[Speech as prepared for delivery | September 7, 2021 | State House, Freetown, Republic of Sierra Leone]
His Excellency Dr. Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone and Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone
Her Excellency Ambassador Musu J. Ruhle, Ambassador of the Republic of Liberia to the Republic of Sierra Leone
Dr. Alpha Wurie, Minister of Technical and Higher Education, Republic of Sierra Leone
Prof. Dr. Dao Ansu Sonii, Minister of Education, Republic of Liberia
Prof. Dr. Foday Sahr, Vice Chancellor and Principal, University of Sierra Leone
Deputy Vice Chancellors, Administrators, Deans and other leaders of the University of Sierra Leone
Dr. Muriel Victoria Nelson,
Vice Presidents, Deans, Academic Directors, Administrators, Leaders of the Faculty, Staff and Student Associations of the University of Liberia
Other officials of government of Liberia and Sierra Leone present
Members of the Fourth Estate
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
I bring greetings and well wishes from the Visitor of the University of Liberia, and President of the Republic of Liberia, H.E. Dr. George M. Weah, The Board of Trustees, the University of Liberia family, and from your peace-loving neighbors –the people of the Republic of Liberia.
I speak for most of the members of my delegation when I say this is certainly not the first trip to Sierra Leone but the level of hospitality always makes me feel like I am here for the first time.
Thanks for your kind gesture and loving hearts. We appreciate your hospitality more because love for strangers is a trait common to the peoples of both Liberia and Sierra Leone. This and our many commonalities are not the consequence of mere coincidence but of a long-shared history.
Liberia and Sierra Leone have come a long way through the dark pages of history.
We have threaded parallel paths on a near identical timeline. In the area of health, both countries experienced the Ebola virus that claimed the lives of many of our citizens; in the area of peace and security, our both countries experienced a long period of civil crisis, resulting in the deployment of ECOWAS and UN Peacekeeping troops.
It is no surprise, then, that governance, socio-economic and political progress in our countries have been marred by symmetrical constraints and challenges. Today, we are summarily bundled by development practitioners, theorists, commentators and historians as two of the poorest and least developed countries of the world.
Despite our deeply rooted cultural, political, socio-economic and historical linkages as well as our macroeconomic similarities, we haven’t had the depth of collaboration that these commonalities and bonds demand. Since the 1990s, our people have learned hard lessons about international cooperation, regionalization, integration and South-South collaboration that have transformed these two countries in ways that cannot be directly compared to trends in other Sub-Saharan African countries. We experienced changes in the priorities of our development partners, various episodes of political upheavals that were eventually resolved via international efforts coordinated by our regional body. Liberia and Sierra Leone (along with Guinea in the Makona River Basin) also during this period experienced a health crisis unlike any other the world had ever seen. These recent experiences have drilled into us the importance of cooperation and collaboration at the international, regional, sub-regional and local levels.
On a commendable note, ongoing regionalization efforts propelled by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are gradually impacting social variables and improving the living conditions of the peoples of West Africa. These regional integration efforts, however, are more skewed towards market integration, security and physical infrastructure. These initiatives are laudable, but they cannot resolve some of the most pressing social economic issues that continue to beset our two countries: high rate of youth unemployment, unemployability, macroeconomic vulnerabilities due to reliance on commodities, etc. For instance, the newly paved cross-border roads will do as much as improving access to markets for rural farmers but without research in agriculture or data-driven investments in mechanized farming we cannot achieve Import-Substituting level of production or absolute food security. Without research that taps on current technological advancement to present new sub-sectors and improve productivity in existing ones our problems with unemployment and unemployability may linger.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
Missing in these efforts is a genuine commitment to regional cooperation that is based on collaboration amongst Higher Education Institutions. According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) of which the University of Liberia is a full member, collaboration amongst higher education institutions in the South is critical to the achievement of the global goals because these institutions are insulated from politics, capable of pulling resources from all stakeholders and most importantly these institutions are the hubs of knowledge and the pillars of human capacity development that is required for the execution of national development agendas.
Your Excellency, The Vice Chancellor, Members of the Fourth Estate…
Throughout our nations’ parallel histories, the University of Sierra Leone and the University of Liberia have been right in the mix but each has maintained strong vertical colonial or pseudo-colonial linkages to Northern universities as a consequence of the model on which these two historic African Higher Education Institutions were built. Established in 1827, the Fourah Bay College maintained links with Durham University in the United Kingdom for more than a century. This vertical relationship was instrumental in earning this city (Freetown) its reputation as the ‘Athens of West Africa.’ The Liberia College, established in 1862, now the University of Liberia since 1951, remains connected to various colleges, universities and foundations in the United States of America, and other parts of the world forging partnerships through Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with North-South Cooperation.
With a paradigm shift, we are now in a new era of sustainable development, with a call for enhancing south-south, north-south and triangular cooperation, in areas such as capacity building, innovation and technology to strengthen the means of implementation of the sustainable development goals, including “inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all” (SDG Goal #4). Thankfully, our two universities have been tinkering with this concept outside of a formal framework. Liberian academics have played faculty roles in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leonean academics have also played faculty roles in Liberia.
Aside from the negro scholar Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden who left indelible prints on both the Liberia and Fourah Bay Colleges, the only other name that I can think of is Vice Chancellor Prof. Dr. Foday Sahr who served as an Adjunct Professor at the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine of the University of Liberia in the late 1990s.
On a similar note, the Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Julius Maada Wonie Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, served as the Centennial Convocation Speaker of the University of Liberia in December 2019.
This gathering, ladies and gentlemen, is just the consummation and formalization of a relation that has been budding in the chambers of history and the actualization of a framework that is long overdue.
As we sign this Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish and formalize linkages between the University of Sierra Leone (USL) and the University of Liberia (UL), let us not miss the fact that this seemingly ordinary occasion marks the dawn of a new chapter in our long historical, cultural and diplomatic relationship.
We enter this Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), confident of its huge mutual benefits to both universities and countries. One of the four campuses of the University of Liberia is the David A. Straz-Sinje Technical and Vocational College located in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County in South-Western Liberia (a few clicks from Bo Jenama). This campus has impacted learning and life in that region including deep into Sierra Leone since its operationalization. It is easier and it gives more economic and financial benefits for Sierra Leonean students around the border to attend Straz-Sinje for higher education through this partnership.
Having a faculty, student and staff exchange program, visiting lectureship, joint research and publication, course collaboration and cultural exchanges are just first steps in fully integrating and converging our two university systems and contributing to national development.
It is our hope that in the near future students will do courses across our countries and count credits towards graduation, within the context of UNESCO’s revised convention on the recognition of higher education both in Africa and globally.
Already the University of Liberia has adopted BLENDED LEARNING as the primary mode of teaching and learning. Our bold attempt to digitally transform the higher education sector of Liberia under the most difficult of circumstances has been greeted by a stream of cultural resistance and the obvious technological glitches. Nevertheless, this transformed digitized culture of teaching and learning has given us the option to tap on the resources of faculty abroad and allow students who are not in-country to participate in our programs. It is our hope that through this MoU the University of Liberia will benefit from the experiences of some of the recent digital transformations, especially in higher education, here in Sierra Leone.
This MoU is not just a manifestation of South-South collaboration in higher education for development, but also an instrument that is linking two of Africa’s most historic universities and one that will further tighten the bond between two countries whose peoples have so much commonalities.
If nothing else, at least peace and security would be guaranteed by the opportunity for cultural and historical cross learning for our youths and students under this MoU.
Students from our countries who interacted during their years in university are now inseparable friends, colleagues and partners. There are many young professionals who now feel at home in both Monrovia and Freetown because of bonds that were forged in college through student exchange programs and other informal platforms of interaction. Given the improvement in the social, economic and political environment in our two countries, the time for higher education partnership and collaboration has never been so ripe.
Long Live the University of Sierra Leone
Long Live the University of Liberia
Long Live the Government and People of Sierra Leone
Long Live the Government and People of Liberia.
Thank you very much and God’s Richest blessing always.