The Case of Liberia’s 2023 Election
By Wonderr K. Freeman, Attorney, CFCS
As Liberia marches toward October 2023, there is both hope and anxiety in the air. On the one hand, it’s clear that they will finally be able to dump their celebrity President who, after 6 years, is still clueless about the job. After voting for “Hope for Change” or “Change for Hope”, Liberians are facing hopelessness like never before. On the other hand, the anxiety part is trying to figure out what comes after the pillaging and partying of the Weah’s years. Mr. Joseph Nyumah Boakai, the often-presumed “frontrunner” has forged a coalition with Liberia’s most unrepentant former warlord, Prince Y. Johnson and his MDR party. If they get their wish, it means Liberia will be governed by a two-party coalition of UP & MDR. And this is exactly what’s creating the anxiety. When accosted about his choice of Prince Johnson’s protégé, Mr. Boakai was reported as replying “I’m willing to dance with the devil” – if that is what it takes to win the Presidency. And with that fateful choice of Mr. Jeremiah Koung, a budget mafia kingpin and a protégé of Mr. Johnson, the UP-MDR was sealed. By forging a 50:50 coalition with Mr. Johnson, Mr. Boakai, in one swoop, elevated Mr. Johnson from his pariah status to an equal governing partner. Quite Shocking!
Once Mr. Boakai opted to “dance with the devil”, some of his staunch supporters, who are appreciated locally as advocates for good governance, justice, and accountability, suddenly changed their tone on justice and impunity. I will take the Liberty to ruffle a few feathers and call out likes of Senator Darius Dillon who had, in the past, sparred with Prince Johnson in the Senate over the former call for war crimes court, who now suddenly finds himself as an unwitting coalition partner of Senator Johnson and his MDR party. Martin Kollie, an ex-student activist known for writing op-eds on good governance, justice, and academic probity suddenly became praise-singers for the “winning ticket” – a ticket that includes Prince Johnson’s protégé and renown budget mafia kingpin, Jeremiah Koung. Even ordinary Boakai supporters are now changing tones on justice for war crimes. One must note that partnering with Prince Johnson/MDR and justice for victims of war crimes are mutually exclusive. Mr. Johnson routinely rained insults on anyone who calls for a war crimes court. So, it’s a no-brainer that if one gets into a coalition with Johnson, one is simultaneously getting out of any war crimes court establishment. For Joseph Boakai, a supposedly “wise” old man, this is a small price to realize his Presidential dream. Are Liberians also equally willing to the pay the price for this fateful dance with the devil? Have we even bothered to count the costs? By the way, how much does it really cost to “dance with the devil? This op-ed attempts, therefore, to count the costs, since it’s clear the devil doesn’t give anything for free.
Showing Uncle Sam the Middle Finger Come with Consequences
On December 9, 2021, the US Treasury Department wrote the following:
As Senator, Johnson has been involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment. As part of the scheme, upon receiving funding from the Government of Liberia (GOL), the involved government ministries and organizations launder a portion of the funding for return to the involved participants. The pay-for-play funding scheme involves millions of U.S. dollars. …Additionally, Johnson receives an undeserved salary from the GOL as a salaried intelligence “source” yet he does not provide any form of intelligence reporting to the GOL; ... Johnson has also offered the sale of votes in multiple Liberian elections in exchange for money. Johnson is designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for…corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.
Joseph Boakai and his Unity Party (including the likes of Dillon, Nyonblee and Martin) have also read what the Americans wrote about Prince Johnson. But their love for the “winning ticket” is apparently too strong. Or maybe they have been fake advocates all along! So, in their calculus, they say “to hell with the USA; we will dance with the devil”. “We must win at any price”. I seriously doubt Prince Johnson can make them win, but I’ll address that subject matter later. For now, Let’s suppose that Prince Johnson can make them win. If this is the case, what will it cost Liberians? To predict this cost, I will utilize historical and contemporary economic data (2000 to 2023). Using data from The World Bank open-source database and the US Government federal aid database, I will calculate what Liberia has lost economically, because we have clueless people running the government. In so doing, I will look at the following international development statistics: (1) US aid disbursements to Liberia; (2) Official Development Assistance to Liberia, and (3) Foreign Direct Investments to Liberia.
The table above catalogs US aid disbursements to Liberia (2000- 2023). Before Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 1st term, Liberia received US$361m from the US government. Step forward Ellen Johnson, aid disbursement jumps to US$1.05 billion (an increase of near 200% [approximately $700m]). This is what is possible when your President is respected by the US government. Again, over the course of Madame Sirleaf’s second term, the US aid jumped even more – US$2.07 billion – again increasing another 100% from her first term. We can argue as to what Ellen and Joseph Boakai did with that money, but we cannot argue that the US government was good to Liberia under her tenure. To now treat the US government with contempt by incorporating persons that the US government has sanctioned is like saying to the USA; you can keep your money, we will make it on our own. Who, in their right frame of mind, walks away from at least a billion US dollars in US aid? We only chose a footballer/musician as President and lost at least $1billion in US aid. How much will we lose if we chose an unrepentant killer who is sanctioned by the US government? But Joseph Boakai and his UP desperados are encouraging Liberians to disrespect and disregard the US. How callous! Sadly, I see people jumping up and down and clapping for sanctioned people like Prince Johnson, Nathaniel McGill, Bill Twehway, and others. So pathetic! The likes of Darius Dillon, Nyonblee Karngar, Martin Kollie etc. need to explain how they will replace the US aid that amounts to a billion USD if, as a consequence of our deliberate choice, the US disengages. At the risk of losing up to US$1 billion, this dance with the devil is beyond costly.
The next table shows official development assistance [ODA], i.e., the international community engagement with Liberia over the course of twenty-two years. There is no doubt as to which direction we are heading as a country. Before Ellen, Liberian received US$900m. Step forward the globally respected leader, Mrs. Sirleaf, and ODA shoots to $5.4 billion (1st term) and S$4.5 billion (2nd term). Sadly, after Liberians decided they wanted a soccer star and prolific musician for President, ODA dropped to US$2.4 billion. It’s anybody’s guess how low it will go when the UP-MDR coalition takes over, with US-sanctioned Prince Johnson and his budget mafia protégé Jeremiah Koung running the show. When your government doesn’t have a good reputation and its leaders are not respected globally, of course, the international community will disengage. Who suffers? The common people! They will feel the pain, as they are experiencing now. People like PYJ, Boakai, and Koung have a fallback position – there is always the GOL budget to feast on. Liberians are already suffering terribly under the current CDC Kleptocracy. And it will only get worse with people like PYJ, Koung, “Kekurah Kpoto” Snowe and the entire coterie of budget mafias running the show.
|Official Development Assistance to Liberia|
|Amt in USD||Period/Years||Note|
|5,352,970,123||2006-2011||EJS 1st term|
|4,516,090,088||2012-2017||EJS 2nd term|
|2,415,530,029||2018-2022||George Weah term|
Chasing Away Investors – Private Sector Costs
By now, it is clear to any objective person that when a nation chooses to be led by their least capable citizens, there is a high price to pay. In the previous sections, we saw how the US government and the rest of the international community scaled down assistance to Liberia, costing Liberia billions of dollars. But Liberians never learn from their mistake. They suffered badly after voting for Charles Taylor; yet they went right ahead voting for Charles Taylor’s wife. It wasn’t long before she introduced her governing theory: “it’s our time to eat”. Even now, many Liberians, led by Joseph Boakai and the UP desperados, their hangers-on and other “winning tickets” advocates still think that it’s a good thing to dance with the devil. I find this twisted logic so difficult to fathom! But again, “this too is Liberia”!
Yet, the cost of dancing with the devil does not stop at the governmental level or at the level of multilateral institutions like the UN, IMF, EU, OECD, The World Bank, etc. There are of course private sector costs to be borne when you choose a leader that is not respected by the international community, a mobster, or a leader under sanctions for public corruption. Investors simply stay away, and there is always a likelihood that donor funds will be squandered. In the interim, extreme poverty, deprivation and hopelessness plague the land. The next table looks at what happened to foreign direct investment before Ellen Johnson came to power, during her two tenures, and lastly, during the five plus years of George Weah. Now, before Ellen Sirleaf, foreign direct investment (FDI) stood at US$560m. During Ellen’s first term, foreign investors poured in USD4.8billion, and by her second term, they poured in an additional US$5.6 billion. Now, after Ellen, Liberians had the option of choosing someone of similar global stature to carry on the legacy. But no, they decided, “you know book, you na know book, we will vote for you”. And so, they got George Weah and the Buga-Dance crew. Instead of bringing in billions of dollars in foreign investments, Weah only managed to bring in US$350m, an amount that is only 6% of what came in under each of Ellen’s two terms. This is hardly surprising! People like Nathaniel McGill, Cllr. Syrenius Cephus, Cllr Archibald Bernard and President Weah himself know exactly why investors fled Liberia. When you routinely shake down investors, of course they will flee. Now, just imagine what would happen when the US-sanctioned PYJ and the budget mafia take over. I guarantee you Liberia will be reduced to zero. Nothing good with come of a PYJ/JNB collabo. Nothing!
Non-Monetary Costs – Dishonoring the Victims of the Civil War
Of course, not all costs can be measured in dollars and cents. Liberia is a nation struggling to recover from its recent horrible past. It is generally accepted that at least 250,000 persons died in our civil crisis. Joseph Boakai and the UP desperados are showing utter disregard for the victims of the civil war – dead and living. We agree that Prince Johnson is a Senator, but only for Nimba. Now, to have the US-sanctioned Prince Johnson and the budget mafia clan preside over the entire country as an equal coalition partner is a step too far. This is sheer callousness – all in the name of grabbing power and the spoils that come with it. The souls of those whose blood was spilled so that Liberia can have prosperity, development, freedom, and justice will know no peace while the notorious PYJ and the budget mafia are presiding over the government. I do wonder sometimes what is going on in the mind of JNB and his Unity Party people. This is shameful power greed. Do they really believe that they can dance with the devil and escape the consequences? Yet, I see people calling Boakai a “wise” statesman! Really? Is Joseph Boakai a “wise” man? What kind of “wise” leader dances with the devil and does NOT care about the consequences? If this PYJ/Koung thing was meant to be a joke; they need to stop, because it is definitely NOT funny! It’s an invitation to misery.
Dancing with the Devil; How Much Is It Worth in Votes?
Joseph Boakai and the UP desperados strongly believe Prince Johnson has significant votes to deliver Nimba. At least enough to add to what Boakai has in “storage” from 2017. I’m not one of those who believe that fairytale. But let’s suppose that Prince Johnson does have the votes to give to Boakai, how many are they? For those Liberians who still have their sanity intact, attempting to forge a governing coalition with Prince Johnson and the budget mafia is tantamount to betraying Liberia. For every betrayal, there is a price. Recall Jesus and Judas? The price was 30 pieces of silver. And there was famously Caesar & Brutus – and when Caesar recognized the last sword in his side was that of Brutus, he said “et tu brute? (i.e., and you too, Brutus?). I can just imagine what Ellen, Urey, Costa, and others must have said after learning about Boakai’s double dealing? I mean as old as Boakai is, he still managed “to score” a hat-trick of betrayals! Quite remarkable! So, what is the price for Boakai’s legendary betrayal of Liberia? What’s the price of Boakai’s dance with the devil? It’s crystal clear that Boakai did it for votes, but for how many votes? The table below show PYJ historical election performance 2005 to present.
|Nature||Detail||Ave Vote Count||% of total|
|Category 1||PYJ on the Ballot /PRESIDENTIAL election - Nimba votes, average (2011 & 2017)||109,083||8%|
|Category 2||PYJ SENATORIAL election results - Nimba votes, average (2005 & 2014)||59,876||40%|
|Category 3||PYJ Supported Candidates - Nimba votes, Grupee/NUDP 2011, Koung/MDR 2020||43405||32%|
To simplify, Prince Johnson’s participation in our body politics falls in three categories. When he himself is a presidential candidate, that’s 110,000 votes (80k of which comes from Nimba). When he is a senatorial candidate – in Nimba – he averages 60,000 votes. And lastly when he’s supporting another individual (in Nimba/Senatorial), those candidates averaged only 40,000 votes. Is 40,000 votes a good price for the betrayal of Liberia? Note that Liberia national voter registry has #2.1 million voters – excluding Nimba. Mr. Boakai, the UP desperados, and the budget mafia think they have the Presidency sealed. My two eyeballs are telling me something else. And I trust my own two eyes any day! What can 40k votes do for a person who needs at least 1.1 million votes to win? PYJ 40k Nimba votes certainly cannot replace strategy and hard work. But that’s the problem with naked greed; it beclouds the judgment. Both Mr. Boakai and the UP desperados have entered “blood covenant” with the devil and the budget mafia clan, now they want all Liberians to pay the price. Just imagine?
So, ultimately, how much does it cost to dance with the devil? I have proven that the US government scaling down its engagement with Liberia (2018-2023) cost us at least US$1 billion. Maybe we will get back that money from Unity Party, the MDR, or the budget mafia. I have also proved that the international community’s disengagement (2018-2022) costs us another US$2 billion. Who will cover these gaps? Nathaniel McGill? Gbekugbeh Jr? Rich man Koung? And, even worst of all, since 2018, foreign direct investment has dwindled to its lowest level ever (even lower than what it was in A.D 2000). This too cost us another US$5 billion in lost foreign investments. In total, Liberia lost at least US$8 billion in international aid and foreign direct investments, simply for dancing with a clueless celebrity footballer and his Buga-Dance Crew. It will surely get worse, if we follow the senile Boakai (and the UP desperados) and dance with former warlord and US-sanctioned PYJ, and his budget mafia protégé. I project Liberia will lost even more – about USD9-10 billion in international support and private investments for the duration of the UP-MDR coalition government. It’s pretty obvious that dancing with the devil comes with costs and consequences. Liberians need to know how dearly it will cost, should we blindly and defiantly choose to follow Joseph Boakai and the UP desperados and dance with the devil. We are talking about losing up to US$10 billion in foreign aid and private investments. There is going to be joblessness, and there is going to be hopelessness. And people are going to cry and cry!
Of course, one cannot put a price on the dishonoring of the victims of our civil crisis. One cannot put a price tag on insecurity, secret killings, impunity, and drug abuse. One cannot put a price tag on being considered a pariah nation and being ostracized from the comity of nations. But surely, just as we suffered so badly under Charles Taylor, and just as we are now suffering so badly under Weah/Taylor Kleptocracy, we will suffer even worse when we turn our beloved nation over to mobsters and mafias. We will experience suffering on a whole new level – suffering like we’ve never seen before. So…Liberians, now you know the full costs of dancing with the devil, the choice is all yours. Good Luck!
By Wonder Koryenen Freeman, CFCS, MBA, LLM, MA. WK Freeman is a Liberian professional, a trade & investment attorney, accountant, financial crimes expert, and political economist currently residing in New York, USA. He’s passionate about economic justice, accountable governance, rule of law and economic development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org