Home History The How and Why of USPresident Jimmy Carter’s 1978 visit to Liberia

The How and Why of USPresident Jimmy Carter’s 1978 visit to Liberia

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We know that US President Jimmy Carter visited Liberia on 3 April 1978. But what is not widely known are the circumstances of how and why of President Carter’s visit.

The United States Department of State had placed a foreign policy initiative which sought to establish Nigeria as the center for United States relations with Africa. Understandable. Nigeria was rightfully seen as Africa’s burgeoning economic powerhouse. Nigeria had Africa’s most sophisticated military and was establishing itself in the world’s petroleum industry. At the same time there were many who were putting forth that the first State visit of a U.S. President to sub-Saharan Africa since USPresident Roosevelt had done so during January 1943 should be to Liberia because of “…USA and Liberia unique and long-standing history…”.

[I am very familiar with all the prior negotiations and deals concocted during the run up to President Carter’s visit to Nigeria. I am very familiar with the efforts of various black American politicians and various persons on either side of the discussions re US presence in Africa. In the final analysis we did make deals with Nigeria and others in the Organization of African Unity (OAU, now AU) and the United Nations (UN). At the final end, President Carter DID end up in Monrovia.]

Liberian/American reception crowd for USPres Carter on Robertsfield Highway at entrance to Baptist Seminary, 3 April 1978

President Carter made the decision to go to Nigeria. He met with Nigeria President Obasanjo who firmly established with President Carter that it was the then Liberia Vice President William Tolbert who brokered the end of the Nigerian-Biafra Civil War in 1970 and as such, Nigeria was eternally indebted and grateful to the now Liberia President William Tolbert. President Obasanjo strongly suggested to President Carter, “Proceed post haste to my big brother William Tolbert. Under my watch, he is Africa’s leader”.

Now, the urgency was at hand. Beginning the morning of 2 April 1978, while still yet in Nigeria on the State visit, the US State Department and the US White House were scurrying to extend the previously planned “re-fueling stop” of AirForce One at Liberia’s RobertsField International Airport (RIA) into a visit where President Carter and President Tolbert would hold talks at RIA during the refueling of AirForce One. US Ambassador to Liberia, William Beverly Carter, urgently requested a meeting with President Tolbert so as to establish modalities for President Carter’s urgent request to extend the RIA “refueling stop” into a full scale face-to-face tete-a-tete at RIA between the two Heads of State.

President Tolbert’s response to Ambassador Carter, was, “Mr Ambassador,… tell President Carter that he is welcome to Liberia, but ONLY if he comes HERE to our Executive Mansion”.

I was subsequently informed that I would be on the President’s Official Welcoming Party.

Roberts Field official welcoming ceremony of USPres Carter, 3 April 1978

On 3 April 1978, early morning, we all proceeded to RobertsField to receive USPresident Jimmy Carter. I remember that Speaker of the House, Richard Abrom Henries, and I rode together to RobertsField in the Speaker’s Mercedes limousine.

So then next, beginning noon of 3 April 1978, along with USPresident Jimmy Carter and Liberia President William Tolbert, we all went to the Executive Mansion at Monrovia for just 3 hours.

The rest is history……

Source: Ijoma Robert Flemister

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