By Moses D. Sandy
In 2017, when Liberia’s President, George Manneh Weah, contested for the nation’s highest office, he offered no prescriptions or concrete policy proposals for moving the country forward if elected, because he had none. Mr. Weah just wanted to be president. He had no defined objectives. His decision was impulsive. Moreover, he shied away from all presidential debates because he lacks the ability to withstand the ferocity of such intellectual exercise. Literally, he had nothing tangible to offer Liberians.
President Weah, alias, Manneh, does not understand the intricacies of contemporary leadership. His grasps of Liberia’s socio-economic issues are low or nonexistent. He is not a polished politician. Even though the people of Montserrado County elected him in 2014 as one of the County’s two senators, his presence in the Senate made no difference. He neither spoke on national issues nor proffer legislative matters. He was just a number.
Despite the brazen limitations, the President then candidate of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC) at the amazement of his many critics, emerged as the winner of the 2017 presidential election. He and the CDC snatched the coveted office in the country from the Unity Party (UP) and its standard-bearer, Joseph Boakai, in a run-off election that pitted him against the former Vice President. He won with over 61 percent, which accounted for732, 185 votes while Mr. Boakai trilled with nearly 39 percent representing 457,579 votes.
Based on the numerical strength shown in votes, the National Elections Commission(NEC)declared him as the winner of the run-off election. Before the pronouncement, Mr. Weah and the former Vice President arose as first and second picks in the 2017 presidential election that featured 12 candidates. Former Vice President Boakai is a career public servant. He was former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s able lieutenant for 12 years.
Inauguration and Promises
After a popular victory, Mr. Weah and the CDC officially took over Liberia’s governance on January 22, 2020, at an elaborate inaugural ceremony held at the Samuel K. Doe Sports Stadium located in Paynesville, outside Monrovia. The event was well attended. It pulled together scores of people including world leaders and ordinary Liberians.
The former Montserrado County Senator became Liberia’s 25 President with a whopping six-year term. On that memorable day, the 54 years old former soccer celebrity turned politician, his supporters and the ruling CDC were elated. They were in good mood. It was a dream come through. They were shocked, but the political change was a reality. In a well-penned inaugural speech delivered at the event, Manneh, the impeccable former soccer star, thanked the CDC, his supporters, Liberians, and friends of Liberia for the opportunity given him to lead the tiny West African country. Liberia is 43 thousand square miles in size; and it has a population of more than 5 million people.
The country gained independence on July 26, 1847. In 2003, Liberia evolved from successive civil wars. The Liberian first civil war started on December 24, 1989, in Buutuo, Nimba County and ended in 2003. As a result of the crises, more than 250 thousand people reportedly lost their lives. Also, thousands of Liberians became displaced internally while others spent several years abroad in refugee camps.
At the inaugural program, the President was exuberant. As he spoke, he made a lot of big promises.He vowed to uphold the rule of law; and ensure peaceful co-existence and political stability in Liberia. Additionally, he promised to revive the ailing Liberian economy. He furthered, “My greatest contribution to this country as President may not lie in the eloquence of my speeches, but will definitely lie in the quality of the decisions that I will make over the next six years to advance the lives of poor Liberians. I intend to construct the greatest machinery of pro-poor governance in the history of this country. I will do more than my fair share to meet your expectations. I ask you to meet mine, for I cannot do it alone”.
Weah and the CDC’s ascendency to the highest political office in Liberia, did not come by easily. It took tremendous work, energies, human blood, sacrifices and 12 years of political maneuverings. At his inaugural ceremony, the President did not forget to mention the hurdles he and the CDC faced when they were in opposition. He pontificated, “We have arrived here on the blood, sweat, tears, and suffering of so many of our citizens, too many of whom died longing for real freedom and equality”.
President Weah is an eminent retired footballer. During his football career, he was a striker. He played professional soccer for 18-years in Africa and Europe. He retired from the game in 2003. He is the first former professional footballer to become head of state. The Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) is his brainchild. In 2005, propelled by his popularity at home as a retired soccer icon, Weah ran for president. He won the first round but lost the second round to former President Johnson Sirleaf, whom he succeeded in 2018. Before the succession, he is the 2011 election, ran unsuccessfully for vice president alongside career diplomat and former Justice Minister Winston Tubman.
Reality vs. Ambition
After an elaborate inaugural ceremony, it took no time for the reality of governance and the tasks of providing political leadership for a post-war country like Liberia with unreconciled tribal groups, shabby road networks and schools, underfunded and ill-equipped healthcare sectors, a ruined economy, the broken criminal justice system and systemic corruption dawn on Mr. Weah. He quickly learned that the reality of the Liberian presidency goes beyond a notional idea or chasing a soccer ball on the pitch.
He soon uncovered that his job duties were enormous; providing for the haves and have not; and creating job opportunities. Also, he uncovered that his responsibilities included monitoring and supervising executive appointees, dedicating responsibilities, upholding the rule of law, and maintaining Liberia’s peace and stability. Furthermore, he soon became aware that he had on his plate a plethora of national and international matters to deal with routinely, but sadly, he lacks the fortitude and the needed skills. As a result, he now appears mystified and overwhelmed.
In the wake of the complexity, the President now seems withdrawn. Instead of leading, he is being led thus implying to many in Liberia and abroad that he has indirectly surrendered his presidential authority to some of his confidants. Literally, he is aloof. He seems to have neither clues nor answers to the barrage of challenges today’s Liberia faces.
In Liberia, it is widely speculated that Mr. Weah relies heavily on the ingenuity of the Ministers of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, and State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill, and Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee for the country’s stewardship. Unfortunately, Ministers Tweah and McGill, and Mayor Koijee are unable to give him the needed help because they too are novices in governance. They do not have the needed leadership skills for saving the country. Instead of leading, they too need persistent monitoring and supervision in the execution of their respective job duties. As a result, Liberia’s fate is doomed!
Negative Ripple Effects
Mr. Weah’s inability to deliver and provide Liberia and its people an effective leadership is having colossal impacts on the country and its people. The negative ripple effects of the situation are felt in almost all spheres of life in the country:
The President and the CDC have no control of happenings in today’s Liberia. The country is literally a failed state. In the words of Liberia’s Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee, Liberia is in a state of dysfunctionality. Speaking on September 26, 2020, when she addressed the 2020 virtual national convention of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), Madam Gbowee described Weah’s Liberia as a country with poor governance, extreme poverty, ill-equipped and under-funded medical and educational institutions, and uncontrollable corruption.
The country is like a ship on the high sea without a captain. Every official in the government is a law unto himself or herself. The administration has no central authority. As a result, every official is a presumed spokesman. Most often officials of the administration make policy pronouncements without understanding the ramifications of their utterances.
Since January 2018, when Mr. Weah and the ruling CDC took over Liberia’s leadership, their actions and inactions continue to put a dent in the country’s image at home and abroad. Consequently, Liberia is gradually losing its place amongst the comity of nations. Currently, the country is faced with a massive passport fraud with accusing fingers being pointed at the President and some members of his inner circle for reportedly selling Liberian diplomatic passports to foreigners with tainted characters including drug dealers. One of such individuals is a Nigerian citizen, Akin Akintunde Ojo, who the Weah administration reportedly appointed in 2019 as Liberia’s Counsel General to Mexico. Mr. Ojo reportedly paid US$250,000 for the preferment.
The ongoing passport scandal claimed the attention of Liberians at home and abroad after the US government through Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, denied the former Director of Passport and Visa Services, Andrew Wonplo, and his family entry into the US due to his alleged link to a passport fraud. Before the denial, Secreta ry Pompeo announced that Mr. Wonplo was barred from entering America due to what the US considers significant corruption. He said Mr. Wonplo, in his official capacity at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2018 to 2019, was allegedly involved in a passport scam that undermined the rule of law, reduced Liberians’ faith in their government’s management of identification and travel documents, and compromised the integrity and security of immigration processes.
Prior to the passport scandal, on September 9, 2020, Liberia lost its full membership rights at the African Union (AU) formerly known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The country is a founding member of the OAU. In 1963, Liberia was one of the 32 independent African nations that founded the organization in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. From a full member status, Liberia was demoted to an observer status with no voting rights. According to FrontPage Africa (FPA), a print and online Liberian media institution, the demotion was necessitated by the failure of the Liberian government to offset a 1.6 million US dollar membership due the country owes the organization despite repeated warnings. Also, Liberia struggled meeting deadlines for the submission of reports to the AU.
In 2019, Weah’s Liberia also suffered an image crisis. Nine diplomats from major donor countries put a hollow in the country’s image. The diplomats in a joint letter leaked to the media, accused and shamed the CDC administration for financial malfeasance. In the letter, the diplomats warned and called on the government to immediately stop the unauthorized diversion of donor funds from bank accounts set aside for agreed purposes.
Rule of Law
On January 22, 2020, when Mr. Weah was sworn in as Liberia’s 25thPresident, he promised to uphold the rule of law, and ensure political stability and peaceful co-existence in the country, but with nearly three years of stewardship, the President and the CDC have proven to become -conformists to these cardinal principles in democratic governance. Since assuming office, Mr. Weah and the CDC continue to engage in acts that undermine the rule of law. They have broken almost all laws that protect the independence of the judiciary and transparency institutions.
In March 2019, the government through reported financial inducement influenced the Liberian Senate to impeach former Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh from the Supreme Court of Liberia for granting a writ of prohibition soughed by petroleum dealers in the country to stop the government from collecting taxes of US 0.25(road fund) imposed on the pump price of petroleum products.
Also, President Weah continues to violate laws that shield tenure positions by wantonly dismissing public officials, who occupy same. Liberia’s former Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Isaac Jackson, is one of several victims of the President’s action.
In 2018, the President being unmindful of the five years tenure appointment, which Atty Jackson had at the IMO, he recalled and replaced him with a supporter of the CDC, but Atty Jackson challenged his action at the Supreme Court of Liberia. However, the former IMO Representative’s legal battle was short-lived. After an exhaustive fight, the Court finally caved in to the will of the President. On September 5, 2020, Atty Jackson lost the case.
He was appointed to the position by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2016. Besides the violation of the rule of law by the President and his supporters, Liberians continue to witness a surge in targeted verbal and physical attacks on opposition Liberian politicians residing in the country. Most often CDC thugs and some insiders of the Liberian government verbally and physically attack opposition politicians in the country with impunity.
Most often, these individuals disrupt political rallies or events sponsored by opposition politicians. These attacks, which seem state-sponsored have and continue to polarize Liberians. For example, on September 13, 2020, Montserrado County Senator, Abraham Darius Dillon, and his supporters were victims of one of such attacks. They were violently attacked in District-16 based in Montserrado County while attending a political rally.
Also, a few months ago, there were similar targeted violent attacks on the chairman of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), Alexander Cummings, and members of his entourage including Representative Yekeh Kolubah of Montserrado County in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County while on a political mission.
Furthermore, in Weah’s Liberia, the government’s criminal justice system which includes the Liberia National Police (LNP), and the judiciary branch of government is underfunded, and they are compromised. Although the Liberia National Police (LNP) is funded by taxpayers, the LNP is now considered regime police by most Liberians because of its biases in law enforcement. As a result, the poor and individuals perceived as enemies of the President and the CDC rarely get justice in legal matters.
The appalling security situation in the country was further exacerbated this October when notable government auditors including the Director-General of the Liberia Internal Audit Agency (IAA), Emmanuel Barten Nyewsa, died under what most Liberians considered mysterious circumstances. The auditors as per media report, died while conducting high profile audits involving some state-operated institutions.
The unexplainable deaths of the auditors have heightened the problem of insecurity in the country. Even Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor is troubled by the appalling security situation.
The Vice President in a recent radio interview with the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) called on the country’s national legislature to intervene quickly in containing the fragile security situation in Liberia. She stated, “I hope that we do so, with all the things that are happening in the country, the level of fear that has overtaken the nation is worrisome.”
Two years ago, when Mr. Weah was inaugurated as Liberia’s 25th President, he declared publicly that corruption is one of the worst enemies of his administration. Then he vowed to robustly clampdown on the corruption in the public sector. However, after nearly three years of political leadership, happenings in the government seem to suggest that the President’s pronouncement was a mere publicity stunt. Instead of shaming and chastising the corrupt, President Weah and the CDC administration pamper and shield the corrupt from justice.
The administration aids and abets the dishonest in the government. For example, the chairman and face of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Cllr. A. Ndubuisi Nwabudike, is a brazen fraudster. Despite the preponderance of public records, which manifest that Chairman Nwabudike has a faked Liberian citizenship, President Weah has defiantly refused to replace him at the Commission.
The LACC is one of Liberia’s foremost integrity institutions. The act which created the agency bars non-Liberians from heading it. The President and Mr. Nwabudike are reportedly personal friends.
The administration’s public record further manifests that instead of fighting corruption, the government is extremely corrupt as compared to its predecessors. For example, the President and some members of his inner circle since coming to power continue to accumulate unexplained material wealth.
In 2018, the President erected a multimillion-dollar complex in the Baptist Seminary Community located off the Roberts International Airport(RIA) Highway in Montserrado County; and demolished his US 150 thousand dollars residence located on 9th Street in Sinkor for reconstruction.
Also, the ruling CDC in 2019 failed to prosecute Liberia’s Finance and Development Planning Minister, Samuel Tweah and other members of the Technical Economic Management Team(TEMT) for the leadership roles they played in the mismanagement of the government’s fiasco US 25 million dollars mop-up exercise. The mop-up exercise was reportedly intended to rejuvenate the Liberian economy through the purchase of excess Liberian dollars from the market. However, the exercise yielded no positive result.
Despite the President and the Ministry of Justice receipt of audit reports compiled by the Presidential Investigative Team(PIT), Kroll Associates(US-based accounting firm), and the General Auditing Commission (GAC) that accused Minister Tweah and members of the TEMT of financial mismanagement, the Liberian government failed to prosecute them. In addition, the government is yet to fully account for the more than 16 billion Liberian dollars printed by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) without authorization from the National Legislature during the Johnson-Sirleaf administration.
Moreover, the Administration’s recently appointed and confirmed Minister of Labor, Cllr. Charles Gibson, is an exposed criminal.Prior to the Minister’s reappointment, the President in 2018 withdrew his nomination as Justice Minister designate after reports surfaced in the media that he misappropriated over US$25,000 from a client for which the Supreme Court suspended him for two months from the practice of law in the country.
News reports at the time further showed that Cllr. Gibson lost his job at the United Nations for shortchanging one of his clients in a land deal. The President’s appointment of a man with proven questionable character and the Liberian Senate’s subsequent confirmation runs contrary to the government’s professed commitment to fighting graft and ensuring integrity in the public sector.
President Weah is a terrible public administrator. He is grossly incompetent. After nearly three years of political stewardship, he has proven to Liberians at home and abroad, and the international community that he lacks the pedigree to lead a post-war nation such as Liberia. He is unprepared for the task on hand. He is an impulsive and corrupt leader. Also, he is autocratic.
His administration has eroded good governance in Liberia thus endangering the safety of the people. He and the CDC are not in control of happenings in the country. As a result, national security has declined considerably. Liberians at home are more polarized now than ever before.
In addition to the worsening security situation, Liberia’s poverty rate has increased significantly.Instead of improving the ailing Liberian economy as promised on January 22, 2018, when the President and the CDC took over the leadership of Liberia, the administration has dampened the people’s hopes.
This year, Liberia topped the list of the poorest nations in the world. According to USA Today, an American publication, Liberia is the first of the top twenty-five poorest countries in the world. Liberia’s Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is $710.00.Eighty percent of Liberia’s workforce accounts for public servants. Since assuming power, the Weah administration struggles to keep up with the payment of civil servants’ salaries.
As a result, the number of beggars in the country has increased astronomically. In the wake of the prevailing situation coupled with other national challenges, Liberia now seems to be teetering on the brink of another civil uprising.
About the author: Moses D. Sandy, is a career Liberian journalist. He resides in the US. He is former Editor-in-Chief of the News and Public Affairs Department of the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS). He is the immediate past National President of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA).