LEFT BRAIN, RIGHT BRAIN: Diplomat & Civil Servant, Nathaniel Barnes offers Thought-Provoking Musings on Liberia’s Perennial Problems

The wealth of experience as a diplomat and public servant laid the foundation for a book that showcases an intriguing phenomenon that has long existed in Liberia, the general inability to differentiate between “good and effective politicians” and “good and effective leaders.”

Monrovia – In Left Brain, Right Brain, Thoughts and Musings of a Servant, Ambassador Nathaniel Barnes, one of Liberia’s astute diplomats offers a gripping portrait in governance and the political entanglements marred by faulty establishments that has kept Africa’s oldest republic on the downward trend of the economic and political uncertainty.

Ambassador Barnes who served as Minister of Finance under President Charles Taylor from from 1999 to 2001, ran on the ticket of the Liberia Destiny Party(LDP) in the 2005 Presidential elections, placing 12th out of 22 candidates, receiving 1.0% of the votes. From 2006 to 2008, he served as the Permanent Representative of the United Nations and from 2008 to 2010 he served as Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States.

The wealth of experience as a diplomat and public servant laid the foundation for a book that showcases an intriguing phenomenon which has long existed in Liberia, the general inability to differentiate between “good and effective politicians” and “good and effective leaders.”

Barnes writes: “Until Liberians come to grips with these stubborn facts, the faulty foundational pillars of our national desires, dreams and visions, will be unable to support any serious initiative for sustainable growth, development and prosperity.”

On Governance, the former Ambassador writes: “Every country on this globe has experienced crisis and poverty.  Those that are considered successful have come to grips with the realities presented within these two paradigms and have been able to implement solutions to overcome them.  The fundamental drivers behind sustained solutions to crisis and poverty have historically been a cohesive, reconciled and disciplined society that is prepared to deal with its disparities in an environment of inclusiveness and justice.  The Liberia paradigm lacks the essentials of inclusiveness and justice which may be an indicator of its national denial.  Throughout its history, Liberia has encountered very difficult issues; and, unfortunately, Liberians have chosen “flight” (as reflected in denial) as opposed to “fight” (as reflected in confronting tough issues directly). As a result, Liberia has an axiomatic closet full of skeletons that have accumulated over generations of denial, that are now, like chickens, “coming home to roost.” 

The former envoy makes a compelling argument about the political sojourn that has defined Liberia since its independence. “A good and effective leader is by definition an effective politician. On the contrary, a good and effective politician does not necessarily translate to an effective leader.”

Barnes writes that the political history of Liberia is strewn with countless instances where politicians have successfully attained political power only to fail to transition into leaders properly equipped with the requisite tools, skills and qualities to effectuate meaningful change for the nation and people.  Thus, he argues, “as politicians, they constantly resort to the single mastery they possess – politics; in order to address all of the challenges and opportunities confronting them. Hindered by their lack of the requisite skills and tools to confront tough issues, elected officials resort to more rhetoric and superficial ribbon cutting.”

The diplomat offers a defining contrast regarding the phenomenon of globalization which has made the world a “smaller” place. “While expanding the influence and reach of powerful nations, globalization has inevitably empowered smaller, poorer countries with valuable information, enhanced appreciation of their natural resources and intellectual wealth, and reinforced a keener awareness of their strategic geopolitical, social, economic and environmental values. This phenomenon has placed these poor, backward countries in a significantly stronger strategic position, arming them with the option to freely and confidently say “NO” to the status quo and effectively select their own strategic direction, partners and allies. This inevitable fallout can best be described as “the double edged nature of Globalization”.

For Barnes, the fundamental challenge now for all nations of the world is getting and remaining on the “Cutting Edge” of globalization and staying off the “Bleeding Edge” of globalization.

On Foreign Policy and Diplomacy, Barnes argues: “Essentially, formulation and implementation of foreign policy depend upon multiple factors that can be referred to as “building blocks.”

The former envoy opines that the building blocks are based on several strategic considerations which together aid in the accomplishment of vital national interests. These strategic considerations are concentrated around three cardinal questions: What do we want?  What must we do to get what we want and  Are we willing and prepared to do what we must do to get what we want?

On armed conflict, Ambassador Barnes argues that one unsettling sentiment as to why the world simply refuses to categorize small arms and light weapons as devices of mass destruction is simply because they do not  appear to be a real threat to the developed world; where, on the contrary, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are perceived as  real, omnipresent  threats.  “In addition, small arms and light weapons represent a major source of income for developed countries – the United States being the largest beneficiary of this deadly trade.”

This concept, Barnes notes, is unsettling because of its innate racist inclination.  “Simply put, these small arms and light weapons cannot be categorized as instruments of mass destruction as they do not “destroy” the largely white populations of the developed world. Furthermore, the image or concept of the developed world being the producers and purveyors of weapons of mass destruction which are actively and frequently used (unlike nuclear, chemical and biological weapons) to wreak havoc on poor underdeveloped countries is unpalatable to “civilized western sensitivities.”

On development diplomacy, Barnes makes a strong argument that “a clear, concise, realistic strategic development plan should be the centerpiece and driver of a developing nation state’s foreign policy. “A good plan should incorporate several key factors…most critically, this development plan must be strongly supported with national commitment and strong political will. In the absence of these two important factors, a development plan will not be worth the paper on which it is written.”

Ambassador Barnes offers an intrigue take on the demographics of the Liberian Diaspora, which he says, nearly mirrors that of Liberia in terms of ethnicity, gender, age etc. Political dynamics within institutions and associations in the Diaspora, like Liberia, are generally driven along tribal/ethnic lines and interests. “There are as many tribal/ethnic organizations in the Liberian Diaspora in America as there are ethnic groups in Liberia. On close observation one could easily conclude that the Liberian Diaspora in the United States is a microcosm of Liberia from a social and political perspective. Liberians in the Diaspora continue to demonstrate unprecedented enthusiasm (to some extent anxiety) about political and social developments in Liberia. In this regard, the Liberian Diaspora has evolved socially and politically into Liberia’s sixteenth county (Liberia has fifteen administrative and geographic subdivisions called counties).”

Economically, he argues, the Diaspora has emerged as Liberia’s Middle Class. “The history of Liberia is fraught with disparities which cover nearly every aspect of the Liberia experience; economically, socially and politically.  This fact is historically demonstrated by the non-existence of a middle class in Liberia for many generations.  Liberia has always harbored two distinct social and economic classes; a miniscule wealthy class and a huge desperately poor class.”

Published by Forte Publishing, Left Brain, Right Brain, Thoughts and Musings of a Servant, is not just a lesson in diplomacy and governance but a talking point to last several generations.  The compilation of Barnes speeches hits to the core of some of the damning issues dogging Liberia today and offers a chilling reminder of the crux of the country’s problems.