Editorial: What’s Next for Liberia, President Joe Biden?

President Joe Biden

In a short while from now, President Weah will be traveling to the United States of America to participate in a forum along with other African Heads of State in an effort to drum up support for the US in its engagement in the Ukraine-Russia war.

Aside from discussions on the Ukraine-Russia war, it is expected that bilateral discussions between US officials and African Heads of State will take place on the sidelines of the summit.

For a protracted period now, the Liberian government has been making frantic efforts and exploring various avenues to have President Weah pay an official visit to the White House.

For some time now this matter has run its course in the media with various sources suggesting that a George Weah visit to the White House at the invitation of President Joe Biden was off the cards.

And local officials have spared no effort apparently to get the White House to extend a formal invitation to President Weah to visit the US. Currently, according to sources, the Liberian government has entered into a contractual relationship with former US representative Ed Royce and Allen White, chief Prosecutor at the Sierra Leone Special Court, which brought down the guilty verdict on former President Charles Taylor for war crime charges and accordingly sentenced him to fifty (50) years in prison. Former Rep. Royce was Chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Both individuals, according to reports, have entered into a public relations contract with the Liberian government with the singular purpose of wooing US officials into extending an invitation to President Weah to visit the US.

The invitation has now been extended so the question is what next for both leaders? Are they going to engage in substantive face to face discussions on matters of mutual interests or is it going to be just another photo opportunity with President Joe Biden? 

The current US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas Greenfield, once served as US Ambassador to Liberia during the Obama administration. Prior to that, she had served as a US Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia where she served in the countryside.

It is she amongst most top ranking members of the Biden administration who has an appreciable understanding of Liberia, its mores, norms and customs, social and political culture. 

She is therefore best placed to provide the appropriate advice to President Biden on how to proceed in Liberia. The question is, will ongoing developments in the Ukraine take precedence over common but rising public concerns about runaway corruption in Liberia and the abuse of human rights?

The Biden administration has reportedly frowned on corrupt African governments and the general disregard for the rule of law in many African countries, whose diplomatic and perhaps moral support the US is now trying to court. And this includes Liberia.

While it may be a little too early to decipher what lies in store, it is however not out of order to speculate that the issue of a war and economic crimes court and US support for the establishment of such a court will figure high on the agenda.

According to informed sources, the US government may likely signal its intent to provide support for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia. However it remains unclear at this point whether President Weah will be favorably disposed to such an idea.

This is because a number of top officials of this government are linked to the commission of war crimes. Some like Grand Gedeh County Superintendent Kai Farley are appointed officials while others like George Boley and Prince Y. Johnson are elected officials.

All three individuals are named in the TRC Report as perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia. Prince Y. Johnson, now senator of Nimba County, holds a distinction as the singular and foremost individual with the highest number of violations attributed to him personally.

George Boley, now an elected official representing Grand Gedeh County in the House of Representatives, also holds a distinction as leader of the smallest ex-warring factions but with the highest number of violations attributed to it. 

There have been increasing calls for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia, but to which this government has paid either lip service or treated with benign disinterest.

More to that, the Americans are no doubt fully aware that Prince Johnson has and continues to provide political support to President George Weah and is poised to do so in the October 2023 elections.

Against this backdrop, it remains to be seen whether President Weah will continue to keep Prince Johnson in his fold or whether he will ditch him as part of a compromise deal to assure him of continuous US support.

Lest it be forgotten, both Allen White and Ed Royce have in the past been strong advocates for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia. 

Against this backdrop, it appears that both individuals may, more likely than not, seek to convince US officials of the need to provide official support for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia, except of course they receive a nod from their employers (GOL) to not do so.

Whatever the case, the world is watching, Liberia is watching. Ex warlords are also watching to see what will come out of this visit. 

Will the US seek to have President Weah agree to the establishment of the court as a way of ending the culture of impunity in Liberia, or will the US falter as her critics opine?

As a reminder to Catholic President Joe Biden, five US citizens, American Catholic nuns were murdered right here in Liberia allegedly by forces under the control of Charles Taylor.

Another American missionary of the Hare Krishner sect was also murdered right here in Liberia allegedly by forces under the command of Prince Johnson.

Will Biden let them go scot-free or will he bring them to book is the question.  The recent violent attack on unarmed student protesters speaks volumes. And so we ask: what next for Liberia, President Joe Biden?