A former Liberian diplomat to the United States has expressed the need to seek Congressional actions, including calling on the US to impose sanctions on officials and supporters of the Liberian government if the government fails to institute the necessary reforms to ensure accountability, adherence to good governance and the rule of law.
Mr. Gabriel I.H. Williams made the call when he served as guest speaker at the special Sunday worship service commemorating this year’s Black History Month at the historic St. Andrews AME Church in the California state capital Sacramento on Sunday, February 16, 2020.
Mr. Williams told the congregation at the well-attended service that a campaign to lobby the US Congress to draw attention to the deteriorating economic and political state of affairs in Liberia has begun in the US. He added that the campaign is intended for Liberians and friends of Liberia in the US to strongly lobby Congress to ensure accountability and democratic governance in Liberia, and also for the US to impose sanctions on those culpable of corruption and human rights abuses if the Liberian government fails to institute democratic reforms.
The former Liberian Diplomat stated that through Congressional actions, the US can impose sanctions on Liberia under the Global Magnitsky Act, which was passed into law in 2016 by the US Congress to apply sanctions on human rights abusers and corrupt officials across the globe.
Mr. Williams indicated that even though Liberia is a sovereign nation, the Global Magnitsky Act empowers the US Congress to deal with matters in other countries, including Liberia. He added that many senior officials of the Liberian government are US citizens or have been residents with bank accounts, properties and other assets in the US, which could be used in legal actions to hold accountable those that are culpable of corruption and human abuses in Liberia.
According to Mr. Williams, the campaign seeks to encourage Liberians and friends of Liberia to contact the offices of Member of Congress in the districts where they reside and draw attention to the deteriorating state of affairs in Liberia. He added that Congressional actions would help prevent another destruction in Liberia after the US and the international community have provided billions of dollars for post-war economic recovery and good governance.
Mr. Williams, who is also a journalist and author, stated that since he published a recent opinion article in which he called on Liberians and friends of Liberia to lobby the US Congress for Liberia, he has received feedback from many people concerned about developments in Liberia, who said besides contacting Congress, they have written the White House and the Office of the Vice President of the United States. “We want to thank those who have taken the initiative, and to let every American citizen know that when you contact Congress or the White House on behalf of Liberia, you’re helping to prevent that country from sliding back into dictatorship or civil upheaval which could cause another round of death and destruction,” he added.
Mr. Williams, who previously served in the Liberian government as Deputy Minister of Information, said the prevailing state of affairs in Liberia is going from bad to worse because of rampant corruption and gross incompetence of the government of President Weah.
“As Liberians begin the third year of the Weah presidency, it has become abundantly clear that Mr. Weah does not know what to do as president of a nation, but he seems unwilling to surround himself with individuals with the competence and integrity to ensure productive leadership,” Mr. Williams indicated. “President Weah has been unable to say how he’s going to find solution to the extreme economic hardship affecting the Liberian people because he doesn’t know what to say.”
Speaking on this year’s Black History Month theme, “African Americans and the Vote,” he emphasized that every vote counts and can make a difference for good when the right candidates are elected. Mr. Williams, who is author of the recently-published book, Corruption is Destroying Africa: The Case of Liberia, said he decided to use Liberia as a case study of how voting for the wrong candidate could have negative or disastrous consequences for the general public.
According to the Liberian journalist and author, Mr. Weah became President of Liberia in 2018 after winning a landslide election based on his personality and popularity as a retired global soccer star. He added that an overwhelming majority of Liberians, mostly the young people who constitute more than half the total population, voted for Mr. Weah without vetting the kinds of policies and programs he would implement upon assuming the presidency.
“Mr. Weah’s election was a watershed moment for Liberia’s poor, many of whom idolized the man who rose from Monrovia’s slums to soccer stardom, and finally the highest office of the land,” Mr. Williams stated.
However, Mr. Williams stated, Liberia has been on a rapid decline and the post-war democratic and economic gains made are eroding under President Weah. He added that since Weah came to power, millions of dollars have gone missing from the public coffers without accountability, there has been growing clampdown on dissent, while public demand for the President to reshuffle his government or institute the necessary reforms to ensure accountability and good governance has gone unheeded.
According to him the latest example of Mr. Weah’s very poor leadership has been the chronic shortage of fuel in Liberia, which recently paralyzed the entire country for a couple of weeks, leaving schools and businesses closed, and thousands of people forced to trek on foot, reminiscent of the civil war years. He added that the negative economic impact on the country as a result of the gasoline shortage, which is unprecedented in post-war Liberia, will be profound.
Mr. Williams told the congregation that he decided to use Liberia as a case study because the history of Black Americans is the history of the beginning of Liberia.
He recalled that Liberia was founded in the early 1800s by men and women of color from the United States following the end of slavery. He added that Liberia gained independence in 1847 as Africa’s first republic, and ten of the country’s past presidents were American-born.
Whether in America or in Africa, Mr. Williams stated, it is very important that those vying for elective offices are properly vetted, as voting for the wrong candidate who lack the leadership ability and integrity to serve could also undermine the public good.
He observed that as Americans gear up to elect a President, Members of Congress and local government officials in November, African American voters are getting a significant amount of attention because the African voting bloc is recognized to be one of the most influential voting blocs in the US.
However, instead of exercising their power to vote, Mr. Williams said, some African Americans have the attitude that their vote does not matter, while others say they do not like to get involved in politics because it is a waste of time.
“Let it be made absolutely clear. We all need to be engaged in politics because it affects us down to our driver’s license. Voting at your local level will determine every time how your trash is going to be picked up. Voting for your state leaders will influence federal policies, such as your health care and college programs for your children,” he added.
During the course of this campaign season, Mr. Williams entreated the congregation, “listen to the candidates, check their backgrounds and platforms to make sure that those you vote for will be capable custodians of the public trust,” he told the congregation.
The special worship service was characterized by soul-stirring African American spiritual songs, like “Don’t You Let No Body Turn You Around …’, as part of the tributes for Black History Month, which is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the role of African Americans in US history.
Since its founding in 1850, which was the year the State of California joined the union, St. Andrews AME Church has been known for playing a critical role in catering to the spiritual and physical needs of the people. There are historical accounts of how the church hosted the first California Colored Citizens’ State Convention on the West Coast and actively supported California’s Black community in its struggle to gain the full rights of citizenship in the US.
Mr. Williams said he first visited St, Andrews Church in the 1990s when he was a Staff Writer with The Sacramento Observer, a leading African American newspaper in the US, after he fled Liberia due to death threats for his role as a journalist during Liberia’s civil war.