Playing Fiddle While Rome Burns?

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Recalling history from which comes the phrase “Playing Fiddle While Rome Burns”, it is recorded that during the great fire that consumed Rome in AD 64, Roman Emperor Nero was all the while, comfortably seated in a tower watching and playing this musical instrument, called the fiddle, while his great city, Rome, was being laid to waste by a great fire. Thus, “Playing Fiddle While Rome Burns” means to neglect priorities, especially during moments of crisis, and instead occupy oneself with unimportant matters.

There is a disturbing parallel between President George Weah’s apparent aloofness and the immense challenges faced his by embattled officials struggling to counter media narratives of the mystery as well as to resolve the contradictions arising from conflicting official statements on the disappearance of the L$15 billion in newly printed banknotes.

For the past weeks, the missing money issue has played globally on nearly every important media outlet here and abroad and it has drawn Liberia into the international spotlight all for the wrong reasons. For what else could be more self-damning, self-defeating and gravely injurious to the reputation of the country and this government, than the unsolved mystery of the reported disappearance of billions of Liberian dollars cash and the not yet accounted for 25 million US dollars said to have been “infused into the economy”, intended to halt the downslide in the value of the Liberian dollar?

As President Weah admitted to the nation, during his maiden UN General Assembly meeting, he was accosted by his colleagues and he felt embarrassed by the barrage of questions from them on the “missing billions”. As if to make matters worse, the New York State Federal Reserve, custodian of Liberian government foreign exchange reserves, has since announced it will no longer do business with the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) until the matter can be resolved in a transparent fashion that will leave no lingering doubts about the credibility of the investigative team’s findings.

The matter is yet far from resolved and one, perhaps the nation included, would expect that President Weah would issue an “all hands-on deck” call and bravely take the helm to steer his ship of state clearly out of dangerous waters. But this appears to not be case as President Weah, according to reports, has left the country for Equatorial Guinea on an official visit — but first to Congo Brazzaville to watch the Lone Star football team play against their Congolese counterparts. All of this is happening while his country is faced with deep crisis with unknown potential consequences.

Questions are rightly being asked about the significance of the visit to Equatorial Guinea while the country remains in a state of uncertainty arising from the billions of Liberian dollars gone missing according to official accounts. Is President Weah, for example, seeking financial assistance from the life serving dictator of that country, Teodoro Obiang?

In Equatorial Guinea there are no anti-graft institutions and the government is reportedly riddled with corruption and nepotism. One of the sons of President Obiang, Mbega Obiang Lima is the minister of mines, industry and energy. Another son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang serves as vice President appointed by his father, this son has been the subject of money laundering investigations in several countries.

A French Court found him guilty on charges of money laundering and embezzlement. The Court ordered the confiscation of more than 100 million Euros (US$120m equivalent) in French assets and imposed a fine of 30 million Euros along with a three-year suspended prison sentence. Earlier in July, Swiss authorities, in response to a French request, had seized property including 24 luxury cars and a yacht believed to be owned by him, although his government claimed it was state owned property.

More recently, in Brazil he was arrested at the Viracapos airport near Sao Paulo, Brazil, where more than US$1.5 million in cash and US$15 million in watches were seized from the luggage of a delegation accompanying him. Equatorial Guinea authorities had claimed that the cash was for the payment of Teodorin Obiang’s medical bills while the watches were said to be for Teodorin Obiang’s personal use as they were all engraved with his initials.

His father and President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, is Africa’s longest-serving head of state, and he has held power since 1979. He was awarded a new seven-year term in the April 2016 presidential election, reportedly winning 93.5 percent of the vote which was reported to have been heavily rigged in his favor. He is an autocrat with broad powers to rule by decree and has been in power for 38 years.

He and former President Sirleaf are said to enjoy close ties in a relationship that dates back to the early 1990s when President Sirleaf served as head of UNDP Africa overseeing a democracy related project in that country. It was at that time, according to sources, that presidential lobbyist Riva Levinson, then working for Paul Manafort, struck up a relationship with the former President.

During her tenure, President Sirleaf is reported to have made several visits to that country and her son Robert Sirleaf is reported to be a good friend of Teodorin Obiang. It can be recalled that at one time President Sirleaf had hinted at possible Equatorial Guinea’s support for the airport renovation project but the arrangement is said to have fallen apart after a deal was reportedly struck with the People’s Republic of China to construct a new airport.

And now, questions are: What does Liberia stand to benefit from President Weah’s visit to Equatorial Guinea? Was it to seek genuine financial assistance from the government of that country? Was the visit intended to coax Teodorin Obiang into investing some of his ill acquired fortune in Liberia? Or better still, was the visit to Equatorial Guinea a mere smokescreen to shield him from public scrutiny about his trip to Congo Brazzaville to watch the Lone Star football team play against their Congolese counterparts?

Unfortunately, Liberia did lose the game anyway thanks to poor preparation and the lack of a coherent football development program. On the diplomatic side, what points did President Weah score from this visit coming at a time when the entire nation is gripped with anxiety over the disappearance of billions of Liberian dollar banknotes? Further, how much did this trip cost and how much value did we gain in return, given our precarious financial situation?

President Weah owes the Liberian people an explanation on this score, keeping in mind that national governance is not and can never be a “Chay dey ni Pehn Khanon” affair falling strictly within the purview of the Big Papa.

Authors

7 COMMENTS

  1. Look Mr.Editor, the day any leader would become obsessed with “countering media narratives” and become complacent or passive in international business and government relations with other state actors on the international and domestic planes, that leader is not fit to lead! And of course, His Excellency President George Manney Weah is excellently fit to lead; hence he would never become complacent about a given sine qua non of his role as the nnumber one foreign policy and decision maker of the sovereign Republic of Liberia! My God! Sometimes you people who are expected to be abrest to the modus vivendi or the sine qua non of the presidency viz the international affairs are very disappointing as one would see in a layman or some “waterside mechanic”!

    And this leads me to your idea against the president´s visit to Liberia´s sisterly African sovereign nation of Equatorial Guinea. Is Equatorial Guinea not a member of the African Union and of the United Nations? My God!! What kind of books did you people read or which theories of politics, political philosophy, or international politics , do you people practice? For your information and education, Liberia´s foreign policy is rooted in its political ideology of liberalism, democracy, and capitalism! And these are the identical ideals under which Equatorial Guinea nd other sovereign states of the African Union conduct their foreign relations!

    Did the US President not recently visit the Russian leader and also the North Korean leader despite the fact the troubles those leards are burdened with at home are far far grave that this FIASCO ochestrated By that opium-smoking Ghnanian Kwame Clements, Rodney Sieh, and the politically unknown in Liberian Alex Cummings! Besides, the political ideologies upon which Russia and Korean foreign policies are based or grounded are perpendicularly opposed and divergent from the US, but still the US. President left the turbulence at home to meet with those leaders abroad! Rescind this thing you call editorial immediately!

  2. Given that our Media space is still stuck in the pre-multiparty democracy role of an active part and voice of the opposition bloc, its alarmist, acrimonious, and adversarial relationships with government would continue to bounce the country from crisis to crisis. Take for example this editorial, which strenuously tries to compare a President Weah that left the country on an official trip with Nero who fiendishly set fire on a ghetto to build a gladiatorial amphitheater then played a flute while the inferno consumes shanty buildings and the poor together. The question is, what does Mr. John H.T Stewart, 11 expect the President to do about a $16 billion vanishing container ruse – manufactured and magnified by few manipulating media outlets – which is under investigation? I guess he would want him cut off his hair and walk barefoot on Broad Street, an act the blind seer Teirisius in Sophocles’ play “Oedipus Rex” never required of even Oedipus whose infamy of incestual relationship with his mother and patricide cause farmine and deaths in the land of Thebe.

    Mama Liberia is at crossroads and must make painful decisions, but contrary to what some of our best and brightest would want the rest of us to believe, she isn’t a hopeless cause due to the leaders we choose. Instead, she has been undergoing uncharacteristically over one and a half centuries of growing pains because we have all been taking from her like pampered kids without really giving back. No wonder, then, as many would’ve noticed, the lack of any semblance of patriotism. So some of our elites must decide whether it’s worth continually stoking security distress in a nation of over four million people simply to hold on to a political predominance which has outspent itself. Truth be told, our best chance going forward is finding innovative ways in improving the Country-Congo alliance while simultaneously empowering and advancing the lives of all of our people. It would suggest that past artificial obstacles such as bigotry, foolish pride, and our Us against Them preoccupations ought to be be left undisturbed where they belong: Dustbins of History.

    • Dear Sylvester Moses, one of the murderers of thousands of activists students of the University of Liberia is now talking about peace and patriotism and trying alliance the Native-Congo divide and move ahead to better Liberia, just to paraphrased what he has been saying. For twelve(12) years you used this medium to castigate and denigrated the UP-led government under Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her person, now you are not a man enough to do same to this leadership in our country for a simple reason, because you and him share the same mother tongue-Kru language. It is this attitude that is now destroying our country; you felt because you and Ellen were not of the same tribal stock, you did everything to make her appeared ugly through this medium; that is the same method that was used when you served as NSA Director, under the Samuel K.Doe regime. Tribalism is our problem in this country now, you are a tribal bigot! Hate to hear you write about anything on Liberia, stay where you are and forget about Liberia, because are one of our many problems here.
      Thanks.

    • It seems sometimes John H. T. Stewart writes for writing sake. It actually beats my imagination that someone would waste all this time and on his contention of the choice of life By a foreign family, a ruling party or a dynasty in another people country. one would expect editors to inform, educate, or at least, spark debate and stimulate same on such vital buring issues of society as reforming health care in Liberia, how Liberia can be a part of the package of bailouts to emerging markets with depreciating currencies (Pakistan, Argentina, Liberia, etc. etc.) Or better still how Liberia could fix its future amid the wonders of digital technology.

      In short, one expects our so called journalists to write with verve and imagination policy, history, and prescriptive advice which wonderfully places equal emphasis on our economy instead of this obsession with been more than opposition politicians. With such an erudite and patriotic critical stance in the information sphere, a framework for business, government, and civil society shall automatically emerge to unmask all these pretenses from these JJCS who could not even win a single seat in the legislature and were vehemently rejected By the people.

  3. Gbada J. Harris, since you can’t read critically, it’s a waste of time asking for definition of the word “murderer”, or finding out whether you actually did read all my comments on the EJS-led UP government. The anxiety you and few others experience is normal: Fear about losing self-entltlement as befitting a member of a long-reigning oligarchy. It arouses hatred for a person, like me, trying to rationalize the transition as necessary and inevitable; therefore, your continual ad hominem outbursts are forgiven.

  4. This editorial would’ve resonated with many had it compared the desperation by some elitist politicians and intellectuals in delegitimizing President Weah to the successful coup d‘ etat against E.J Roye in 1872. Because, my, my, uh-huh, they both seem to share some frightening commonalities:

    a), not members of the oligarchy; b), both disdained for effrontery of seeking presidency; c), the ascension of both to the presidency greeted with apprehension as a precedent that would forever deny power to oligarchs; d), they inherited financial meltdowns; e), sought loans to shore up economic doldrums; and, e) both accused of financial malfeasance.

    The elaborate lie of wrapping purportedly stolen loan money around the waist of a murdered EJ Roye speaks volumes of how “desperation” for political power and its perks could make supposedly normal highly- educated folks fall prey to the temptations of a fallen angel like Satan. George Santayana famously said, “Those who forget to remember the mistakes of the past are bound to repeat them”. And with FPA’s Rodney Sieh of ANC/ USAID Inc. now tweaking the accusation from a L$16 billion vanishing container to a USD $25 million probably embezzled by President Weah, it is time for peace-loving Liberians to think about checkmating the parallels between him and E.J Roye. We can’t afford a repetition of the 1872 coup in 2018: It might stoke another conflict.

  5. Mr. John Stewart:

    Your commentaries and opinions always hit the core of the issues; your essays are insightful; very informative and most of all, I do endear them because of their high level of didacticism.

    Not a day have I visited your site and did not learn a life lesson from the news, editorial and opinion columns of your site.

    History teaches us that journalism can sometimes become a treacherous profession in Liberia and many other parts of the world for that matter, but you have stood up to the challenges. You write fearlessly caring less about anybody’s tribe; religious, political and socio-economic status.

    Keep up the good work.

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