By Julius T. Jaesen II
Many times, Liberians do not listen when people try to advise them for their own good. But when they run into trouble then they want the whole world to drop everything to come to save them. How many times have Liberians not told the world with chants in the streets during election time, “He killed my ma, he killed my pa; I will vote for him!” “You know book, you don’t know book; we will vote for you!” “Sanctions oh, no sanctions oh; we will vote for you!”
No sooner after we sound our defiance and elect the leaders we should never even reasonably consider into office, than we start running around in our thousands and in desperation, from one diplomatic mission to another, in Monrovia, for safety and help. We run there with complaints about hard times, corruption and no jobs. We whine about wastefulness, lack of leadership, incompetence, lawlessness and recklessness by government officials. We fear extrajudicial killings and no action by the partisan police to protect the public.
How many times have hundreds of Liberians not taken shelter on the bare rocks of Greystone in front of the American Embassy seeking refuge from their own leaders? How many times have we not run to the diplomatic missions of ECOWAS, African Union, European Union and the United Nations Office with petitions to ask for protection?
We have started to hear a new song from a few quarters: “You old oh, you sick oh; we will vote for you!” “You cult member oh, you sell human parts oh; we will vote for you!” Some even want to get rid of Weah and his CDC so badly they have gone on social media to suggest that former Vice President Boakai’s recently announced running mate should use his alleged cultish powers to remove Mr. Weah from power. To invite the use of devilish powers to get power is to also invite the use of inhumane powers to keep power!
The government of the United States has been trying to help find lasting solution to Liberia’s mess. The U.S. Congress passed House Resolution 1055 which called for support for the setting up of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia so that those who committed war crimes and atrocities during the civil war, and those who are stealing the country’s wealth, can be brought to justice and accountability. President Weah was expected, and promised to cooperate, in setting up the court but he has failed to do so. With unchecked corruption, lawlessness by officials and rising poverty in the country, it’s obvious Weah will not set up what will likely convict him and his friends. Therefore, to help suffering Liberians, the U.S. government decided to use its Global Magnitsky Act to place some key officials on sanctions.
The United States is well placed to act in this manner because of the unique historical relations between the two countries. Liberia survived colonialism and maintained its independence without interruption for almost 200 years now partly because major European powers recognize the exceptional nature of the Liberia-US relationship. For a very long time the United States has been the single largest aid donor and development partner to Liberia.
It looks like the American government sees the forthcoming elections in October as a turning point for Liberia’s future: a chance for a mismanaged nation to make a clean break with the past and its bad habits and to bring about real change for sustainable development and prosperity of all Liberians. So, when the U.S. sent its new ambassador to Liberia three years ago, they must have given him the mandate to keep the government’s feet to the fire – to play basketball with the President but insists on the government doing the right things for its people.
Since his arrival, Ambassador McCarthy has been more vocal about corruption, and official misconduct. On top of that, President Biden invited President Weah and five other African Presidents facing elections in their respective countries to the White House and told them, in no uncertain terms, that he expected them to conduct free and fair democratic elections.
Again, the Director of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) visited Liberia and took the unprecedented step of inviting President Weah to the CIA Headquarters where the Liberian President was said to have been presented with copious evidence of actions by his government perceived by the U.S. as threat to American security interest. Mr. Weah, whom some suspect of holding US citizenship, has remained unusually silent about his meetings at the CIA Headquarters. He may be aware that he could be prosecuted under American law should he be found involved in criminal activities, sovereign head of state of another country or not. America arrested President Noriega of Panama in his country and brought him to the United States for trial, found him guilty, and jailed him in the U.S. That country has been quiet and doing well so far since then.
As he approaches the end of his tour of duty, the United States Ambassador to Liberia recently completed a tour of the entire country. He has once more taken off the diplomatic glove and told the whole world about the dreadful situation he saw firsthand throughout the country. He said hospitals did not receive any of the money appropriated for them in the 2022 budget and the fact that there has been no oversight action to find out where the money went must be an indication of the “existence of a syndicate involving players at the Legislature, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”
The Legislature, which comprises 73 Members of the House and 30 Senators, was given allocation of over US$65 million in 2022. In addition, legislators and ministers get annual duty-free privileges for vehicles and other luxury goods. In comparison, a mere US$7.1 million went to the county’s healthcare facilities and US$2.76 million was given to secondary education. On the other hand, American taxpayers spend around US$60 million a year on health care in Liberia, and another US$23 million on education.
The U.S. Ambassador concluded that the country’s elite in Monrovia are treating destitute citizens in the leeward counties “with a neglect that borders on contempt,” and asks rhetorically: “Is this the best that Liberia has to offer?” The Weah government’s response to the Ambassador’s statement fails to address the question of allocating $65 million to 103 legislators plus duty free privileges while giving health and education for the entire country less than $10 million!
For his part, the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, Mr. Albert Chie, appeared to have acted like the proverbial baboon. The story is told that all the animals gathered for a feast. Before the meal was served the head of the animal kingdom said, the ugliest animal should go for water. Baboon jumped up, “Me, I am not taking the big bucket!”
Mr. Chie launched a tirade against the Ambassador accusing him of being “opposition supporter” and of interfering in the country’s internal affairs. It is not clear if he was responding to the $65 million allocation for the legislature alone or reacting to the sting of the “syndicate of the Legislature, Health Ministry and Internal Affairs Ministry.” Mr. Chie seems to miss the fact that no government can now hide behind the principle of noninterference in internal affairs to mistreat its own citizens. The international community has the right to protect and can no longer sit idly by to let countries brutalize their own citizens. This applies especially to Liberia which was only in the recent past rescued from its own fire by the international community.
In addition, Mr. Chie may not be aware that the tenure of American Ambassadors is usually three years. Ambassador McCarthy has been on assignment in Liberia for three years and his time is up for normal rotation. He was not recalled as Mr. Chie erroneously stated. Also, American diplomats do not normally speak wildly without evidence nor do they deviate from their government’s mandate, especially in articulating policy.
Concerning the Boakai-Koung ticket, those who are practicing the new songs could find themselves singing for a sanctioned presidential campaign. The United States Government has made it clear that anyone doing business with any sanctioned official will be treated as sanctioned. Senator Prince Y. Johnson is on the sanctioned list under the Magnitsky Act. He has made it clear that he anointed Koung as his alter ego. As a matter of fact, Senator Johnson announced Koung as Boakai’s running mate before the former Vice President had the chance to make it official.
When reportedly asked if he is willing to have Senator Prince Y. Johnson run the government in the background, Mr. Boakai, an octogenarian experiencing a declining heart condition, allegedly responded “I am willing to dance with the devil if that will help me win.” The Boakai Team has not issued a denial of the statement attributed to him since it was published. That decision, to insert the sanctioned and notorious PYJ so close to the Liberian presidency has raised eyebrows seriously both at home and abroad. For his protection from prosecution, Prince Johnson has tried several times to be Liberia’s President, an existential dream he has still not abandoned!
Furthermore, concerns have been mounting over Mr. Boakai’s health since he installed a pacemaker four years ago and had to be hospitalized suddenly earlier this year at the ELWA Hospital. There are growing speculations that he needs to travel abroad for a major and overdue medical procedure. Calls are coming up louder for him to come clean with the nation about his health. Of course his supporters hate discussions about this but it’s a disservice to the nation to pretend that we will not be risking the presidency and its difficult duties to someone who excites the likes of PYJ and naturally draws them within reach of the highest office in the country, by fiat!
As for Senator Koung, questions are swirling as to how he acquired the 100 earth-moving trucks he has leased out to ArcelorMittal-Liberia to haul their iron ore from the mines. Also, there are questions of his being in the web of financial misconduct in the “syndicate of the Legislature, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Internal Affairs.” He must declare his assets soon and clear the air. He should additionally address the issue of cultism and the selling of human parts. These are harmful traditional practices that the government and the international community are fighting to eradicate.
The country stands at the crossroads. It must decide if it wants to break with the past and move forward with prosperity for all. It cannot move forward with the Mephistopheles Waltz.