Liberia and the United States of America, aside from being traditional allies, also share blood ties. There is no other country on the African continent founded by the United States of America or whose founding was possible largely through American benevolence. Its early survival against hostile slavers and local tribesmen was assured mainly through direct American intervention.
Its (Liberia’s) government is structured and patterned after that of the United States of America. Even its flag consisting of eleven stripes, (six red and five white) and a lone white star in a blue field closely resembles the flag of the United States of America. The influence of America is perhaps strongest in Liberia than any other African country. The world’s single largest rubber plantation, The Firestone Rubber Plantation which occupies about one million acres of land was established by a US national, Harvey Firestone.
That the United States of America exercises tremendous influence over the nation’s politics and virtually the behavior of its leaders is an understatement. This was perhaps amply demonstrated during the tenure of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when she spurned the offer from the People s Republic of China to rebuild the Mount Coffee Hydro-Electric dam and instead contracted it to a private firm through arrangements, styled the Millennium Challenge Account.
Under this arrangement, the Liberia Electricity Corporation, whose charges per kilowatt hour are the highest in Africa, is managed by expatriates, mostly foreign nationals seconded under the arrangement. Lest it be forgotten, official development assistance to Liberia is provided through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Other forms of assistance are provided mainly by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. However the United States of America through USAID remains the single largest provider of development assistance to Liberia.
In theory, USAID, funded by US taxpayers, is here to help Liberia in its development efforts, which in itself is a good thing. After all, this is what friends are for. But in practice we have seen a kind of behavior by USAID that tends to contradict and undermine whatever stated good intentions it harbors for the people of Liberia.
For example, in the wake of heightened public concern over the missing billions as well as the the fraudulent manner in which the US$25 million “mop-up exercise” was handled, the USAID stepped up to the plate following an official request, offering to assist by providing a team of investigators (KROLL) to help uncover the truth. The KROLL completed its work but failed to live up to public expectations to name those found culpable in their findings, thus leaving the Liberian people utterly disappointed.
And in a rather bizarre twist, USAID is now proposing to finance another group of experts (Nathan) to conduct an exercise which Liberians are capable of doing as demonstrated by the Presidential Investigation Team (PIT), whose findings appeared more credible and more direct in addressing the situation.
The question, which remains unanswered, is if USAID is truly our development partner, where was it when 64 out of 66 concession agreements signed during the tenure of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf which turned out to be fraudulent? This newspaper finds it difficult to understand whether turning a blind eye to such corrupt arrangements such as the ExxonMobil agreement is part and parcel of official US policy to indulge corrupt corporate behavior especially if it involves US corporate interests.
If this is not the case which we hope it is not, then USAID must step up to the plate by not encouraging or turning a blind eye to official corruption only because US corporate interests stand to benefit from such arrangements. As the situation in Afghanistan shows, the Taliban has grown from strength to strength largely because, according to Sarah Chayes in her book “Thieves of State”, the US is blamed for supporting a very corrupt and repressive government which has failed to deliver on its promises to the people.
Similarly, around Africa, jihadism is fueled largely by resistance to corrupt governments which have failed to improve the lives of their people. The same can be said of governments in West Africa, most of which are richly endowed with natural resources but have corrupt governments, with their people caught in vicious poverty traps and deep cycles of poverty such that they lose hope and become easy prey to jihadist doctrines and tendencies.
We must avoid this and USAID can play a key role in averting such from unfolding in Liberia. Can USAID?