Liberia: Blunder, Blame-game, Cliché, and Missed Opportunity – A Critique of President George M. Weah’s UNGA Speech
As a matter of routine and statute, the UN General Assembly meets annually in regular session which often begins on the Tuesday of the third week in September. The 74th Regular Session started on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 and has since brought together Heads of States and renowned Diplomats from 193 countries. More than 90 Heads of States are attending this year’s UNGA. Twenty (20) Speakers took the stage for the morning session on Tuesday.
Among an array of Speakers from Ukraine, Romania, Iraq, Eswatini, Iran, Lebanon, Republic of Palau, Georgia, Central Africa Republic, Colombia, Seychelles, Mauritania, Estonia, Guinea, Zambia, Chad, Honduras, Australia, and Fiji, the Liberian Leader George M. Weah had yet another opportunity to convince or persuade world leaders, diplomats, investors, philanthropists, industrialists, and prominent global citizens to turn to Liberia for a moment.
For the second time in roll, ex-Soccer Star turned Politician President George Weah, failed to fully utilize and maximize this world stage at his advantage. The habitual misuse of such platform is happening at a time when the Liberian Republic is nearing collapse under his leadership. The economy is on life support – hospitals and schools are closed – health workers are on strike – civil servants have not taken pay for months – foreign companies and local businesses are shutting down – zero foreign direct investment – thousands of kids are out of school due to tuition hike – hardship is at an all-time high.
The President began his speech on a good footing by asking delegates at the UNGA to observe a moment of silence for the loss of 28 children who died in a tragic fire incident in Liberia last week. I, too, join President Weah to memorialize this huge loss and sympathize with those bereaved. The President used 179 words just to lavish praises on H. E. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (the newly elected President of the 74th Session of the UNGA), his predecessor H. E. Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcês, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Did he have to?
Last UNGA 2018, his 1489-wordy speech was not only boring and poorly delivered but it again missed target. This year, the President used 2175 words in his speech. This was even more boring and incoherent. The speech writers of President have not been doing him justice in my opinion. Like previous speeches, this year’s UNGA speech did not hit target, inspire, and catch the audience’s attention.
The Real Focus of 2019 UNGA:
The main focus of this year’s 74th Regular Session of the UNGA is on two (2) global issues:
a. Climate Change
The general theme of this 74th Session of the UNGA is “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”.
There are three major focal points in this general theme, namely: Poverty Eradication, Quality Education, and Climate Action and Inclusion. Even if he didn’t want to focus on Climate Change alone which he was tasked to do, we expected the speech of President Weah to predominantly and honestly highlight the successes, challenges, and prospects his regime has engendered in all three focal areas while at the same time making a strong case for sustained/concrete global assistance at all fronts/levels. Whoever wrote this speech deceived and embarrassed the President.
President George M. Weah was asked to focus on “The Earth’s Changing Climate and Global Action”. Sadly, a single paragraph did not address climate change and what his administration has done or is doing to join other countries in the fight against this global threat. All we heard were “misuse of social media”, “hate speeches”, “protests by opposition”, “14 years of civil crisis”, “no political prisoners”, etc.
What does social media and hate speeches have to do with climate change? The president failed to mention how his government is: minimizing the risks of climate change and its adverse impacts – reducing greenhouse gas emissions – combating deforestation and air pollution – protecting the ozone layer – dealing with sea erosion and environmental degradation – preventing flood and promoting waste management – and investing in biodiversity/ecosystem.
Complaining and Shifting Blame on Opposition Political Parties and Critics:
The President spent a lot of time on shifting blame on opposition political parties and critics for the mishaps/misfortunes of his regime. This is a total abuse of the world stage. The president complained us to the UNGA but forgot to complain himself along with his cronies for plundering State coffers to build mansions and live in mammoth opulence.
In his speech, President Weah said:
“Some individuals, within and out of our country, particularly those who have lost democratically-held elections, have resorted to incitement, threats of violence, misuse of social media, and hate speech, with the aim and objective of achieving power through undemocratic means.”
Who is more inciting and hateful than president Weah – a man who said no Urey will ever win election under his watch as President? Who is more inciting and hateful than president Weah – a man who described his critics as enemies of the State? Who is more inciting and hateful than president Weah – a man who used his power to illegally impeach an Associate Justice? The President forgot to talk about the threat of counter-protest issued by his Youth Chairman Jefferson Koijee when he said to peaceful protesters “We will meet in flesh and blood”.
President Weah went to lodge our complaint but he forgot to also lodge his. Let me just list a few his complaints:
- Civil Servents are yet to take pay for more than 4 months (Some haven’t taken pay for even 10 months)
- Health workers are on strike while teachers are threatening to also go on strike due to cut and delay in salaries/allowances
- Thousands of school-going kids are out of school due to the hike in tuition and fees.
- Foreign companies and local businesses are closing due to economic downturn
- The economy is on life support as inflation and the depreciation of local currency are at an all-time high
- L$16 billion is missing while US$25 million cannot be accounted for
- State Plunder: President Weah and his cronies are buying/building private estates and palaces
- Increased electoral violence, mysterious deaths, police brutality, armed robbery, rape, and repression of critical voices including The Press
- Zero Foreign Direct Investment as a result of the lack of investors’ confidence in Weah’s government. Hence, hardship is at an all-time high while basic social services are lacking
- Pregnant women, AFL veterans and widows, students, university lecturers, zogos, pensioners, persons with disabilities, activists, etc. have all protested against the Weah-led government. This is an expressed ‘Vote of no confidence’ by THE PEOPLE.
Does President Weah Respect The Rule of Law?
Without any regard for truth-telling, President Weah has become a ‘champion’ of the Rule of Law all of a sudden. In this line below, he portrays himself as a respecter of the law even though he has violated almost all of our laws including the very Constitution he took oath to protect.
“For democracy to thrive, all Liberians, including both the ruling parties and the opposition parties, must respect the rule of law, and abide by the procedures and regulations prescribed therein.”
Weah should had informed the UNGA about the number of laws he has broken as Head of State of Liberia. Since he forgot, let me mention a few laws this president has outrightly violated:
Article 54 of the 1986 Constitution (appointment of foreign ambassador), Part 10 Section 10.1 of the 2014 Code of Conduct Law (asset declaration), Article 37 of the 1986 Constitution (by-election), Part 5 Section 47 of the 2005 PPCC Law (competitive bidding), Section 9.6 of the 2014 CoC Law (public money for private interest), Article 39 of the 1986 Constitution (Census), Section 6.3 subsection d of the 2009 LEITI Act (appointment of secretariat), Part 2 Section 7 Subsection 4 of the 2010 Maritime Act (5-yr tenure as PR of IMO), Section 1.3.6 and Part 9 Section 9.1 and Section 9.2 of the 2014 CoC Law (Conflict of Interest), and Section 8.1 and Section 8.2 of the 2014 National Lottery Authority Act (4-yr tenure, illegal removal of DG).
After violating almost all of our laws, how can President muster the courage to lecture us on the Rule of Law? Is he qualified to be the lecturer of such course (The Rule of Law)? Of course not!
Did the President lie at the UNGA?
President George Manneh Weah in a rather shocking paragraph remarked:
“The political environment remains vibrant, with political actors and parties freely exercising their franchise and participating in various elections. Mr. President, I am delighted to report that there are no political prisoners in Liberia, and existing laws that hindered or threatened press freedom have been de-criminalized.”
The President lied when he said people are freely expressing themselves, exercising their franchise, and participating in various elections. There have been incidents of electoral harassment, intimidation, violence, and fraud. The violent and fraudulent incidents in District #15 and District #13 elections are unique cases to reference. What about the attack on supporters of the opposition at the Liberty Party Headquarters? The President’s political rhetoric and emotional outbursts have been a source of inciting electoral violence and fraud.
The President forgot to inform the UNGA that his administration carried out the arbitrary arrest and subsequent incarceration of political prisoners including dozens of student leaders for 7 days which is far beyond the statutory period. Furthermore, insurance companies were threatened by the government not to issue bond for those political prisoners (This is the highest form of repression).
Which free speech is the President talking about when his government shut down the internet with numerous attempts made by State Security to frighten and intimidate peaceful protesters on and before June a mass protest on June 7, 2019? They seized the passports of perceived and fierce critics (I was a victim of this witch-hunt).
Which press freedom is the President talking about when his Minister of State described the media as a criminal enterprise while his Minister of Information described the Press Union of Liberia as USELESS? The President has forgotten so soon that his Minister of Finance said he will weaponize against the media. The President also forgot to inform the UNGA that student political activities have been banned at the State-run University of Liberia two different times now in just 2 years.
It is clear that the President lied when he said “The political environment remains vibrant”. The 2018 US State Department Report on Human Rights is in sharp contrast to what President George Weah has told the UNGA. Again, the Speech Writers didn’t do justice to this President. The president spent much of his time shifting blame on the opposition and critical voices. He wanted the UNGA to believe that the prevailing problems in Liberia were caused by opposition political parties and fierce critics. Instead of a making a strong case to seek global solidarity and assistance in solving the socio-economic and political challenges confronting his administration, he used this golden opportunity for blame-game.
War Crimes Court and the Inconsistency of President George Weah:
The President used more than 3 paragraphs of his Speech explaining the evolution of the TRC and the history of Liberia’s brutal civil war. Who does not know this history? The President repeated these same lines in his UNGA 2018 Speech, 2018 Inaugural Speech, and 2019 State of the Nation Address.
Restorative Justice or Retributive Justice: Where does the President stand?
President George M. Weah has not only been hypocritical about the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia, but very inconsistent and dishonest. Before coming to power, he promised to establish this Court (Retributive Justice). The first year he came to power, he became a strong opposition to this Court. In his 2018 UNGA Speech, he even called for dialogue as a conflict-resolution mechanism (Restoration Justice). In his UNGA Speech this year, he is again leaning on the side of Retributive Justice. So, where really is this President? 2011 – Yes to WECC; 2018 – No to WECC; 2019 – Yes to WECC – What do we expect in 2020? This is the highest form of deception and inconsistency.
The President remarked, “I have already begun consultations with our National Legislature – the representatives of our people – and we intend to have a broader engagement with the Liberia Judicial System, and with our strategic International Partners and Organizations, in order to determine pertinent issues such as legal framework, timing, venue, and funding, among others. It is my hope that at the end of this consultative process, a National Consensus will evolve that will determine the pathway to resolving this issue.”
This new development is encouraging and we hope this President will not rescind as he often does. At least, what we have been standing up and crying out for seems to be yielding some fruits. This victory belongs to all victims and advocates of WECC. We are grateful to the International Community for the sustained pressure.
The President in 289 words highlighted the below lines in his past 2018 UNGA Speech. It was a waste of time to repeat or remind the UNGA about these very same lines (paraphrase):
a) “As I have acknowledged on many occasions, Liberia is a UN success story”.
Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf once made similar description in her 2017 UNGA Speech. The UN Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, described Liberia’s Peace as a UN Success Story while visiting Liberia in March 2018. So, President Weah borrowed this statement without any reference or courtesy to its original author. Is President Weah a plagiarist?
b) “After being devastated by a brutal civil conflict that lasted for 14 years, peace was restored and maintained by what was then the largest peace-keeping force in the history of this organization. Without peace, our world will be difficult. We are all aware of the terrible destruction of lives and properties caused by civil war.”
Is the UN and the World all over not aware that Liberia was devasted by a brutal civil conflict for more than 14 years? President Weah missed out again when he used 289 words just to describe or reflect on the horrific nature of Liberia’s civil carnage which almost everyone already knows.
The President came almost at the end of his speech before even remembering to mention the general theme of the UNGA “Galvanizing Multilateral Efforts for Poverty Eradication, Quality Education, Climate Action and Inclusion”. The president only mentioned “climate change” one time in his speech as indicated in this line “…trade protectionism and climate change both are having unintended consequences especially on developing countries.” He did not say how his administration has dealt with or is dealing with climate change and why he needs more support to combat this global threat.
In his last year’s UNGA Speech, President George Weah spoke extensively about the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) – an ‘economic document’ I have since described as a replica of the PRS and a premature plan that may experience miscarriage as a result of its overly ambiguous and unrealistic nature.
It was needless to use almost a page to talk about the PAPD this year even though soft and hard copies of this document have been shared with the UN, EU, AU, ECOWAS, US Government, IMF, World Bank, AfDB, foreign embassies/diplomatic missions, friendly nations, and other international partners. Reiterating the PAPD without centrally focusing on poverty eradication, quality education, and climate change was actually a waste of time. Who doesn’t know the 4 pillars and the targets of the PAPD? Cliche on replay!
Again, the focus of this year’s theme is anchored to: poverty eradication, quality education, and climate change, but main emphasis is placed on Climate Change and Iran. The President abandoned these topics/subjects completely. Speaker George Weah went off on a tangent. His speech seems more of a fairytale loaded with blunders, clichés and blame-shifting. He actually missed out on yet another opportunity to make a strong case for Liberia. The Republic is once more forsaken as a result of his poor performance.