is helping key institutions like the Central Bank of Liberia and the Liberia Revenue Authority improve their institutional capacities and processes to help fuel broad-based, sustained market-driven growth.

As we look back at 59 years of development partnership with Liberia, and as much as we take pride in our joint achievements, we are reminded that the ultimate measure of success here is the extent to which our work helps move Liberia closer to the day when it no longer needs foreign assistance. This means bringing even more urgency to our work, quickening our pace to achieve locally sustained results, enhance domestic resource mobilization, and accelerate enterprise-driven development so that Liberia succeeds on its journey to self-reliance.    And it is only by helping Liberia succeed on that journey that we can truly give meaning to the vision that underpinned President Kennedy’s creation of USAID 59 years ago:  The generous but prudent use of America’s resources to create stable, economically vibrant, and resilient democratic societies that help advance our collective prosperity and security.

6 COMMENTS

  1. It is true that the United States was a bit slow to recognize the first independent state on the African continent when the bells of independence rang at dawn on July 26, 1847 on the Montserrado verdant heights. That recognition, however, came on September 23, 1862 when Charles Adams, a US Minister to Great Britain, was given the go-ahead to enter into a treaty of commerce and navigation with what was then, and still is, the product of the American Colonization Society. That particular empowerment of Adams, perhaps no relations to the Adams of Massachusetts, was the first official act by the US Government to recognize what was then the first and only negro republic on the African continent. Indeed, the treaty was signed by Adams and President Stephen Allen Benson on October 25, 1862.

    That smart move by the US State Department, may have given the US the legal rights internationally to patrol the Atlantic coast of Liberia in order to protect the nascent country from encroachments, or threat of encroachments, on its territory by European colonial powers of the time. This act was also one of the forerunners of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. That very act by Abe Lincoln criminalized all forms of slavery within the territorial limits of the United States, thereby, the emancipation of all American Negroes.

    In one of his debates with then Vice President Richard Nixon, the first presidential debates to be televised in the US, and perhaps in the world, Senator John F. Kennedy alluded to the fact that America was not doing much to help developing countries economically. In that debate, he brought to the attention of fellow Americans why most of the emerging new countries in the third world were not supporting the US in the UN. Kennedy went on to mention very few countries, including Liberia, that were the only ones consistently in support of the US and the freedom and democratic principles it espouses in the free world.

    The cooperation between these two nations, one a tiny African nation, and the other a superpower and the world’s richest economy, has been, and still of historic significance. This relationship goes from the League of Nations, to the United Nations. From World War One and Two, throughout the Cold War. It also goes from the US Peace Corps, the CARE food and educational supplies, to the AIDS, Ebola, and now COVID-19, and other numerous areas of cooperation between the two countries.

    • Look Charles Anders or whatever you call yourself or they call you, WE HAVE WARNED most of you rascals from ranting your rubbish here with the delusion that you are saying something worthy, when the reality is that you are simply ranting what you are ignorant about!!!

      The first thing you should ask yourself is why did the United States recognize Ghana’s gaining of independence from Britain the very day Ghana gained its independence from Britain on March 6, 1957, but the very United States which was the de facto colonizer of Liberia refused to recognize Liberia’s independence because the very United States of America believed it was an insult to the whites to have THE PRESENCE OF A BLACK ENVOY IN WASHINGTON DC!!!

      Charles, before coming here to rant about your US “smart move and your verdant heights“, as you did the other day extolling those barbaric savages King and Tubman in their individual presidential uselessness and incompetence, you should ask yourself as to why the very US chose to use the Americo Liberians versus Indigenous Liberian problem as A CONVENIENT EXCUSE to carry out their BLOODY REGIME CHANGE ,,, A REGIME CHANGE not in the interest of the people, but principally in the interest of the US to keep Moscow and Tripoli out of Liberia with LIBERIA ON BENDED KNEES! THE REALITY TODAY!!!

  2. Charlse Anders

    Fantastic history Charlse especially when you mentioned the acronym, “CARE” and the early American Peace Corps. I remember hailing from a low income family in Liberia how I benefited from the American Peace Corps scholarship in Bomi County during the late 60’s. Man, CARE was also a life saver for many of us.

    I do enjoy your posts because they are didactic.

    • No doubt! The U.S/USAID made Liberia a rising star among sub Saharan African Nations. Our [LIBERIAN] Leadership of the 70s blew it-all. That is the root-cause of Liberia today’s problems. Absolutely! It’s regrettable. Liberia should have never gone off course with The U.S.

  3. {Paul Jeebah Albert & Charlse Anders

    How about this thought Jeebah: Those food aid programs that were in existence during the Tubman and Tolbert administrations might have been successfully implemented because even though those governments were faced with their own challenges at that time, they however did not brutally transferred the food aid under the care of the establishment’s political party like how the current administration transferred the WFP food program to sustain CDCians only and thus starved the citizenry for which the government borrowed the loan.

    This piece is very educational Charlse, thanks.

  4. K.C. Jones (RIP) was a GoodWill Ambassador in 1963/64. Any pic of Basketball Clinic (LIB) held with local talents or news articles would be appreciated.

    Thanks.

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