EU Tough-Talk Liberia Diplomacy Trumps America’s: Thank You, EU


Threat of Sanctions over fishing saga, sends stinging message to hard-headed post-war nation

THE EUROPEAN UNION Ambassador to Liberia, Tiina Intelmann did not mince words in a stinging letter to Liberian President late last week, regarding the President’s decision to sign an Executive Order to halve Liberia’s Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ), currently reserved for artisanal fishermen, reducing it from six nautical miles to just three, allowing industrial vessels, including trawlers, to fish much closer to the shore.

AMBASSADOR INTELMANN, in the communication obtained by FrontPageAfrica remarked that the EU was surprise to learn about this Executive Order from the press as the SFPA agreement clearly states that “Art 3.5 – The Parties shall cooperate with a view to implement a sectoral fisheries policy adopted by the Government of Liberia and to that end shall initiate a policy dialogue on the necessary reforms. “The European Union has serious concerns about the implications of the EO 84. Based on experience in other countries in other countries and beyond we have reason to believe that some of the measures introduced under Section 2 of the EO will not lead to sustainable investments, but rather to the accelerated depletion of current fish stocks resulting in reduced economic opportunities in the sector and increased food security.”

THE AMBASSADOR’S letter was followed days later by an even stronger one from the EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, who commented: ““We are showing our commitment to fight illegal fishing globally. The EU’s actions in the past years created an incentive for states to take their responsibilities seriously, and implement reforms to their fisheries sector. We do not like to impose sanctions on third countries, but sometimes clear action is needed. We invite the Comoros and Saint Vincent and Grenadines to seriously step up their fight against illegal fishing so that we can reverse this decision quickly. Following today’s warning to Liberia we hope their authorities choose to act quickly and correct their wrongdoings.”

THE COMMISSIONER DID not stop there and went further to state that while Liberia has the second biggest shipping registry in the world with over 100 fishing transport vessels registered under this flag, the national fisheries authorities do not have the information or means to control this fleet. “This lack of control has been confirmed by the listing of a Liberian vessel on the international “black list” last October. Liberia has taken reform measures including the revision of its fisheries laws, but no tangible progress has followed. The Commission hopes that the pre-identification will raise political awareness and encourage the country to implement the necessary reforms in fisheries governance.”

THE INDIGNATION being expressed by the EU is reminiscent of those famously expressed by former United States President George W. Bush at the height of the Liberian civil war when he issued a strongly-worded statement now remembered as the last straw that broke Charles Taylor’s stubborn stance and forced him into exile, thereby paving the way for the commencement of Liberia’s transition from war to peace.

IN HER BOOK, “NO HIGHER HONOR”, Former Secretary of State during President George W. Bush’s term, Condoleeza Rice, who had previously served on the National Security Council as the Soviet and Eastern Europe Affairs Advisor to President George H. W. Bush, described Taylor as ‘the Milosevic of Africa.’ “Charles Taylor became intolerable, and the international community demanded the formation of a transitional government in Liberia in 2003. The President (George H. W. Bush) wanted to know what his options were in dealing with the Liberian crisis. “Why should I do something in Liberia?” he asked Colin (Powell) and I. “Because Liberia is ours,” I replied. We talked about the history of the country that had been founded by freed American slaves. “Even the Liberian flag imitates the Stars and Stripes,” Colin added. The President was determined to do something about Liberia. The President reiterated that Taylor had to leave and said that the US would “participate with troops.” Ad-libbing the last part of the statement, the President had committed the US to a military role. In the face of international pressure and US resolve, Charles Taylor resigned the presidency of Liberia as three US warships drifted into view and two US helicopters hovered overhead.”

AUTHORITIES IN LIBERIA, have for some strange reasons taken their eyes off the ball regarding governance, transparency and accountability.

IT IS CLEAR, as the EU have pointed out, that the Executive Order contradicts the original agreement, Liberia signed on to regarding efforts to curb illegal fishing.

FOR TOO LONG, Liberian leaders have taken advantage of the goodwill from development partners and failed to do all they can to ensure that those goodwill trickle down to those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.

WHAT THE EUROPEAN UNION has done by threatening sanctions against countries like Liberia, the Comoros and Saint Vincent, unless they step up their fight against illegal fishing and reverse their decision, is to send a clear message that it means business while hoping that Liberia in particular, would choose to act quickly and correct their wrongdoings.

THERE IS SIMPLY NO sugar-coating around this. Somewhere, someway and somehow, someone misled the Liberian President and ill-advised her, as many advisors have in the past few years.

WE MUST ALL sing the praises of the EU for doing what the US has failed to do in the past  twelve years, that is publicly scold the Liberian government when it has been clear it was failing to curb corruption and making a lot of missteps along the way.

IT IS CLEAR THAT the previous presidents, George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama were sold on the idea of a pet project to transform Liberia from a war-torn nation into the success story of Africa.

THIS WAS THE pitch President Sirleaf made when she addressed the US Congress in March 2006. “With your prayers and with your help, we will demonstrate that democracy can work, even under the most challenging conditions. We will honor the suffering of our people, and Liberia will become a brilliant beacon, an example to Africa and the world of what the love of liberty can achieve. We will strive to be America’s success story in Africa, demonstrating the potential in the transformation from war to peace; demonstrating the will to join in the global fight against terrorism; demonstrating that democracy can prevail, demonstrating that prosperity can be achieved.”

PRESIDENT SIRLEAF has been a shining beacon of hope for Liberia since her election as the first woman to lead an African nation. Liberians and the international community are all proud of what she has been able to do. At the same time, there comes a time in life when one has to call a spade a spade and tell leaders the truth when they have lost touch of their initial objects or perhaps, have become sidetracked by the trappings of power.

WE HOPE that the US and other countries which have committed millions of dollars of their taxpayers money to help countries like Liberia, will do more to ensure that their help impact the lives of the majority and not just fill the pockets of a few.

TOO MANY sycophants are destroying Liberia by singing praises in the ears of the presidency when they should be speaking truth to power.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT on this government. We would have hoped that the EU and others would have been more vocal to issues like these much earlier but it is better late than never. We only hope and pray that President Sirleaf and her aides smell the roses before their remaining hold on power comes to an end.