The Crisis of Impunity


Just yesterday we warned editorially of the grave danger being posed by continued foreign domination of Liberia’s economy. We said it was a threat to our peace. For so long as this continued, so long will Liberians remain in abject poverty.

As Varney Sherman pointed out in his 2013 Independence Day Oration, it was poverty, not ethnic animosity, that was the main cause of the Liberia Civil Conflict.
Most of this week, we have dwelt on the serious and burning problem of the marginalization of Liberians in the business and economy of their own country.

This very critical issue was last week the subject of a meeting between President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and some Liberian business people. What transpired in that meeting was extensively recorded in this and other parts of the Liberian media.

It has been over many years a recurrent theme and concern in the Daily Observer. But despite the persistent reminders, the Liberian government had remained woefully unresponsive to the lamentations of the Liberian businesspeople. In a meeting with them last week, the President was less than emphatic and forth-right in her response to their concerns.

Yet the business people’s concerns were yes, not alarming, but serious. It is not alarming because this has, as we have said many times before, been the status quo in Liberia since the advent of the Tubman administration and its Open Door Policy.

And alas! The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration has done very little, if anything at all, to change that. In fact, this administration has operated decidedly in favor of foreign business people.

The administration has persistently played a deaf ear to what one Liberian poet in the 1960s referred to as the “Cry of the Peddler.”

Yes, because everything is overwhelmingly in their favor, foreign businessmen feel they can do anything and get away with it. Many of these foreigners, Lebanese and Indians alike, often boast that Liberians can take them to “any court and nothing will come out of it.”

What, for example, happened to the Lebanese young man at the Mamba Point Hotel who a few years ago beat up and injured a Liberian worker and told him, “Take me anywhere and nothing will come out of it, we have the whole Liberian government in our pockets.”

In recent times, it has gotten worse. A Liberian Judge recently freed convicted rapists and human traffickers and allowed them to depart immediately for Lebanon! Plus, she is a female Judge serving in the administration of Africa’s first elected female President.

Now foreign business people are even tampering unscrupulously with one of the nation’s most essential commodities. It is that commodity that was a forerunner to the 1980 coup and civil war!

Herein lie the consequences of impunity.

Here is another example of government’s indifference to Liberian businesses. Is it not true that the government sat and permitted a leading Liberian-owned hotel to disappear from the industry?

Yes, that sector of the economy, the hotel industry, too, is dominated by foreigners – Lebanese in particular.

But who cares? Surely not the Liberian government, which unashamedly grants generous patronage to foreign-owned hotels.

It amazes us that Ellen, who as head of both the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and as Liberian Head of State, and before then as a World Bank official, has visited so many African countries and seen how many of their economies are in the hands of nationals. Yet she allows this dangerous status quo of foreign domination of her own economy to maintain and remain entrenched.

Do she and her associates and lieutenants not smell danger in all this?

Must it take another April 14 to bring them to their senses?

As we have always said, this marginalization of Liberia business people did not start in 2006. It started 70 years ago with the Tubman administration.

Alas, even April 14, 1979 did not change this woeful status quo. No wonder almost exactly a year later the April 12 coup d’état occurred. But foreign businesspeople became even more entrenched and even more powerful. Some young Lebanese businessman used to boast in the 1980s that they held in their pockets “the key to Samuel Doe’s bedroom”.

Then the civil war.

Does Varney Sherman’s 2013 Independence Day Oration ring a bell?

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