Liberia: Can Goldstar Air Revive Lone Star Air, or Redeem Itself?
Boston, MA – Liberia desperately needs development but is the problematic regional air company, Goldstar Air, run by an obscured and elusive Ghanaian businessman the right vessel to drive development? Beyond the fanfare and public celebrations, the avarice of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), and its gullible and desirous ex-soccer star turned president, George Weah’s naked ambition, vis-à-vis his opposition premature doubts of reviving the Liberian National Air Carrier, or any other development project under Weah for that matter unify and lift-up the nation and its 5 million weary people?
By Chu-Chu (Alex) Jones, Contributing Writer
Can Liberian political bickering and uproar that has divided Liberians and kept the country backward capable of producing any real progress and development over the next decade? If not, then, all state-controlled ventures and entities (including Lone Star Air) should be allowed to form their own independent boards of directors, unappointed by the presidency. This would be the only way to create jobs, economic growth (currently at negative 2%), and avoid an imminent economic and social collapse that is awaiting Liberia no matter which political party is elected.
The conventional wisdom in Liberia is that all elected officials have and will continue to fail Liberia economically. Therefore, if any significant development and economic progress (job creation, local manufacturing, and decent living standard) should come, it must come from the business and private sectors- at least, that is the thinking of both Liberia’s callous opposition leaders and it’s inept government officials.
One cannot keep doing the same things [holding inconsequential elections] and expecting a different result [hoping to fine benevolent political leadership], says one political contender. This is primarily due to Liberia’s flawed and corrupted electoral process, which the ruling party (CDC) also complained and protested during its opposition years. All would agree, including the international community, that Liberia’s electoral exercise is corrupted and grossly manipulated by all of the political parties and their respective political leaders: they all buy votes, use state resources to campaign and/or have ascended to their party’s leaderships, not by political ideas and ideologies tested by national debates, competition, and national pluralism, but rather through personal patronage, bribery, scandalous conventions, tribal prejudices and rigged party primaries.
In the tradition of Liberian politics, the baby gets thrown away with the bathwater; meaning Liberians are either emphatically for, or adamantly against its president or opposition leaders. This is the precise definition of fanaticism, and these days Liberians are more fanatically in support of president Weah or against his every move. Depending on which side of the Liberian deconstructive political divide you are aligned with, will determine how benign or maniacal your views are on the aspiration and hope of any development in Liberia, and the recent Liberia airlines saga is no exception.
First and foremost, the very thought of relaunching Lone Star Air, Liberia’s air and cargo carrier, is monumental and brilliant, and some credit must be given to President George Weah for even getting Liberians to see its possibility, or at the very least its potentials.
Liberia never throw away the baby with its bathwater!
Another important question we must be concerned with, especially for those who have completely dismissed this endeavor and labeled it a “419” scam, is how we can fix the missteps and mismanagements of the past and present administration in order to bring some development to Liberia that could create jobs and opportunities in our decrepit and God-forsaken country, regardless of who’s our president or senator.
There is no doubt that launching Lone Star Air over the next two years under the present administration is comparable to Liberia qualifying to play in the next world cup, not impossible but improbable; especially since the Liberian government (past and present) has not proven wealthy of efficiently managing its public bus services and sewage collection, much less running a regional or international airline. Therefore, if this is remotely possible then here’s what needs to be done and done quickly.
Forget the colorful ceremonies, false advertisements, and useless grandiosity. We (Liberians) should think globally but start locally. We must also learn to manage our public projects and public relations more effectively. One of the largest Airlines in Africa, South Africa’s Airlines, was run by its local domestic bus and transit company. Another example of one of the great national development projects in Africa is Ethiopian Airlines (EAL), which was founded on December 21, 1945. EAL began in earnest as a single-prop domestic airline that took to flight on April 8, 1946, and expanded its regional and international destinations in 1951, four years later.
Contrary to the mixed messages and follies recently published on the Liberian Government’s Presidential Website, EMansion.gove.lr that Lone Star Air was not a partnership between Goldstar Airlines and the Liberian Government, and subsequently promulgated by President Weah’s mendacious deputy press secretary and in-law, Smith Toby, that the government of did not enter into a partnership with Goldstar Air to launch and manage Lone Star Air.
Speaking on the Focus on Liberia (FoL) program on November 8, 2020, Mr. Toby completely contradicted what was, until now, a slurry of government press releases and promotions of the Liberian government partnership with Goldstar Air. ( click here to listen). Like the gone Trump Administration, lying to the public, and ironically to themselves, is good politics. Finance minister Samuel Tweah, Eugene L. Fahngon, and other government operatives are well-known for their malicious lies, half-truths, and empty government rhetoric that has produced no real deliverables for the people or development for the country. Tens of thousands of young Liberian boys and men, known as “zogos”, many of whom once fervently believed in Weah’s “Pro-Poor Agenda” was the answer to their hopes and dreams have resulted to thievery, arm-robbing, and other unproductive activities due to the lack of ready jobs and the Weah government’s neglect of them. (click here to read).
The fact remains, the George Weah government did sign a strategic partnership on October 3, 2020 with Goldstar Air to revive Lone Star Air; thereby, enlisting Eric Bannerman and his Goldstar Airlines as the nation’s airline strategic partner, as reported on both Gold Star website (click here), and several government Agencies’ websites.
Meanwhile, the Weah government embarrassment and backpaddling began shortly after the much colorful Launch Ceremony, which was held at the Roberts International Airport at 10:00 am on October 30, 2020. Shortly thereafter, Martin N. K. Kollie, a notorious opposition sympathizer and antigovernment activist began publishing damning exposé on the illegitimacy and safety of Goldstar Airlines, and its lack of aviation certifications in Ghana. The encrusted cake replica of Weah’s potential international carrier that stood-in for the actual Lone Star Airplane did not help the government’s ballyhoo, which effectively exposed the convoluted ceremony, vain misrepresentation, poor public relations, and colossal flip-flap by Weah’s government.
When it was all said and done, it became another punch in the eyes of an ineffectual presidency blemished by overpromises, scandals, allegations of government purges, and ill-advice from his shadow aides and ministers.
Notwithstanding, Goldstar Airlines did apply for and was rejected certification by Ghanaian Aviation Authorities in 2016, and to this day does not possess the requisite aviation licenses nor approved aircraft certifications in Ghana or anywhere else for that atter in order to fulfill its own commercial aviation aspirations or that of President George Weah.
The Best Way to Successfully Start a National Air Carrier
When Emperor Haile Selassie wanted to launch his country’s national carrier, he went directly to the United States, the United Kingdom, and the French Government to help him establish his nation’s airline. The emperor first sought after and recruited a team of brilliant Ethiopian managers that were capable of effectively negotiating favorable terms for his government, while at the same time successfully selling the project to the Ethiopian people- which the public endorsed. After which his government entered a deal with both Transcontinental Air Transport and Western Air Express on September 8, 1945, and working on behalf of The Ethiopian Government signed an agreement to establish a commercial aviation company. Hence, the rest is history.
Unlike George Weah’s approach, The Halle Selassie Government also put an initial investment of $2.5 million (the equivalent of $36 million in today’s money) into the nascent Ethiopian Airlines to kick-off its domestic flight. Learning from the negative effects of using government ministers and hand-picked agents to manage strategic sovereign business entities- that is, the president appointing key managers and board members at public corporations as in the case of Liberia’s petroleum and oil companies (LPRC) and (NICOL), its electricity company (LEC), and its Water and Sewer Corporation ( LWSC) that is still unable to provide clean drinking water to most Monrovians.
The Ethiopian leader also established a government hands-off approach from the get-go, leaving all management decisions and appointments to a professional management team that included reputable accountants, economists, marketing experts, financial analysts, business managers, etc. This strategy paid off handsomely for the people of Ethiopia and has made their airline competitive and thriving to this day.
The Secret to Efficiently Managing State-Own Entities
In an effort to avoid government tampering with the management decision of its national carrier, The Ethiopian Government under Halle Selassie also established a capable independent board of directors process, which issued 25,000 shares that the government retained while the airlines operated as any other privately managed airline: South Africa Airlines, KLM, Kenya’s Airlines, British Airways, Air China or the Emirates Airline that is now owned and managed by the Emirates Group (a Government-owned privately managed aviation conglomerate) that generates annual revenue of $104 billion for the Emirati government and people.
Similarly, the Liberia government should consult the public in creating a credible independent Board of Directors (BoD) to manage all decisions of Lone Star Air, and even perhaps most of its semi-autonomous and autonomous government agencies. Henceforth, selecting which aviation partner should manage Lone Star Air should not be the business of the president, Liberia’s politically motivated legislators. Neither should the transport minister or civil aviation authority, who all serve at the will and pleasure of the president, make such business determination. Instead, such decisions should be made by an independent non-political board of directors. This Airline Board should also be the ones making hiring and firing decisions for the government. Contrary to putting such checks and balances in place has led to the embarrassment of many national carriers, and in most cases, caused business collapse and human tragedies- as in the cases of Nigerian Airways, Ghana Airways, Air Afrique, and many other African carriers.
How to Successfully Launch Lone Star Air
You cannot hire a losing coach to win a competitive tournament or an inadequate CEO to run a competitive company. President Weah’s government and projects are failing for this precise reason. He seems to always select individuals with an unproven track record of success, and people with a laundry list of accusations of impropriety and incompetence. Beyond the recent fake airline launch by the president that prompted a barrage of critical publications from major Liberia media outlets including Frontpageafrica: Liberia’s Gold Star Air Conundrum: A Flawed Experiment in Mediocrity, Allafrica.com, and others, which flabbergasted Liberians across the world, and madly upset the public. As a result of the bad press surrounding the launch, the Weah Administration has quietly walk-back its strategic partnership with Goldstar Air, and has virtually abandoned its entire airline endeavor.
Many believe that Mr. Emmanuel Shaw, an ex-Samuel Doe’s finance minister, and clandestine deal-maker, who left him [Doe] in economic and political crisis before fleeing the country and leaving Doe for dead is one of the major architects behind this airline scheme. It was this very Shaw, operating in Ghana and South Africa at the time surreptitiously helped brokered the Lone Star Cell Mobile and MTN deal for convicted Liberian president, Charles Taylor, and also awarded Benoni Urey, the Taylor family, and himself all of the company’s public share allocations designated for the Liberian people. Today, they are the sole beneficiaries of Lone Star Cell MTN enterprise that have made themselves fabulously rich at the expense of the Liberian public.
Prof. Wilson Tarpeh is another Liberian public official who has underperformed in almost every capacity in Liberia dating back to his days as minister of finance, President of Agricultural and Cooperative Development Bank (ACDB), and Dean of the Business School at the University of Liberia, one of the most mundane business schools in all of Africa.
Tarpeh’s public record is also questionable (Click here to read) and he has miserably underperformed by any standard as he lacked innovation and new-age business thinking. Not only has he repeatably failed as a minister and senior financial advisor to successive presidents of Liberia, he somehow seems to blame everyone but himself for his poor performance: both under President Samuel Doe and now under President Weah, so much so, that many media analysts believe one reason he has been repeatedly appointed to key government agencies is his south-eastern tribal connections (he comes from the tribal region for which both President Samuel Doe and President Weah originated).
Tarpeh became Liberia’s Minister of Commerce and Industry shortly after Weah Government was formed, and once again he underperformed for a full two years before being removed and appointed to head the now the Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While serving as minister of commerce, Tarpeh did not establish a single major Liberian-owned industry- contradicting President George Weah’s goal and slogan of Liberians not serving as “spectators in their own economy”.
Meanwhile, foreign nationals including Lebanese, Nigerians, Chinese and other expatriates owned and controlled nearly all of Liberia’s major industries, from essential commodity goods and services to raw material and banking. They are collectively ricking in immense profits from their pseudo ownership of Liberia and repatriating those profits and earnings back to their home countries. Today, George Weah is incorporating another foreign national [Eric Bannerman] who came awfully close to co-owning Liberia’s national air carrier.
Mr. Bannerman is a Ghanaian businessman and owner of Goldstar Airlines, which is solely owned by Ghanaians according to his website. His management interest and strategic partnership with Liberia’s Long Star Air will once again prove Liberian leaders (Taylor, Sirleaf, Weah) lust and appetite for making foreigners rich in Liberia while its people remain poor and disenfranchised.
After some research, it was cleared that Mr. Eric Bannerman and Goldstar Air should not have been selected by President Weah as Lone Star Air’s strategic partner (effectively manager and co-owner of Lone Star Air). Mr. Bannerman has no track record of success and little if any business accomplishment to boast. Furthermore, his ability to set-up and run a respectable and viable company is slappy, unprofessional, and suspicious. His company, Goldstar Air, (access here) is nothing more than a fancy website with online office addresses, which are mostly unmanned. Goldstar neglects to name any of the company’s board of directors or profile of its top management, and his own profile is absent from the page. It is essentially an air travel agency and broker. There are also no details of any current or prior airline services performed and financial reports on its website. More importantly, finding any information (press interviews, news articles, etc.) of Mr. Bannerman on the world-wide-web is scares and unreliable.
Questionable individuals like Mr. Bannerman should have no place in Liberia’s development, much less selected to manage Liberia’s national Air Carrier when in fact he is undermanaging his own company. However, if indeed he should become a strategic partner of Lone Star Air, he should become accessible for public vetting and examination as is custom, and for which he has shied away from.
Before my publication, we contacted Mr. Bannerman in Ghana, and he agreed to do a live interview to provide an explanation that could hopefully vindicate him and earn his striving company some respectability to put our public concerns to rest. After initially agreeing to the interview at his appointed time, he took to flight and refused to appear several hours past the appointed time of the interviews via Zoom. Mr. Bannerman held up our crew from 3am to 6am eastern standard time without showing up. He has not issued any further statements or has agreed to make any public appearances as of the time of this publication.
There are no shortcuts to success. Creating a safe and viable airline, and bringing development to Liberia require thorough, credible, and brilliant managers of all state agencies, public corporations, and state-owned banks and assets. Therefore, President Weah needs to get it together by first and foremost establishing a credible independent board of directors of all Liberian public corporations. Liberia should seek only Individuals that have the business experience, reputation, character, respectability, and brilliance to accomplish managerial undertakings. For now, all indications show the Liberian president is determined to bring some development to Liberia (road constructions, the erection of market buildings, and perhaps an investment in an national airline); however, the ways he has proceeded so far, and the individuals he has selected in the past is an affront to clever economics thinking and management.