Some, especially supporters of this government, have welcomed the intervention of United States Ambassador Christine Elder who in a well-publicized statement called on the Council of Patriots (CoP) to call off the mass protest planned for July 24-26. And the CoP, in apparent deference to the US envoy’s misgivings about the timing of the protest, has deferred the protest to a new date, July 31, 2019.
A number of key supporters of this government are said to be toasting, declaring that the intervention by the US Ambassador and the CoP’s acquiescence to what critics say is virtual diktat has once again raised to the fore questions about US government policy towards Liberia which, according to critics, is always about ensuring direction and control over Liberia’s foreign and domestic policy.
And the critics could be right judging from history. Dr. Niels Hahn, a lecturer in political economy at the University of London in a paper entitled “US Covert and Overt Operations in Liberia, 1970s to 2003” writes that the American Colonization Society with support from the US Navy founded Liberia as an American Colony in 1822 with the intention of sending rebellious blacks, back to Africa.
And he adds that Liberia’s independence, declared in 1847, which the nation is poised to celebrate in a few days, was driven by a need to reduce administrative costs of the colony as well as limit the responsibility of the US government.
Professor Raymond Leslie Buell (Liberia: A Century of Survival, 1847-1947) says Liberia survived “through visits of United States warships to Liberian ports and, through more urbane gestures, the United States has posted a keep-off-the-grass sign on Liberian soil.” Further, according to Hahn, “Liberia became a foothold of the USG in Africa during European colonialism, a place from where it could project its interests into other parts of the continent”.
Distinguished Liberian scholar and historian Dr. Elwood Dunn (in his book “Liberia and the United States during the Cold War: Limits of Reciprocity”, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 262) writes that the relationship between the US and Liberia was determined by three factors: the personalities of the various Liberian and US presidents, the natural resources and strategic benefits that the US could obtain from Liberia, and the Cold War rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union.
While President Tubman, for example, concluded a number of lopsided agreements that heavily favored US business interests, Tolbert called for the renegotiation of concession agreements amongst them the 1926 exploitative Firestone concession agreement and this must have soured the chemistry between officials of both countries which invariably affected their diplomatic relationship.
The point made by Drs. Dunn and Hahn is that there is or has been a clear lack of reciprocity in Liberia-US relationship over the years; and posturing by US officials towards this government is by no means suggestive of an endorsement on which this government can rely and take to the bank, so to speak. Recalling history, the ascension of a barely literate soldier to state power was made possible through US intervention in 1980.
But less than 3 years into his rule, popular stirrings against the excesses of the Doe regime began to mount. All the while, civil societies including political parties had been misled into the belief that the US would support popular elections through which Doe’s misrule could be halted. The elections were held and, by all accounts, Doe lost the elections but claimed victory anyhow. The US government, weighing in on the elections, through Secretary of State George Shultz declared the elections were fair by African standards. Civil Society had lost out.
Former Interim President Dr. Amos Sawyer would later remark, “And I know from personal experience that when the forces of democracy and human rights tried to mobilize through the election process, the Americans were with us step by step. There was every assurance that the American government was standing behind the democratic forces that seemed to be preparing to unseat Doe. But at the end of the day, when even kids in the streets knew that Mr. Doe had lost the election, where were the Americans? They built up expectations and then abandoned the forces for democracy. Always in the crunch they are not there. Then it becomes a Liberian problem.”
In 1990 with a bloody war (which they supported) to unseat Doe raging in Monrovia killing and displacing thousands of people, Liberians looked to the US for help which did not come but 3,000 marines aboard ships came to Monrovia and virtually idled, looking on while the nation burned, reinforcing the perception that Taylor had the support of the Americans, which he did.
Again in 2003 with war (which they supported) raging in Monrovia, with hundreds of people dying daily, Liberians again looked to the US for rescue which did not come but was instead deferred to “African boots on the ground”. In the view of the US it was a Liberian problem and an African problem. Just when Liberians needed the US, most she was not there.
Most Liberian leaders including politicians always tend to tout a false special family-like relationship with the US, which impels them to seek endorsement from the US even if it means slavish adherence to its foreign policy diktat. But such perceptions are false because they lack reciprocity. From Washington’s perspective, Liberia is not a strategic partner although the US may have strategic interests in Liberia.
In view of the above, this newspaper is constrained to warn both the CoP and the GoL against the dangers of toying with the double-edged sides of US interventionist policies in Liberia, given the lessons of its history. Ambassador Elder’s message appeared equally directed at both sides. Independence is no time for “posturing” whether calling for peaceful public protest or printing thousands of souvenir lappas bearing the portrait of the leader and celebrating in grand style in the midst of hunger and deprivation.