The World Will Forget Liberia, If . . . President Weah Must Match Words with Actions


IN A NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED Friday, Liberian President George Manneh Weah recalled how he witnessed hardship growing up as a child and the difficulties and horrors of the long-running civil war.

AS HE APPROACHES the one hundred-day mark of his presidency, the President made a passionate appeal to the international community not to turn its backs on the country he inherited from Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa and Liberia’s first woman head of state. Said President Weah: “We do need continued support from our international partners. Don’t forget Liberia as we move from recovery to development. We are not asking for charity; we are looking for a chance. We need partners to walk with us on the road to progress and development.”

WHILE WE APPLAUD the President for making a plea for international support and recognition; we feel strongly that this new government needs to dig deep and work toward healing the nation and reconciling its people.

OF LATE, THERE have been too many missteps which threatens to undermine President Weah’s own declarations regarding the fight against graft, transparency and accountability.

THE PRESIDENT has so far failed to lead the charge in declaring his assets and ensuring that those he appointed to positions do the same.

ALONG THE SAME LINES, the watchdog group, Global Witness has been on the backs of the new government over its handling of forced removal of Mr. Konah Karmo as head of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).

GLOBAL WITNESS and several international stakeholders have raised questions over President Weah’s decision which many agree undermines the independence transparency agency. LEITI is a semi-autonomous agency whose Multi-stakeholder Steering Group is empowered by law to appoint its Head of Secretariat.

PRESIDENT WEAH’S decision to take matters into his own hands speaks volumes. “Having this kind of intimidation imposed on LEITI endangers the independence critical to its mandate to scrutinise and report on the payments oil, logging, mining, and plantation companies make to the government,” said Simon Clydesdale of Global Witness.

THE WEAH-LED government has so far also failed to control a wave of attacks on free speech and the media with members of his government and supporters repeatedly going personal and making serious threats against those deemed critical of the administration.

DESPITE THE GOVERNMENT’S repeated assurances that it supports free speech, the practicality of the matter is the government needs to do more and go beyond the mere declaration by condemning those tainting its image.

Additionally, the chair of the ruling party, Mulbah Morlue’s unofficial role as the new Civil Service Agency director is not helping matters for the Coalition for Democratic Change-led government. The practice of sending lists of what many see as unqualified people to various government ministries and agencies is not going down well with a lot of people and poses grave dangers for the success Mr. Weah and his government are hoping to achieve.

RECENT ACTIONS by the officers of the judicial branch of government to arrest staffers of FrontPageAfrica and shut down the newspaper’s offices was just the latest in a long-line of issues putting the government in a bad light and to its own detriment, a point well articulated by Global Witness recently. “Liberian democracy requires independent voices and impartial information, like that provided by Front Page Africa and LEITI. President Weah should ensure that Liberia’s press – including the vital Front Page Africa – remains free and reinstate LEITI’s Secretariat Head Konah Karmo.”

PRESIDENT WEAH’S DECISION to undermine LEITI contradicts his own desires penned in the New Times Op-Ed in which he said that “the most effective way to improve the lives of the poor and reduce inequality is to ensure that government officials do not skim public resources. I intend to use legislation and build upon our current code of conduct to limit conflicts of interest involving government employees, enhance transparency over public processes and punish violators.”

THE TRUTH of the matter is Mr. President, LEITI as structured by international stakeholders is the best format to helping you achieve the goals of enhancing transparency over public processes.

PRESIDENT WEAH also wrote about sustaining a peaceful and stable Liberia by examining ways to strengthen national integration by enacting laws promoting national unification. “We are working on reforming our judicial system to ensure the basic rights of all citizens are protected,” the President said.

IN REALITY, the first few months of the administration contradicts everything the President and his supporters have been hoping to achieve.

NEGLECTING THE key Redemption Hospital, in what is supposed to be the ruling party’s stronghold while laying emphasis on building a hospital for an army of 2000 is just as worrisome the declarations from the Minister of Finance Mr. Samuel Tweah that the government intends to slash the salaries of civil servants while leaving those at the helm of power untouched.

ADDITIONALLY, THE PARTY’S CHAIR Mulbah Morlue’s unofficial role as the new Civil Service Agency director is not helping matters for the Coalition for Democratic Change-led government. The practice of sending lists of what many see as unqualified people to various government ministries and agencies is not going down well with a lot of people and poses grave dangers for the success Mr. Weah and his government are hoping to achieve.

INSTEAD OF TAKING up the first one hundred days trying to secure jobs for only its partisans, the government should be focusing on finding the best brains and ideas Liberia has to offer if it is serious about moving the country forward.

TODAY, MANY ARE LIVING IN FEAR about the direction the country is going and even more concerned about whether they will have a job tomorrow with Mr. Morlu sending scores of letters with names of partisans for jobs.

LACK OF SECURITY in most communities is becoming a major concern. Armed robbery is on the rise and the recent gruesome killing of journalist Tyron Browne has added to the state of uncertainty that has gripped the country.

MR. WEAH cannot on the one hand be preaching unification and reconciliation while at the same time allowing his surrogates to plunge the country into even more division.

THE PRESIDENT and his supporters must begin anew by initiating reconciliation with many of those they perceive as enemies and put a hand across party lines if it is serious about reconciling the country.

THE JUSTIFICATION that because the previous government did some of the very thing drawing complaints today; undermines the hope for change mantra the currently ruling party trumpeted on the campaign trail.

WE AGREE WITH PRESIDENT WEAH that the way forward for Liberia will require sustained engagement from both his government and the citizens of the country. “We do need the assistance of our friends outside Liberia. Building a stable, prosperous, democratic Liberia in the heart of West Africa is firmly in the interests of all nations, including the United States,” he said.

THE SAD REALITY IS, Mr. Weah and his government must steer clear of creating a state of isolation by filling government ministries with partisans without background checks, vetting and in the absence of full transparency and accountability.

IT IS CLEAR TO MANY that President craves the environment where he appears to have surrounded himself with a lot of sycophants only telling him what he wants to hear while praising and worshiping his every move. This no doubt creates an environment where many are becoming afraid to speak or say anything critical over fears of being blacklisted, sidelined or attacked on social media – or even in person.

IF LIBERIA is to move forward this government must ensure that the environment is safe for people to roam about without fear and free for people to speak their minds without fears of retaliation.

GONE ARE THE DAYS of old when the likes of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor struck fear, when officers of the SSS or NSA patrolled the streets with long-range machine guns wearing masks, particularly in an era when gruesome killings are becoming the order of the day.

NO LIBERIAN wants the world to forget about Liberia and no true Liberian wants Mr. Weah and his government to fail. The truth of the matter is, God only help those who help themselves. We must remove ourselves from the dependency syndrome by doing those things that will assure the world whose help we are seeking, that we mean business. Once we as a people, government and country do what we are supposed to do, there will be no need to put out an SOS call appealing for them, not to forget us – or come to our aid.