Senator Darius Dillon Energizes Liberian Electorate against the George Weah Kleptocracy
In Liberia, an opposition senator, Abraham Darius Dillon, is now the loudest single voice against the kleptocratic government under former AC Milan football star and World’s Best, President George Manneh Weah. The recent events leading to the midterm senatorial and special elections and outcomes indicate his administration may last one term. Dillon won his senate seat again overwhelmingly in the midterm elections held on December 8, 2020.
Growing dismay among Liberians highlighted through Senator Dillon’s courageous actions by calling attention to the Weah Administration’s excesses is resonating globally. Dillon is becoming the most effective antidote to the rampant corruption and violation of human rights, including unexplained suspicious deaths in the country.
Four officials connected to audit sections in government agencies died mysteriously over a short period from October 3 -10, 2020: Emmanuel Barten Nyeswa, Director General of the Internal Audit Agency, Albert Peters, Assistant Commissioner at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) for Internal Audit, Gifty Asmah Lama, Acting Manager for Tax Services at the LRA and George F. Fanbutu also of the LRA. Government autopsy reports say the deaths were due to a slew of flimsy reasons, including carbon monoxide poisoning, automobile accident, and a fall from a second-story home. Liberians expressed doubts in the reports.
Senator Dillon’s victory in the senate race on the December 8 against the well-financed, administration supported, ruling party CDC candidacy of Rep. Thomas P. Fallah, in the ruling party “stronghold” of Montserrado County, is nothing short of amazing and could spell doom for Weah’s political future. With the final votes tally, Dillon defeated Fallah by more than 85,000 votes.
The president’s candidates in other counties also suffered crushing defeats: Grand Bassa, Bong, Margibi, Lofa, Grand Kru, Cape Mount, River Gee, and Bomi.
When Weah took over the mantle of leadership in Liberia on January 22, 2018, the country’s mostly poor population believed one of their own had risen to power. The compassion thought, and strategies required to overcome some of the nation’s development challenges would be front and center.
They were wrong! Instead, Weah, who squandered most of the wealth from his football playing days, would begin to engage in lavish spending on personal building projects, immersed into a lifestyle that includes a private jet, fancy clothes, and other amenities that he never could afford when he was the greatest footballer of his time. Weah had claimed indigency in May of 2016 in a courthouse in Newton County, Georgia, in the United States during a child support hearings for a teenage daughter.
Lawyers representing Weah say he could only afford to pay $169 monthly to the custodial parent at the time. A check of Newton County court record indicates that an arrest warrant was issued against the soccer icon before his lawyers ran to the Clerk of Court to dismiss the charges in an embarrassing episode that took over the front pages of Liberia’s leading online newspapers and tabloids. At the time of his inauguration, The president was broke.
Therefore, Weah’s private building projects that began soon in early 2018 within months of his ascendancy to the presidency caught Liberians’ attention and ire. He started his real estate projects on a scale unseen by a Liberian president in recent memory. Out of nowhere, 49 brightly colored modern condominiums sprang out of the earth on the Robertsfield Highway. He broke down his decrepit Kings Lodge Hotel on 9th Street in the Sinkor Suburbs, and a palatial edifice reappeared in its stead. Other properties, like his Jamaica Resort, were hastily refurbished. The public was aghast. But that was just the beginning of the kleptocratic tendencies.
Information Minister Eugene Nagbe announced to the BBC and the VOA in mid-September 2018 that 16 billion freshly minted Liberian dollars had gone missing. As the controversy swirled, uncontrollable inflation in high double digits of at least 38 percent reduced ordinary Liberians’ purchasing power. The government sought to intervene. Instead of using precise monetary tools like mopping up the excess liquidity in the banking system through the usual auction of US dollars to banking institutions, the country’s Finance Minister, the irascible Samuel Tweah, announced that 25 million US dollars borrowed from the country’s reserves at the US Federal Reserve Bank in New York, would be used in a mop-up exercise by going directly to foreign exchange bureaus, bypassing the formal financial system. That was a disaster.
In subsequent reports, one under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development written by Kroll Associates Incorporated and the other written under the direction of Alex Cuffy, Chief of the country’s Financial Intelligence Unit, by a committee known as the Presidential Investigation Task (PIT) Force, it became clear that most of the 16 billion Liberian dollars were not accounted for on the books of the Central Bank and the 25 million US dollar mop up funds were diverted. Both reports requested additional forensic audits to ascertain the whereabouts of most of the funds. More than two years after the story broke, the Weah administration has not conducted forensic audits as demanded.
Just as news reports of the missing 16 billion and the unaccounted for $25 million were being relayed, nine ambassadors wrote a scathing and devastating letter to the government of Liberia around May 8, 2019, stating that donors’ funds were being diverted to recurrent expenditure from accounts at the nation’s Central Bank. Former Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe confirmed during his May 10, 2019 press conference that indeed donor funds had been diverted but rejected the notion that government actions are considered criminal, and the amounts would be replaced.
The events spiraling out of control in Liberia would need a courageous individual to challenge the Weah Administration’s excesses. As fate would have it, Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff of Montserrado County’s death on February 10, 2019, required a special election.
Doe-Sheriff was a former CDC loyalist who had fallen out with Weah and was flogged and disgraced at the party’s headquarters allegedly on his orders on August 14, 2011.
Doe-Sherrif’s death in February of 2019 inspired the fearless, progressive champion of human rights and anti-corruption advocate Abraham Darius Dillon to answer the challenge. He said he would bring light to the darkness in the legislature. Legislative salaries and perks up till then had been secret even from taxpayers. Dillon began to sound warnings about the excesses of the administration, and soon his message resonated. He won the special election held on July 29, 2019, by 102,549 or 55.74 percent to 63,971 or 34.77 percent from CDC candidate Paulita Wie, who had been handpicked by Weah retain the seat. This was no small fight. Montserrado is the stronghold of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). The party had swept most of the county’s legislative seats. Montserrado is home to over 780,000 of the nation’s voters.
Dillon did not rest on his laurels. His victory was a first step in the unmasking of the Weah kleptocracy. Since the election that brought him to power was special, fate had it that midterm elections would be held in just over a year. He would have to subject himself to the electorate again. Dillon was prepared. As George Weah and the CDC mounted a challenge by choosing an erstwhile popular representative from District Five, Thomas Fallah, and showered him with millions in state resources, Dillon began a grassroots effort not unseen in the country’s recent history. The Liberian Diaspora, now enamored with Senator Dillon’s humility, grace, honesty, and tenacity, began fundraising activities worldwide.
In one fundraising event days before the election, Henry Costa, Emmanuel Yartoe, and other Liberians, MADDAS, Friends of Dillon, and Friends of Costa raised more than 30,000 dollars in just under two hours. The Liberian Diaspora fundraising efforts and Dillon’s retail politics on the ground were too much of a deficit for the CDC to overcome. Thus, alone senator demonstrated that indeed populism born out of righteous indignation from the Liberian people could provide a change platform.
Thus, Dillon’s victory should be welcomed by all reasonable people everywhere, especially Americans. The United States government spent billions in Liberia over the postwar period, bringing peace and stability to Liberia. Her effort is now being undermined by Weah and his officials’ reckless behavior. The administration undermines the peace by its rampant corruption, including Liberian diplomatic passports’ alleged sale to transnational criminals. The situation caught the American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s attention, who singled out the former Passport Director, Andrew Wonplo, for sanctions. Wanelo and his family are banned from entering the United States. In reaction, Wonplo says Weah and former Foreign Minister Gbehzongar Findley were organizers of the scheme.
Dillon has demonstrated he is the bulwark against bad governance and corruption in Liberia. Dillon should be invited to the United States to meet the US government officials in the new Biden administration and speak with think tanks, universities, and philanthropies. The United States has a vested interest in Liberia’s peace and security. The country is home to hundreds of thousands of Liberians and their children in important population centers. Dillon is the conduit now through which the US can achieve its stability objectives in America’s oldest African ally. And so it goes.