A Look at US-Liberia Relations within the Context of the December 8 Elections

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Put into proper perspective, ongoing and unfolding developments in the country’s political processes can be linked directly or indirectly to successive US government/administrations’ attempts to maintain control over the country.

And that includes unfettered access to its resources by US business interests, if Dr. Niels Hahn book, “Two Centuries of US Military Operations in Liberia-Challenges of Resistance and Compliance”, is anything to go by.

In the context of a an emergent new Cold War involving the United States and China in Africa, Dr. Niels Hahn rightly postulates that the period between 1980 and 2003, during which US covert and overt military operations in Liberia removed three governments from power, yet it did not succeed in establishing a long-term stable US-friendly government in Liberia.

And this can be seen, on reflection in the flurry of efforts, covert and overt, on the part of the US government to ensure the election of a government led by someone trusted by Washington.

That person turned out to be Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Under her leadership, the country’s economic and political arrangements would be restructured and fashioned along lines in keeping with the neo-liberal agenda pushed by Washington.

This was seen as the answer to China’s overtures and drive in Africa to secure new supply chains for its vast industries whose combined output have pushed China to second place next to the US as the world’s largest economy.

Liberians, especially conscious and critically thinking Liberians, need to ask themselves just why more than US$16 billion in direct foreign investment during the Ellen led government did not yield the much touted results of lifting Liberians out of poverty.

Equally so, Liberians need to ask themselves just why, despite restructuring and retraining, the AFL and state security forces have not produced a disciplined force inculcated with respect for human rights and human dignity.

Rather instead, reports of indiscipline, gross disrespect for and abuse of human rights consistently show as a pattern of behavior of the retrained AFL and security, trained under the direct or indirect supervision of the US military.

Liberians also need to ask themselves just why have the benefits of President Sirleaf’s much proclaimed generational change, fully backed by the US, not accrued to the Liberian people.

Instead, most Liberians are bearing witness to increased insecurity. They are also feeling the brunt of excruciating hardships resulting from what is generally perceived as this government’s adherence to failed economic policies bequeathed to it, coupled with runaway corruption and the gross mismanagement of the national economy.

The current wave of tension gripping the country as it inches towards December 8 is a reflection of what observers say is growing national distaste for the policies of a government that appears to be failing on every score. And all eyes appear fixed on the December 8 elections, widely expected to be a litmus test for the longevity of this government.

In all this, the US government, headed by President-elect Joe Biden, will certainly be watching very closely unfolding developments in Liberia. In the years ahead, US policy makers will have to make difficult choices, according to observers.

Given current outlook, US policy makers should expect that future Liberian governments will seek closer relationships with China, especially economic relationships as they strive to cope with Liberia’s development challenges.

From all indications, any incoming government embracing neoliberal economic policy prescriptions will be bound for failure, according to a noted Liberian political economist.

He argues that Liberia’s development paradigm has over the years, perhaps with the exception of the Tolbert years, accrued no tangible benefits to the people of Liberia.

And such policies, he further argues, has succeeded in creating gaping social inequities marked by growing income inequality, which is succeeding in alienating and marginalizing most Liberians, especially those living below the official poverty line of  one US dollar per day.

Such marginalization can be seen in the restricted access to health care services by most Liberians, the glaring lack of social safety nets and runaway official corruption.

And, of course, US policy makers should expect that future Liberian governments, for example, will have to come to grips with the reality of Firestone which, in the past, has benefitted from low land rental fees, official forced labor policies and other perks including unfettered access to whatever mineral resources aside from rubber, found or discovered within its concession area.

US governments should also expect future Liberian governments to address themselves to the 64 flawed concession agreements passed under the Ellen Sirleaf led government if it/they are to succeed.

If incoming and future US governments and administrations truly seek sustained long-term relations with a stable US-friendly government, and thereby close the door to jihadism and terrorism, then it should begin to consider withdrawing support to corrupt undemocratic fascist regimes and, instead, redirect same to responsible, accountable and democratic institutions.

Most of all, if future US governments seek to maintain a strong, mutually beneficial relations with a US friendly government in an environment influenced and shaped by other competing forces such as China, it has to reexamine its longstanding policies of military intervention in Liberia, deposing or changing governments at will.

Finally, future Liberian governments should realize that unless they address in concrete terms, the problem of mass poverty, including its manifestations such as unemployment, drug addiction amongst youth, poor and unequal access to educational opportunities, poor access to health care services, and unequal access to opportunities for self-actualization, etc, they will prove incapable of avoiding the swinging pendulum of perennial US intervention in Liberia, whether direct or indirect.

The upcoming elections and official US reaction to results obtained therefrom will determine by and large the future of this government which appears likely to face a barrage of public criticism and legal challenges to elections results in the immediate post-election period. Whatever the case, the upcoming election, its results and aftermath vis-à-vis official US rection will prove instructive for future US-Liberia relationships.

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