Special Feature: “Economic Outlook of Liberia 2019”

Liberia’s rapid decline is becoming alarming and unsustainable without the right policy actions to reverse course.

2018 Economic Freedom Score - Liberia
2018 Economic Freedom Score – Liberia

The current state of the global economy is expected to make things muddy for a country whose standing in the world has diminished from the fourth poorest country in the world in 2016 by Business Insider to #1 today, according to a USA Today report, and which GDP per capita per purchasing power parity (PPP) (not always an indicator of economic growth and wealth) has decreased from $934 U.S. dollar to $710 U.S. dollars within the same period.

While the current government bears the brunt of the decline, the country was already on a downward spiral during the last few years of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration.

I think it is time that we take a capricious but nuanced perspective on the economic outlook of Liberia in 2019 and provide an honest and balanced perspective as to the global economic conundrum and headwinds ahead and propose recommendations for policy makers seeking measurable indicators to drive decision-making and prepare for the future.

These trends are particularly important for Liberia to achieve its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), if we expect to improve the living standards of our suffering people.

In Context

The outlook for the global economy in 2019 is becoming alarming even in established economies. The recent stock market volatility in the U.S. (at one point, 138% of stock market gains from the Obama Administration was wiped out and barely restored), unprecedented global interest rates hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve to address monetary concerns, escalating trade tensions between U.S. and China (a tit-for-tat action), Brexit debacle in Europe and the murky state of UK politics, economic softening in China, slide in oil prices, inflationary pressures coupled with other global concerns (labor market tightening) are creating uneasiness worldwide.

Liberia National Investment Commission
Liberia National Investment Commission

Most economic indicators suggest that the global economy looks poised to slow from 3.8% in 2018 to 3.5% or less in 2019 and the risk of a global recession is becoming more likely.

All these geopolitical tensions mentioned earlier, suggest a daunting and challenging time ahead for the country since it lacks the structure, mechanism and fundamentals to react to shocks and would require policymakers to craft out effective monetary and fiscal policies to tackle these economic trends. But instead, most leaders are involved in political and/or social activities to the detriment and future of the country.

In October 2018, President George Weah unveiled the “Pro-poor Policy” agenda as a road map for building a “harmonious society”, developing the country, uniting and reconciling the Liberian people, educating and developing its youths and promoting peace and human rights; all bold and aggressive policy actions that are expected to take place in just under five years (by 2023).

PAPD
PAPD

The question is how is this going to happen if the resources aren’t available based on future economic outlook? And as the concept notes from the National Budget suggest, a macroeconomic environment that continues to pose challenges. Is it expected that with the economic challenges, this government will continue to rely on aid and remittances as the main source of foreign exchange regimens?

Look, we are richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forest, and climate favorable to agriculture and principal exports such as iron ore, diamond, gold and rubber and yet we are the poorest country on the face of the earth. Think about it!
Liberia is 43,000 square miles with a little over four million people. What the hell are we doing, people!

As one author suggested, Liberia is not a poor country. The problem it has is that it has been blessed with mostly bad rather than good leadership in its entire 170 years history. It is unimaginable that at the dawn of the 21st Century with all the resources in the world, yet our people lack access to clean drinking water, unable to feed ourselves, continue to be trapped in poverty.

I believe that some countries, because of geography or bad luck are trapped in poverty, but don’t see that in the case of Liberia. It isn’t bad luck; it is bad and terrible leaders who care more for themselves than people.

Alternatively, Liberia Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per PPP, increased from $6 billion U.S. dollars to about $6.12 billion dollars by 2017 according to the CIA World Fact Book; an increase from 0% in 2015 to 2.5% in 2017. Under the Ellen Johnson administration total USAID obligations to Liberia between 2006 to 2017 was $3.242 billion dollars (USAID Foreign Aid Explorer Dashboard). This is excluding obligations from the IMF, World Bank, United Nations, and other NGOs. Similarly, the European Development Fund (EDF) contributed $285 million U.S. dollars for the period 2008 to 2013 and $310 million U.S. dollars for the periods 2014 to 2020 and yet, 84% of our people live on less than a $1.25 per day, 59% of our people are illiterate, 55% have limited access to food and 1.3 to1.4 million of the population live in life-threatening poverty.

Western Union Location In Liberia
Western Union Location In Liberia

So, it doesn’t appear that we haven’t had the resources; it is also because of greed and mixed priorities.

Today, most of the world have progressed through stages of development in the ‘post-industrial society’ when the service sectors generate more wealth than the manufacturing sector of an economy and the codification of knowledge is essential for growing an economy. For close to two centuries we haven’t even evolved to where we engage a robust manufacturing sector, and we call ourselves a country?

I suggest that this government hit the STOP button and reset its vision of ‘Hope for Change’, if it wants to provide for its people and begin to address the many pressing issues such as lack of coherent monetary and fiscal policies, shortages in tax revenues and the problem of liquidity.

The Crystal Ball

According to the EIU, political stability is presumed to continue in the short-run, and this is the one sweet spot. But systematic, widespread and endemic poverty, corruption, high inflation, pain and suffering will continue and remittances which dominate aid will decrease as labor market tighten in the West causing a spillover effect.

The risk of a global recession will also make things worse and impact any poverty reduction effort.

In a previous paper, I argued that any poverty reduction strategy must be buttressed and strengthened with sustained economic growth. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) known as “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” adopted in 2017 by the United Nations is an ambitious inter-governmental set of 17 goals and 169 targets that are people-centered, transformative, universal and integrated and build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Its intended purpose is to end poverty and hunger, improve health and education, make cities more sustainable, combat climate change, protect the world and oceans from environmental degradation and foster prosperous, peaceful, just and inclusive societies in which people can live and strive peacefully.

UN Sustainable Development Goals
UN Sustainable Development Goals

I sincerely think that PAPD should have been built on SDG and MDG since the objectives are relative the same, instead of crafting a new framework. So how can the PAPD become successful?

First, by increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The caveat is that size and growth potential of markets are a major driver of FDI – a challenge for Liberia. Moreover, favorable business climate depends on strong and robust institutions and investor-friendly regulations. Liberia fails on that too. Case in point, there’s no shortage of stories about business people who have been duped and scammed through unscrupulous and unprincipled people masquerading in the Liberian Government hierarchy.

Second, by leveraging the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act passed by the US Senate on October 5, 2018 to counter China’s investment on the Continent. The initiative is characterized as bringing US relationship with Africa from underground (resource focused on oil, gas and minerals, etc.) to above ground (infrastructure, agriculture, etc.) per se.

I see this as an opening for Liberia to achieve sustainable, broad-based economic growth if requirements are met. As a forewarning, success in the program requires public accountability, high standards of transparency, environmental and social safeguards which I think this government will have a challenge based on how they do business today.

AGOA - US/African Business Partnership
AGOA – US/Africa Business Partnership

Third, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) enacted by the U.S. Congress to assist economies of sub-Saharan African countries develop a market-based economy and improve economic relations between the U.S. and the region. The act was extended on June 29, 2015 up to 2025. We haven’t moved the needle on that; an opportunity missed.

The Future

So, as we enter 2019, I think that thirst-quenching, vitalizing or invigorating the Liberian economy for the 21st Century will take clear policy actions, steps and skills to reduce poverty and increase the standard of living of our people. The world is changing. We cannot rely on what was done by previous administration. We must continue to reinvent ourselves as a people and government.

The history of Liberia is riddled with the same old failed and outdated promises that do nothing to move the needle one iota. Changing Liberia will require honesty, commitment, leadership, toughness and bold steps that include putting in the right mechanisms and structure that will combat corruption and limit waste in government.

Recommendations

At this moment, the government must develop and implement strategy that will result into economic diversification, increase business investment and trade, build robust institutions, maintain (if not build) its current infrastructure and continue to maintain the peace.

Liberian Dollars
Liberian Dollars

For one thing, there is a need to bolster human capacity development by increasing investment in Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) and Science Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the list goes on.

And so, I like to propose the following recommendations for the current administration:

  1. Build positive relationships with Diaspora Liberians, so that those retiring can begin to transfer wealth and knowledge.
  2. Create efficiency and effectiveness in how taxes and fees are collected to help finance development. Simplify taxes for business entities and minimize corruption and ill-gotten gains.
  3. Strengthen the judiciary system as a catalyst to declare war on corruption and persecute individuals or persons engaged in ill-gotten gains and corrupt practices and the net-net is that a well-functioning judicial system underpins economic development.
  4. Prioritize two strategic objectives at a time or simultaneously. Maybe self-sufficiency in food production first and growing the service sector as a means of creating employment next or undertake both at the same time.
  5. Improve tax policies and improve ability to collect revenues in especially hard-to-tax sectors.
  6. Create a positive and welcoming environment where businesses (especially foreign entities) can strive and grow.
  7. Improve ease of doing business so it is easy to create and grow a business.
  8. Mobilize domestic resources to increase market size for goods and services.
  9. Develop dynamic capabilities in either agriculture or the service industry and achieve sustained competitive advantage.
  10. Leverage aid resources to achieve maximum impact and outcome by enforcing transparency and accountability across the board.
  11. Leverage data, quantitative research and machine learning algorithm to drive effective decision-making and help solve practical, real-world problems.
  12. Improve revenue intake by automating custom systems and streamlining logistics processes.

To conclude, I think efforts to address items mentioned earlier must be done effectively and efficiently in order to improve livelihood and impact lives and leveraging limited resources to realize those objectives.

Business District In Monrovia
Business District In Monrovia

I like to caution that public service is never about amassing wealth and ill-gotten gains. It is about contributing to the greater good and effecting social and/or societal change. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Otherwise, our nation of birth will continue to lag at the bottom of the economic and development pyramid and eventually the laughing stock of the world.

Lastly, we must start to rethink and find novel ways of fighting corruption and poverty.

The status quo has not worked and never will.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

References:

  1. World Bank.org
  2. Economics Intelligence Unit (EIU) Global Microscope

     3. Public Policy Magazine

    4. The African Economic Outlook from the African Development Bank (AFDB)

    5. USAID Foreign Aid Explorer Dashboard

About the author

Dr. A. Joel King has a doctorate in Management and a diploma in Public Policy Economics from University of Oxford and Executive Coaching from University of Cambridge, UK. 

He is a Wharton Online Scholar and an academic tutor at Coursera and volunteers at the American Academy of Management (AOM) and Strategic Management Society (SMS).

Special Feature: Liberia – The Reality Is That Government Is Struggling To Deliver Relief

Monrovia, Liberia – December 21, 2018: Liberians are playing the “waiting game” with the expectation of a grand national economic redemption by the United States and the international community.

Liberia PAPD

However, the stark reality is that the unfortunate elements of donor fatigue, the country’s non-strategic posture, lack of credible national and economic support systems and poor fiscal management make for an unattractive courting by the international community.

The attempt at not projecting a “doom and gloom” characterization of the West African country is a real struggle because the truth can be “inconvenient and harsh”.

The bold face truth is that the Government is really struggling to meet expectations.

Voting queue in Liberia
Voting queue in Liberia – File Photo

The general sentiment among most Liberians is to remain hopeful and resilient because the alternative is depressing. But the bare facts are that it will take more than hope and wishful thinking to wrest the country from the downward spiral and economic depravity that are impacting the country in these modern times.

The George Weah’s government which is clocking one year at the helm of governance is struggling to project its best face but the head-winds of lack of technical capacity and qualified personnel coupled with inexperience are a drag on national progress.

Pro-Poor Pillars For Prosperity and Development (PAPD)

 The Government has laid out an ambitious roadmap to guide its march to prosperity and development with a timeline of achievement by 2023.

In Pillar 1 , the Liberia Government states that it is, “To empower Liberians with the tools to gain control of their lives thru more equitable provision of opportunities in education, health, youth development, and social protection”. But the challenge is the successful application of proven systems, criteria, trained human capacity and measurable results to this goal. This will pre-suppose that existing national health infrastructures, educational programs and curriculum, and youth engagement and programs are reviewed for quick impact returns.

Pillar 2 projects the goal of “A stable macroeconomic environment enabling private sector-led economic growth, greater competitiveness, and diversification of the economy.”

To government’s credit, a macro loan scheme with oversight management by the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) was launched recently. But like most fiscal systems in Liberia, the management, eligibility criteria and promotion of awareness effort for small businesses who are expected to benefit are unclear. How is such a loan facility system structured to accommodate repayment? Will this loan facility be extended to small businesses in leeward counties? How much non- repayment tolerance is built into this scheme? What does success looks like from implementation of this macro finance scheme?

In April, 2018, a local paper the Daily Observer reported that the President of the Bankers Association In Liberia and President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) Mr. John B.S. Davies passionately spoke up against the enactment and enforcement of a law which makes the Liberian dollar the sole currency of the country and legal tender.

“…Mr. Davies believes that the use of the Liberian dollar as sole currency will cause local banking institutions to lose relationships with foreign correspondent banks to maintain their offshore accounts (accounts held in foreign banks), which transactions are traded with United States dollars. Local banks will not be able to pay depositors in the event of a run on the bank for huge United States deposit, owing to the depreciation that dollar deposited may be nationalized,” Mr. Davies said, according to the paper.

It is quite evident now that in spite of that grave warning then, the Government proceeded to advance Pillar 2 of its “Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development; the result of which points to a total disconnect from Government’s public policy and stated goals. Today, the non-availability of local Liberia dollars in commercial banks is reaching crisis proportions.

Pillar 3 states its goal as, “A more peaceful, unified society that enables economic transformation and sustainable development. The crux of this pillar is ending fragility and the root causes of conflict. But the achievement of this goal is a non-starter because Government has ignored local and international calls for addressing past incidences of gross human rights abuses and impunity. The roadmap to address the ugly history demands that leaders rise above personal and partisan interests and boldly commit to implementing recommendations contained in the Final Report of the country’s  Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which completed its work since June 2012.

The installation and respect of a culture of rule of law remains elusive and contributes to the “fragile peace” posture of Liberia even after three democratic elections. There is a reason why the erosion in state institutions and governance and lack of trust in government is pervasive; the “Liberian way” of doing things dominates to the detriment of the people and Republic.

Pillar 4 offers that, “An inclusive and accountable public sector for shared prosperity and sustainable development”. The gulf between ordinary civil servants salaries and senior government officials is astonishingly incomprehensible. Part of the solution to set up accountability for public officials is the lawful system of “Asset Declaration”.

CDC Logo
CDC Logo

In spite of a pronouncement by the country’s Chief Executive President Weah to his Ministers and officials to comply with the law, they have deliberately ignored compliance and in some instances offered incomplete asset disclosures. Even President Weah’s Declaration is sealed. Accountability and transparency in such matters are the first seeds of building and gaining the trust and confidence of citizens. Worst is that the National Legislature sees itself as above the law, refuse to be audited and refuse to hold public officials accountable through credible hearings.

Additionally, investor confidence is very seriously impacted by the almost daily disclosure of scandals in government; namely, the questionable infusion by Government of $25 million USD in the local economy to shore up the local currency using un-named money changers, the bribery and extortion attempt by officials at the National Housing Authority (NHA), the construction of massive real estates by President Weah within one year of his ascension to the Presidency, the near catastrophic loss of millions of dollars from Government’s account to a fraudster, the confusing explanation from Government of the whereabouts of about $16 million Liberian dollars, etc.

The Liberian Government is totally convinced that its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development can be achieved through designated Development Corridors, Economic Zones and Roads through northern-central, south and south-eastern parts of the country which are comprised of heavy population centers.

The argument can be advanced by Government that it inherited a very difficult economy and infrastructures; However, the Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) led Government has been seeking state power since 2005 and should be held acutely accountable for providing solutions. Liberians voted for solutions and it is time to deliver for them or show them a credible and implementable plan that they can subscribe to and believe in because they  believe it will begin to transform their lives.

Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

The “Economic Calvary” from the US and the international community is not coming anytime soon because the strategic importance of Liberia is not that attractive these days. International economic aid humanitarian assistance are now defined and designed around lessons learned from past experiences and adaptation to the  “complex Liberian development agenda and programs”; no longer just a blank check.

The Liberian Government must sincerely engage and utilize the experience and services of members of the opposition in order to appear united, broad-based and credible to its own citizens and the international community, if the country is to move beyond its notorious designation as a “problem state”.

The opposition is not an enemy but represents other Liberians who hold different political and economic philosophies.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

SPECIAL FEATURE: Attorney Kofi Woods Address To NGO Coalition On Forest Governance In Liberia

STATEMENT AT THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF ADVOCACY STRATEGY OF THE NGO COALITION ON FOREST GOVERNANCE IN LIBERIA

CORINA HOTEL, SINKOR, MONROVIA

OCTOBER 19, 2018

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am deeply honored by your invitation to join you in launching your advocacy strategy.

Attorney Kofi Woods - File Photo
Attorney Kofi Woods – File Photo

This strategy I am told seeks to, among other things, address complaints from forested communities on the lack of knowledge on social contracts signed between various forested communities and contract holders. And when fully implemented, host communities will begin to have access to final copies of contracts and social agreements. This will further enable them demand their just benefits as far as their knowledge on the contract is concern.  Additionally, the strategy aims to minimize tension, mitigate challenges in implementation and help community members take ownership of the social agreement between them and contract holders.  These are noble undertakings for a sector that has historically been a contentious aspect of our conflict history and bane to the development of our society. This approach tends to expand the frontiers of human rights advocacy in Liberia.

I would also encourage you to include and interact with lawyers, legal practitioners and law students to encourage their full participation as it relates to legal questions as well as the provision of legal advice and redress of grievances emanating from this sector. On this note, I offer my personal expertise and support as a long-standing human rights lawyer and advocate.

Let me pay tribute to those who initiated this approach and strategy. This is a major first step in developing a coalition or undertaking collective   action to address various anomalies. The significance of a collectivity is to demonstrate that you seek to affirm that the ideals you espouse is far greater than yourself and transcends the narrow bounds of individualism, thereby elevating your discourse to national and international levels.

This strategy must therefore seek to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable will be in the position to:

  • Have their voices heard on issues that are important to them,
  • Help to defend and safeguard their rights, and
  • Have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.

Such rights-based approach will require an advocacy that identifies, assesses, and uses evidenced based research findings to inform, educate and influence policy decisions. In this regard, a strategy cannot be effective without a framework to ensure implementation and monitor its impact.  The most important component is to ensure that communities and people can advocate for themselves – and do so based on knowledge.

Aerial Forest View in Liberia
Aerial Forest View in Liberia

The launch of this strategy will fill a long-standing gap in our national advocacy in Liberia.

For years, we have witnessed the sufferings, pains and agony of a large section of the population hidden behind the dark shadows of our forest.  For many years, our communities have remained hapless and sat helpless as they faced deprivations associated with conditions imposed upon them by the exploitative nature of forest mismanagement due to government’s insatiable quest for rent and at times complicity of some community leaders on one hand, and the excessive greed of some concessionaires on the other. -Whether it is through the looting of the 90s, during war and corruption, or  the Private Use Permits, the complicity of government officials and the onslaught of greedy individuals on our forests, the now proverbial “resource curse” stares us in the face. A classic example is the misuse and abuse of opportunities in the forest sector. The ownership of logging companies by government officials, the Carbon Credit imbroglio and other forms of criminal forage in our forests is a bane of resource development and advancement in Liberia.. The bleeding of our forests must come to an end. I know this is a cliché, but our natural resources must cease being a curse; it must be a blessing!

This strategy you are employing should offer our society (the supply chain) and the international community (the demand chain) redemption from years of pillage, plunder and the callous disregard for our communities, our environment, our land use and our forest. Our unique species of wildlife, Flora and Fauna are being destroyed and it is now time to act for the good of posterity.

We as a nation must understand and this strategy must help us appreciate the connectivity between human survival, the use of our forests and our environment in general and the overall impact on climate change and weather patterns not only in Liberia but around the world.

We have failed to realize that the abuse of our forest is an abuse on human civilization and the threat to our forests and environment represents a threat to human civilization.

“Studies have shown that forests provide protection against flooding. Therefore, the unabated loss of forests in Liberia due to the illegal logging which has become common may exacerbate the frequency of flood we are currently experiencing. It may also increase related disasters with severe negative impact on the environment and inflict havoc on the economy. Sadly, illegal logging without reforestation is bad news for glaring and galloping effects of global warming.”

Researchers and other forest advocates have warned that “Liberians should not sit reluctantly and wait for their government to take action first, but instead every Liberian must begin to create an environmental conscious culture through research, education and people centered grassroots initiatives like environmental restoration, ecosystem rehabilitation and planting trees campaign in every community across the country.”

 

The forests are of vital importance for the livelihoods for millions of West Africans and provide key ecosystem services of local and global importanceLiberia’s Upper Guinea forests (about 43-45% of sub-Saharan forest) are exceptionally diverse, with very high rates of endemism. Liberia holds some of the last remaining, intact forests in West Africa and so reducing deforestation quickly and efficiently would be important in global climate change mitigation.

The Land rights bill has affirmed that all land owned and occupied by communities for hundred of years belong to them, and that their ownership is effective upon its passage without regards to whether they have a deed to it or not. It says that these communities do no need deed from the Republic, because the Republic never owned their land, and so the Republic does not have ownership that it will transfer to them.

The law reaffirms the provisions of the Constitution that the mineral belong to the Republic, but says that the ownership of the surface land belong to the communities (as to community land) or private individuals (as to private land) and government (as to government land. The law also says that community land will also be treated equally as private land. These are recent and interesting developments for your advocacy.

Logging in Liberia - File photo courtesy of PBS
Logging in Liberia – File photo courtesy of PBS

Simply banning the timber trade or establishing reserves will not be enough to salvage the worlds remaining tropical rainforests. In order for the forest to be preserved, the underlying social, economic, and political reasons for deforestation must be recognized and addressed. Once the issues are brought into the light, the decision can be made about what should be done. If it is decided that rainforests must be saved, then the creation of multi-use reserves that promote sustainable development and education of local people would be a good place to start. Currently about 6 percent of the world’s remaining forests are protected, meaning that over 90 percent are still open for the taking. However, even this 6 percent is not safe if the proper steps towards sustainable development are not taken. If possible, reforestation and restoration projects should be encouraged if we, humanity, hope to come out of this situation. Contemporary environmentalists have proposed some measures such as:

    • Expanding protected areas
    • Increasing surveillance of and patrols in protected areas
    • Building research facilities for training local scientists and guides
    • Establishing programs that promote sustainable use
  • Compensating displaced people
  • Involve indigenous people, where they still exist, in park management.
  • Promoting ecotourism
  • Ensuring economic success does not result in increased deforestation
  • Encouraging entrepreneurship

I would therefore like to formally launch this strategy with some concluding comments.

  1. We must encourage partnership between our government, communities and interested groups, civil society and investors. We are undertaking an endeavor that affects our lives. Collective investment and participation in advocacy will require shared funding and support.
  2. Government must continue to see itself as providing the needed leadership in regulating the sector. The review of guidelines for negotiations and standard-setting in the areas of infrastructure development, health services, labor relations and dignity, law enforcement to curb illegal logging and mining activities, education and other services are critical to improving the lives of our people and creating wealth.
  3. Our nation, our government and our people must seek to end impunity through the rule of law. Years of pillage whether under the guise of war, looting, historic lack of political will, complicity, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, mismanagement and illegal activities in the sector must not go unpunished.  Justice for this sector is a must. Recommendations on economic crimes in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report must be implemented to ensure reparations for affected communities and possible repatriation of profits. No one must be spared: Liberians and non-Liberians past, present and future. I therefore speak of justice for the alleged victims and those accused until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
  4. The inextricable link between all elements of nature and the environment is indisputable. Our land, our forests, our wildlife of different and unique species is all connected. We breathe fresh air and live healthy lives when our land, air and sea are treated, as we want to treat ourselves. This is why I advise that our government and all of us must prevent the erratic interventions in our swamps, our wetlands, sand mining in our rivers beds and our forests or we risk an environmental catastrophe. I therefore urge our government to review its decision on the new development intended for the Bali Island, the Sarpo National Park, forest reserves and other areas. Any interventions must take into account proper assessments, analysis and advice on the environmental impact. We must take into account various international agreements and commitments, invite the UN Environmental Protection Agency and other professional bodies to ensure full compliance or risk punishment.
  5. As a long-standing advocate, I am guided by consistency on values and principles. IF IT WAS WRONG THEN, IT IS WRONG NOW! This country and all that lies within it is on loan to our generation by the future generation, we are under obligation to mange it well. Let me now add my voice to what is refer to as the Resource Swap. We should not begin any discussions in the absence of a public assessment, accounting and disclosure of our natural resource endowment.  No buyer should determine our price but rather negotiate our price. We risk intractable conflicts if we proceed without the necessary safeguards required to ensure distributive justice and wealth creation at all levels of our society. We should have a national resource accounting program that evaluates and determine the bankable nature of our natural resources, not leaving our desperation to be exploited by   unscrupulous people. We might be down now but not out. We might be broke now but not poor.
Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

In conclusion, my dear friends and colleagues, People cannot be developed but develop themselves.” With the new thinking, development cannot be viewed as a product made by the “unilateral transfer from an agent (whether a donor or a state) to a passive recipient. The delivery approach to development through assistance is disempowering to citizens, which relegates them to the role of  “subjects” to change or transformation. For it to be an empowering process, development must be seen as a social contract (or compact) among citizens themselves, citizens and the State, The State and donors and citizens and donor.

In the abundance of wealth, we cannot be poor!  Our strategy must help address this paradox.

When I was a child – and I believe every child experiences such – whenever I had the opportunity to express my thoughts about an ambition, I was asked the questions “WHY?” It was common for a child to be asked “why” if they expressed the desire for a professional undertaking such a doctor, lawyer or even president. I believe the “Why” question stems from viewing a child’s ambition from the prism of perceived challenges and impossibilities. From now on we must cultivate the notion to ask “why not” when a  child from anywhere tells you he/she wants to be the President of Liberia or Secretary-General of the United Nations, Let them realize and appreciate the possibility of what is possible or what can be. I therefore ask you to say “WHY NOT” in pursuing this noble enterprise.

Our nation, our government and our people must seek to end impunity through the rule of law. Years of pillage whether under the guise of war, looting, historic lack of political will, complicity, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, mismanagement and illegal activities in the sector must not go unpunished.  Justice for this sector is a must. Recommendations on economic crimes in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report must be implemented to ensure reparations for affected communities and possible repatriation of profits. No one must be spared: Liberians and non-Liberians past, present and future.

I therefore speak of justice for the alleged victims and those accused until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

I thank you!

Speech By Attorney Kofi Woods

West African Journal Magazine

Feature: Liberia Must End Impunity and Side With Justice Now

Liberia President George M. Weah
Liberia President George M. Weah

Liberia is facing increased pressure to bring to book individuals who have been accused of committing serious human rights abuses and economic crimes during the country’s civil war between 1989 – 2003 in which an estimated 250,000 people were killed and another 1 million others internally and externally dislocated.

Governing administrations including that of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and incumbent President George M. Weah have literally brought the intense spotlight on themselves  and the pressure to implement recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Final Report which was submitted to the Johnson-Sirleaf’s Administration since 2009.

More disappointing is the fact that no one in Liberia has been prosecuted for their alleged criminal actions during the war.

Some supporters of the past President and now President Weah, including some of the accused, are justifying the refusal of government to do the right thing and address the “elephant in  the room” – the outstanding issue of the implementation of the TRC recommendations and accountability for violations of the human rights of civilians and non-combatants.

Former TRC Head Counselor Jerome Verdier
Former TRC Head Counselor Jerome Verdier

In the eyes of the international community and those who stand on the side of justice, the culture of impunity in Liberia is pervasive and contributes to the cycle of violent depravity and criminal activity which sap the moral standing of Liberia and its people.

Also, the public face of  national governance in Liberia is dominated by the same human rights violators and system of impunity. This ridiculous dispensation tells the international community and allied forces of justice, equal rights and morality that Liberia is not yet prepared to be a part of the civilized comity of nations where the country’s past barbarity and bloodletting  are considered hindrances to full participation and respect.

Human Rights

The Webster-Merriam dictionary defines human rights as ” rights (such as freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all persons”.

DSG Amina Mohammed
UN Deputy Sec Gen Amina Mohammed Meets President George Weah

The UN Human Rights Commission defines human rights as  “…rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.”

The undeniable expectation is that we, as human kind, are all equally entitled to our human rights without any discrimination; whether you live in Sweden, Argentina, North Korea or Liberia. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent, indivisible and God-given.

The Liberian civil war was a clear choice by some to exact and justify their brand of political, social or tribal domination on defenseless citizens through the use of arms, psychological and physical terror and violence. Some argue that the war was a justifiable armed response to threats against their survival by opposing warring elements.

But how does one justify the use of heavy combat and munitions in civilian areas or the targeting of innocent civilians who are fleeing conflict?

Why was it acceptable to attack peacekeepers for the sole purpose of driving them away because a military victory was imminent?

How does the intentional recruitment of vulnerable children through terror for combat and disposal stand up to scrutiny? When is it ok to plunder the common national resources of for personal wealth at the expense of devastatingly poor citizens?

The shameful reluctance of the Sirleaf government and delay by the new Weah Administration to stand on the side of addressing war and economic crimes in order to bring closure to the bloody chapter in national life is a reflection of the non-existence of a moral compass that is so critical to national unity and human decency.

Liberia is signatory to a host of international treaties, conventions and statutes which obligates it to comply with international law.  In fact, Liberia was a signatory to the founding of the United Nations.

Liberia Civil War Injured Victims
Liberia Civil War Injured Victims

The United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO), commonly known as the San Francisco Conference, was a convention of delegates from  about 50 Allied nation countries which took place from 25 April 1945 to 26 June 1945 in San Francisco, California, the United States.

In 1963/1965, Liberia joined the UN Human Rights Council which is the successor to the original UN Commission on Human Rights.

Liberia has obligations under international law as a signatory who has ratified the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) . The Court is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal that officially sits in The Hague in the Netherlands and has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

The basis for the establishment of a war crimes court and the prosecution of accused individuals are firmly rooted in the Final Report of the TRC. All Liberian fighting factions, as part of the Accra Comprehensive Peace agreement, subscribed to the establishment of the TRC mechanism.

Liberia, by becoming a party to international treaties, assumes obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights.

That obligation to respect means that Liberia must refrain from blocking, interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights by its citizens and others within its borders.

Liberia must be reminded that it is failing miserably in upholding its obligations to comply with international law by its refusal to hold accountable those named in the country’s TRC Report as being responsible for serious human rights violations.

The international community and Liberians at home remain resolute in the march to justice.

Liberia TRC
TRC Liberia – Logo

The intentional delay by the Liberian government to stand on the side of justice must have consequences including the realization that their unacceptable action is tantamount to obstruction of justice.

The expectation is that moral men and women with clarity of conviction in Liberia will stand for the voiceless, the dead and their families and the physically and psychologically scarred and  follow the law and international obligations so that history will be kind to their legacies.

Liberia must act boldly to end impunity and exact justice and accountability now. It can be done!

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

 

FEATURE: Liberia President George M. Weah Must Produce “Tangible Results” Or…

President George Weah of Liberia
President George Weah of Liberia

Liberia, the small West African country riven by back-to-back wars in the 1990s and a devastating Ebola pandemic in mid 2104 – 2016 is facing serious challenges in governance and the economy.

A new administration headed by footballer-turned politician George M. Weah is floundering under massive economic woes, very high unemployment and lack of technical capacity as evident from the growing discontent among the populace who are now regretting their choice of national leadership when they voted in democratic elections last December.

At a US Independence Day reception held on July 4th at the American Embassy in Monrovia, which was attended by President Weah, the local Daily Observer newspaper reports that the message from Washington DC to the Liberian administration was direct and clear; “…introduce broad reforms and take bold steps to inhibit (restrain) corruption in order to transform the business climate to attract domestic, regional and foreign investment, to grow the economy and seek fiscal and monetary stability…”

This is a stunning indictment of the poor governance style and incompetence of the Weah Administration which has demonstrated a poor understanding of national challenges, expectations and the consequences of unpreparedness at national governance.

In recent days, the visual of President Weah and some of his officials chanting sports songs at a soccer game and playing board games at his party headquarters during a “Pro-Poor Day” celebration of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) shocked citizens and some in the diplomatic corp as “insensitive” to the growing calls for solutions to the deteriorating economy and increased suffering of the ordinary Liberian. Social media is replete with stinging criticisms of President Weah and his administration for the inability to respond to the economic challenges and utter silence.

                                       Liberian Voters in Last Election

Tension is rising among the ordinary citizenry and this is reminiscent of prior situations where a highly disaffected Liberian population who felt powerless to effect any meaningful change in their condition resorted to calls for the resignation of their President including Samuel William R. Tolbert, Samuel K. Doe and Charles Taylor.

There are already some rumblings and a small peaceful protest led by University student activist Martin Kollie, who along with some members of the Student Unification Party (SUP) at the state runned University of Liberia, staged a pop-up demonstration in the eastern suburb of Redlight, District, Paynesville as the motorcade of the President headed back to the capital Monrovia from central Liberia; the same day the President received an honorary Doctoral degree from a private University.

The message from the small demonstration which snarled the Presidential motorcade and was joined by some citizens was that President Weah needs to address the deteriorating economic situation now!

Supporters and some Liberians at home and in the Diaspora were shocked at the bold protest attempt at challenging the popularity of President Weah who clinched the Presidency with 61.5 percent of the vote.

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                                             University Student Protesters

This also signaled the first crack in the ruling CDC’s armor at the level of the Presidency. The natural response by supporters was denial of the student led demonstration and the branding of students as “troublemakers” who are being influenced by some hidden politicians and enemies of the administration.

The threat of another anti-government demonstration by some students receded late last week with the intervention of the local ECOWAS Civil Society Group which pleaded with them to, instead, pursue “dialogue” with the Liberian government.

The U. S, neighbors and international community are watching developments with concern since they had to contain the conflagration and combustion which engulfed Liberia in the 1990s because of political instability and the introduction of armed responses by various factions.

Practically, the international community and the United Nations will not allow another episode of poor governance and then have to expend treasury, blood and resources to repair Liberia again as was done between 1990 — 2018 through ECOWAS, ECOMOG, EU, AU, MRU and UMIL.

International intelligence agencies profile Weah as “weak” and without political savvy and national vision in a recovering nation as Liberia. His popularity among the poor and uneducated is his greatest strength which propelled him to the Presidency because they identify with his poor upbringing and determination to succeed. Weah’s story is the story of many young and underprivileged Liberians.

However, the reality is that when the popularity of President Weah meets the expectations of his followers, his shortcomings as non-knowledgeable of complex national and fiscal issues and actual delivery of the “goods” he promised to lift his people out of years of economic and political misery are in very short supply. The needle on national progress is not moving in a meaningful way and ordinary Liberians are finding it very hard to afford their basic needs daily.

Flag of Liberia
Flag of Liberia

The U.S, through its Ambassador in Monrovia has set the clock for results and Weah needs to pay attention. He has to take some unpopular decisions against some of his political allies and friends in order to begin to appear as in charge.

The issues of corruption, questionable and incompetent individuals in his orbit, a less than credible judicial system, lack of a clear economic roadmap and timetable will contribute to a vote of no confidence in Weah by his own people and the international community sooner than later.

Liberia-Guinea Map
Liberia-Guinea Map

It is no secret that the US and other partners have begun to draw up a list of credible, professional and capable Liberians with whom they can develop governance and other relationships with, if this administration doesn’t pan out.

President Weah must search deeply within himself and find those strategies and traits that propelled him to international fame in his professional football days, couple those with political deal making involving the opposition, develop an effective team of technical, credible managers and tell his people what the plan is and how they will get there, and by when, if he is to turn this ship around, like he has been challenged by the U.S. to do.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine