OP-ED: The Current State of Affairs in Liberia — President Weah Needs to Lead

The culture of impunity has ruined the moral fabric of Liberia. What authority does a group of ex-rebel generals have in a constitutional democracy to issue a 72-hour ultimatum for a sitting member of the House of Representatives — or any citizen irrespective of political affiliation? Liberia is disintegrating into chaos rapidly, and the authorities should be excoriated for entertaining such absurdity.

The group of ex-rebel generals initially demanded that Representative Yekeh Kolubah surrender himself to them so they could turn him over to the government for questioning. Can you imagine?

Representative Kolubah has been an outspoken critic of President George Weah, hurling insults, promising impeachment, and going so far as to incite violence. For example, Kolubah recently made the following statement, which prompted an inquiry from the Ministry of Justice:

“We will move and they will solve the problem; too much, enough is enough… when you need us tomorrow, we will be available to tell this president, this squatter, will soon be leaving in less than three months because he does not able [sic] this country anymore. If they want violence, we will give them violence.”

The Ministry of Justice was rightly concerned about what appears to be a call for a change of government by unconstitutional means, which is a violation punishable under the Penal Code. Kolubah initially said he would not honor the invitation to clarify his comments to the Ministry of Justice, which prompted the group of rebel ex-generals from warring factions to issue their 72-hour ultimatum. If he wouldn’t appear before the Ministry of Justice, these former warlords intended to get him there themselves.

The Culture of Impunity

You’ve heard the phrase, two wrongs don’t make a right. Three or four wrongs don’t either. Not only was Kolubah’s statement dangerous, especially in a country like Liberia where peace remains fragile and the worst economy on the continent has left many people struggling to survive, the culture of impunity means that it’s doubtful anyone will be held accountable.

The general public didn’t take well to the vigilante ex-rebels’ demands. The people know a threat to Liberia’s fragile democracy when they see one. Fortunately, the public condemnation and calls for a war crimes court prompted the group to withdraw their demand. In this case, the public was able to hold the ex-rebels accountable, not out of an overwhelming show of support for the representative, but more likely out of a desire to keep the peace. Memories of war are all too raw in Liberia. The former rebels backed off, but a lingering feeling of distrust remains. Their power play appears to confirm the opposition’s assertion that government officials have been meeting with former fighters and targeting those with dissenting views.

According to a statement released by the Ministry of Justice, Kolubah appeared before the ministry earlier this week, disavowing any intent to incite citizens and undermine peace. His excuse, his “remarks were misrepresented.” Slap on the wrist, and back to business as usual.

Liberia’s culture of impunity and a lack of a war crimes court are two sides of the same coin. In this culture, you can do whatever you want to do without consequence. Sure, there may be some commotion and political uproar, but that all dies down and we move on. As far as war crimes go, the Center for Justice and Accountability, an international human rights organization, noted that, “Liberia has not initiated a single prosecution for the widespread crimes committed against civilians during its wars” in a letter petitioning President Weah to endorse justice and reparations for victims of grave crimes during the country’s civil war.

Liberia desperately needs to dissolve its culture of impunity, establish a war crimes court, and improve its economy, but it can’t do so without adequate leadership. President Weah needs to leave behind his soccer superstardom to emerge as a leader on the world stage. He must resist the attempts by foreign leaders who still see him as a soccer star. Governing is a serious business and not for the faint of heart. Surrounding yourself with sycophants who only sing your praises is a sign of weakness.

Not only that, overcrowding government departments with loyalists in order to appease supporters is counterproductive. A healthy government is one with diverse viewpoints. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, for example, appointed three of his rivals to his cabinet. Diverse viewpoints help to build tolerance, respect, and understanding. It also more accurately reflects the general population.

Liberia needs leadership, immediately.

The Culture of Incompetence

There’s another issue impacting the current state of affairs in Liberia — the culture of incompetence. If Liberia wants to be taken seriously, improve its economy, and solve its myriad problems, it needs more than just leadership. It also needs competence.

Here are just a few recent examples of incompetence at its finest. The 2019 Global Development Forum, which featured Monrovia’s Mayor Jefferson Koijee, was a total disaster and an embarrassment for Liberia, as he didn’t seem to understand the question being asked or what to make of the forum. He was out of his element, and it showed. Before you get up in arms about this, I’ve always rooted for and supported the mayor — way before he was famous — along with top officials. Koijee needs to be better; he must educate himself and present a coherent analysis of Liberia’s problems on the global stage. Again, governing is not child’s play.

We’ve also seen a deputy minister challenging opponents to fist fights on social media. This isn’t a sign of strength or loyalty to a president but a rising culture of macho Neanderthals and leeches in an economically backward country holding on to government jobs for survival. Using verbal onslaughts to muddy the national discourse is a product of feeble minds and an infirm society. We can do better.

One of Liberia’s top officials, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, is incompetent and should resign for misleading the country on multiple occasions. He’s come under scrutiny for lying many times. If you recall, he falsely inflated his salary by about five times more than what he actually made before his appointment as finance minister. He cannot be trusted.

And who can forget the recent missing currency fiasco, which was littered with incompetencies at just about every step? During the investigation, it was discovered that billions of Liberian dollars were injected into the economy improperly without legislative approval — a move that likely factors into Liberia’s rising inflation and depreciating exchange rates.

For example, the 2018 injection of US$25 million into the economy (known as the “USD mop up exercise”) was supposed to be used to mop up excess Liberian banknotes to counter a steep rise in exchange rates. US$5 million of that amount was not withdrawn at all and US$5 million went into general circulation (and not used to mop up Liberian banknotes) as part of normal banking operations.

Numerous cash count discrepancies were also discovered including an unreconciled difference of L$21,210,579 between the general ledger account and the actual banknotes stored in the bank’s vault. The investigative report also noted inadequate banknote storage controls and observed loose bank notes in the vault. It’s unknown whether or not these loose notes were accounted for in the general ledger.

A Looming Protest

As you can imagine, Liberians are not happy with the current state of affairs in Liberia. A “Save the State” protest is looming against the government and is scheduled for June 7th. One of the protest’s organizers, talk show host Henry Costa, said in a Facebook live post that they’re not asking for the president to resign but rather give him a long list of demands including the removal of Finance Minister Samuel Tweah. The organizers have no intention of meeting with President Weah because he’s refused to “heed to the cries of a large number of Liberians feeling the pinch of the economy. The President will face the wrath of the Liberian people.”

It’s Time for Leadership — on Both Sides

So, we have a vocal critic willing to incite violence, ex-rebel generals taking matters into their own hands to quell the voices of dissenters, a Ministry of Justice that goes through the motions, a culture of both impunity and incompetence, and a looming protest filled with the wrath of the Liberian people.

The president needs to show leadership, and he needs to do it now. If he’s to be taken seriously, at home and on the global stage, he must reform his government and address the country’s economic struggles. With calls of impeachment, not-so-veiled threats of violence, and an upcoming Save Our State protest, President Weah must also engage the opposition.

The opposition has its points, but those tend to become overshadowed by its machismo approach. The opposition can challenge the government without resulting in vitriol, petty name calling, or social media-instigated fist fights. In fact, the opposition has always had a role in democracies and is crucial in fostering change. The opposition keeps the majority party in check by questioning the ruling party’s policies and ideas as well as by offering alternatives. When the opposition comes into control, as it invariably does, its opposition does the same. With checks and balances — and opposition — in place, a middle ground is often found. Woven into all of this is tolerance for dissenting views. Thus, we don’t round up those we don’t agree with and throw them into jail.

With that in mind, both sides need to show leadership and tolerance and recommit to the democratic processes that govern Liberia.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Francis Cordor

Francis Cordor is a US-based software engineer who has worked on projects for the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and IBM. At IBM, Francis worked on various network diagnostic and configuration projects on the Datapower SOA appliance (a network appliance) with companies like France Telecom and Vodafone. Francis is also the founder of FrancordSoft —a software development company.

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