‘Weah Risks Repeating Failings of Prior Administration’

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Supporters of the CDC at the party's headquarters during one of its many rallies (Photo credit: Robtel Pailey)

Says Chatham House Official

A renowned British political and international affairs Think-Tank, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, commonly known as Chatham House (CH)—a not-for-profit and non-governmental organization based in London, says instead of the government tackling corruption and boosting the economy, President George Manneh Weah in his first year in office struggled with entrenched interests and demands of patronage.

In an article published on the Think-Tank’s website, the institution’s Deputy Head of Africa Program, Elizabeth Donnelly said Weah’s election 2017 was hailed as a popular victory over ineffective or corrupt politics. “Seen as a victory of the people over a political system viewed as ineffective (at best) or corrupt (at worst), Weah’s election brought with it the high expectations of not just his support base but the country as a whole,” she said.

Madam Donnelly asked rhetorically as to whether the president is cleaning up the mess in the governance of the state or he has been consumed, compromised or corrupted by the negative vices that hinder the growth of the state.

Madam Donnelly said within hours of taking over the presidency, Weah issued an ultimatum to outgoing government ministers and civil servants: return all government equipment, including cars, or face arrest. Weah himself took a pay cut. The National ID Registry is rolling out biometric cards with an initial focus on government employees in an effort to root out ‘ghost employees.’ Such moves were applauded by the media and the public at large and raised hopes of a change in political culture.

In the article titled, A Conflicted Leader: George Weah’s First Year in Liberia, the Chatham House official said President Weah’s early actions and populist rhetoric are in tension with the realpolitik demands of managing an entrenched political class and a political system designed to defend their privilege. In seeking swift solutions to the many challenges the country faces, Weah risks repeating the governance failings of prior administrations, she said.

“In an effort to make quick progress on infrastructure, for instance, the president sought a loan of dubious provenance to finance a coastal highway in the southeast of the country, a region that strongly supported Weah in the election. Newly printed bank notes amounting to $100 million were then reported missing in May 2018.

“For many, the two issues signify that Weah’s government will prove to be no less incompetent and corrupt than the political system over which it claimed victory, a view compounded by frustrations over delays and strict restrictions on cash withdrawals for ordinary Liberians,” she added.

She also noted that the president is surrounded by people linked to past corruption and mismanagement, or with ties, directly or indirectly, to key figures in Liberia’s civil war.

She expressed surprise that notorious former rebel leader, Prince Y. Johnson, turned political king-maker, has reasserted and redefined his political influence in the CDC administration and is influencing appointments.

“Weah’s vice president also has links to war criminal and former president Charles Taylor,” she said.

The alliances with these people, she noted, highlight unresolved issues around justice and war crimes, and risk complications in Weah’s relations both with his support base and Liberia’s foreign partners.

She added that Weah’s decision to pay his first official visit outside Africa to France, rather than the United States, Liberia traditional ally— and where the issue of accountability for Liberian war crimes has gone unabated, makes many to panic.

The Real Weah Remains Elusive

The Chatham official did not forget the president’s relationship with the media and civil society, which she termed as tense. “The press union has highlighted a growing environment of intimidation and stifling of the freedom of the press, citing examples of personal attacks on journalists and the closure of the newspaper FrontPage and the arrest of its staff,” she said.

Chatham House Deputy Head for Africa, Elizabeth Donnelly

Donnelly described President Weah as a conflicted leader—a man of the people, who identifies with the poorest of his compatriots, but also someone who is accustomed to the trappings of the elite and who has seemed to welcome back a political old-guard mired in past corruption and mismanagement scandals. She added that the real George Weah remains elusive.

“If the president wishes to be the champion of the poor and to deliver on his big ambitions, he will have to show strength and smarts in managing realpolitik pressures, grit in his anti-corruption efforts, charm with donors and patience with the media,” she concluded.

Though the 12 years of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s two-term government saw the economy averaged more than 7% in annual growth; Per capita income rose from a low point of just $80 at the end of the second civil war in 2003 to $700, even though the population has increased by nearly 50% to just under five million; life expectancy is up from 53 to 61 years; a once “failed state” is now capable of taking over essential tasks—the people rightfully opted for change as these encouraging stats achieved by the government had somehow had no positive impacts in their lives. she said.

Chatham House, founded by former US President Woodrow Wilson and British Public Administrator Lionel George Curtis in 1920, has a mission to analyze and promote understanding of major international issues and current affairs.

7 COMMENTS

  1. A wise person once said, “When you give a person too much power, they become intoxicated with power which eventually leads to self-destruction.”

    People who seek power only for personal aggrandizement will eventually run against popular opinion. This is a common case in Africa: a continent engulfed with too many authoritarian and autocratic leaders.

    Many of us have seen how intoxication with power destroyed many African countries including Liberia. As it relates to Liberia, Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, The Interim, Taylor, and Sirleaf failed to solve Liberia’s systemic problems of corruption, nepotism, blind party loyalty, tribalism, economic inequality, massive unemployment, high illiteracy rate, high infant mortality rate, poor health care, and poor infrastructure development.

    These powerful leaders surround themselves with political hyenas (opportunists). Many political opportunists in Liberia sing praises and utter flatteries at the expense of others. They do not work for the greater good of the country. Hypocrisies and deceptions from these political opportunists help played some role in the downfall of President Tolbert, Doe and Taylor.

    Remember, President Weah’s grass-root organization (CDC) professed to be working in the interest of poor Liberians. Congress for Democratic Change mushroomed into a strong opposition political party which eventually won the election. They came into power through the amalgamation (joining together) with other political parties now called the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).

    This critical report analyzes some political dynamics President Weah, no matter his good intention for Liberia, is now grappling with. The President should not look at this report as an indictment against his young government, rather as a constructive evaluation of his young government.

    This evaluation should help the President to be mindful of the competing elements lurking in his young government. It also helps him to avoid the pitfalls of his predecessors.

    Yes indeed, the “Old Boys” network is still around in this new government. They were around during Tolber’s, Doe’s, and Taylor’s government. They sang political praises at the same time witnessing these former leaders’ demise and imprisonment.

    Mr. President, be watchful and be honest. Analyze this report thoroughly. Let it guide you to focus on the interest of the Liberian people. Don’t allow yourself to get intoxicated by too much power. For a leader intoxicated by power is also a leader who is unable to see clearly the political hyenas in his/her mist.

    A hint is sufficient to the wise.

    • My Brother – If you would permit me, I would take it up further that it seems power was never intended for man, at least not at this level, when man was created. I believe that power belongs to God Almighty! However, man insistence to disobey God led us to where we find ourselves today.

      While is seems true mankind has serious problem with handling of power, it is even worst among African leaders. As you alluded to, we quickly become intoxicated and corrupt by it once we find ourselves in the presence of power, let alone given to us.

      Hopefully the president will take this constructively, but here’s the problem with that…his close confidants who are supposed to enlighten him about the plights of his people, the promises made, and staying true to making the nation forgets its ugly past may never let that happen because it may not align with their agenda.

      Liberians ought to learn fast and fast they must and be savvy at holding their leaders accountable including those that surround them. The people to be afraid of are not the leaders themselves in most cases, but the ones that surround and advise them. Those are the dangers lurking by waiting to snatch any would-be potential leaders.

      Liberians have the tendency to always hold only their leaders responsible for how bad things went. The fact is corruption, abuse of power, nepotism, and blind loyalty etc. start with the caliber of people that surround the leader. Those people prey on these leaders vulnerability…

      Some leaders are well intentioned but surround themselves with hyenas, if I may borrow this word, who will cocooned them from outside influence even if it is meant for the good of that leader. That’s why it is up to the public to spot those kind of people and insulate their future leaders from them by being unequivocal…you disengage yourself from the likes of those… or we do not support you!

  2. Long life clarifies doubts. The people’s doubts, shrouded in populism and wishful thinking, will be clarified by and by.

  3. Alpha Conneh

    Your comments are very insightful, razor-sharp, and highly profound.

    The punchline in your brief essay that forced me to think deeper, goes like this, “…For a leader intoxicated by power is also a leader who is unable to see clearly the political hyenas in his/her mist.”

    Unfortunately, one of the political illnesses which destroys our African leaders is “acrophilia.” (The love of heights). African leaders are often obsessed with the love of power because it creates for them the illusion that they can climb heights that are unreacheable by any other human on earth. And so, it robs them of the ability like you eloquently stated, “To see clearly.”

    So, my question is, at the perceived height to which Dr. Weah feels he has reached, is he able to look down and see what is happening on the below?

    Time will tell.

  4. While I think the report is a fair assessment of the government under President Weah, the report slipped when it insinuated that a staff of FrontPage Africa was arrested and the paper shut down by this government. I think she needs to counter check her facts on this one.

    President Weah has not denied the challenges the government is inherited and is faced with. However, he is focused on the primary issues to liberate the ordinary people out of poverty so as to have affordable living conditions.

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