Two Liberian foreign policy experts in History and Political Science have highlighted low impact, selfish interest and lack of education as factors affecting Liberia, in spite of its good and attractive foreign policy.
Dr. George Klay Kieh, professor of West Georgia University in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States, and Dr. Augustine Konneh, former Director of the Liberia Foreign Service Institute, currently serving as Dean of the African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU), made these observations on June 29 at AMEU’s second lecture session hosted in the conference room.
The two had their secondary and university education in Liberia before leaving for the United States to earn their graduate and doctorate degrees in their respective disciplines.
Dr. Konneh laid the premise that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. He said Liberia’s foreign policy seeks to establish good neighborly relations and investments without interfering into the domestic policies of other countries.
He said that Liberia’s foreign policy had been attractive in some administrations, including those of Presidents William V.S. Tubman, William R. Tolbert, Samuel K. Doe and immediate former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, “but its impact on the ordinary people has remained a nightmare.”
Konneh said the Tubman regime made it a priority in aligning the country with the United States and other nations to attract investment that would foster its development, and the effort led to the drafting of the Open Door Policy, which put Liberia on par with Japan in terms of economic development.
Liberia at the time, he said, had about 11.5 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, “but the citizens remained at the lowest margin of this growth.”
He said though Liberia’s relation with the United States brought about the building of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center and some schools, the investment was huge enough to have enabled the country to realize a minimum number of basic infrastructure.
He attributed Tubman’s failure to family interest and pressure from the True Whig Party (TWP) which, accordingly, could not permit him to seek the interest of the people.
Dr. Konneh, however, said Tubman brought a breakthrough in the unification of the entire country, which set the basis for Liberia to play key roles in the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was later renamed the African Union (AU).
He said under the Tolbert administration, Liberia built relations with the United States, but the relationship was beclouded by suspicion when Tolbert began to relate to Sierra Leone and Guinea, which were described back then as “radicals.”
Furthermore, Dr. Konneh said the extension of relations with communist countries in the east expanded the suspicion. In terms of development, he said that Tolbert was one President who heavily subsidized education.
For Samuel K. Doe, Dr. Konneh said his relation with the United States was good, and because of that, he cut-off diplomatic ties with Libya.
For Charles Taylor, he said Liberia had unfavorable international relations as human rights record and instability caused by Taylor in other countries undermined the country’s foreign relations.
The Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration, Dr. Konneh said, is one that attracted huge foreign aid and investment in the country’s history.
Again, like Tubman, he said not much impact was made on the country and its people. Dr. Konneh added that the Sirleaf Administration maintained a balance between the USA and communist countries, including China, thereby making her to be the most successful in Liberia’s foreign relations.
Though the George Weah Administration is just beginning, Dr. Konneh said there are manifested gaps in conducting protocol and building relations; citing the President’s congratulatory message to the Latin American country of Venezuela, and poor conduct of protocol during the inauguration as examples of a trend that may lead to having poor relations with the West.
He said Liberians need solid education that will be inclusive of all, and without discrimination; diplomats have to be well trained to gather information and negotiate with other countries to improve Liberia’s relation.
In order for a country to benefit from foreign relations, Dr. Konneh said there should be a national interest that every citizen will focus on in their development drive.
Alluding to Dr. Konneh’s analyses of Liberia’s Foreign Policy, Dr. Kieh, who is serving as AMEU’s guest lecturer at the Graduate School, said he was tired seeing Liberia being a point of ridicule and pity.
Kieh said that the country’s foreign policy has been good, especially in the regimes of Tubman, Tolbert, Doe and, most recently, Sirleaf; but the ordinary citizens are still lagging behind in abject poverty.
He said the Doe regime attracted US$500 million in aid, while the Sirleaf Administration attracted about $16 billion direct foreign investment. He added that the Sirleaf Administration received the highest aid ever, “but the impact on the country was very low.”
He said what Liberians need most is “solid education” that will make an emphasis on the Sciences and build a sense of innovation and patriotism to put national interest above individual interest.
Dr. Kieh said individual interest is now entrenched in the Liberian society, and everyone seeking public positions see them as a place of profit-making rather than a place to serve.
The lecture series brought together five female students and over 40 males.