By Jonathan Paye-Layleh
The United States Government has pledged to support “job and greater wealth creation” to the new Liberian government under the leadership of football legend George Weah whose inauguration on Monday drew more than 35,000 people to the SKD Complex that left at least 35 persons injured (according to the LNP) as they tried to force their way into the already packed stadium.
The United States under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas A. Shannon, who led a high-level delegation to the inauguration, spoke with confidence in an exclusive interview before his meeting with President George Weah on Tuesday.
“This is a great man,” Shannon said of the 51-year old president. “He’s someone who has distinguished himself in many fields, sport being just one of them, but somebody who obviously has an understanding and feels for the Liberian people. So it’s our intent to do everything we can do help him be as successful as possible, as early as possible.”
Since the end of the country’s 14-year civil wars in 2003, youth unemployment has remained at an all-time high.
“Probably most important will be looking for ways to help the president generate more economic growth, more job creation and greater wealth and stabilizing the economy that has suffered terribly through conflict and disease and pandemic,” Ambassador Shannon said.
“I think through commerce, through investment, and through helping connect Liberia better to regional trade, Liberia has a great opportunity to start generating the kind of economic growth it needs,” he said.
Shannon said the people’s response to Weah’s inauguration “was quite remarkable and I think it underscores the tremendous opportunity he has to be a great leader.”
The Weah government has inherited a weak economy and near inflation, weak health and educational sectors and an external reserve of just over US$150 million in a country where corruption is a cancer.
Yet, expectations are so high the former AC Milan striker told the crowd in his inauguration address there wouldn’t be “quick fixes.”
The US diplomat agreed.
“Expectations will always be high,” Shannon said. “People have great faith in democracy and great faith in the leaders that they themselves choose; that’s positive.”
He added: “But obviously managing those expectations is also a challenge and the president’s right to underscore the fact that there are no quick fixes; but the best way to deal with expectations is through accomplishment.”
Trump’s “Shithole” comment
In the interview Shannon attempted to clarify President Donald Trump’s recent “shithole” comment about Africa, Haiti and other countries with high immigrant populations in the U.S.
“First the president says he did not use the word that has been attributed to him,” he said.
Ambassador Shannon insisted the US Government will never put itself at loggerheads with its international partners including Africa.
“And I deeply regret that this is what the press has deeply focused on. But it is not a reflection of Africa or other partners; it’s a reflection of the intensity of the political debate in the United States and a way in which that debate has infected how we talk about important issues,” he said. “And so it is not a reflection on Africa or on partners; it is a reflection on us. And for that reason I want to underscore that we cannot abide vulgar disrespect when talking about partners that are so close to us.”
When Ambassador Shannon was reminded that there was a Democratic senator who attended the meeting and admitted President Trump had made the remarks, he replied: “Let me put it this way; I was not in the room, but the president himself said he did not say that.
“I can’t make any further comment than that, but I can say that those specific words do not describe our relationship with Liberia or any of our African partners.”