With Liberia’s Ebola crisis officially over, Cynthia Blandford, the West African country’s Atlanta-based honorary consul, has put a “re-engagement policy” in overdrive.
The continued support for Ms. Blandford’s local initiatives on behalf of Liberia was evident at the “United for Liberia” ball held the evening of Sept. 26 on behalf of the University Consortium for Liberia, which she has been promoting since its launch in June 2009.
Louis Gossett Jr., the Academy Award-winning actor famed for his performance as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in the 1982 film “An Officer and a Gentleman” and for his Emmy Award winning role in the television miniseries “Roots” attended the event held at Emory University.
Mr. Gossett, who through DNA analysis has traced his roots to Liberia and Sierra Leone, was named at the gala an honorary citizen of Liberia. He is to be crowned and gowned as a Liberian chief from the Kru tribe, which was known in the 19th century for its independence.
Ms. Blandford told Global Atlanta that Mr. Gossett is one of many African Americans, including Oprah Winfrey and India Arie, who have traced their origins to Liberia.
He attended the gala at the consulate’s invitation because of his interest in Africa and support for various health initiatives there. He sought out his family’s origins after his acclaimed performance in Roots based on Alex Haley‘s 1976 novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family.
The “United for Liberia” gala was a fund raiser on behalf of many programs supported by the consortium including student and faculty exchanges. A dozen Georgia-based colleges and universities are involved in the consortium, which is composed of a mix of more than 20 U.S. and Liberian institutions.
The gala recognized the Coca-Cola Co., the Centers for Disease Control, MAP International, MedShare and Samaritan’s Purse for their service during the Ebola crisis. Dr. Frank Glover, a urologist, also was honored for his work in Liberia as 24 members of his family attending the dinner looked on.
Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell brought a proclamation stating that Sept. 26 was officially “University Consortium for Liberia Day.” Errol Barnett, an anchor for CNN International, served as the master of ceremonies for the event, which also was attended by Georgia resident Dr. James Sirleaf, the son of Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
A week earlier on Sept. 18, Ms. Blandford was in Savannah at the Georgia Ports Authority to renew a memorandum of understanding with the National Port Authority of Liberia, which aims to increase trade with the Southeast.
First signed in 2010, the memorandum encourages cooperation in training, joint marketing and information sharing on trade forecasts, market studies and shipping. It is to be binding for three years.
Acting General Manager David Williams of Liberia’s ports and harbors led a delegation to the port for the ceremony after attending the 2015 U.S.-Liberia Trade and Investment Forum in New York.
Ms. Blandford told Global Atlanta that she was pleased with the increase of the total container trade with Liberia in recent years. She remains concerned, however, that the containers coming from Liberia to Savannah are often empty.
“Liberia is a producer of many agricultural products such as coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and bananas,” she said. “It also has a lot of timber and rubber that should be coming here.”
In an effort to increase imports from Liberia to Savannah, she said that she was in touch with the Liberian embassy in Washington and supporting its efforts to review the African Growth and Opportunity Act so it would benefit from the act to the same extent that Ghana has.
Ms. Blandford also is strengthening the personal ties binding Liberia and Atlanta, and pointed to the recent appointment of Ellen Pratt as a new deputy minister of commerce and industry in Liberia. Ms. Pratt, a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, has worked previously as a project manager for the City of Atlanta and Fulton County.
In addition, she is preparing for the Oct. 19-21 visit to Atlanta of Vice President of Liberia Joseph Boakai Sr., for a series of meetings being scheduled with the Centers for Disease Control, Delta Air Lines Inc., Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the University Consortium and the Carter Center concerning their continued support of Liberia’s development agenda. Mr. Boakai also is to host a Town Hall meeting for Liberians in the Diaspora.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta-based law firm of King & Spalding LLP’s international trade group has been assisting Liberia to join the World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based member state organization responsible for regulating international trade. A final decision is expected by the end of the year.