Washington – No doubt, Liberia has strong historic ties with the United States. The country was founded by freed American slaves from the United States and has been in the orbit of America for most of its existence.
By: Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Liberia has probably the closest consanguinity with that of the United States more than any other country and hundreds of thousands of Liberians and their families live in America.
They send over 400 million US dollars annually in foreign remittance, which is a major boost to Liberia’s struggling economy.
Despite the closeness of the two countries, the meeting in Langley, the CIA global headquarters with President George Manneh Weah is evoking specter of Cold War politics and exposing the duality that currently exists with relations between Liberia and the United States.
How to punish the egregious actions of corrupt Liberian officials while still maintaining cordial relations with the country?
Why would a US Spy Agency invite an African leader to Washington, when three officials of his government had been sanctioned by the US just months ago, on August 15, 2022, by the United States Treasury under the Global Magnitsky Act?
The Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and corruption around the world. It is an Act designed to change the behavior of corrupt actors and human rights abusers.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), an arm of the United States Treasury designated three Liberian officials (Specially Designated Nationals, SDNs), former Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, former NPA Boss Bill Twehway, and former Solicitor General Cyrenius Cephus of engaging in corrupt acts. Bringing Weah to Washington thus exposed the duality and conundrum of US-Liberia relations.
Despite the allegations against the Liberian officials, Washington is also concerned with the growing influence of the Russians and Chinese in the West African Sub-region, with beachheads of Wagner, a private Russian mercenary force in Burkina Faso, Mali and with some limited but growing presence in Sierra Leone.
Thus, the high-level top secret meeting between President George Weah and officials of the US Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia on Wednesday, March 22 conjured images of the Cold War when Liberia was the Communications and Spy Center for the Americans in Africa. But this meeting was unusual, undiplomatic and historic.
No Liberian President in history had been summoned or invited to the CIA headquarters directly, and most notably preceded by a visit to Liberia by America’s top spy, William J. Burns, Director of the CIA.
Burns the first career diplomat to head the CIA, came to Liberia in late January and held secret talks with Weah and officials of the Administration. No one in the Weah Administration or the US Government was willing to speak on the reason for the visit.
Subsequently, an invitation was honored by Weah to visit Langley with the same echoes of top secrecy accompanying the visit. The usual social media outpouring of joy and posting of photographic images by President Weah’s supporters when he meets with foreign dignitaries was unseen.
Thus this visit was unusual for many reasons, including the fact that it flouted diplomatic norms when President Weah was not scheduled to meet any significant high-level Biden Administration official.
What did Langley tell President Weah?
There is a gag order on participants of the meeting. The usual garrulous presidential entourage of President Weah with their whipper snapper smartphones in tow and willingness to tell the world of the man’s achievements during foreign visits was nonexistent and in fact, corroborates the top secret nature of this visit. Equally, official American sources have been mum.
What remains clear according to an insider privy to the discussions, is what Langley told Weah was super-secret and important for the national security interests of both nations, even with the deep concerns of corruption and human rights violations in Liberia.
Analysts, on condition of anonymity from both sides of the Atlantic, have been speaking to FrontPageAfrica and the point of their assessment in one direction. The message was clear from the American Spy Agency. America needs stability in Liberia in order to partner with the country in its fight against Russian and Chinese influence, especially with the destabilizing efforts of Wagner. But in order for Liberia to be an effective and reliable partner in the fight against America’s enemies, President Weah must pay keen attention to the destabilizing influences of corruption and human rights violations in the country, with the 2023 elections a pivotal moment in the country’s democratic dispensation.
Accordingly, in meetings between Liberian government officials and the US State Department, in addition to the meeting at Langley, the message was unmistakable.
Corruption continues to undermine Liberia’s development. There are several areas of concern of the Biden Administration that have been communicated publicly and privately to the Liberian government.
Early this month, Richard Nephew, the unabashed US Anti-Corruption Coordinator, spoke without mincing words: “We have a vigorous evidence-gathering process. We don’t preview anything about sanctions. Our plan of action is going to continue. It is not going to stop. We are compiling corruption evidence on Liberians. It is to prevent corruption. If there was no evidence of corrupt activity, we couldn’t impose a sanction and we wouldn’t.”
Indeed, sanctions are on the table and Liberian officials have been forewarned. But how does Langley navigate the US national security interests at the same time other agencies of the US Government including the Treasury, Federal Reserve, and other agencies deal with the gripping specter of corruption and human rights violations in Liberia?
Nephew hinted that future sanctions will be broad and deep to send a strong message to corrupt actors in Liberia.
People close to the Weah Administration are breathing a sigh of relief since the meeting yesterday, with some saying anonymously that there was a celebration with Weah and the officials who accompanied him to Washington.
There had been some mindless speculation on social media and within certain circles of Liberia’s opposition political parties that Weah would be arrested or that a stern warning would have been sent out by the CIA.
Clearly, none of that occurred but the Weah Administration was reminded about its obligation to aggressively stem corruption in order to be a reliable partner of the United States in its fight against the creeping influence of Wagner and potential insurrectionists in the region.
Despite the sigh of relief from some Weah officials, the United States government is still breathing heavily on the neck of the Administration for many outstanding issues.
Joel Maybury, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Monrovia recently called for the prosecution of sanctioned officials. There are clear indications the US government would be unhappy if the National Elections Commission (NEC) certifies any of the sanctioned officials to participate in the 2023 elections. Then there are issues of lack of government support to Liberia’s integrity institutions such as the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and others.
Going forward, the Weah Administration is also faced with the monumental task of holding free and fair elections in October to revalidate its mandate from the Liberian people.
The Americans would be watching carefully in order to make a value judgment on how it crafts a new direction with Weah if he wins. And if he loses, they will also be there to provide the incoming administration with a trove of evidence against his administration on various acts of corruption and human rights abuses.
For now, it is realpolitik and the Weah administration believes it has made some gains with the American security and political establishment, and he should leverage Washington’s strategic interests with the development needs of his country. Accordingly, the Weah Administration should be mindful that national security interests come first and foremost. In relations among nations, there is a caveat. There are permanent interests and not permanent friends