Since leaving public service in 2016, exiting as Finance Minister, Amara M. Konneh has always carefully avoided taking sides in his country’s erratic political discussions, perhaps largely due to his World Bank portfolio, or maybe to bide his time for the most opportune moment. The recent arrest and detention of political activist Manikpakei Dumoe has, however drawn the ire of Mr. Konneh, prompting him to issue a strongly worded judgement about what he considers missteps that could ruin the Weah administration, just as was the case of some of its predecessors.
According to Amara Konneh, in a social media post made over the weekend, the main problem with Liberia’s governance system is sycophancy.
“Everyone must be for the President or against her/him. There can be no neutrals in this relationship. Supporters and traitors. Supporters in government positions shield their incompetence through sycophancy and push for the exclusion and intimidation of critics who might expose their lack of qualification. This is taking place in a country that has only been out of conflict for 16 years (2003-2020) – a conflict that began in 1980 – and needs all the help it can get from qualified, patriotic citizens willing to commit to public service,” Mr. Konneh conjectured.
Konneh said he saw firsthand the sycophancy problem when he served in government during the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration.
“I saw this up close when some former colleagues vehemently opposed the inclusion of opposition figures and critics in consultations on the future of the country. Some of those they didn’t want in the UP Government are members of Weah’s inner circle today. Some even went as far as saying that our opponents would kill the president and put the rest of us before a firing squad – as the PRC did to Tolbert’s ministers – if there was regime change. When I asked, “without a cause?” they immediately labeled me as being naive because I had stayed long in America. One even said, “Amara, you’re working in Monrovia but living in Washington, DC. You don’t know this,” and another reminded me of how he was a close friend to most of them on the UL campus. Another one told me he was married to the sister of a key opposition figure who was later appointed a minister by EJS. In the end, we won the argument believing that it would be an experiment that began to end that cycle of “us” vs. “them”. That opposition figure who was appointed by EJS is also a minister in the Weah regime today. How he sits there and the regime jails an opposition figure this week has proven right those who didn’t want to give him a chance. One can’t be more cowardly and sycophantic than that,” averred Mr. Konneh,
Further lamenting on the sycophancy issue, Mr. Konneh said it is astounding to see the same people who were once marginalized opposition figures and nearly excluded from contributing to the country’s reconstruction, now sit by and allow their colleagues in power today to do the same to others.
“I can’t imagine why they are not trying to create opportunities for opposition voices to be included, much like their own voices were at the highest levels of governance. Instead of continuing to break down silos to create a competency-based and inclusive system of governance, they are repeating the mistakes of the past. They are muzzling and excluding people they call “friends and brothers,” when they’ve done nothing wrong but to criticize their work. They are proving right those hardline voices who told me that they were wicked and did not deserve to be given chances to serve. It’s a cycle that has cost so many innocent Liberian lives since 1980 and contributed to many fleeing from Liberia for fear of reprisals. These are losses that contributed to the incompetency challenge and brain drain of our country. And the perpetrators are the so-called “Country Boys.” No one should ever go to jail for expressing their political opinions and frustrations. In fact, responsible activism should be celebrated, and irresponsible statements like one made by Mr. Menipakei Dumoe should have been corrected with a constructive response,” Konneh lamented.
Konneh would go on to note in his expose that political scientists who study troubled democracies like Liberia say arresting and jailing political opponents is a tactic typical of elected leaders who pull down their own systems from within, without even known it, adding that the biggest culprits and cowards in that process are the elected representatives who say nothing, the ministers and advisers who incite their bosses to exclude their opponents from governance or jail them and the political leaders of the victims who don’t let people know where they stand.
“This was why we deliberately launched the “critical mass initiative” to get more competent young Liberians from across the spectrum – politics and tribes – into public service with any political quid pro quo. In fact, I didn’t know 90 percent of them. We empowered a lot of young Liberians – I mean a lot of them – to be professionals. They became the envy of other young Liberians who weren’t so privileged to have benefited from the initiative. It’s up to them now to put all the investments their country made in their growth to use. How do they feel about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were invested in them in our local, regional and Australian, European and US universities. We did that exactly for today – for them to step up and fill the competency gaps in the public sector. They owe it to their country,” Konneh opined.