.... Most Liberians can hardly wait for his term to end. Through his Five-year Presidency so far, only Weah and his officials rate his performance favorably. For most Liberians, the wretchedness of the economy is a bitter, lived experience and the consensus is that as president, Weah's incompetence has been unparalleled.
The Millennium Compact Challenge (MCC) scorecard of the George Weah administration was celebrated with much pomp and pageantry. To President Weah and his supporters, the review of the administration’s performance by the MCC was right on course and almost believable.
The Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah disclosed that the Millennium Challenge Corporation scorecard signifies that the government and the country are moving in what he termed an "upward trend." He even went further by saying " two big things have happened for us and they are reputational clarity, reputational direction, confidence, and faith in the stewardship of President Weah.”
At the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ summit, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) selected Senegal, The Gambia, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Zambia. Sadly, Liberia didn’t meet the MCC selection criteria. According to the MCC, “ selection was based primarily on a country's overall performance in three broad policy categories: Ruling Justly, Encouraging Economic Freedom, and Investing in People. The Board relied, to the fullest extent possible, upon transparent and independent indicators to assess countries' policy performance and demonstrated commitment in these three broad policy areas.” In short, the Weah-led administration failed in “ruling justly, encouraging economic freedom, and investing in people” cost Liberia missing out on the Biden’s administration investments of 1.2 billion in Africa through the MCC.
Also, at the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, President Joseph R. Biden on Wednesday, December 14, 2022, informed the world, the MCC signed its first-ever Regional Transport Compact with the Governments of Benin and Niger. The Benin-Niger Regional Transport Compact is designed to reduce transportation costs along the corridor between the Port of Cotonou in Benin and Niger's capital city of Niamey.
The Presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding to help them develop an electric vehicle value chain during the US-African Leaders’ Summit. Accordion to the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's announcement at the U.S-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, the plan to develop an electric battery supply chain opens the door for U.S and like-minded investment to keep more value-added [levels] in Africa.’’
George Weah’s election five years ago as Liberian president was greeted with great enthusiasm and expectation. Many Liberians saw Weah as a messiah rescuing them from years of economic disempowerment, institutionalized corruption, and insecurity. These high hopes were unsurprising.
The Liberia economy, though growing at a 3% rate, wasn’t benefiting most Liberians. Unemployment, especially among young people, was widespread and growing. The World Bank estimated Liberia’s poverty rate to be as high as 52%, an embarrassing number given the country's external debt was canceled before Weah came into office. The result of the toxic combination of high joblessness and poverty rates, is a life expectancy of 63 years, one of the lowest in developing countries.
As Weah prepares to go to the polls, pundits have been analyzing his scorecard and asking whether he deserves another 6 years in office. What is clear is that this time around, his re-election campaign has not been greeted with the same level of enthusiasm. Why the change of fortunes? The answer seems to lie that most of the things Liberians complained about in 2018 are still unresolved. In particular, unemployment, poverty, and economic disempowerment remain firmly in place.
Since Weah came to power, Liberia’s unemployment rate has increased from 3% in 2017 to 4.1%. In July 2019, USA Today reported that Liberia was among the top tenth poorest countries in the world. An estimated 64 percent of Liberians live below the poverty line, of whom 1.3 million live in extreme poverty. The big question is: can Weah win reelection amid his disappointing economic or governance performance?
During his inauguration address in 2018, President Weah promised to change the structure of the economy through “ huge investments in agriculture, infrastructure, human capital, and technology.” He also promised to tackle corruption, however, he has failed in living up to those promises.
The majority of Liberians regard the economic problems as paramount, but President Weah-led administration appears to have paid less attention to the economy. In the five years (2018-2022) of Weah's administration, real GDP growth averaged 1.2% to 5%. This record is much lower than the four years of his predecessor (2006–2009) when growth averaged between 5% to 9%.
President Sirleaf to her credit was able to market her government which led to strong foreign investors’ appetite for Liberia. The difference, it seems, is in the leadership and policy choices of the different periods. Therefore, the 5 percent in real GDP growth in 2021 under Weah’s administration can hardly be said to be “unprecedented.” It’s poorer than his predecessor’s achievements in fewer beginning circumstances.
For example, Weah failed to prevent impending inflation in 2020 during COVID- 19. This was because he didn’t prioritize the economy and took too long to articulate an economic transformation strategy. Another example of a lack of focus on the economy was his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in February 2017, Weah asked for a sports project, not economic support.
President Weah’s campaign against corruption is regarded by Liberians as hypocritical. Critics also point to the fact that Weah ceded the management of the economy to Samuel Tweah, a man that has been in every mismanagement and corruption scandal since Weah came to power. Together, they have found a ready excuse for his economic downturn in the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine. Still, long before these, the Weah-led administration had thoroughly mismanaged the economy.
Most Liberians can hardly wait for his term to end. Through his Five-year Presidency so far, only Weah and his officials rate his performance favorably. For most Liberians, the wretchedness of the economy is a bitter, lived experience and the consensus is that as president, Weah's incompetence has been unparalleled. With the unmitigated misery confronting a majority of Liberia’s 5.2 million people, Weah has returned after abandoning the entire country for Morocco, Egypt, France, Monaco, Qatar, and the United States.
Five years after the election of President George Weah, poverty has reportedly increased by 1.1% (50.9 to 52 ) according to the World Bank’s 2021 Poverty and Equity Brief. The brief revealed that “44 percent of the population lived under extreme poverty ($1.90 per day) and poverty in Liberia is projected to increase over the next few years.
Worthy of note is the fact that it was also mentioned by the World Bank that a GDP growth rate of 3% is insufficient to reduce poverty in the country. In practical terms, under Weah’s administration, there appears to be No improvement in the numbers; roughly 2.4 million Liberians are unable to cater to their daily needs of feeding, transportation, and other human engagements.
Weah had promised much but delivered little. The economy is on a cliff, afflicted on all fronts, complete with Liberia’s staple food and fuel shortages. Food is still very expensive. The 2022 Global Hunger Index classifies Liberia’s hunger level as ‘serious’. Liberia ranked 113 of 121 countries on hunger conditions. 38.9% of the population is undernourished and 45% of deaths under the age of five are linked to malnutrition.
The World Bank says Liberia requires between US$350 million and US$600 million annually to fund roads and electricity. Borrowing, which is Weah’s favored funding source, is unwise. Currently, Liberia spends US$105 million of its revenue in 2022 to service debt which jumped to US$ 1.8 billion in 2022.
At the end of 2018, the total national debt stock was US$878.2 million. Take the road network example, the expansion of 45km or 27.8 miles of 4-lane ELWA–RIA highway costing up to US$101m has been permanently under construction for about two years. Timelines have been shifted on several occasions, causing commuters from and to the airport much pain with Ruth Coker Collins, the Minister of Public Works publicly admitting that the contractor, East International was incapable of fixing the ELWA-RIA Highway. What “bad road medicine man” boasts is empty because roads are the most significant social investment in an economy and his administration has ignored such.
Weah said he inherited a broke country and he claimed he was unable to jump-start the economy because of falling export prices and dwindling government revenue due to Covid-19 and Russia’s war in Ukraine. The collapse affected Weah’s ability to put together a coherent budget. For instance, his 2020 budget had a deficit of over US$20 Million because of the administration’s inability to implement an expansionary fiscal policy, the economy has been grappling with anemic growth since Weah’s election.
The country's inflation was 12 percent in 2017 but rose to 23.6 percent in 2018, 27 percent in 2019, and 17 percent in 2020 followed by a rebound to about 6.9 percent in 2022. But the IMF projects that growth “should reach 5-6 percent in the medium term if Liberia taps its clear potential through persistent structural reforms and prudent policies.”
Weah’s scorecard in fighting corruption has been bad. He has failed to prosecute high-profile politicians, and civil servants for corruption and secured convictions in a handful of cases. Under Weah, Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) has ranked Liberia among the poor-performing countries in the fight against corruption. Out of 180 countries captured, Liberia ranked 136, scoring 29.
Scores of government officials, including the Chief of Staff in Weah’s Office, the Solicitor General, Managing Director of the country’s National Port Authority Managing Director, are currently sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for corruption. Weah suspended those officials before they tendered their resignation. Weah’s anti-corruption efforts have been marred by the perception that he refused to fight corruption. And the failure to prosecute his former Chief of Staff, Nathaniel Mcgill after the US Department of Treasury sanctioned him has accentuated the perception that he is not interested in fighting corruption.
Another strong ally, a Managing Director at the National Port Authority, Bill Twehway, also got a pass from Weah after being credibly accused of corrupt practices by the US Department of Treasury. The failure of the government in steering the economy and securing Liberia, despite its big spending, cannot be divorced from official corruption. The extent of the looting of the public treasury is unlikely to be known until Weah has left office. But the various forms of nonfinancial corruption of the administration are well known.
Academically, President Weah’s leadership should be a case study on how not to misplace priority and an excellent opportunity for success in a contentious society. President Weah’s incapacitation to meet people’s expectations is the bane of his administration. As we prepare to elect fresh leaders next year, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that the people we think are capable of doing the job may end up becoming a disappointment like Weah. If that happens, the honorable thing to do is to own up to the facts instead of being self-deluded like Weah’s supporters. I rest my case.
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the Daily Observer newspaper.