Maryland entered a "sister states" agreement with two counties in Liberia yesterday in hopes that the state's 19th-century role in founding the African republic can be translated into a 21st-century role in sparking its economic development.
The West African nation is looking to rebuild now that dictator Charles Taylor has been replaced with a democratically elected president, and officials say they are eager for Maryland to be a partner.
"Let me hasten to inform you that Liberia is rich in culture and natural resources," Bong County Superintendent Ranney B. Jackson said during a ceremony yesterday outside Gov. Martin O'Malley's office. "It is rich in gold, diamonds, timber, rubber and petroleum, recently discovered. Marylanders are also encouraged to participate in our vast fishing industry, where we have lobsters, shrimp, tilapia fish and even the blue crabs."
To seal the deal, Jackson and his counterpart from Maryland County in Liberia, Sie-Teba Neufville, presented O'Malley with an African shirt and hat, which he quickly donned for the cameras, along with a coordinating set for the first lady, Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley.
"Boy, Annapolis won't know what hit 'em when we go walking," O'Malley said.
(Maryland reciprocated with silver bowls etched with the state seal.)
O'Malley said he hopes the sister states relationship will lead to a better understanding among Marylanders of the state's role in establishing the republic, as well as trade missions to foster economic ties.
One of the counties, Bong, has long had links to Maryland through a sister cities relationship between its principal city and Baltimore. The other - Maryland County - was settled more than 150 years ago by families of freed slaves from this state.
Maryland's ties to Liberia were so strong that three of that country's first 10 presidents were born here. Now that the nation has returned to peace and democracy after years of war and strife, officials there are eager to trade on those historic ties to jump-start the economy.
To make the relationship successful, Maryland will have to invest money in financing trade missions and other activities, O'Malley said.
"We have the ability as a strong state with a port, as a state so near to the U.S. capital, to create gateways throughout the world ... not only to foster Maryland's competitiveness in the global economy but to encourage the competitiveness of our neighbors around the world as well."
Maryland has nine other sister state relationships, but this is its first one in Africa. Liberia has no other sister state relationships in the world.