Liberian Embassy in U.S. in Dire Straits

The Embassy of the Republic of Liberia, Washington, DC

As former leaders of the Press Union of Liberia now resident in the United States, we, Gabriel I.H. Williams and Emmanuel D. Abalo, issue this statement regarding deteriorating conditions at the Embassy of Liberia in Washington, D.C.

We are alarmed that normal operations at the Liberian Embassy in the United States have been partially paralyzed since the government of President George M. Weah recalled several diplomatic personnel with immediate effect in August 2023. In addition to those recalled, several other diplomatic personnel are expected to depart the U.S. because the State Department has published a list of Liberian diplomats whose accreditation has been terminated or will no longer be accepted by year’s end.  

Our primary concern regards the abrupt manner of the government’s recall which did not take into consideration the importance of orderly transition of diplomatic personnel to ensure transfer of knowledge and policy continuity.

We raise this alarm because the diplomatic positions that are being rendered vacant as a result of the unprecedented recall or termination of accreditation may not be refilled expeditiously.  This is in consideration of the prevailing situation in Liberia where normal government functions have nearly grounded to a halt, as Liberians prepare for presidential and general elections in October.  

Critical departments at the Liberian Embassy affected include the Consular Section, which handles issuance of visa, authentication of documents and other consular matters; the Passport Section, which handles the issuance of the Liberian ECOWAS passport; and the Finance Section, which handles financial matters, including the regular remittance of hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars to Liberia generated from consular services. 

We note that the Weah government’s recall of Liberian diplomats occurred after the U.S. State Department sent a Note Verbale (diplomatic note) to the Liberian Embassy in Washington on August 10, 2023. In the said Note Verbale, the State Department referred the Embassy to its previous diplomatic note of August 2, 2021, announcing a policy concerning the duration of accreditation of certain members of the Liberian diplomatic mission. The State Department also provided a list of Liberian diplomats “whose accreditation has been terminated or will no longer be accepted by the end of 2023.”

Unfortunately, the Weah government, through the Embassy, did not respond to any of the State Department’s communications regarding the accreditation of Liberian diplomats, even though the State Department offered to work with the Embassy in addressing such matters, as reflected in the August 2nd diplomatic note.

It is disappointing to observe that the Liberian Embassy in the U.S., which is regarded as Liberia’s premier diplomatic mission because of the special bilateral relationship subsisting between both countries, has been in a state of decline since Weah’s government came to power.  The appointment of a new Ambassador was followed by personnel changes, which did not take into consideration the significance of knowledge transfer and competence, while ethnicity and loyalty to the ruling party became pronounced. The Embassy’s failure to respond to the communications from the State Department since 2021 is an example of the incompetence that has affected operations at the Embassy.

However, we applaud President Weah for the appointment of Jeff G. Dowana as Liberia’s Ambassador to the U.S. in late 2022. Ambassador Dowana, who served for several years respectively as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Liberian Mission at the United Nations in New York and the Liberian Embassy in Washington, is a very seasoned and competent diplomat who is familiar with Washington, where there has been abundant amount of goodwill and strong bipartisan support for Liberia.

Nevertheless, Ambassador Dowana appears to be hamstrung by serious lack of funds to ensure efficient operation, because the Embassy is under instruction to regularly transfer to Monrovia hundreds of thousands of dollars generated from consular services. Before his appointment, about 10 local staff who worked in various embassy sections, including the janitor and embassy ground security, were laid off because the Liberian government said it was faced with financial problems.

As a result of the financial challenges, the Embassy’s main telephone line was recently disconnected for about a month, while the insurance on the official vehicle of the Ambassador also terminated temporarily for non-payment of bills, leaving the Ambassador to seek private means of commuting.

Meanwhile, Embassy personnel have reportedly not received their salaries since July, and the government also owes three months arrears in rental allowance to diplomatic staff. Given the prevailing situation in Liberia, there is growing concern that some of the affected diplomats might not receive all their required financial benefits, as the government has similarly done to some diplomats in the past.

While it may appear to be self-serving, we are constrained to use the example of Mr. Williams, the co-author of this press statement, who served with dedication and distinction as a diplomat at the Liberian Embassy in Washington for several years. Since his dismissal by the Weah government in 2019, Mr. Williams has been denied his financial benefits, which include salary and rental arrears, and funds for relocation in keeping with established policies.  Due to the failure to pay his rental arrears, Mr. Williams was taken to court by his former landlord in Montgomery County, Maryland, USA and the court ruled in favor of the landlord. Mr. Williams’ legal problem was brought to the attention of President Weah and the Foreign Minister through the Embassy, but there has been no intervention because Mr. Williams is said to be perceived as anti-government.

When contacted for reaction on the prevailing situation at the Liberian Embassy, Ambassador Dowana clarified that the affected diplomats are being recalled and not dismissed as being widely circulated, indicating that some of them have already been informed about their reassignments. He added that the Embassy is currently engaged with the State Department regarding the status of some of the affected diplomats. We are also encouraged by Ambassador Dowana’s assurance that the Liberian government would do whatever was necessary to provide the necessary resources to the affected diplomats.  

We conclude with a recommendation to the Liberian government to allow for a certain percentage of the revenues generated from consular fees to assist with the operations of the Embassy instead of all the funds being remitted to Liberia. In the past, consular revenues were used to fund Embassy operations and assist diplomatic staff with what was called “cost of living adjustment,” because of the puny amounts allocated in Liberia’s national budget that could not keep the Embassy fully operational and ensure a decent means of livelihood for diplomatic staff and their families.