With barely one and a half months for him to end his tenure, President J.A. Kufuor continues to receive honours from countries across the globe for his contribution to African peace and development.
The President received the latest of the honours in Monrovia at the weekend when Liberia conferred on him its highest honour for his contribution towards lasting peace in that country, as well as supporting its post-war reconstruction and development.
At the investiture ceremony, the Liberian President, Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, decorated President Kufuor with the Distinction of Grand Cordon in the Most Venerable Order of the Knighthood of the Pioneers of the Republic of Liberia.
President Kufuor, who was in Liberia for a two-day official visit, was also honoured by the University of Liberia at a special convocation, during which it conferred on him an honorary doctorate degree in Humane Letters (LHD) in International Relations.
The honour by the university, which was founded in 1862, was in recognition of President Kufuor's selfless service to Ghana and humanity, especially his monumental contributions to Liberia, as well as his unrelenting passion for democracy and good governance.
Furthermore, the Council of Traditional Chiefs of Liberia also decorated the President with a smock as a mark of the appreciation of the people of Liberia for him and Ghana.
The primary objective of the visit was for Liberia to express its deepest appreciation to President Kufuor and Ghana.
President Kufuor and, indeed, Ghana had secured a special place in the hearts of the people of Liberia for Ghana's contributions towards ending 14 years of one of Africa's bloodiest civil conflicts and the restoration of democracy which culminated in the election of President Johnson-Sirleaf as the first female elected President in Africa.
In June 2003, President Kufuor, then the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), spearheaded the Liberian peace process by hosting an initial meeting of the major actors in the Liberian civil crisis in Accra and a subsequent meeting in August which finally brought an end to hostilities in Liberia and initiated the peace process for the involvement of the United Nations in that country.
The two-day visit featured a welcoming ceremony, private talks between President Kufuor and President Johnson-Sirleaf, a working session with a select number of Liberian Cabinet Ministers, a state dinner, a meeting with the Ghanaian community, the investiture ceremony and the special convocation.
President Kufuor also visited the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and held discussions with the officials.
At the investiture ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where President Kufuor received Liberia's highest honour, President Johnson-Sirleaf said the Ghanaian leader had demonstrated strong leadership and care for his neighbours and had carved for himself a special place in the hearts of Liberians for his efforts and contributions.
She said the investiture ceremony was an expression of the deep appreciation for the role he played in securing peace for Liberians, as well as a recognition of all that Ghanaians had done for Liberians during the time of its national tragedy.
In the early stages of the Liberian civil war, Ghana sent several vessels and planes to evacuate Liberians. In 1996, when the Bulk Challenge vessel loaded with over 2,000 Liberians fleeing the conflict drifted for 10 days along the Gulf of Guinea and no port would welcome its passengers, it was the then Ghana government that allowed the vessel to dock at the Port of Takoradi.
So far, Ghana has hosted an estimated 40,000 Liberian refugees since the Liberian civil war broke out in 1989. As of November 2, 2008, 15,150 Liberian refugees had voluntarily relocated from Ghana under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) programme.
Since peace returned to Liberia in 2003, Ghana has been involved in the restoration of electricity to the country, the capacity building of the Liberian Police, the Army, Immigration and administrative personnel.
“Ghana has demonstrated a true mark of friendship. It has been active everywhere in Liberia's quest for peace,” President Johnson-Sirleaf said.
She told President Kufuor, “You are deserving of the honour because you merit it. We are proud of a true African solution to an African crisis. Happy is the peace maker, for he shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
A citation accompanying the award described President Kufuor as an astute politician, a good listener and a great consensus builder.
Receiving the award, President Kufuor said he was happy and humbled by the honour but indicated that he accepted it not only for himself but also on behalf of all Ghanaians.
He said the event marked another milestone in Ghana-Liberia relations.
He noted that the Liberian people had demonstrated that a setback could be turned into the beginning of great things to happen and underlined the need for continued peace, solidarity, patience and perseverance among all the stakeholders in Liberia's development.
At the University of Liberia where he received the honorary doctorate degree, President Kufuor said he was impressed with the effort to revive Liberia and said the restoration was testimony to the fact that out of devastation and the ashes of war, progress was still possible.
For the steady progress of Liberia, President Kufuor underscored the need for the people to deepen their democratic processes underpinned by the rule of law and national reconciliation.
Presenting the doctorate degree, President Johnson-Sirleaf said if President Kufuor would find time to visit Liberia again after his retirement, a programme would be introduced at the university for him to speak on “Challenges and Prospects of Social Transformation,” adding that she would be glad to be one of the students.
At a meeting with a section of the Ghanaian community at the residence of Ghana's Ambassador to Liberia late in the night, President Kufuor and his delegation, in response to an appeal for special assistance, presented $10,000 to the Ghanaian community towards the construction of a hospital to take care of their special needs and those of their Liberian hosts.
A communiqué issued at the end of the visit said President Kufuor and President Johnson-Sirleaf reiterated their commitment to strengthen regional co-operation, particularly ECOWAS, as strategic and imperative approach to ensure the sustainable and equitable development of West Africa.
Story By Nehemia Owusu Achiaw, Monrovia