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Renewing old acquaintances with Liberian counterparts

From 7-11 May 2018, a parliamentary delegation from Liberia visited the UK for a five-day visit. This visit was key in cementing ties between the Liberian Parliament and the UK Parliament, especially given that Liberia – although not currently a Member of the IPU – was one of the original founding member parliaments of the organisation in 1889. Prior to this, the last visit to the UK by a Liberian parliamentary delegation was in the 1960s.

The visit was led by Hon. Johnson N. Gwaikolo, and he was joined by Byron W. Zahnwea, Rustonlyn S. Dennis, P. Mike Jurry and Julie F. Wiah. There were joined by the Chief Clerk of the Liberian Parliament, Mildred N. Sayon. For most of the delegation it was their first time to visit the UK and they were keen that the visit provide a renewed basis for dialogue and cooperation between both parliaments.

Upon arrival to Westminster, the delegation was given a tour of parliament by Fabian Hamilton MP, followed by an introduction to Westminster by Mathew Hamlyn, Clerk of the Overseas Office. This was an opportunity for an exchange in parliamentary practice and procedure, given that the Liberian Parliament closely follows the US model of parliament as opposed to a Westminster model. These differences were highlighted during a visit to an MP’s office, where the delegation discussed with James Duddridge his role as a constituent MP and his responsibilities in Westminster. The delegation was also able to view the Joint Committee on Human Right’s oral evidence session, which once more allowed for a compare and contrast of parliamentary practice and procedure.

The delegation was hosted by James Duddridge MP and other Members of BGIPU’s Executive Committee for a welcome lunch, where discussions focussed on the possibility of Liberia re-joining the IPU and the country’s recovery post-Ebola. Following lunch, the delegation met with the Minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin MP, who also enquired about Liberia’s development post-Ebola and the key challenges facing the country.

It was noted by the delegation that Liberia’s challenges for sustainable development in the context of health and education lay in the lack of infrastructure and the lack of equipment, such as access to ambulances and medicines. Rural populations are still largely cut off from assistance which had proved problematic during the Ebola crisis. The delegation therefore stressed that they would like more support from the UK in funding these things.

Before the welcome reception hosted by Rt Hon John Whittingdale OBE MP in parliament, the delegation attended a roundtable co-hosted by BGIPU and Chatham House, entitled “The Future of Liberia’s Democracy and Development: the role of the Legislative Assembly”. This focussed on the turbulent political past of Liberia but looked at the role that parliamentarians are now able to play in pursuing and developing further the country’s democracy.

The delegation met with Professor Sarah Childs the following day to discuss her ‘Good Parliament’ Report, which was especially relevant given that Liberia is looking to increase its rather low number of female parliamentarians. Chi Onwurah MP, as Chair of the Africa APPG, led a roundtable with Members of both Houses which focussed on a number of issues. These ranged from health, education, Ebola recovery, economic development and UK-Liberia relations in general. This was attended by many UK parliamentarians, highlighting the importance with which UK-Liberia relations are considered with in the UK parliament.
After this, the delegation viewed Prime Minister’s Question Time, after which they attended a working lunch hosted by Rt Hon Baroness Anelay DBE. Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the International Development Select Committee, then met with the delegation to discuss both the work of the Committee and development issues in Liberia.

The following day, the delegation visited the BBC for a meeting with the Africa team at BBC World Service. Delegates were very familiar with the programmes they were putting out, and agreed with the BBC team that the programmes need to be tailored to a younger African audience to stay relevant. Baroness Barker then hosted a working lunch with civil society, where the delegation was joined by Rt Hon Baroness Anelay DBE and Rt Hon Baroness D’Souza CMG, alongside representatives from Action Aid, Street Child and the Consortium for Street Children. Discussions focussed on general issues such as the benefits of parliamentary engagement with civil society, but also discussed more closely the attending NGOs’ work, on issues such as gender equality and improving the lives of street children.

The delegation then travelled to Oxford, where they met with the local MP, Annelise Dodds MP. She gave an overview of how she worked in the constituency as well as focussed on key issues which affect her constituents. The delegation was then hosted by the Lord Mayor of Oxford over dinner. The next day, the delegation met with the African Studies Centre at Oxford University, where the focus was on education and the potential ties between UK and Liberian academic institutions to foster greater links between the two countries. This was followed by a meeting and tour of Christ Church College, Oxford University, by Professor David Hine. An expert in political theory, he discussed his work with the delegation but also looked at the way in which Oxford was trying to adapt and become less exclusive to UK students.

This visit was a success in reconnecting with the Liberian Parliament after so many years and promoted the benefits of Membership of the IPU. The Liberian delegation stated their desire to re-join the organisation. BGIPU hopes to engage with the Liberian Parliament in the near future so that the friendship between our two parliaments can only grow stronger.