Monrovia – Intense lobbying for Washington’s attention is heightening ahead of the 2023 presidential elections in Liberia with both President George Manneh Weah’s Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) making plays with top US lobbying firms in a bid to shore up support and gain political edge.
The Weah led-administration continues to struggle to cement Liberia’s relationship with the US since its inception in January 2018.
There exists a lukewarm rapport between the both countries as evidenced by the US government’s scaling down its support to various sectors, including security, justice, among others, but the desperation of the soccer legend-turned politician in luring the eye of Washington towards his government cannot go unnoticed.
Though Liberia remains a traditional ally of the United States, President Weah has not been extended an official invitation to visit the White House since he came to power.
In fact, no high profile US government officials had visited Liberia since Weah took over the presidency as compare to his predecessor Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration which witnessed the visitations of multiple 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’s government continues to struggle to help address the mountainous problems confronting Liberia and its citizens with little support coming from the US and other friendly nations, a situation that is negatively contributing to a persistent shattered economy and the hike in the already growing unemployment rate in the country.
The failure of the CDC led-government to adequately combat against corruption by taking punitive and stringent actions against public officials and others found liable, increase in the number of mysterious deaths involving professionals and other ordinary Liberian citizens, the harsh economic constraints which impose severe hardship on the already impoverished Liberian people, the overnight accumulation of ill-gotten wealth by barrage of public officials including the President, and no real interest being shown to improve the living conditions of the ordinary Liberian citizens, among others remain contributing factor strangulating US government invite and free-flow of support to the Weah-administration.
Despite the lukewarm relationship that currently exists between the two nations, the Weah-administration continues to maximize efforts to attract the Washington’s support to the post-conflict nation by appointing a lobbyist and holding discussions with key policymakers in the US.
Earlier this month, the Liberian government 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 was 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.
The deal was made official when Sellers reportedly 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.
Barely few weeks after his appointment, a high ranking delegation comprising of the Ministers of Finance and Development Planning, State for Presidential Affairs, Samuel Tweah and Nathaniel McGill, among others departed the country to hold discussions with policy makers and others in a bid to lure the US’ favor and support to the CDC led-government in anticipation of a second term for President Weah.
The Liberian delegation held talks with renowned Republican Senator and former presidential aspirant, Ted Cruz at his Capitol Hill office. At the meeting, Senator Cruz promised to be a strong voice in Congress for Liberia.
Senator Cruz reportedly promised to visit Liberia next year, but the surety remains scanty as numerous promises have been made by key Liberian government officials over the visitations of world and prominent leaders to Liberia, whenever they paid a visit elsewhere.
The Liberian delegation also met with Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who reportedly promised to be a “voice for Liberia.”
Senator Graham committed to rallying his congressional colleagues of the Republican Party to sign a “Letter of Support” for Liberia’s second bid of the coveted Compact Program under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). He is regarded by many as a person whose voice is weighty in determining the direction of U.S.’s International development assistance and is serving his fourth term.
The MCC is a U.S. development assistance program that provides beneficiary countries time-bound grants which are targeted at ensuring economic growth, reducing poverty, and strengthening governmental institutions. The investments of the MCC do not only support a country’s stability and prosperity but also enhance American Interests.
Liberia has already benefitted from the MCC Assistance and Investments that led to more than 200 million dollars being spent on the rebuilding of the war-ravaged electricity grid of the country.
Despite the assurances, Liberians remain concerned over whether or not the latest visitation of a high-power delegation to Liberia and the hiring of a foreign lobbyist to front and proffer the interest of the country to Washington will reap positive dividends to them and the country in general.
Not the first time
The latest signing of a lobbying deal between the Liberian government and a foreign firm in the US brings to two the number of times an agreement has been signed to build the image of the government of the tiny post-conflict nation to the outside world, particularly the US under the Weah administration.
In 2018, the government renewed a lobbying contract worth around US$500,000 for two years with the Washington-based lobbying firm KRL International of Riva Levinson.
The firm is regarded for immensely contributed towards two successive terms of ex-President Sirleaf. KRL also 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.
Though the deal with KRL was renewed by the Weah administration to support its Pro-Poor Agenda For Prosperity and Development (PAPD), no substantial dividend has been reaped since then.
The failed deal with the company put more pressure on the Weah led-administration as hundreds of citizens, particularly ordinary Liberians continue to lambast the government for spending thousands of dollars generated from tax payers to enter into a deal with a firm which has not done anything to ensure that Liberia and its citizens benefit.
The situation now compels the CDC led-government to turn elsewhere to appease its desperation in luring the US full support towards its developmental agenda which it believes could resuscitate the country’s economy and other sectors and pave the way for a second term for President Weah.
On the other hand, opposition political parties, especially the CPP are capitalizing on the lukewarm relationship between President Weah government and the US to make move to convince the “world super power” to look in the direction of the opposition.
Key opposition figures have commenced a process to ensure that policymakers in the US “gang-up” against the Weah led-government for a divorce of the already deteriorating relationship in the interest of the opposition.
They believe that the strangulating or withholding of adequate fiscal and logistical supports to Liberia from the US will discourage Liberians from giving another term to President Weah on a CDC ticket.
In this vein, the opposition has taken a move in this new political dispensation by intensifying efforts to scout out or lure the US support towards its political plans and ideology ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections.
Documents in the possession of FrontPageAfrica revealed a US$180,000 lobbying and public relations campaign aiming to gain US support for the opposition in Liberia has been registered in the name of Alan White and Jeffrey Birrell under the banner of the Liberian Renaissance Office Inc.(LIROI).
The Foreign Lobby Report which provides comprehensive coverage of the latest foreign lobbying in Washington first reported the opposition lobbying on its website Friday.
A copy of the Foreign Agents Registration Act document detailing the report in possession of FrontPage Africa, both White and Birrell are signatories to the document.
The Lobbying Report stated Friday that LIROI’s office in Monrovia is being run by Mr. Sylvester Grigsby, a Minister of State for Presidential Affairs under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
According to a new Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing with the US Department of Justice, in possession of FrontPageAfrica, BW partners are represented by Jeffrey Birrell, who lobbied for the Liberia government back in the early 1990s during the reign of former President Charles Taylor, and Alan White, a former Department of Defense employee and chief investigator for
Ironically, in 2010, Birrell was entangled in a US Senate report detailing how foreign officials from Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria and Angola who were under investigation in the US – allegedly took advantage of legal gaps, poor due diligence and inadequate controls to move funds from shell companies and bank accounts in London and elsewhere into the US.
One of those involved the late Omar Bongo, who was president of Gabon. Bongo reportedly wired more than $18 million to “The Grace Group LLC, a U.S. corporation formed by Mr. [Jeffrey] Birrell,” the report states. Birrell used the money to buy Bongo six armored vehicles and six C-130 military cargo aircraft from Saudi Arabia, the report says.
Ian Pitz, an attorney for Birrell at the time said with respect to the allegations raised by the report and activities undertaken by The Grace Group, “we are unaware of any wrongdoing by any party. All of the ‘export’ and ‘re-export’ activities undertaken by The Grace Group LLC, were done with complete transparency.”
Birrell has since moved on from Grace to BW Partners.
According to the FARA document, BW’s goal is to “promote good governance and rule of law in Liberia,” according to the contract with Grigsby, in particular through the US promotion of whichever candidate the Liberia Renaissance Office ends up endorsing for the 2023 presidential election.
Grigsby’s group supports the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), a coalition of four political parties that have agreed to get behind a single candidate to be selected in December.
As part of the deal, LIROI may try to arrange Washington visits for their leaders ahead of the December selection of a united opposition ticket to take on President George Weah and the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.
The opposition alliance includes the former ruling Unity Party, headed by former Vice President Joseph Boakai; The Alternative National Congress, led by former Coca-Cola executive and fellow 2017 presidential candidate Alexander Cummings; The All Liberian Party of Wilfred Benoni Urey, a former Commissioner of Maritime Affairs under Charles Taylor who was under US sanctions for his alleged role in the 1999-2003 civil war until President Barack Obama lifted them; and The Liberty Party led by Senator Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence, the only woman in the CPP leadership.
Birrell is quoted by the Foreign Lobby Report that the Liberia Renaissance Office has a US presence and is expected to host Cummings, who resides in the United States, for a visit to Washington next month.
According to the report, BW will also be lobbying for the US to get behind the establishment of a War Crimes and Economic Crimes Court to hold accountable those responsible for the civil wars of 1989-1997 and 1999-2003, as recommended by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission back in 2010.
The willingness of the US government to give full support to the Weah administration may mainly depends on government’s seriousness to combat against corruption, strengthening the rule of law, the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in the country, as well as the adequate management of the country’s resources to most importantly benefit the ordinary Liberian citizens.
With little or no efforts being made or scorecard to display in relation to the attainment of these issues, the Weah administration remains on a sloppy path towards strengthening its relationship with the US.
The expenditure of thousands of tax payers monies on foreign lobbying firm will be a waste if democratic tenets, including good governance is not prioritized by the Liberian government to attract not only the support of the American government, but foreign-direct investment opportunities in the post-conflict nation.
As the government intensifies its efforts to attract the support of the US government to its developmental agenda, President Weah will not relent or hesitate to flex his muscles and throw his ax on any public official who intend to engage into anti-democratic acts that will go against the interest of the US.
But the Liberian Chief Executive is still cut between the scissor relative to the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia for fear of losing votes come 2023.
On the other hand, the non-stop internal wrangling and hullabaloo within the opposition CPP shows the group ill-preparedness to change the narratives.
Political leaders and supporters of the CPP have been embroiled in a row on who will head the ticket, ahead of a primary in December 2021.
Though the source of the US$180,000 paid to Alan White and others for lobbying in the US is yet to be known, the money and the efforts being applied to turn the US eye towards the opposition will be a laughing stock and a waste of resources and precious time if the opposition does not put it house in order.
Presenting personal aggrandizement or satisfying egos over the interest of the country and its citizenry while yielding for a genuine and better change, remains the order of the day within the CPP. The body appears to show no real direction for the nation and its people
The willingness of opposition political figures towards the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia is a case in point that would draw Washington’s support.
As lobbying plays for US’ support exaggerates between the government and the opposition, Liberians are watching to see who will Washington favor or support ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections.