The real murderers, if any, of Harry Greaves may never be found. But those who brought him to such an ignominious end, where a great intellect of our generation died like a kaykay dog on a beach, naked, face damaged beyond recognition and exposed to the treacherous elements of the ocean, must be exposed. The Liberian political system that punishes enemies, demands absolute loyalty and engages in divvying the spoils among a select group of people, no matter how inept and incompetent, is to be blamed. And the one person who has absolute and unfettered access to the resources and can determine who gets what is the supreme leader of Liberia, Her Excellency, and Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf! Today, she presides over a Liberia just like those of her ancestors, where patronage as in the recent past was catalogued by J. Gus Liebenow in “The Evolution of Privilege” and described a society that rewards friends and family and punishes independent minds.
Harry Greaves was an independent mind, who was very competent as a professional and contributed greatly to his country. He supposedly left ten million dollars in the bank account of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC). I worked with him briefly during the GEMAP control of state owned companies as a member of the Board of Directors of the LPRC, a reward for not publicly opposing the nomination of Florence Chenoweth as Agriculture Minister. (More details in my upcoming book).
He was no saint. He was one of the brains behind the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), who raised funding for the organization and motivated support to the rebel group led by Charles McArthur Taylor, who would lead an effort that laid waste to Liberia, reducing the country to economic ruins by destroying most of its already decrepit infrastructure and causing more than two thirds of the population to be internally or externally destroyed. He was supported in this blind ambition by Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who rallied the troops by demanding Taylor and his peasant army “Break down the mansion and we will rebuild it” in an historic BBC interview.
Harry could have helped Liberia more with his financial expertise, but he ran afoul of the country’s supreme laws, its mantra: “Do not expose the follies of the land”. Harry’s sin was to expose the shenanigans in high places that are characteristic of modern day Liberia, which will continue to haunt the country if drastic changes are not made in the social order. From being a regular breakfast guest at Fish Market (the President’s residence), who was praised by the President in her second Annual Message in 2007, to one who had brought financial sanity to LPRC, cutting the fat by sensibly reducing the overburdening payroll through offering early retirement to the patronage filled workforce, Harry was a close friend of the president and a financial genius. Harry was there in 2005 as an advisor to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, serving as strategic planner for the elections, and he allegedly brought in major funding to support the president’s election. He was also there to explain to the public the details of the Nigerian oil deal when critics of the process and contract believed more monies were being realized than those reported in the relationship with oil trader Addax.
Prior to returning to Liberia in 2003 after the war, Harry served as vice president for two American newspapers, no small feat for a black man, and a meaner feat for a Liberian national. He served in both positions admirably, but was tired of the corporate grind in America and moreover sought to use his vast talents to help lift his country out of the economic and social mess he and others had caused by their initial support to the war, which ultimately led to 14 years of mayhem and mindless destruction.
In 2009, Harry Greaves was booted out of LPRC and lost his place at the table of the inner circle of the President, and his downward slide began. In other societies, where private sector opportunities exist, Harry would have easily made the transition; but moreover, Harry had run afoul of the supreme leader of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who determines how the largesse in the country would be divvyed. So if Harry wanted a high paying corporate job worthy of his education and sills in any of the large companies investing in Liberia, the President would have to give an unmistakable nod. But more recently, since the end of the first presidential term and going into the second, the President’s son had also been involved in determining patronage. He made sure of that by getting rid of superstars such as Dr. Eugene Shannon of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy and Richard Vacanarat Tolbert of the
National Investment Commission. With his control of the investment arena complete, he decided to take control of the country’s hydrocarbon sector, ensconcing himself as Chairman of the state owned oil company, NOCAL, and populating it with his close allies and cronies. He also sought control of the iron ore industry by building alliances with Elenilto Minerals and Mining Company, which eventually sold their entire stake to Sesa Goa Verdanta for 120 million dollars, for doing absolutely nothing. He then began doling out oil blocks to American companies such as Chevron and Exxon Mobil, a smart move that consolidated US support for his mother’s administration and ensured that the intertwined oil interests would always mean life support in the form of more official development assistance (ODA) to an administration with limited economic options. According to President Sirleaf, 720 million dollars was given as aid by OECD countries to Liberia in 2014 alone, more than 115 percent of the country’s budget of 622 million dollars. Harry, the independent mind, did not have a place in this arrangement. He could not keep his mouth shut, long enough to regain his place at the table.
Like many others, including those from the President’s days as an agitator for change, Harry would never sit at the table again. He had lost total trust. Her friends such as Oscar Quiah, Wesley Johnson, Willard Russell, and others were played as toys, from one position to another at her behest. Others who remained dutiful were rewarded with plum positions in telecommunications as a Commissioner of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), although their training and experience made them more like square pegs in round holes. More of the president’s old time friends, men and women with the education and acumen to support development, were completely shunted out of the mix. People like Dr. Byron Tarr, Liberia’s best fiscal expert, Elie Saleeby, the man responsible for the Ghanaian economic miracle, and others who she viewed as threats were sidelined and instead junior players fresh out of school were placed on the President’s A Team, resulting in the fiasco that is the country’s economy today.
Harry had transgressed. He would be punished. He would never amount to anything in his own country. Harry railed at sweetheart petroleum deals for the president’s cronies, wrote against the use of NOCAL as a cash cow for the administration, without regard to future generations, and sought to bring sanity to the disorganized state of energy in the country. His personal life was becoming a mess, as his wife was on the verge of divorcing him, manifesting the financial stress that any man would undergo after been out of steady employment for 8 years! Harry was a broken man. He was taken out of his misery by someone. No one knows, but the conditions that led to this death, as a broken man must be laid at the door steps of a system presided over by my own friend and sister, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She could have saved Harry’s life. But the system she presides over is too unforgiving, too wicked and ultimately inflexible and stupidly so, not to recognize that a brain like Harry could have done more to support her development agenda than those pretenders hanging on the throne today. Peace be to Harry and may his suffering and experience as a man who fell out of grace with the Liberian political system be instructive to us all…And so it goes.