LIBERIA: Honor at Pinnacle - As Pres. Sirleaf Gets France's Greatest Recognition At Elysee Palace Today

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
All Africa
Western Africa
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The French capital of Paris, especially the location of the presidential residence (Elysee Palace) is expected to come to a standstill today Wednesday as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be ushered later in the day in to receive one of the country's befitting honors.

It is said to be the pinnacle of the receipt of honors by the president, as it followed other excellent recognitions such as the Nobel Peace Prize which she won along with fellow Liberian, Madam Leymah Gbowee and another lady from Pakistan.

Since assuming office in 2006, Madam Sirleaf has been at the receiving hand of several honors in and out of Africa from various organizations including learning institutions in the United States.

Today's honor happens to her first in France, which is certainly one of Liberia's partners.

The Grand Croix of the Légion d'Honneur, France's highest award and public distinction, will be bestowed on the Liberian leader by French President François Hollande, and it comes about four months into his presidency after winning a highly competitive election over former President Nicholas Sarkozy.

The Légion d'Honneur, created by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is awarded to those who have served France or the ideals it upholds. As the highest decoration in France, it is divided into five degrees: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross).

What perhaps makes it so special is that no woman, not even a Head of State, is said to have ever decorated before the middle of the 19th century.

"That has all changed. With this decoration she is to receive, President Sirleaf becomes the seventh woman living in the class of Grand Cross. Among those who have been decorated with the Grand Cross are: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, and the late Lord Mountbatten," an Executive Mansion statement said.

The executive mansion said recent recipients of various awards include Aung San Suu Kyi (Myanmar pro-democracy leader and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize); Singer-songwriter Sir Paul McCartney (for his contribution to the arts); Author Toni Morrison; Author J.K. Rowling, of the Harry Potter books; American film director Steven Spielberg; and more. Among Heads of State have been Festus Mogae of Botswana; Shimon Peres of Israel; and Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation.

Besides France, the President will travel to other European nations including Belgium and Netherlands where she is expected to meet and hold discussions with leaders there.

While in The Hague, she will pay a courtesy call on Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and dine with Their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Orange and Princess Máxima, who also serves as the UN Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, and visited Liberia in June 2010.

In the Netherlands, President Sirleaf will hold bilateral talks with Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, and a discussion with Members of Parliament of both Houses on support for Liberia's development.

She will travel to Tilburg University in the south of the Netherlands as the guest of honor, and will join in the celebration of the university's 85th anniversary, or Dies and deliver a lecture on "International Social Responsibility," as the university observes the 100th anniversary of the birth of the first female Minister of the Netherlands, Marga Klompé.

More besides, President Sirleaf, along with two academicians, will be awarded an honorary degree, Doctor Honoris Causa, being recognized for leadership and for her interest in education and social responsibility. A reception and dinner will follow. President Sirleaf will also take time from her busy schedule for press interviews.

President Sirleaf who departed Liberia yesterday to receive the award was also being honored for her support of women's rights and for her actions in favor of peace in her country and for promoting stability and development in the Mano River Union.

While in Paris, President Sirleaf will also meet with CEOs of several French companies and with African Ambassadors in France and later travel to Belgium to meet with and address the Belgium Senate on the post-2015 global development framework, she serves as one of three co-Chairs of the UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons established to craft a development agenda after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.

The President will hold a similar discussion during her meeting with the Committee of Ambassadors at the headquarters of the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific States Secretariat.

Also during her day-long visit to Brussels, the Liberian President will hold a meeting with the Parliament of the European Union to discuss the Commission's support for Liberia.

On Saturday, November 10th, President Sirleaf will hold a series of meetings with officials of several Dutch companies, including Philip Global, Royal Haskoning, Vlisco and APM Terminals. She will also meet with members of the Liberian community in the Netherlands.