Liberia: The U.S. Ambassador’s Warning: How Will It Affect Alliances in the 2023 Election
MONROVIA – U.S. Ambassador Michael McCarthy’s caveat reminding citizens of the consequence of dealing with current and former officials sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department may have a far-reaching effect on the 2023 general and presidential elections.
Amb. McCarthy has come to be known in Liberia as a diplomat who does not mince his words and does not sugarcoat in some instances.
By Lennart Dodoo
Addressing a press conference on Monday, Amb. McCarthy said: “…I also want to note that it was three months ago, almost to the day, that I announced to you in this room the Treasury Department’s Global Magnisky sanctions of Nathaniel McGill, Bill Tweahway, and Syrenius Cephus. I think it’s important to draw our attention back to the Treasury Department’s statement, specifically its notification that persons that engage in certain transactions with these sanctioned individuals may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to enforcement action.”
This brutal reminder tends to draw attention to the gravity of the significance the U.S. government attaches to its decision to sanction individuals believed to be corrupt and heavily contributing to the tearing apart of democracy and rule of law across the globe.
And as more sanctions await to be announced in December, Amb. McCarthy’s reminder could be a caveat as to how alliances are built in the 2023 elections.
The PJY Factor
Vote-rich Nimba Senator, Prince Y. Johnson, for instance, has arguably been known to be the kingmaker in the last two presidential elections where he throws the weight of the vote-rich Nimba behind the candidate of his choice.
Sen. Johnson’s influence in Nimba County has been unmatched since he ventured into politics. His victory in the county has always been overwhelming which has led many to title him the “godfather of the county”.
In 2017, Sen. Johnson, a candidate in the presidential race obtained 50.3 percent of the votes from Nimba. Pres. Weah obtained a dismal 7.9 percent of the votes. Next to Sen. Johnson was the Unity Party’s Joseph Boakai who got 19.9 percent of the votes in the county. That election was contested by 21 candidates and with his highest votes coming from Nimba County, Prince Johnson managed to take fourth place in that election.
However, in the December runoff, Sen. Johnson pledged his support to Weah leading him to obtain a whopping 57.1 percent of the votes from the county which catapulted Weah to victory.
Johnson has since had Weah under his wings. The political marriage between Weah’s CDC and Johnson’s Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR) has always seen to it that the CDC does not put forth a candidate in any election/by-election in Nimba County, rather, the CDC will support whichever candidate that is presented by the MDR.
More to that, Sen. Johnson has often been accused of leveraging his Nimba influence to coerce the President to appoint his preferred candidates to offices where he, Prince Johnson, has vested interests.
Johnson has on multiple occasions threatened to withdraw his support from Weah if more kinsmen and women from Nimba are not given appointed positions in the government.
In 2021, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Sen. Johnson in commemoration of International Anti-Corruption Day that year. He was labelled as a “corrupt official hugely benefiting from government funds through a pay-for-play scheme with government ministries”.
As part of the scheme, according to the U.S. government, upon receiving funding from the Government of Liberia (GOL), the involved government ministries and organizations launder a portion of the funding for return to the involved participants.
The pay-for-play funding scheme involved millions of U.S. dollars. Additionally, Johnson received an undeserved salary from the GOL as a salaried intelligence “source” though he does not provide any form of intelligence reporting to the government.
According to the Americans, Johnson is reportedly being paid in order to maintain domestic stability.
The Nimba County kingmaker reportedly sold votes in multiple elections in exchange for money, the Treasury Department disclosed.
The one-time fierce warlord, known to be the one who brutally killed ex-President Samuel K. Doe has been a major opposition to the establishment of war crimes court in Liberia.
What Would Weah Do?
Renewing the political vow between him and Sen. Johnson may land the presidency on his lap, at the same time may have some devastating consequences for his government as warned by U.S. Ambassador McCarthy.
In Monday’s presser, the U.S. Ambassador was clear when he said the sanctions on the officials deemed corrupt was not a prosecutorial action, rather, “the U.S. feels that it has the right and obligation to stop people from abusing democracy and engaging into acts of corruption”.
He noted that the US government has strong evidence which show that the sanctioned officials committed the acts that they were accused of, but it is left with the government and people of Liberia to follow processes to prosecute them.
“We don’t want them in America spending stolen money and if it’s there, we’re going to freeze it. But it’s not so much about prosecution; that’s up to processes in Liberia. Am I disappointed that nothing is going to happen to Varney Sherman or Prince Johnson? That’s really up to the Liberian people to decide,” he said.
Supporters Damning the Ambassador
Amb. McCarthy’s candid reminder has not gone down well with pro-government supporters who have taken to the airwaves to condemn the Ambassador and threatening to chase him out of Liberia.
Many who called on Bana FM, a pro-government FM station, urged Liberians to come out in their numbers to protest against the U.S. Ambassador for allegedly smearing the Weah-led government.
They accused him of meddling in Liberian politics and being against Pres. Weah. They also claimed he is a supporter of opposition presidential aspirant Alexander Cummings.
“We will force him out of Liberia. We will come out in full to demonstrate against him because we are tired of the threat posed by this American Ambassador Michael McCarthy,” a caller said.