Liberia: Government Hires CNN Analyst for Image Rebranding in the U.S., Arrange High-level Meetings in Washington

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MONROVIA – The Liberian government has appointed Liberal CNN Analyst Bakari Sellers as lobbyist in Washington to improve the country’s image that has been tarred by recurring reports on human rights abuses and corruption.

Sellers has been appointed to arrange high-level interactions with the United States of America government and build a “positive and correct image” of the George Weah-led government among the US policymakers, Fox News reported.

According to Fox News, Seller wrote: “I will be developing and executing a U.S. media and press engagement strategy for the Republic, President Weah, and key officials to raise Liberia’s profile in U.S. media and bring positive attention to the Republic with American and African American audiences”.

To make his work official, Foxx News reported that Sellers registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to work on behalf of the Liberian government where he would be paid a salary for his work.

Is President Weah fighting US Isolation?

President Weah seems to be finding it difficult to build solid relationship with the United States government since assuming the presidency nearly four years ago.

The regime of Weah’s predecessor Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf saw visitations by high-profile US government officials, including then-sitting President George W. Bush, Secretary State Hilary Clinton, former first lady, Michelle Obama and others.

President Weah has seen an immense drop in the foreign support to Liberia through different programs, contrary to the Sirleaf regime which witnessed huge international goodwill and support to Liberia.

Besides attending the United Nations General Assembly, President Weah is yet to pay a State visit to the United States of America and with another round of general and Presidential election expected in 2023, Weah’s opponents are looking to use the Liberian leader’s lack of connection in Washington as a big campaign tool.

Apparently aware of the consequences of being unable to meet the President of the United States of America or pay a State visit over the last four years, President Weah looks very desperate to get something done to change the dynamics in his favor.

The regime of former President Johnson-Sirleaf used Riva Levinson of KRL consultancy, a Washington DC based consultancy that specializes in emerging markets with an unrivaled expertise in West Africa as its chief lobbyist.

The Sirleaf’s regime relationship with KRL yielded enormous benefits, with the Sirleaf government benefiting millions of dollars in donor assistance and foreign direct investment.

KRL was the company of record for the two terms of President Sirleaf and led the global advocacy push during the Ebola crisis in Liberia in 2014, where the United Sates approved an amount of US$500 million urgent supplemental appropriations and deployed the 101st Airborne to Liberia to assist in building a logistical bridge to fight Ebola.

During the early days of Weah Administration, KRL announced that it signed up a one-year agreement to support President Weah and his administration’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).

According to the KRL statement in January 2020 the one-year agreement included increasing donor support and foreign direct investment in critical economic sectors of Liberia. 

KRL indicated that the agreement was signed by Liberia’s Information and Finance Ministers but since that announcement more than a year ago, nothing has improved in Liberia’s image abroad with no substantial, donor support to the Weah regime.

Perhaps with the failed one-year agreement signed with KRL that is yielding no result for Liberia, the Weah government has now moved another step further in getting a different lobbyist to work the process on behalf of President Weah and the government.

Like Weah, Like other African leaders?

President Weah could not be the only African leader struggling to build good international image and get the attention of the international community.

Michael Espy, the former agriculture secretary for Clinton and Lanny Davis, former Chief Counsel to President Clinton were hired by president Gbargbo as lobbyists during the administration of Pres. Obama.  

Espy appeared on Ivorian television on behalf of Mr. Gbagbo’s government, while Lanny J. Davis, former chief counsel to President Clinton worked the phones and described himself as a liaison.

Lanny, a close friend to the Clintons advocated for Obama to choose Hilary as VP. His buddy Hilary as Secretary of State could not help Gbagbo. Espy was strong in the black community who was also a former Congressman from Mississippi and just ran to be senator and lost and he too is a strong lobyist.

Gbagbo did not do the right thing and went to jail. These lobbyists could not help him.

Can Bakari safe Weah’s govt Image?

Many believed the public relations strategy employed by President Weah, Bakari is not a very strong connected lobbyist. 

With the heavyweights hired by former President Gbagbo, they could not safe him as he ended up in jail.

Many believed in order to get good international image, it would have been better to do the right thing but with corruption and other issues of bad governance dodging the Weah government it remains to be seen how Bakari can help improve the government’s international image.

One analyst said “Again, “no lobbyist can do for you what you have to do for yourself. No matter how much you pay them”.

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