DURING THE REIGN of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the government of the renowned Turkish dictator, President Tayyip Erdogan, made an unusual request to have Turkish nationals teaching at the Liberia Turkish International deported and the schools shut down.
THE SIRLEAF ADMINISTRATION, wary of the political undertones of such a move, rebuffed the overtures from Turkey and understood what was in play.
IN MAY 2016, former President Sirleaf, in a visit to the school, commended students for being courageous, disciplined and committed to pursuing quality education at the various schools of learning. Sirleaf also commended the school’s sponsors for making the facilities available to enable Liberian students to pursue quality education.
IRONICALLY IN 2017, MEVLUT CAVUSOGLU, FOREIGN MINISTER OF TURKEY, during a one-day visit to Liberia, said the school did not represent the interests and aspirations of the Government and people of Turkey and appealed to the Sirleaf administration to remove the management of the school at the time.
AT THE TIME, Liberia’s Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara said the Sirleaf administration had no evidence or facts on the matter and had to launch an investigation to determine the veracity of the allegations levied against the school.
THE SCHOOL, FUNDED BY US-based Cleric Fethullah Gulen, is one of the dozens situated in various countries around the world that the Erdogan government has been trying to shut down for years, using allegations of terrorism to keep the schools shut down.
GULEN-OPERATED schools have existed in Turkey since the 1970s and only expanded globally in the past few years.
THE ERDOGAN dictatorship government blames Gulen for a failed coup in July 2016 that killed 270 people. Turkey argues that the schools are part of a strategy to undermine the state.
ALLEGATIONS HAVE DOGGED THE SCHOOLS with Turkish connections in more than a dozen countries, from Germany to Afghanistan and in African countries like Liberian, Somalia and Kenya.
IN 2000, UZBEKISTAN shut down all Gulen-associated schools operating there, and similar steps were taken in Russia, where only seven remain of the 50 schools that used to operate until 2008.
LAST FRIDAY, the George Weah government secretly deported several Turkish nationals at the school amid reports that the government plans to take over the running of the school.
THOSE DEPORTED were: Principal and General Manager, Roman Mamedov, head of the Primary Section, Mrs. Mamedov; English Teacher and accountant, Elvin Rahimov; Mrs. Rahimov; Moral Education Teacher and Vice President for Administration Mehmet Simsek; Mrs. Ramazan. Ceray, Esma, a little girl in the 6th grade and Ernest, a boy in the pre-primary section were also deported.
According to Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie, the school will be run under the supervision of the Ministry of Education.
ACCORDING to the minister, those running the school were not confirmative with the rules and regulations of the educational policies and other related matters which hinder security matters.
SEVERAL TEACHERS at the school told FrontPageAfrica that they have been living in fear since the deportation of seven of its staffers from Turkey.
THE SCHOOLS DESCRIBE themselves as secular, promoting tolerance and interfaith dialogue.
PRESIDENT ERDOGAN’S government has in recent years waged a multi-million-dollar takedown of the charter schools based in the US.
IN JULY 2019, President Erdogan mounted pressure on former President Trump to extradite Gulen, who resides in the US, to Turkey from his self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.
IN 2015, TURKEY enlisted Amsterdam and Partners, an international crisis law firm, to lobby against the schools with links to Gulen. Federal filings required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act(FARA), published by Education Next revealed that from December 2015 to January 2018, Turkey paid the firm at least USD 1.2 million and an additional USD348,904 between November 2017 and January 2018 for Amsterdam & Partners to subcontract work to advocacy, communications, and public relations organizations.
IN 2016, DEUTSCHE WELLE REPORTED that the Erdogan government was ramping up pressure in Africa to have the Gulen-backed schools closed. Besides making requests to Liberia, Turkey 2016 also made requests to President Buhari of Nigeria, urging the Nigerian government to shut the schools down
OVER THE PAST FEW months, President George Weah’s government appears to have fallen for the bait from Turkey. The deportation comes just a month after President Weah returned from Turkey where he and President Erdogan discussed wide-ranging issues of multilateral interests to both Liberia and Turkey covering areas of global peace and security, the consolidation of diplomatic ties, economic and security cooperation as well as education and business links to both countries.
THE PRESIDENT also visited Turkey in March this year and followed up with two follow-up meetings with Erdogan in Lome, Togo and Dakar, Senegal.
THE DEPORTATION of the Turkish nationals come as the education sector in Liberia faces a complex set of challenges related to rebuilding and recovery from the civil war, constrained national finances, poor infrastructure, and the Ebola epidemic, which has resulted in poor learning outcome, overage enrolment, a huge number of out-of-school children, wasted government resources and unqualified teachers.
ACCORDING TO THE United States Aid for International Development, the education sector in Liberia lags far behind the rest of the schools in other parts of Africa in nearly all education statistics. The sector was also one of the poor performers in the Millennium Challenge Corporation Scorecard for 2021 which led Liberia to lose the much-needed millions key to helping revive the economy.
IN A NATION, STRUGGLING to fix its messy education system, the Turkish school, like most of the international schools operating in Liberia, has been a shining light and one of the bright spots for Liberia.
IN TAKING a decision to deport those Turkish nationals, the Weah administration failed to verify the nature of the claims from the Erdogan government. How many of the Gulen-run schools have actually been proven to be a haven for terrorists? How many of them have actually bred terrorists?
THE DEPORTATION amounts to nothing more than a government acting on the fears and apprehensions of a Turkish dictatorship instilling fears without providing any serious proof that the school in Liberia is teaching young people to become terrorists.
IN DOING SO, the Weah administration is shooting itself in the leg by denying young children the opportunity to learn while offering very little information about what the Erdogan dictatorship will do substitute those who have been deported.