Examining The Fitness Of Political Actors In The Weah-led Government
By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, Contributing Writer
Usually, in a democracy, the president or head of state of a country has the right to appoint a cabinet to help administer the affairs of the government. Mostly that right is inherent in the constitution of the state. While the Senate can confirm or reject a cabinet nomination and serve as check and balance, the president also has the right to dismiss a cabinet member at will. Does public opinion matter in the exercise of that right? The answer can be either yes or no.
This article analyses the cabinet appointments of Liberian President George Weah. The article looks at the personalities of the appointees, their qualifications, and whether or not the officials can implement Weah’s “Pro Poor Agenda”. The paper also examines public opinion regarding the appointments. The personality analysis is an attempt to determine the fitness of political actors to their appointed posts. It can predict their behaviors in public administration.
An operational framework of the article entails a background look at Weah’s political ascendancy, his success, disappointments, and how he won the presidency.
President George Manneh Weah, ex-soccer icon, entered the Liberian political arena in 2005 as the standard bearer of the Congress for Democratic Change, CDC. He came from a humble background, from poverty to an international and wealthy soccer star. He was disappointedly defeated by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, then political leader of the Unity Party, UP in the 2005 election. Weah, however, ran again in 2011 but this time as vice standard bearer of his party, which made Winston Tubman its nominee for that year’s election. The party lost twice.
The 2017 election presented a different phenomenon. President Sirleaf could not run for a third term, due to constitutional term limits. Her vice president, Joseph Boakai, ran instead for her party. The VP, though has many years of experience in government, was an elder whom many thought would retire with the president and would make way for a younger person from the party hierarchy.
The 2017 election brought into the political theater other new candidates, some of whom had never worked in government. But they all ran under the banner of change. Certainly, the Liberian people needed change, change from a government many felt was corrupt and has failed in meeting past campaign promises. The ruling party was vulnerable.
But the party and generally the newer opposition parties did not take into serious consideration the gender and generational factors, and the need to form a coalition for the election. Weah’s party saw this error and took advantage of the opportunity. The party formed a coalition with two other parties, the National Patriotic Party, NPP, and the Liberian People Democratic Party, LPDP. NPP was the ruling party under Ex-president Charles Taylor and LPDP was headed by Alex Tyler, former speaker of the House during the Sirleaf presidency.
Weah selected Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, former wife of Taylor, as the running mate. The senator was a two-term lawmaker of Bong County, the third largest populated sub-division of the country. CDC ran as a youth-oriented and grassroots party, mobilizing the country’s large youth sector and campaigning heavily in rural Liberia.
Moreover, in the runoff election with the ruling Unity Party, Weah secured the support of Senator Prince Johnson, the standard bearer of the Movement for Democratic Restoration, MDR, an opposition party. Like Senator Jewel Taylor, Johnson was a two-term senator from Nimba, the second highly populated county in Liberia. The senator is considered the Godfather and favorite son of his county and people. Another element was that Weah was a sitting senior senator from Montserrado County, which has the largest population in Liberia. He won the seat by a landslide against Robert Sirleaf, President Sirleaf’s son in 2014.
Despite problems regarding the runoff election, the result of these and other factors was a massive defeat of the Unity Party in the second round. Weah won 14 of the 15 counties with 61.5%; Boakai won only his county of birth, receiving 38.5% of the national votes.
Weah is now the president of Liberia.
Some economists have ranked Liberia as one of the poorest countries in the world. A World Bank report says the average Liberian lives on less than $USD 1.25 a day. Liberia is below the poverty line, 54.1%, according to 2014 estimates. Over 80% of the population is poor. The majority is of unemployed youth. Meanwhile, President Weah has stated that the country is broke. He describes his program as a pro poor agenda for change.
Liberia became a state in 1847 when the country became independent. The population was composed of African natives of the land and Black ex-slave settlers from America. The former slaves, who later named themselves Americo-Liberians, arrived on the land in 1822. After independence, they excluded the indigenous African population from citizenship of the country until the early 1900s. The voting right was granted to the native majority in 1946, about 100 years since independence and over 30 years since citizenship.
The settlers and their descendants ruled and controlled the government until 1980 when a group of non-commissioned soldiers of native background overthrew the government. Weah is the second elected Liberian president of full native origin. Samuel Doe, leader of the coup, became the first in 1986 after the 1985 election. Like before and now, the government controls all public land, while descendants of the settlers own most of the lucrative estates of the country. For example, by 1971, 3.5% of the population, “mostly of the Americo-Liberian stock, accounts for more than 60% of the nation’s wealth.”
The pro poor agenda seems to seek power for the people. As the above data indicate, the majority of the Liberian people are poor and live in abject poverty. While an even distribution of income would be difficult, power for poor people can be obtained through land rights. For instance, in the formation of the Liberia state, the people surrendered their land and authority to the state for the good of all citizens. Besides the denial of citizenship and voting rights to them, distribution of wealth has not been equitable as the majority became poorer and still they are suppressed while the elite landlords enjoy the benefits of state and government ownership. Indeed this arrangement and status-quo has been historical as shown.
Power to the people would include land rights to the interior or rural people; so by legal ownership of local public land, they could either lease land to others or cultivate land for community or private development. The government would obtain needed funds for national development through taxation while the bulk of the money would be retained for local development. A pro-poor policy would give income to poor people for a better life.
Power to the people would also allow the younger generation access to state power by providing opportunities to serve and arrest the monopolization of power in the hands of the old and established elites. The Liberian population is predominantly young, and they have propelled Weah to power. Power to the people would make possible legislative enactments and referenda to enable local people to select or elect superintendents for the administration of internal affairs.
An analyst has, on public radio, called for the enforcement of the decent wage law, which stipulates the payment of $US5.50 per day for workers. He indicated that such enforcement would help poor workers particularly those residing in urban areas where the bulk of the people live. It would actualize the pro-poor agenda and enable them to live a decent life. Because of the lack of implementation of the law, he said that the workers live poorly.
On the contrary, others argued that while a strict enforcement of the Act by the government would be appropriate, it would increase unemployment as employers would decrease their workforce.
“But if the law cannot be enforced, why was it enacted in the first place”, the analyst responded, adding that the law was enacted in 2015 by agreement among employers, workers, government, and the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Observers see and define Pro-Poor Agenda differently. However, the use of political phraseologies is not new in Liberian political history. President William Tubman used “unification policy”, and “open door policy” as program agendas; Tolbert had “from mat to mattress” and “total involvement for higher heights”; Doe used “green revolution”; Taylor had “Vision 2025”; and Sirleaf had “Poverty Reduction Policy”. Pronouncement of these phrases is not the issue; rather, their execution is what matters. A president and the cabinet particularly must be committed to policy implementation.
The Weah Cabinet
The cabinet assists the president in carrying out administrative functions. Members are aides to the head of state. President Weah first appointed Gbehzohngar Findley as minister of foreign affairs; Charles Gibson as justice minister; Samuel Tweah, finance and development planning minister; Eugene Nagbe, minister for information, culture, and tourism; and Nathaniel McGill, minister for presidential affairs. These positions are crucial in jump-starting an administration.
Findley was a former Senator pro-temp during the Sirleaf administration but lost his reelection for the Senate. Gibson is a counselor at law. Samuel Tweeh is a strong CDCian, considered one of the brains of the party. He worked in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning during the Sirleaf administration and was most recently a consultant to the African Development Bank. Eugene Nagbe, Sirleaf’s minister of information, was retained. He was a secretary general of CDC but switched to the Unity Party in the first term of the Sirleaf administration. He strongly supported Robert Sirleaf in the Montserrado senatorial race against Weah. But Nagbe’s younger brother, the late KoffaNagbe, was Weah’s sister’s husband and thus Eugene and Weah are uncles of the couple’s children.
Moreover, Weah and Eugene Nagbe are from Sasstown, a part of Grand Kru County. Eugene was a loyal supporter of President Sirleaf and was a secretary general of the Unity Party. Some analysts see him as more a Sirleaf backer than a committed minister for the Weah government.
McGill was the chairman of CDC after George Solo was removed. McGill guided the senatorial bid of Weah and the party in general. He was effective in putting together the tripartite coalition. He anchored the party to victory in the last election.
Observers credited McGill also for the 2011 nomination of Winston Tubman as party standard bearer for that lost election. McGill is considered a confidant of Tubman. The former candidate attempted in 2016 for the repeat of the Tubman-Weah ticket in 2017, but many CDCians went against the attempt. Tubman later supported Alexander Cummings in the election, a move for which some Liberians viewed Tubman as being ungrateful to Weah and not returning a favor. Cummings was embarrassingly defeated in the election, despite spending millions of US dollars in the campaign.
All nominees except Gibson have been confirmed by the Senate. Gibson was forced to withdraw his nomination due to the public outcry of his past unethical and unprofessional behavior as an attorney. He was replaced by former National Elections Commission Counselor Musa Dean, who has been confirmed. Dean successfully argued for the commission in the Supreme Court hearing in the election runoff case brought by the Liberty Party.
Weah later appointed Wilson Tarpeh as minister of commerce and industry; Ansu Sonii, minister of education; Gesler Murray, minister of lands, mines and energy; Varney Sirleaf, minister of internal affairs; Williametta SaydeeTarr, minister of gender, children, and social protection; D. Zogar Wilson, minister of youth and sports; Wilhelmina Yallah, minister of health; Daniel Ziahklahn, minister of defense; Samuel Wlue, minister of transportation; Cooper Kruah, minister of post and telecommunication; Wolobah Kollie, minister of labor; Mogana Flomo, Jr., minister of agriculture; and Mabutu Nyepan, minister of public works. Weah also retained Mary Broh and other members of the Sirleaf administration.
Weah appointed other ministers, including Mamansie Kaba, assistant minister for gender, children, and social protection; Alvin Wesseh, assistant minister of agriculture, and Jefferson Koijee, mayor, City of Monrovia. The president appointed Charles Bright as an economic advisor.
Professor Wilson Tarpeh of the University of Liberia was a key advisor to Weah. He managed Weah’s senatorial campaign. He was a member of the president’s transitional team. Tarpeh served as president of the Liberian Agricultural and Cooperative Development Bank during the days of President Samuel K. Doe. Like Tarpeh, Ansu Sonii was a professor at the university and a key advisor to Weah. He had propagated Weah’s education agenda during the presidential campaign. Varney Sirleaf is a stepson of Madam Ellen Sirleaf. He served in her administration as a deputy minister of internal affairs. Mary Broh, Sirleaf “right hand”, is director general of the Government Service Agency, GSA, the arm of the administration’s logistics and cleanup operations. Zogar Wilson was the former goalkeeper of the national team, the Lone Star. He previously worked as an assistant minister in the youth ministry.
Mabutu Nyepan has a BSc in civil engineering. He was a senator from Sinoe County. In this position, he was the Senate committee chair on public works. He also served on the ECOWAS committee on infrastructure. Wilhelmina Yallah is a medical doctor. There was a controversy with her appointment. Opponents pointed out that she and her private hospital had been sued for medical negligence resulting in the death of a patient. At the time of the patient’s operation and death, Dr. Yallah was however out of the country.
Mamansie Kaba, Alvin Wesseh, and Jefferson Koijee are young. They and other partisans, including Mulbah Morlu, are the faces of CDC. They are committed and strong members of the party youth wing, of which Koijee was the head. Morlu is now the chairman of the party. He is one of the powerful and influential persons in the country. To be young and chair of a ruling party speaks volumes. The position is more powerful and prestigious than cabinet ministerial post. Older party leaders include representatives Acarous Gray, Saah Joseph, and Munah Pelham-Youngblood.
The president appointed Emmanuel Nuquay, Unity Party vice standard bearer, as director general for Liberia civil aviation. He also named Alexander Doupu and Harrison Karnwea, vice standard bearers of the All Liberian Party and the Liberty Party respectively, to government positions. Doupu, Karnwea, and Jeremiah Sulunteh of the Alternative National Congress party individually endorsed Weah in the runoff election, though their respective standard bearers did not. Sulunteh plans to run for the vacant Senate seat in Bong County; he can join CDC or should get the party support.
Some Unity Party partisans have urged Nuquay not to accept his appointment, while others saw it as an opportunity. Morlu viewed the appointment as another way of Weah reaching out to the defeated parties; that Nuquay is the face of UP. The CDC- led government is said to be the most inclusive administration since Liberia became a multi-party democracy. The Senates has confirmed the named cabinet appointments and others are pending.
Public opinion can impact presidential appointments. If the people strongly view a nomination unfavorably, the president may recall or the Senates may reject the nomination. But sometimes the president and the Senate may ignore public sentiments.
Public reaction to Weah’s cabinet has largely been positive. There have been criticisms, however. There are those who view that many of the appointees are unqualified and lacked experience. For example, critics point out that Mamensie Kaba, Wesseh and Koijee are not college graduates and are inexperienced; further, that Wesseh was expelled from the University of Liberia; and Koijee is too young to govern the affairs of the nation’s capital city, Monrovia.
FrontPage Africa, one of the leading newspapers in Liberia, has mostly published negatively on the three appointments. The paper has in fact stated based on its “reliable source”, that the Senates have rejected the nominations. But that was false. The Senate confirmed the appointments. In the following edition, the paper struggled to explain its misleading report, perhaps an extension of its anti-Weah reportage since the founding of the daily. Moreover, though the university expelled Wesseh, the ruling in the matter favored him and blamed the school for expelling a student mainly for advocating students’ right. On the other hand, FrontPage has been accurate in many of its coverage on Liberian affairs and is considered credible internationally.
Abraham Dillon, secretary general of the opposition Liberty Party, has criticized the appointments not on the basis of qualifications, but on the placement of the appointees. He indicated that president Weah placed the appointees in wrong posts, including the appointment of Gabriel Nyenkan, former Montserrado County representative. Weah appointed Nyenkan to head the secretariat of LEITI, Liberian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an independent agency responsible for reporting the payment made to the government by the industries.
Under former head Konah Karmo, LEITI’s report of the 2013 purchase of oil block 13 was used by Global Witness investigation, which alleges that several Liberian officials, including President Sirleaf’s son Robert Sirleaf and former Finance Minister Amara Konneh, pocketed millions of dollars from the purchase through a bribable scheme. Exxon Mobil, an American oil company, paid $120 million for the purchase during the Sirleaf administration. Critics complained that Weah broke the law by his new appointment and feared that the replacement of Karmo could undermine the agency’s credibility and compromise future reports. LEITI ‘s constitution is said to empower the board to appoint the secretariat head. Gabriel Nyenkan, who lost his reelection bid for the House, is a Weah CDC supporter. The Weah government nevertheless has vowed to investigate the corruption allegation.
Other observers have criticized the Weah administration of nepotism, stating that three of his siblings were awarded consulting contracts by the Freeport of Monrovia. Rodney Sieh, editor-publisher of FrontPage Africa, stated that the Weah government needs to apologize to Madam Sirleaf for past criticism of nepotism; that the CDC government is doing the same thing they the party had criticized in the past.
The issue of nepotism appears to be problematic. President Sirleaf received tremendous criticism particularly when she appointed her son Robert Sirleaf to head the National Oil Company of Liberia, NOCAL. But should a Weah brother, if he is uniquely qualified, not be given opportunity as a Liberian? Would not a denial constitute discrimination and unfairness?
Unlike in the West, an employment opportunity for a friend or family member of a public official is a big deal in Africa. There is little consideration of fairness and justice. In the US, for instance, late President John Kennedy appointed his brother Robert, a lawyer, as attorney general in the administration. That appointment was accepted.
Like Kennedy, Liberian president Tolbert appointed his brother Steve as minister of finance. Though Steve Tolbert was an experienced businessman and a competent financial manager, the Liberian public frowned on the appointment. Hence in a sense, Sieh was right to criticize. Such criticism could make public officials think twice before employing or giving an opportunity to a president’s relative who is unqualified over a qualified Liberian. Blatant, chronic, and unjustified nepotism is wrong and unfair.
Weah has received criticism also in social media for the recent demolition of his residence for a possible new construction. People asked why he is now about to build a new house. Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, however, responded that the president is using his own personal money; he has not taken pay; it is better that he enlarges his residence now to avoid future criticism and accusation of using public funds. Moreover, as president, Weah does not have an official home to entertain guests, because the executive mansion is not being renovated.
There is a growing complaint that Weah has given his Economic Advisor Charles Bright added authority to serve as chief of the cabinet, having “the exclusive power to monitor and evaluate all agencies and ministries of government”. Dillon thinks Weah is outsourcing the presidency, that Weah is delegating “too much of the functions of the president to one person”. Other Liberians feel the president is creating the position of a prime minister or a de facto president by this appointment.
The Liberian constitution does not allow the appointment of a prime minister or a de facto president. The constitution gives power to the executive headed by the president and assisted by the vice president. It also gives power to the legislature to make laws and the judiciary to interpret the constitution. Sam Manna, the presidential press secretary, commented that the president has the power to give additional power or authority to a minister. That may be true but not the seeming authority of a prime minister.
Charles Bright is said to have close ties to Charles Taylor and reportedly was a rebel leader of the NPFL during the civil war. He is also said to be a strong member and official of the Masonic Craft, the once powerful and influential society of the former ruling True Whig Party of the settler regime. Historically the craft has been a symbol of the influence and authority of the Congo/ Americo-Liberian settlers. The lodge decided who should rule Liberia. Bononi Urey, a craft member, and the political leader of the opposition All Liberian Party, ALP, said during the election period that the new Liberian president would come from the Masonic Lodge. A published picture shows Weah as a member.
During the True Whig Party rule, the Masonic Craft additionally symbolized corruption. Members in public communicated with each other in secret sign language. They committed crimes, corruption, and embezzlement with impunity. The 1980 coup, which overthrew the True Whig Party government, banned the craft and the party. But later the PRC, the government which was set up by the coup leaders, lifted the ban, thanks to sympathizers of the lodge. Membership of the craft reduced considerably in the 80s and 90s, but now it has increased as people seek its influence. Interestingly, however, the True Whig Party has become a powerless entity as a political organization. This is not surprising. Historically in Liberia, when a political party loses its rule, it tends to die gradually. This happened with the NDP under Doe, and possibly the UP, Sirleaf former party. Taylor NPP’s coalition with CDC gives his party a relatively new political life. Some analysts view that it could merge with CDC.
Unlike the Sirleaf government, most of Weah’s cabinet is home-based Liberians that are not from overseas. Few came from abroad, and they include Eugene Fahngon, Deputy Minister for information; and Sam Manna. Fahngon has received more criticisms mostly from the press apparently for his fiery and popular radio talk show during the campaign. His show, “the Liberian Talk”, heavily advocated for Weah and promoted the CDC campaign, describing some politicians as members of a “political cartel”. Had most of Weah’s cabinet come from the Diasporas, the complaints would have been loud just as it was for Sirleaf.
Like in the Sirleaf administration, the qualifications of Weah’s cabinet are not that much different from that of Sirleaf ministers in her first term. Some of her ministers were misplaced. Amara Konneh, for example, headed the presidential office for Liberia’s reconstruction to the minister of planning and economic affairs and later became minister of finance and development planning, even though his background initially was in information technology or IT. Augustine Ngafuan came from budget management to finance minister and later to the ministry of foreign affairs. The late Willie Knuckles became minister of public works, though he was a journalist and a businessman. These ministers were strong campaign supporters of Sirleaf in the 2005 and 2011 elections.
Qualification for political appointment is different from that of a corporate entity. The former looks at political expediency while the latter considers how the applicant can help maximize profits. The victorious presidential candidate rewards those who help achieve victory. Weah appointed Gbehzohngar Findley as foreign minister in appreciation of Findley’s assistance in delivering Grand Bassa County during the runoff election. The county is one of the largest populated sub-divisions of Liberia. But Findley’s educational background in electronic engineering is far from international affairs. Sirleaf did the same as indicated.
Weah had a handicap in the formation of his cabinet. Due to the delay of the runoff election, the administration had little time for establishing an effective and efficient transitional team, which would have looked at candidates for appointment. A key official of the Sirleaf government remarked that the transition team established was ceremonial. Additionally, the transitional arrangement was composed of Sirleaf operatives. A real transitional team would have conducted an inventory of the previous administration and would have set the agenda and the way forward for the incoming government.
President Sirleaf’s hands seemed to have been involved and have controlled the process as shown in the cabinet makeup. While the advice and suggestion of a past president would be useful, the former is not to appoint or influence the process. One may ask, if President Sirleaf were that effective as a leader, why is it that her administration performed so poorly in addressing the Liberian problem? But the ex-president is not the only one to be blamed; her officials equally contributed to the failure. However, the Sirleaf government is credited for freedom of speech and for helping to maintain the peace in Liberia.
There has been the complaint from party members for not being considered and appointed to positions. They should not worry. There are many employment opportunities remaining. The Liberian government is the largest employer in the country. Usually, in a new administration, the first group of the cabinet does not last for the term or is not retained in the second round. New appointments are made. This happened in the Sirleaf government. By the end of her first term, the turn-over rate of the cabinet was over 80%. It occurred also in previous administrations.
Partisans of these parties and those wishing for government employment could consider also getting a scholarship if they have not completed school for improved education for future placement. Others could seek entrepreneurial empowerment through a government secured loan for small business development. While a government position is prestigious, education and self-employment empowerment are greater. There will always be government jobs as long as the state of Liberia exists and governments come and go.
But the problem with a bank loan for a Liberian business is that in most cases, the Liberian borrowers do not repay and thus making things harder for serious Liberians interested in business development. Further, the government lending program for businesses tends to favor the well-connected and influential Liberians, and hence discriminates against and deprives the ordinary Liberians.
A bill that is being drafted in the Liberian House of Representatives is to give control and more power to Liberian businesses. It would limit the participation of foreigners in local business, such as water and ice production or retail activities. Only Liberians can go into these businesses and thus make Liberians control and not be bystanders in their own economy. President Weah alluded to this goal in his inaugural address. Initial reaction to the intended bill has been positive. But critics say that it is discriminatory, that it does not allow foreigners to participate in all sectors of the economy. They point out that Liberians do not have the capital for a viable business.
In Ghana, foreigners are limited in participating in the country’s economy. Certain businesses are reserved for indigenous Ghanaians. Most businesses such as retail stores are managed by Ghanaians. Foreign-owned businesses must have a Ghanaian partner. While the draft bill above is not at the level of that of the Ghanaian model, it is a start. Passage and serious enforcement of the bill could help in achieving the pro-poor agenda.
Inner Spirit and Good Guidance
Leaders face their greatest opposition when they are on top. Even when you have reached the Promised Land, you will meet difficulties from within and out. Abraham Lincoln, after winning the US presidency, faced opposition resulting in the American civil war. But Lincoln was strong, determined and withstood difficulties. Bill Clinton was impeached by the Republican-controlled House and met great opposition. Doe, after the coup, met strong opposition from the established elites, including some progressives. Clinton survived in part because of his inner spirit and trusted friends. He reached out to them for guidance. He knew them when he was an ordinary citizen. They believed in him. They counseled him; they were honest.
As I recommended before, Weah needs to reach out to longtime trusted friends and seek their advice. These are people I think would not seek jobs and neither trade on his position. They can look him in the eyes and say the truth. They can guide him when he is going astray away from his agenda. In short, it can be lonely at the top. You need good and honest people around you; people whom you can call late at night and tell your problems to. Yes as president, you will have many people in your circle, some with good or bad intentions. But your spirit, conscience, and good people must guide you
“Weah is young, only 51 years old. He should have boyhood friends who are alive.” They can help. With good people around him, and he is governing with justice, equality and firmness guided by a principle of honesty and integrity, he should be fine. Though these qualities are hard to come by, as humans, we possess them. Many of us just do not exercise them.
The Weah administration needs to create a better relation with the Liberian media. Counter attacks between the two institutions at this early stage is not healthy for the sake of the country. Boxing the press is not wise. The media will always be around while party government is temporary. The Doe government with its poor relation with the press has gone and so are the Taylor and the Sirleaf administrations.
Information Minister Eugene Nagbe’s effort to give clarity to a public opinion issue regarding the demolition of Weah’s property for new construction was a good example of arresting negative public opinion and press criticism. A minister, public official, or government cannot fight the media. Additionally, while the press cannot and should not be a pro-government operative, and the government cannot buy off the media for favorable coverage, both entities can exist respectably, allowing each to operate independently in the best interest of the nation. Also, the media, as the society watch-dog, must be professional, fair, accurate, and not engage in misleading coverage or reportage for political or personal interest. Freedom of speech and press comes with responsibility.
Gatekeepers guard entrances. As observed, it looks like there are many gatekeepers preventing people to get to the president. That is their job to protect the head of state. But it seems that some are blocking good intentioned Liberians and are allowing those with questionable characters to come near Weah. Some critics have pointed out that Weah is associating with Emmanuel Shaw, an ally of Charles Taylor. Shaw was a confidant of former president Doe. He is said to have betrayed Doe and joined Taylor in removing Doe from power. Most recently, Shaw accompanied Weah on the president’s trip to France and other countries. He was said to have been on the delegation of Mrs. Clar Weah, the president wife, to the UN.
Perhaps more information about Shaw might be helpful in knowing the man. He came to public notice in the early 60s as a teenager attending Saint John high school in Liberia. He was a very bright student and represented Liberia in an international conference abroad. Upon graduating from Cuttington College, he worked for the Montserrado Group of Companies, a business owned by Steve Tolbert, the younger brother of President Tolbert mentioned earlier. In addition to his intelligence, Shaw was a likable guy and easy going. He was once called the “Clarence Williams III of Liberia”, a reference to American actor Clarence Williams III with his Afro in the 60s and 70s in movies, including the popular show “The Mod Squad” with actress Peggy Lipton. Raised by a single mother, Shaw acted as a father to his young siblings and helped his mother with her small business in Monrovia.
After the coup in 1980, he, Willie Givens and Kenneth Best worked for Doe in the Executive Mansion in the Ministry for Presidential Affairs, thanks to George Boley, then minister of presidential affairs. Doe liked and admired Shaw’s fashionable dressing and his Afro-hair style. In a few months, Doe had an Afro and was stylishly dressed like Shaw. Moreover, letters from the president’s office changed from a revolutionary ending, “In the cause of the people, the struggle continues” to a mere closing like “with sentiments of the highest esteem or sincerely yours”, a return of the Tubman-Tolbert way, the old way! Doe later made Shaw minister of finance.
However, by the end of 1989 and early 1990, Shaw changed his loyalty from Doe to Taylor, who had started the war against Doe. It was alleged that Shaw and others helped finance the invasion and eventually the civil war. After the war, Shaw went into a business partnership with Benoni Urey, another Taylor confidant, and financial advisor, in the Lone Star telecommunications business, a foreign-owned company with Liberian minority ownership.
Shaw, Urey, and Taylor owned PLC Limited, which was strategically purchased by a Lebanese company called Investcom Global Limited to form Lone Star Communication. The three Liberians maintained their minority ownership of 40% in the new firm. The purchase was suggested by the Liberian government during the Taylor administration, which had earlier granted PLC license to solely operate mobile services without bidding and had denied Investcom license to enter the market. Thus the purchase gave Lone Star exclusive monopoly to operate GSM mobile communication service in Liberia from 2000 to 2004. The result of this exclusivity for that period netted the company revenue of $36 million USD from charging the Liberian public exorbitant prices for cell phone service while evading taxation. This enabled the shareowners to pocket millions of dollars. President Sirleaf kept Shaw at bay during her entire presidency maybe for reason known by her.
Observers have warned that Weah should be careful in his association with Shaw, though Shaw has not been legally charged for committing any crime and neither found guilty of betrayal. However, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) set up to investigate the civil war has mentioned him allegedly for economic crimes regarding the war.
Nevertheless, a former associate of Weah who did not support him in the first round of the 2017 election was kept waiting in the sitting room of the president’s office for hours in an attempt to obtain audience with Weah. He left disappointedly without seeing the president. Prior to the attempted audience, he had written a long letter of suggestions to the president. In a recent conversation, he remarked that he cannot force himself on a leader who does not want to accept advice.
Before the inauguration, I sent a set of suggestions to a few close associates of the president-elect to forward the recommendations to him. Regrettably and apparently they sat on the suggestions and did not give them to Weah. Their behavior may have been the result of several factors, including the fear and thought that I was seeking a job; that they were busy; or their relations with Weah were not good at that time contrary to my belief. But I told them upfront that I was not looking for work and wanted only for the president to succeed. However, two of my proposals, which called for salary reduction and the construction of a beltway, seaway road network for economic stimulation, were expressed in Weah’s state of the nation address. That could have been a coincidence or they may have passed the suggestions on to the president.
Gatekeepers or close associates can help or hurt a leader. They could act selfishly or seek the best interests of the president and the nation. For example, Boley was loyal to Doe. At the same time, some of Doe’s close associates were there for their self-interest. During the civil crisis, some of those sent abroad to negotiate on Doe’s behalf abandoned their mission and joined his enemies. Some went into business with him, received money from him, but turned around and purchased arms against him. And after his death, some of his secret business partners failed to inform his family of his investment, pocketed the money and watched his family suffer.
Willie Givens, whose name stated previously, became Liberia’s ambassador by Doe to Great Britain. During the war, Doe sent his (president’s) family to the UK for exile. When Doe died, according to Mrs. Doe, Givens called her and requested the return of the government car that was assigned to the family. He did this because the president was killed and Mrs. Doe was no longer the first lady. Mrs. Doe informed me that she was drinking tea when the call came in. Therefore she told Givens she would call him back. In her return call, she asked: “Ambassador Givens, who appointed you as ambassador?
“President Doe”, he answered.
Mrs. Doe responded, “But Mr. Givens if Doe appointed you and he is now dead, you are no longer ambassador and you have no presidential authority to request for the vehicle.”
Givens was stunned to hear such intelligent response from a lady considered uneducated. He hung up the phone. Here was another instance of how some of Doe’s aides changed their loyalty fast. The ambassador could not give the bereaved wife time to deal with her grief but acted quickly to show his support to his boss’ enemy. Did the ambassador have to call immediately for the car?
I experienced the role of gatekeeper and how some can make it difficult for a person to meet with the head of state. In 1980, a few months after the coup, I came to Liberia on consulting work. I had completed my graduate studies and was finishing my thesis. After my assignment, a Liberian group I headed in the US asked that I meet with Doe to present a matter of concern. I first started on my own by making an appointment with the office of presidential affairs at the mansion. Boy, the guys made it difficult for me to see Doe. Some thought that I was trying to seek a job. Their thinking was justified by the fact that many Liberians in the Diaspora returned home for jobs with the new government.
Thanks to Dew Mayson and the late Commanding General Thomas Quiwonkpa who acted on my behalf. I finally got an audience with Doe after a frustrating and unsuccessful try. We met in his private suite with George Boley, Vice Chairman Thomas Weh-Syen, and Attorney General Chea Cheapoo. Doe was comfortable with me as he openly narrated to me how the coup was staged. I read the statement from my group. Boley was surprised that I did not seek or want to get a job, though Doe asked me about my educational background and hoped I come home soon. I returned to the states. I never worked in the Liberian government and never got assistance from Doe. I started a business later in America, and I never looked back!
When Doe died, by God making, I gained legal custody of his young children in America. Today, the children have grown up from grade school to college. They have completed college and are independently living with their respective families. They have given me the joy of father and grandfatherhood, the greatest honor, reward, and blessing a parent could receive. Who would have thought that the young man who was stopped from seeing Doe would one day become the father of Doe’s children? But that is life. It is like a pendulum, moving from one end to another. You would not know which end you would be. Do not hurt anyone or block the way for anyone. You cannot tell where you would be tomorrow. As I indicated, many of those who said they cared for and supported Doe abandoned him at a time he needed them the most.
I gave the above narratives simply to show how people behave; how some can pretend, and the need to be mindful and careful. Doe appointed Gabriel Mathews as minister of foreign affairs; Togba-Nah Tipoteh as minister of planning and economic affairs; H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. as minister of education and later foreign minister; Emmanuel Bowier, minister of information; Amos Sawyer, chairman of the national constitution commission; Dew Mayson, ambassador to France; and Givens, ambassador to Britain. They received positions which they could not have gotten under the True Whig Party settler regime. To some, Doe was an uneducated peasant, and therefore a person with higher education should be president. Mayson, for instance, became a wealthy man and is considered a millionaire, thanks to his education and intelligence but also to the opportunity provided him by Doe. Today, Doe is credited to be a development president; he brought more development than any other president of Liberia. Nevertheless, Doe’s human rights record as a leader was not good. Maybe those close to him did not sincerely advise him of the truth. Maybe they did but he did not listen.
Weah enjoys huge support from the Liberian masses. They love him and consider him a savior. In fact, some see him as a Messiah. He appointed a cabinet to help him govern. That cabinet politically is not different from that of the previous administration. Cabinet appointments are political and not permanent. Meanwhile, Weah cannot and should not believe that all Liberians love him and believe in him. There are some who feel that he is not qualified; he is not in the class to lead and will fail. Some have criticized him and his cabinet. With the high level of public belief and the trust the people have in him, a failure on his part could be drastic and catastrophic.
My experience from my background and the observations derived from my coverage of the entire election in Liberia leave me to view and concur that in Liberia there is on one hand an old historically established minority group determined to always be in power and control, and on the other is a young and poor majority wishing for change and is winning. The result of this situation is a social cleavage and polarization. This factor was demonstrated during the runoff election when three major opposition party leaders of the established class decided to back the ruling party, though prior they had vowed to support an opposition candidate in the second round.
Weah’s electoral victory accentuates the need for change. He seems to have drawn a line in the sand by the pronouncement of a pro-poor agenda. Can he withstand the power and influence of the few to achieve policy objectives? Will his cabinet stand with him and sincerely implement his agenda? Can he unify the various groups to create a nation for the good of all? Will he be successful? Will others deceive and betray him?
I think history will tell.