“I arrived nearly three months ago and have excellent relationship with the President of Liberia, Ministers, Director of Police because you may know by now, we’ll undertake a training program on the right and the responsibility of the Police in Liberia.
Editor’s Note: Arrived in Liberia nearly three months ago, the new ambassador of France, Gerard Larome, has accorded the New Dawn an exclusive interview to talk about what he thinks of the oldest independent country of the continent, under the regime of the first female president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. He also spoke about France’s contribution to the Liberian Security sector reform, Investment, Politics, and others.
ND: You have just begun your duties in Liberia. How your first contact with the authorities was and what do you think of this country?
GL: I arrived nearly three months ago. Three months in few days from now, and I have excellent relationship with the Liberian authorities, starting from the President, the ministers, the Director of Police Marc Amblard, because you may know by now, we will undertake a training program on the right and the responsibility of the Police in Liberia. This is indeed my first visit, the country is very interesting, it has its historical past, it has its civil war problem, it has a reconstruction program, and it also has a developmental program underway. In short, I am very happy to be here.
ND: What exactly will you do for the national security?
GL: We have just started. We have five police officers, chosen by the Liberian authorities of course, who have gone to France for training in our best security training school in Saint Acier, where we constituted a city where people are trained how to control a crowd, and every other thing that has to do with non violent civil security with an unarmed answer. I just had a discussion with my internal security advisor, who is in Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire), but he works for me, a colonel, together we are bringing four French officers, at the end of February, for one month, the entire month of March, they will train hundred and fifty police officers here in Liberia, at the Police Academy. Then we will undertake similar either similar and identical actions, or we will do further training.
ND: Let’s talk about economy. French investors, when will they come in numbers to Liberia?
GL: As I told the President, Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, this is part of our mission here now. In my mission as ambassador, I take in account the French companies, and the international or local bids. From now, in Liberia, we have TOTAL that has secured the petroleum supplied in diesel and gasoline all over in the country for distribution, one of the general managers will be here in Monrovia few days from now, we have the group BOLLORE through the reception of maritime transport at the port, that’s SDV, producer of UMARCO here, BOLLORE also has 400 thousand hectares of rubber farms, LAC, functioning well in the interior. In the rice sector, we have a Swiss and Senegalese-French group managing a farm that will produce about 15 thousand tons of rice at the end of this year. We are presently negotiating a bid from the government of Liberia, for the management of the port of Monrovia. Front loading, unloading, earth strip, sea wall, warehouses, hangars, as well as the managing of a port that should be tomorrow a great port in West Africa, something which is not yet because of its dilapidated and war ravaged state, and the lack of coordination.
ND: As French Ambassador in Liberia, neighbor of Guinea, how do you look at the situation there?
GL: We saw the Dadis Camara’s episode. We saw the dramatic movements in September. Now we have efforts being made by the minister of defense and the civil authorities, backed by us of course. It is true that we love Guinea. For several years now, we have been wishing for this country to recover genuine peace and democracy that will make them progress. We have an ambassador there who works hard, we have contacted the Security Council, and we are backing the measures taken by the Security Council. We are backing the mediation of President Blaise Compaore, the African Union and now efforts being made inside Guinea. We think that very soon the time will come for heads of states of the region, starting from the President of Liberia who is also the Chair of the Mano River Union, to go there and do what she did recently with the Senegalese President, to advise on peace, to listen to everyone and show the right way to normal elections to be held in the next ten to twelve months.
ND: How do you see the democratic process in Liberia?
GL: I am still too new to talk about the democratic process in Liberia. I came; I notice a country in peace, an institution that exists, functioning, an administration that exists and functions well, private enterprises doing business, people walking freely in the streets nobody has arms around me. When I am stalled in a demonstration at the port or in the market, people don’t consider me spitefully or with animosity. I am coming from other countries where the situation was different. I am coming from a country, Sudan, where 14 and 15 years old kids have AK 47 hidden under the left arm, some have pistol in their belts, and all of them are armed.
In Liberia, where the government is operating on low budget, you cannot expect the construction of a Chateau de Versailles (Presidential Palace in France), or to have tarmac everywhere. For me, Liberia is making tremendous efforts, Liberia has a good macroeconomic management of public finances recognized by the World Bank, recognized by France which, last year, gave direct budgetary support, and has this year backed up to quarter of the provision of 30 million dollars to the Liberian budget by Europe, in February this year. My government, particularly my minister of foreign affairs, advised me to be close to President Sirleaf, and I see the efforts she is making against corruption, to remove that canker from public services. Everything is not perfect but it is not a war you can win overnight, it’s the fight of iron pot against earthenware pot, it is complicated but some actions exist. I can’t say much voluntarily on the agricultural development or other things in the inner part of the country because I have not yet visited those parts of the country.
ND: What do you intend to do to promote the French language in Liberia?
GL: The minister of foreign affairs asked me to reconsider the French language in Liberia and if possible, to increase our efforts. The president told me the same thing. We have Alliance Française that should exist, but this Alliance is visible, it does not take enough actions, does not understand the movements of people who come to learn, watch a film. In February, I will bring someone who is specialized, to help the administration of the Alliance, and we will simultaneously supply sets of books and improve the lessons for those who are interested, including some military personals, police officers, or journalists.
ND: Your last words for this interview.
GL: My last word is light. Why light, because if you put light in the streets, in the villages or for industrial production, you push away the darkness, you push criminality away, and you make people come in front of their doors to discuss. Light is very important, the government is making efforts, it is important and is part of development. The other word is to develop the civic responsibility of Liberians. Tell people to go vote, because if you vote, you express your right. You chose who you want, and you put out who you want to put out. There should no longer be a senatorial election or other election, with only 20 or 21% of voters. This is a country that is moving, a country that is picking up, that is getting developed, and there should be 60 to 70 % of voters. To finish, I will say, Long Live democracy and light in Liberia.