“Canada and Liberia have a strong relationship – one that is made stronger by our shared belief that when women and girls are full participants in the social, economic and political lives of our two countries, we will all succeed,” Trudeau said Thursday in Monrovia.
WATCH: Prime Minister Trudeau arrives in Africa for Francophonie summit; strengthen the relationship. Vassy Kapelos reports.
The prime minister will spend Friday flying across the continent to Antananarivo, the capital city of the island nation of Madagascar, where he will lead the Canadian delegation at the summit of the International Organization of la Francophonie over the weekend.
The choice of Liberia for his first visit to Africa since the Liberals came to power last year surprised some observers, given there is a limited relationship and no obvious economic interests between Canada and Liberia, which was hit hard by the deadly Ebola virus in recent years.
Trudeau, however, said he was inspired by the leadership of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who along with other women has been recognized – including with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 – for her role in achieving and maintaining peace and stability following brutal civil conflict.
Trudeau spent most of his day in Liberia – the first time he has set foot in the country, although he had travelled in the region before becoming prime minister – sharing his message that the empowerment of women and girls can go a long way towards tackling the major challenges faced around the globe.
VIDEO: Prime Minister Trudeau visits first elected female African leader
Johnson Sirleaf said Canada and Liberia have long enjoyed a good relationship, including its support for the UN peacekeeping mission there, the more than $130 million it gave to the region as part of its response to the devastating Ebola epidemic, which affected Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and its offer to resettle Liberians during the civil war.
“Your visit today could not have come at a more opportune time to reset relations between our two countries,” Johnson Sirleaf said in her toast to Trudeau at an official dinner Thursday night.
“We are indeed very grateful to the government and people of Canada for their enormous support for the peace and stability of our country.”
She said that Liberia had been on the road to recovery from the civil war, but then experienced the shocks of the 2008 financial crisis, the Ebola outbreak and the sharp decline in commodity prices for many of their exports.
“We are determined to get past these difficult days.”
VIDEO: Justin Trudeau lands in Liberia, to open dialogue on gender equality with leaders
At the summit of la Francophonie, Trudeau plans to highlight gender equality, the fight against climate change, diversity and security, among other issues at the gathering of representatives from 80 governments and states from mainly French-speaking nations.
Canada is also sponsoring a joint resolution on early and forced marriages with Benin, and backing a bid by Ontario to gain observer status at la Francophonie.