Liberia & France Collaborate To Investigate Alleged War Criminal, Civitas Maxima Says

Geneva – June 12, 2019: In spring 2019, the French and Liberian authorities collaborated on a fact-finding mission relating to proceedings that were commenced in France following the arrest, in September 2018, of Kunti K. for acts committed during the First Civil War in Liberia between 1989 and 1996. This mission required significant logistical resources and took place in Lofa County in northwestern Liberia.

Ex Liberian Warlord Alhaji Kromah and some fighters of the disbanded ULIMO-K Militia - File Photo
Ex Liberian Warlord Alhaji Kromah and some fighters of the disbanded ULIMO-K Militia – File Photo

Civitas Maxima, in a press statement issued Wednesday in Geneva say, this was the first time since the end of the Second Civil War in 2003 that Liberian authorities have proceeded, along with foreign authorities, to undertake crime scene reconstructions relating to war-time crimes. These reconstructions took place in the presence of the French prosecuting authorities, investigating judge, defense lawyers, and the civil parties. Throughout this one-week mission, the contribution of the Liberian authorities was exemplary.

Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project, in its statement said, it  acknowledges the quality of the work undertaken by both French and Liberian authorities and congratulate them for taking this step in fulfilling their international obligations. This, Civitas Maxima and GJRP believe, is an important development in the fight against impunity for crimes that were committed in Liberia during the two Liberian Civil Wars.

Civitas Maxima and Global Justice & Research Project
Civitas Maxima and Global Justice & Research Project

Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project have been collaborating since 2012, and together represent hundreds of victims of the two Civil Wars which killed more than 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003.

Civitas Maxima, represented by the lawyer Simon Foreman, stands alongside Liberian victims and takes part as a civil party in the proceedings against Kunti K. in Paris, the statement concluded.

Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

No one has faced prosecution in Liberia for human rights and atrocities committed during the country’s devastating civil wars in the 1990s.

International and local rights organizations are coordinating efforts to ensure that recommendations of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which include the establishment of a war crimes court are established.

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Day One Of Mass Protest Ends; No Petition Presented

Day one of what appears to be several days of planned protest has ended in Monrovia with no compromise reached between the government of Liberia and Protesters under the banner, Council of Patriots (COP).  

Liberian Protesters On June 7th

The much publicized protest began Friday, June 7, 2019 with the protesters demanding that they can only deliver their petition to President George Weah or Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor.  

Earlier, President George Weah designated his Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor to be the one to receive the petition from the Council of Patriots.

Is not clear why the Vice President did not show up as expected, but multiple sources close to the office of the VP said, she was unable to show up due to illness. 

Protest Organizers Henry P. Costa (in white top) Marching With Protesters

However, the government requested the leadership of COP to hand deliver their petition to Foreign Minister Gbezongar Findley – a decision protesters vehemently rejected, saying, they cannot present their petition to an appointed official. 

Among other demands, the protesters are demanding that Finance Minister Samuel Tweh and Central Bank Governor Nathaniel Patray be dismissed and turned over to the Justice Ministry for prosecution for their roles in the mismanagement and misapplication of the US$25 million allocated for a mop up of excess Liberian dollar liquidity.

The protesters also want the government to find solution to the persistent skyrocketing of the US dollar against the Liberian dollar.

The protesters further indicated that they want an immediate end to what they described as massive corruption and bad governance, which, according to them have hampered Liberian’s image abroad. 

ECOWAS Official Addressing Protesters

The protest which has been described by many including international media outlets as the most peaceful post war protest, was by monitored by both local and international observers including Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS). Local officials of ECOWAS in Monrovia were seen working alongside their Liberian counterparts to ensure peaceful and orderly protest. 

Liberian Security Officers

Elites forces of the Liberian joint security were also seen posted at various points to ensure that things were under control. 

Observers say this was the first time in several years in Liberia that a mass protest has been held without any scuffle between the police and protesters, even though tension heightened between the police and supporters of one of the leaders of the protest a day prior to the much publicized June 7 protest.

Liberian Protesters

Meanwhile, after several failed attempt to deliver the their protest petition, the leadership of the protest appealed to their supporters to go home and prepare themselves for the next course of action, which will be announced on Monday, June 10, 2019.  

By Paul Kanneh in Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

 

 

Mass Citizens Protest Underway In Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia – June 7, 2019: The day is finally here.

Hundreds of  thousands of dissatisfied citizens in the small and poor West African country of Liberia have invoked their constitutional right to “petition” their Government over several grievances and the economic malaise the country is enduring under the Weah Administration.

Early Friday, West African Journal Magazine observed protesters assembling at various agreed designated points to begin their peaceful march to Capitol Hill, the seat of the national government, where, they say, they will submit their 19 count list of “grievances” to the Weah Government for a commitment to redress. President George M. Weah is not expected to receive the petition but has designated a proxy instead.

Shadowed by armed Liberian security forces in riot gear and vehicles, the protesters converged from points in the east and west of the city Monrovia. They chanted anti-government slogans. “We are tired, We are the masses but we can get tired, We want change”. One banner with the photo of President Weah and  carried by protesters read, “Generational Traitor”.

Supporters of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Liberian President have criticized the protests as an attempt to unseat the Government.

Monitors from ECOWAS and the international community are also keeping an eye on the march. The organizers Council of Patriots (COP) are leading the march and have assured that the exercise will be peaceful.

On Thursday, the eve of the protest, Liberian security forces mounted a “show of force” of vehicles, weapons and riots gear. Some observers have termed the “show of force” as unnecessary and an attempt at intimidating the protesters while others say Government is leaving nothing to chance given the history of violent protests in Liberia.

Masses of peaceful protesters have been pouring into the city center and heading to the Capitol Hill area, the seat of National Government which houses the National Legislature, the Presidency and the Supreme Court. Protest organizers including Mo Ali, talk show Henry P. Costa and Abraham Darius Dillon are also marching with the protesters.

The demonstration has been peaceful so far.

Protesters are heard chanting anti-government slogans and accusing President George M Weah of massive corruption and ineptitude. Scores of protesters who are appearing in live video feed are narrating their displeasure with the Government and the harsh economic climate.

West African Journal Magazine is receiving reports that the internet in Liberia has been spotty  and off in some instances. Supporters and organizers of the mass protest are accusing the Government of Liberia of blocking internet access. Meantime, Virtual Private Network links are being shared and forwarded by internet and social media watchers to families and friends to allow them to broadcast scenes from the protest.

No arrests or major incidents have been reported. Security was augmented  by the Government on Thursday.

The Movement Justice in Liberia, an advocacy group in the United States is gathering in front of the Liberian Embassy in Washington DC in support of the mass protests back in Liberia. Organizers say they will also present a position statement to the Liberian diplomatic mission calling for reforms in the country.

The protest in Liberia is a major blow to the image of President George M. Weah whose popularity is fading quickly over his inability to address grinding poverty and economic issues since coming to power nearly one and half years ago. President Weah recently announced a series of economic policy initiatives to address concerns of citizens but they appear not to regain the confidence of citizens who are demanding immediate relief.

The protest is an embarrassment to the Administration, which, in the past, has boasted of massive support especially from the poor.

In anticipation of Friday’s protest, western embassies in the Liberian capital have advised their nationals to adopt a low profile and be alert.

Speeches are being made by protest organizers on Capitol Hill as thousands of citizens watch and listen.

By Our Correspondent in Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

 

OSAC Assessment – “Liberia Demonstrations Underscored Grievances & Limited Government Capacity”

Monrovia, Liberia – June 6, 2019: The United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security (OSAC) on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 issued an assessment on Liberia entitled Liberia Demonstrations Underscored Grievances & Limited Government Capacity

Executive Summary

“The Council of Patriots,” a coalition of five major Liberian opposition parties has called for large-scale “Save the State” demonstrations on June 7 to demand government reforms to improve living conditions and good governance as the country grapples with economic stagnation and widespread corruption. Although protest organizers have stated their non-violent intent and clarified that they are not calling for President George Weah’s resignation, many who oppose the demonstrations claim that they could serve as a ploy to force the President to step down just a year into his term. A number of civil society organizations have discouraged participation in the demonstrations, including Yana Boys and Girls clubs (panhandlers associations) and some religious leaders.

As routine, the government has augmented security in Monrovia. Pro-government actors might call on supporters to stage counter-rallies, which could increase the potential for clashes with security forces and rival protest groups. Local security force and emergency response to large-scale and widespread demonstrations remains largely un-tested in Liberia’s post-conflict era, and local capabilities are already limited. Reports indicate that the government and opposition leaders are engaged in negotiations, but it appears they have yet to reach an agreement.

Monrovia’s Capitol area will likely be the main gathering point for June 7 demonstrations, but protests could occur elsewhere in the city or the country. According to some estimates, participants could number in the thousands in Monrovia – a size which is unprecedented in Liberia’s post-conflict era. Sources suggest that protest leaders may have traveled throughout Liberia to promote support for demonstrations in other parts of the country as well. Large gatherings can materialize with little notice and escalate to violence in Liberia, and vigilantism and mob justice is common in Liberia particularly in rural areas. Members of the Liberian diaspora are reportedly organizing a June 7 protest in Washington, DC in solidarity, which could raise the profile of these protests and sustain their momentum.

Security managers should review their security measures and ensure they account for potential for protests to turn confrontational, be prolonged, and increase future tensions. The government’s reaction and demonstrators’ orderliness will play a major role in determining scale, duration, and escalation to violence of these protests. There are some private-sector concerns about the potential for June 7 to prompt sustained or recurring unrest, given their potential to tap into a confluence of economic and political trends that could cause potential regional spillover or prompt ghosts from Liberia’s conflicted past to reemerge.

Could Protests Transform a Political Turning Point into a Tipping Point?

Joint calls for demonstrations could mark the opposition’s attempt to galvanize rising and increasingly widespread popular grievances against the President and his party. So far, the central government has largely avoided addressing the looming protests publicly. The government has barred the media from reporting on the progress of government negotiations with the opposition. Open sources indicate that the government’s silence has augmented public anxiety.

The current president, George Weah, was elected in Liberia’s 2017 Presidential election, beating then-incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai, in a run-off. Weah ran as an outsider and championed a platform of poverty reduction, economic growth, infrastructure development, and anticorruption. As a result, protests could serve as a one-year review of Weah’s performance in office and ability to meet his campaign promises. In addition, former VP Boakai is one of the leaders of “Save the State” protests; his active role in organizing the demonstrations could indicate his intention to establish himself as the opposition frontrunner for 2022 Presidential elections, as well as the opposition’s desire to continue sparring with Weah over the course of his first term. The 2017 election also marked the country’s first postwar peaceful transition of power, which could mean that sustained unrest against Weah could escalate into a referendum on the success of Liberia’s post-conflict democratic progress.

How unified the opposition becomes, and whether the coalition is able to galvanize widespread and sustained support remain to be seen. Unarticulated grievance-based and/or antigovernment movements can be prone to volatility and devolution; opposition leaders have provided participants with an outlet to express their grievances, but limited guidance on how to direct this expression. In such cases, score settling, scapegoating, predation, mistargeting, and/or indiscriminate violence could occur – all of which have implications for private-sector security, as they could lead to organized or ad hoc targeting as well as indiscriminate violence. In addition, there is concern that political elites could tap into criminal elements, youth gangs, vigilantes, and/or armed groups resurrected from Liberia’s past conflicts – any of which could morph into an armed political opposition.

Rising Economic Desperation Mixes With Unmet Expectations and High Crime

Liberia’s economic situation is the worst it has been in the past decade, as the country struggles with high unemployment, price inflation, and fuel price hikes which have caused commodities to skyrocket. The exchange rate has been the highest and most volatile it has been during peacetime. One of the largest foreign direct investors and employers in Liberia has announced layoffs due to lackluster profitability. The layoffs could result in backlash, and could hurt the nation’s economy even more. All of these developments exacerbate economic instability and desperation as Weah pushes economic growth and poverty-reduction agendas, which were major pillars of his 2017 presidential platform.

On May 28, Weah announced a massive reshuffle of the central bank – a move that could be an attempt to mollify the public in advance of June 7. Systemic corruption in government (including the central bank) has become a growing source of discontent under both the previous and current administration. In September, Liberians staged “Bring Back Our Money” protests after more than $100 million in newly printed bills vanished; and the suspicious incident undermined anticorruption efforts. Austerity may also be on the horizon for Liberia, which would impact Weah’s ability to meet his campaign promises and constrain public services further, likely resulting in public outcry.

Worsening poverty and a lack of any social safety net has led to upticks in crime and the proliferation of gangs, as people turn to illicit activities for sources of income. Opportunistic criminal actors may exploit periods of heightened uncertainty, particularly outbreaks of unrest and changes in security force posture, to expand their activities. The myriad of criminal elements also provides political leaders with potential armed wings to tap into for support, some may have access to weapons – albeit typically homemade ones. Crime generally increases during the rainy season (May-September) and has the potential to become more prevalent during periods of unrest. (For more information on crime trends, see Liberia’s OSAC 2019 Crime and Safety Report.)

Upcoming protest activity notwithstanding, the U.S. Department of State currently assigns Liberia a Level 1 Travel Advisory, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions in the country; however, there is a serious risk from criminality in Monrovia, and travelers should exercise increased caution in urban areas due to crime.

Liberia’s two civil wars between 1986 and 2003 destroyed 90% of its economy and damaged a large portion of its infrastructure, while the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak overburdened what infrastructure remained – particularly the country’s health system – and sapped revenue that could have driven development and furthered post-conflict recovery. Although increased international attention during the Ebola crisis brought a momentary uptick in private-sector presence and investment, this was primarily health- and emergency response-focused and largely disappeared with the end of the epidemic. International aid initially resuscitated Liberia’s economy, but systemic improvements have been lacking due to institutional weakness and corruption. The Liberian government continues to rely on international assistance for two-thirds of its expenditures; commercial investors driven off by the outbreak remain leery of re-entering the market, inhibiting economic diversification and capacity building.

Reemerging Ghosts from Liberia’s Conflicted Past Could Contest for Its Future

The legacy of Liberia’s civil wars continues to loom large in politics. Anti-government unrest could rekindle unresolved ethno-political tensions that may be exploited by political opportunists. There are concerns that Charles Taylor, Liberia’s president during both civil wars, maintains significant influence in Liberian politics, despite his conviction for war crimes and incarceration in the United Kingdom. Well-known associates of Taylor, including those who held key positions during his administration and were implicated in abuses, continue to hold prominent positions in Liberian politics. Such figures include Taylor’s ex-wife, who was Weah’s running mate and is now the Vice President; and Prince Johnson, an on-again off-again Taylor ally who won third-place in the 2017 presidential election, despite calls for him to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. Prince later endorsed Weah in the run-off and continues to give him support. Johnson urged his followers not to join the opposition in protest, but they could participate in counter-rallies; however, this relationship may fray if Weah heeds more vocal calls for Johnson’s prosecution.

Large-scale, sustained unrest could present heavyweights from Liberia’s conflicted past with opportunities for intervention and posturing to exact concessions and expand of their influence. Liberia’s main political figures and parties – including Boakai, Taylor, and Johnson — maintain strong support bases often along ethno-political and geographic lines. What made Weah’s campaign successful was its broader appeal– which is now under pressure. As a result, there are concerns that “Save the State” could prompt power shifts and realignments that could disrupt current alliances and potentially undermine Liberia’s post-conflict trajectory, which has remained politically stable despite lingering tensions.

Sisters in Struggle: Liberia’s Woes Could Spill into Sierra Leone

OSAC has received a number of inquiries from private-sector organizations operating in Liberia as well as Sierra Leone due to constituent concerns about implications of June 7 protests on Liberia’s stability and potential for spillover into Sierra Leone. The two countries possess similar risk factors (e.g. lackluster economic performance, endemic corruption, and institutional weakness) and shared histories (e.g. interrelated civil wars and the Ebola outbreak).

In addition, President Julius Bio in Sierra Leone took office in 2018 as a successful opposition candidate by running on a poverty reduction and anticorruption platform but is facing economic challenges, similar to Weah.

On June 3, the UK government updated its advice for Sierra Leone warning of a general increase in demonstrations; such activities are probably not directly related to the June 7 protests in Liberia, but are likely fueled by antigovernment grievances over similar issues such as prolonged economic declines.

Successful demonstrations in Liberia could lead to copycat demonstrations in its neighbor. Ethnic and kinship ties also extend across Liberia and Sierra Leone’s shared frontier, which experiences high volumes of daily cross-border transit and commercial activity, rendering borders extremely porous. Such factors played major roles in the spread of Liberia’s second civil war into its neighbor. French guidance currently advises against non-essential travel along the border with Sierra Leone since March 2018 due to potential instability, despite improvements in the security environment.

Local Security Force Response

June 7 demonstrations could overwhelm host nation capacity including local security force response, emergency services, and medical infrastructure which are already limited – even in Monrovia where they are concentrated — due to years of under development and repeated crisis. Response in Monrovia and particularly outside the capital could become even more attenuated or delayed during June 7 protests. Security forces face chronic shortages in manpower, equipment, and training – particularly within the Liberian National Police (LNP).

This lack of resources stems from Liberia’s civil wars, after which its entire formal security sector — including military, police, and intelligence — was dismantled and reconstituted from scratch due to the prevalence of human rights abuses committed during the conflict. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) oversaw the reform of Liberia’s security and justice sectors, but fully withdrew from the country in 2018. Further government-driven capacity building in the security sector has been slow.

In response to possible unrest, security forces have set up frequent checkpoints in the city–particularly in upscale neighborhoods such as Sinkor while constituents have reported that shakedowns have become more common and aggressive. Checkpoints could proliferate around June 7, which could increase the prevalence of extortion. Public confidence and trust in Liberia’s security forces is extremely low, largely due to perceived corruption and ineffectiveness. Additionally, the government could implement movement restrictions and curfews if it perceives a threat to law and order.

It remains unclear how well Liberia’s security forces will be able to modulate their use of force – particularly in the face of largescale, multi-location gatherings and/or provocations (stone-throwing, barricading, rioting, and looting). To date, the Liberia National Police (LNP) has only had to manage localized demonstrations involving a few hundred, mostly-compliant participants including during the “Bring Back Our Money” demonstrations; “Save the State” participation may dwarf these earlier protests.

The UN Special Representative for West Africa expressed concerns about the capacity of Liberia’s security forces to handle longer term protests during his May 24-25 visit to support dialogue between the government and opposition leaders.

Heavy-handed response to the June 7 protests, or even the perception of such a response, may further erode confidence in security forces and enflame anti-government tensions; as a result, the margin of error for the government is narrow.

Maintaining cohesion and professionalism will be more difficult in rural areas of the country where security force densities are lower. Frequently, reinforcements from Monrovia must respond to even routine incidents. Police officers frequently end up becoming victims themselves when responding to incidents. Once reinforcements arrive, the victimized police officers may carry out reprisals. Due to limited police response, many communities have turned to vigilantism and extrajudicial measures. In the last two months, there have been at least two reported incidents outside of Monrovia in which vigilantes have targeted police, possibly signifying rising popular discontent with government responsiveness; security forces are often the most visible and accessible embodiment of the central government.

U.S. and Foreign Government Response

The U.S. Embassy has warned that while gatherings will start in the morning, protests could last into the next day. The Embassy has also advised personnel to avoid the area, including rescheduling flights in or out of Roberts International Airport on June 7 and 8, as traffic jams may affect travel to and from the airport (see June 3 security alert). The UK government updated its travel advice on May 23 to alert travelers of June 7 protests, and the Canadian government has incorporated similar changes. The U.S. Department of State currently assigns Liberia a Level 1 Travel Advisory, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions in the country, however travelers should exercise increased caution in urban areas due to crime; this guidance remains in effect.

Private-Sector Response

Security managers should monitor local information sources and networks for developments and review organizational risk assessments, contingency plans, and mitigation measures in case of outbreaks or sustained unrest. In the wake of U.S. government advice to avoid the airport, organizations should consider the criticality of air travel around June 7; some organizations have deferred travel around this time. Large gatherings and elevated security force presence may impede airport access and traffic flow around Monrovia and other locations affected by protests.

Given limited or even reduced local security and emergency response capabilities, organizations should review their duty of care to both foreign and local staff including what organizational resources they can provide to protect their personnel and operations. Ensure sufficient supplies including food, water, and fuel in case of prolonged unrest or disruption of commercial services; reports indicate that locals are stockpiling radios and food.

Contingency plans should include accountability protocols; shelter-in-place scenarios; use of redundant communications systems; crowd avoidance techniques. Many in-country private sector organizations have bolstered physical security measures to deter crime during the rainy season and are reviewing these in light of potential unrest. Private sector personnel in Liberia should expect a visible increase in local security force posture particularly around administrative buildings, key infrastructure including the airport, and major transit arteries. However, heightened security force presence may not mean increased ability to respond to incidents and emergencies.

Travelers may encounter more frequent checkpoints; review how to avoid security issues around checkpoints and road blocks, interact with security forces, and handle shakedowns during times of heightened tensions.

US Federal Government Disclaimer: The contents of this presentation in no way represent the policies, views, or attitudes of the United States Department of State, or the United States Government, except as otherwise noted (e.g., travel advisories, public statements). The presentation was compiled from various open sources and (U) embassy reporting.  

West African Journal Magazine

Students To Resist “Ban On Politics” At University of Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia – June 4, 2019: A fierce critic of the Weah Administration Martin K.N. Kollie is vowing to resist the ban on student politics at the state run University of Liberia.

Main Campus of University of Liberia In Capitol Hill
Main Campus of University of Liberia In Capitol Hill

In an interview on Tuesday, the vocal student leader confirmed that “on the direct orders of President George M. Weah, the University of Liberia issued a ban on all political activities on campuses of the institution.” This is the second time in the last 6 months that the Government of Liberia has moved to curtail political activities on at the University.

Kollie warned that the action of President Weah was what he described as “dictatorial” and warned that the Liberian President was treading on “dangerous ground. According to him, the authorities of the University have given no reasons for the “ban on politics” not did they back in last January when the first ban was issued.

Kollie accused the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) of dispatching “thugs” to the Capitol Hill campus on Monday, June 3, 2019 to intimidate and harass students who are opposed to the policies of the government. The incident, he said, led to the disruption of normal academic activities. The student leader further charged that in the run up to the June 7th protest, the Government was “importing former rebels” to attack protesters.

June 7th Protest Flyer
June 7th Protest Flyer

West African Journal Magazine is unable to independently ascertain the charge of Kollie. The UL Administration blamed the ban on the disturbance  on Monday. “ Accordingly, no political group shall assemble or hold meetings or engage in any politically related activities on any of the UL campuses during this period of suspension,” a UL official said in issuing the ban on student political activities.

He further disclosed in the interview that the student leadership of the University of Liberia was mobilizing about 50,000 students in support of the June 7th Protest which he described as “the beginning of the revolution” against the Weah Government.

According to him, he is being followed by state security personnel because of his advocacy and critical views against the Government. “For the last 2 months, I have not lived at home for fear of my life”, he emphasized.

Liberian Student Activist And Leader Martin K.N. Kollie
Liberian Student Activist And Leader Martin K.N. Kollie

Kollie disclosed further that it was his information that the Government was planning to issue a “State of Emergency” on June 6th, a day before the protest to block the massive anti Government demonstration which is being organized by a group known as the Council of Patriots (COP).

The Liberian Constitution provides for the issuance of State of Emergency in Article 86 (a) and (b):

Article 86

I a

The President may, in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, proclaim and declare and the existence of a state of emergency in the Republic or any part thereof. Acting pursuant thereto, the President may suspend or affect certain rights, freedoms and guarantees contained in this Constitution and exercise such other emergency powers as may be necessary and appropriate to take care of the emergency, subject, however, to the limitations contained in this Chapter.

b

A state of emergency may be declared only where there is a threat or outbreak of war or where there is civil unrest affecting the existence, security or well-being of the Republic amounting to a clear and present danger.”

But the student activist said critics of the Government are prepared to ignore any “unorthodox and illegal imposition of a State of Emergency” by President Weah.

By Our Correspondent

West African Journal Magazine

 

Sime Darby To Decide On Its Future Operations In Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia – June 3, 2019: In a first admission of business losses, the world biggest oil palm producer by acreage Sime Darby of Malaysia says its net profit fell by about 70% compared to the first quarter of 2018.

 

Malaysia Headquarters of Sime Darby Plantation

According to the company’s Managing Director Mohd Bakke Salleh, Sime Darby is expected to reach a decision by year’s end on its future operations in the West African country of Liberia. The company has a 63 year concession agreement in the country to develop about 220,000 hectares of land for palm oil and rubber plantations in the administrative districts of Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bomi and Bong Counties. Sime Darby says it already farming plantations in Grand Cape Mount,. Bomi and Lofa Counties.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map

Liberia will need to maintain the company’s investment, jobs and tax revenues to bolster its struggling economy at a critical time when other major investors including Firestone Rubber and the Turkish MNG Gold Mining Company have slashed jobs to cope to slumping global prices for their commodities.

Sime Darby’s Managing Director who did not disclose names, admitted that there have been ”a number of inquiries about our business in Liberia”. There have been speculations in recent months of that Sime Darby was contemplating leaving Liberia because of heavy business losses. There is no word from the Liberian Government on this latest development.

Economic Affairs Correspondent

West African Journal Magazine

 

Opinion: Why Leaders Should “Eat Last”

In a previous paper, I underlined possible trends impacting Liberia economy in 2019 and proposed series of recommendations which preceded the IMS report.

In this article, I focus on leadership and why it is important for leaders to “eat last”.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia Map

This is important because the circumstances unfolding in Liberia is disquieting and shocking.  The  lack of leadership is why we have economically and socially fallen of the cliff. It is unfortunate, because it doesn’t have to be this way. For over a century, we have failed to educate and improve the standard of living for our people. That is why the ability to make decisions that benefit them or know right from wrong is limited.

We cannot blame our people for the lack of social insecurity and failure. It is because of this confusion and indecisiveness that Liberia is in a chaotic state and given rise to the Yekeh Kolubah, Abraham Darius Dillon and Henry Costa of the world. It is because most Liberians under 30 (majority of the voting age population) feel they have no future and these individuals feel their pain, even if they are in it for themselves. And so I predict that we are in it for a long haul.

To correct the gross social imbalances of the past, individuals who aspire to leadership must understand Liberia’s  lessons from a historical context and correct it. Neither this current government nor the previous ones have done anything to turn the tide; so history is destined for reappearance.

First, I’ll conceptualize leadership.

One can equate a leader to being a parent. He or she is the core of the family, who makes sacrifices to see that his or her child interests are advanced so that, later in life, they would follow the right path and become successful. So, in the process sacrifices are made by the parent; lot  of them.

It is this kind of leadership Liberia requires to move forward. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The CDC lead government under President George Weah came with all the hope and aspiration that they had the magic wand to solve Liberia’s problem only to drop the ball, because they were not prepared and had no plan; all talk and no substance. So, they are stuck.

Here is  why I think that John C. Maxwell had a right when he said “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”  Similarly, Dwight D. Eisenhower the 34the President of the United States once said “The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity.” The rationale is that without trust and honesty first to yourself and others, success isn’t possible. You cannot force it.

Leaders Eat Last Module By Simon SinekIn Simon Sinek’s book “Leaders Eat Last” he laid out evidently that leaders should create the environment that allow people to feel a sense of purpose, fulfillment and self-actualization from what they do and why leaders must build trust so that people can thrive. In order to build trust, a leader must be transparent and everything he or she does. When they have nothing to hide, they are challenged less because people are aware of what they do and there are no hidden skeleton in their closets. He or she is a teacher and a coach, not a dictator. They communicate what they want to do so the vision is clear.

A leader that eats last is selfless, self-sacrificing; not driven by honor and power with the single-mindedness upon making everyone better. Your success as a leader must come from the vision and accomplishment of your people. Put your people in the spotlight and you will shine. Surround yourself with the best and brightest and you will gleam and standout. A leader that east last is careful of abuse of public office for private gain, since it impacts economic growth and livelihood.

One writer sums it this way with respect to how leaders must eat last  “…Although leaders may not be asked to risk their lives or to save anybody else’s, they should be glad to share their glory and help those with whom they work, succeed. More importantly, in the right conditions, people with whom leaders engage with should choose to also share their glory and take risk. And when that happens, when those kinds of bonds are formed, a strong foundation is laid for the kind of success and fulfillment that no amount of money, fame or awards can buy.”

This is what it means to work in a place in which the leaders prioritize the well-being of their people and, in return, their people give everything they’ve got to protect and advance the happiness of one another; a kind of shared purpose.

This is why we all owe it the opposition in Liberia as well as well Yekeh Kolubah, Abraham Darius Dillon and Henry Costa  because leaders must be checked or you will breed monstrosity and gargantuan.

I have been fortunate to engage with many organizations and have determined that those that are exceptional, whether public (government) or the private (business), are ones in which leaders set clear visions and where people implement those visions. And so, they push harder and harder, take risks to achieve shared-objectives and better the lives of their people. You can only achieve this  if there are empathy and compassion for individuals; not self. People!.

Leaders that eat last see aggrandizement and braggadocio as obstacles to progress and not the other way around. This is fundamental to creating a culture in which folks effortlessly pull together to advance the public good; not  the good of an individual.

Leaders that eat last create a sense of belonging that limit stress and reduce threats.  Everyone feel a part of something bigger; a greater purpose. They give their all, more time, and energy to protect others from the constant dangers outside and seize the big opportunity to impact lives. Smart leaders can accomplish this because it is not about them. Unfortunately, most of our leaders don’t see it this way. They are mostly driven by tittle-tattle, scuttlebutt and gossip.

This is why we need leaders; good ones – Leaders who would look out for people on both sides of the political spectrum (ruling and opposition) and the willingness to sacrifice their comfort for others, even when they disagree with you; a kind of trusted leadership. Trust is not simply a matter of shared opinions. Trust is a biological reaction to the belief that someone has others well-being at heart. Trusted leaders are those who are willing to give up something of their own for others. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, good leaders choose be the last to take from the plate; Not the first.

In addition, a leader that eats last encourage others to do the right thing even if it is popular. When human-beings feel that they have the control to do what’s right and supported, even if it sometimes means breaking the rules, they will more likely do what’s right. Audacity and courage comes from good leaders. Chaos and uncertainties exist from those that are unscrupulous and immoral. A person’s’ poise and timidity to do what’s right is determined by how a person trust his or her leader. A leader that eats last isn’t often fooled because he or she uses common sense and moral judgment.

It is often said that the environment has an impact on the individual. Sometimes if respectable and honest people work in a bad culture, one in which leaders do not relinquish control, lack respect for the law, immoral, shady and corrupt, then the odds of the good habits go down and bad habits go up. Individuals will be more likely than not,  to follow the bad rules out of fear of getting in trouble or getting in trouble with the boss, losing their jobs rather than doing what needs to be done.

Market in Liberia
Market in Liberia

The current global economy will continue to see stock market volatility, decline in commodity prices, trade wars, falling oil prices, hyper-inflation, and the depressing economic prospects for Sub-Saharan Africa. The challenges of reducing poverty and the impact of high inequality across the region will continue to dampened progress and economic activity. And so the challenges of poverty reduction can only be realized through robust economic growth and equitable distribution of the national pie which would require effective and efficiency leadership.

We have by our own nature created a country that is politically and economically out of balance for ourselves and generation to come. It has been so for over 170 years. It will soon self-destruct unless we are smart enough to correct it methodically and with a sense of urgency. Given our inclination for instant enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure and the weaknesses in our organizations, nevertheless, our leaders may not have the poise or patience to do what needs to be done even if it is the right thing.

For some reasons, there’s this strong feeling that Liberian leaders don’t see their people as individuals but rather pawn in a chess game; a means to an end and why empty promises are often made and they often take the bit and fall for the trap from individuals who are only in it for their own concealed motives. Now more than ever, the Liberian people live daily in a society in which they are total strangers in their own land; in which they struggle to make ends meet.

Liberia is in an imbroglio. How the current government overcome the current entanglement needs to be seen, but leadership should be at the core because effective policies requires sound thinking and facts based on the data to inform policy and drive decision-making.

I have always argued that good governance and effective headship is essential for success in any organization and for implementing policies whether fiscal or monetary. In most instances, crafting effective policy option takes time and requires weighing the pros and cons so that prescriptions drive results and outcome.

So my recommendation for every Liberia leader is to do the following:

  1. Fight to bring people together
  2. Create balance between selfish pursuits versus selfless pursuits
  3. Encourage integrity
  4. Talk less and listen more
  5. There’s always two sides to a story. Listen, listen, listen
  6. Share struggle
  7. Get the job done

To sum, leadership is not about doing less. It is striving to do more. And that’s the dilemma. Leadership takes effort and work. It takes time, energy and a ‘get-up-and-go’ attitude. The effects are not always easily measured and they are not always immediate. Leadership is always a commitment to people to do the right thing.

This is the change Liberia yearns  for; – “A leader that eats last, not first.”

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