Monrovia – U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for West African Affairs, Michael Heath, is set to embark on a three-day official visit to Liberia from September 27-29, 2023. This visit comes at a crucial juncture as Liberia prepares for its national elections scheduled for October 10, 2023.
By Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
During his visit, Deputy Assistant Secretary Heath will focus on strengthening U.S.-Liberian relations and addressing critical issues related to press freedom, countering disinformation, media empowerment, government accountability, civil society, and Liberia’s democratic processes.
Key highlights of Deputy Assistant Secretary Heath’s itinerary include meetings with government officials, civil society organizations, election observation missions, media outlets, and press, as well as engagement with U.S. exchange alumni and U.S. diplomatic mission staff in Liberia. He will also host a press roundtable event at the U.S. Embassy, providing an opportunity for open dialogue on these important topics.
The U.S. has historically maintained a strong partnership with Liberia, and this visit underscores the commitment to furthering democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law in the West African nation.
Regional Security Concerns Loom Large
Heath is coming to Liberia at a time when the United States is actively preparing for long-term assistance to several West African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Togo. These nations face mounting threats from the expansion of jihadist violence beyond the Sahel region into the coastal areas of West Africa.
State security officials have emphasized the importance of Western support in preventing the infiltration of Russian private security company Wagner’s mercenaries, which have been deployed in conflict-ridden Mali. Despite claims by the Malian authorities that they are “military instructors,” their presence raises concerns about regional stability.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, during her visit to Ghana in March as part of a growing U.S. commitment to Africa, pledged $100 million over 10 years to build resilience in coastal Africa. The U.S. State Department is actively seeking additional funding, including through the counterterrorism budget, to address this evolving security challenge.
Assistant Secretary of State for West Africa, Michael Heath, stressed the urgency of the situation, saying, “This is a concern for us because of the capabilities of the governments in place who have never faced such a threat. We’re trying to see what tools they need.” He also cautioned about the Wagner group’s intentions, stating, “They are not yet present in the West African coastal countries, but we know that they are looking for opportunities to take advantage of instability wherever they find it.”
While the prevailing belief is that the West African coastal areas could only be overrun by violence if there is a spill-over from the Sahel region, U.S. State Department officials are keenly aware of the impact of local factors and competition for resources exacerbated by climate change on regional instability.
Gregory LoGerfo, a senior State Department official responsible for the fight against terrorism, emphasized the importance of a holistic approach and good governance in addressing these challenges, especially in the northern regions where resources are scarcer.
Heath’s visit to Liberia and the broader U.S. commitment to West African security underscore the United States’ dedication to addressing regional threats while fostering strong diplomatic ties in the region.