The US government appears to be frustrated with Liberia's poor state of development — warning the West African nation that it is not the US’ responsibility to develop, let alone keep it clean.
The US government’s anger comes a few weeks after the Mayor of Monrovia cried of abandonment as his administration struggles to clean the city that is covered in heaps of garbage.
Mayor Jefferson Koijee, while celebrating the so-called Monrovia Day on February 16, bluntly accused the country’s donor partners of neglect instead of funding the Monrovia City Corporation the recurrent cost of solid waste collection and disposal.
However, the Mayor’s statement has left the US government furious — causing the Ambassador to Liberia to write an op-ed rebuking the accusation and reframing the conversation in the context of the government’s basic responsibilities to her citizens.
“Last month, I was surprised at the words of city leadership on Monrovia Day. A senior official lamented that unlike his previous three years in office, ‘no donor or external partner is funding the recurrent cost of solid waste collection and disposal,’ implying that he was abandoned by the international community,” US Amb. Michael A. McCarthy wrote in an opinion piece on behalf of the Biden Administration.
“Is there a more basic local government responsibility than the collection and proper disposal of garbage or would Liberia’s first president have imagined that 175 years after independence, foreigners should be held responsible for the removal of garbage in his capital city,” he said.
Amb. McCarthy then narrated that as a Peace Corps volunteer, he was blessed to live for two years in villages (without electricity or running water) in West Africa but the state of cleanliness in the city of Monrovia, which is more developed and a far wealthier community, “sadly does not compare.”
The ambassador’s op-ed, which among other things complain about the filth of Monrovia, is similar to a position statement by the Head of Delegation of the European Union to Liberia, Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, who last year did not mince his words to tell Mayor Koijee that Liberia is dirty and filthy.
While the EU diplomat was forced to apologize for his remarks, his statement that “Monrovia is a disgusting city, and dirty city,” may have caught the attention of his US counterpart who is now suggesting that the village where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer, could better manage and take responsibility for its waste than Liberia’s capital city.
The issue of proper solid waste management has been a major challenge for the Government of Liberia, with dirt heaps lining major streets for days, creating serious problems for the populations.
This is despite the interventions of donor partners, which include donations of waste collection trucks, garbage bins, and funding for private sector partners to get the job done. And two years ago, the cities of Paynesville and Monrovia received 13 new waste collection trucks, financed by the European Union. The EU, via the World Bank, is financing the construction of a landfill in Cheesemanburg.
Warned of corruption
The US Ambassador’s op-ed warned that his government is becoming sufficiently concerned about corruption in Liberia and might sanction individuals. The US diplomat called on the government of Liberia to remember that corruption comes with destabilizing effects.
“Corruption leads to citizen frustration and has had destabilizing effects on countries in the region. It poses significant risks to peace and democracy,” he said.
Ambassador McCarthy then evokes the name of Liberia’s first President, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, who he says might be spinning in his grave to know that the country’s top ally “was compelled to sanction members of Liberia’s government (Senators Prince Johnson and Varney Sherman) just to preserve rule of law and the democracy he helped establish.”
“I wonder, what would J.J. Roberts has to say? The United States of America has, no doubt, also failed to live up to some of the aspirations of our first president, but I believe George Washington would be pleased to know that the country he fought to establish would today be working to support democracy and fight corruption both at home and in places like Liberia,” the US diplomat said.
Amb. McCarthy's write-up, which also reinforced the US government’s concern about corruption in Liberia, is a clear indictment that corruption and poor governance have reached epidemic levels and that the US government is willing to go the extra mile to protect the few gains the country has made by sanctioning individuals.
It might be seen by critics as a vote of no confidence in the Weah administration’s ability to fight corruption and keep its own backyard clean — despite pledging to do so. Or it would also be regarded as a wake-up call for all Liberians to grow up and take responsibility for their own dignity.
The Liberian leader was elected four years ago on a wave of disgust from the public by the Unity Party-led government's extreme greed for wealth. However, with two years left to Weah’s six-year tenure, efforts to bring corruption under control are widely seen as a failure.
President Wea’s election in 2017 brought high expectations among the general public that he would take on bureaucratic excess and corruption, rebuild infrastructure and drive economic development. Now, five years into his administration, allegations of corruption stem from numerous public displays of sudden questionable wealth by his government officials.
Amb. McCarthy also reminded the Weah administration of the U.S. House of Representatives Resolution 907 which, among other things, calls on the U.S. Treasury and State Departments continue to impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for undermining the rule of law and trust of the Liberian people “through corruption, gross violations of human rights, and other acts that threaten the peace and security of Liberia.”
Amb. McCarthy added that the US has learned that a Rhode Island State Representative, Nathan W. Biah, Sr., is donating electronic voting equipment to the Liberian House -- equipment geared towards helping make Liberia’s top legislative body more transparent to its citizens.
“I have been reliably informed that a previous e-voting system was installed in 2014 by the U.S. taxpayer-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI), but it was never used,” Amb. McCarthy said. “Would J.J. Roberts have believed that in modern Liberia, a constitutional republic where ‘all power is inherent in its people’ legislators would purposely neglect to use a tool created to educate citizens on how their democratically elected representatives vote?”
Also, the US diplomat noted his country contributes to Liberia in the amount of over $110 million per year of foreign assistance but yet they have learned clinics and hospitals in Lofa and Nimba County, are operating without even the most basic drugs.
“Sixty years after the arrival of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Liberia, 19 years after the end of the civil war crisis, and seven years after the eradication of Ebola, the taxpayers of the United States contribute to this country over $110 million per year of foreign assistance,” Amb. McCarthy added.“This includes over $79 million per year donated to the health sector. Approximately $9 million is specifically for purchasing medications and commodities for the Liberian people and improving the Ministry of Health’s effective distribution and warehousing of pharmaceuticals,” he said. “Troublingly, Embassy investigations indicate that not only are some citizens diverting public medical resources and low-cost drugs for personal gain, but that babies, young children, and birthing mothers are dying needlessly as a result. What would J.J. Roberts have to say about this?”