The noises of the social media as well as the traditional print and electronic news organs are too much for the ordinary people to easily discern the substantive change taking place in the country. Much of the good done in the last 12 months has lurked beneath the propaganda uproars. But when one takes up the political lenses and/or he/she narrows or closes the ears from intrusive cynical utterances, what is found is a firm paradigm shift of progressive works and achievements, some unprecedented in the annuls of Liberia’s political history. This gives the credit to President George Manneh Jlaleh Gbaku-Kpeh Tarpeh Weah under whose presidency all this is done in just a year. Let’s leaf through these substantive developments in just a single year.
Rare Political Moves
Politically, the current Liberian leader has opened his government to political accommodation, something leaders before him would perhaps do only in the second or third year in office. In the first batch of his appointments, President George Weah named several opposition elements to prominent and lucrative positions.
These include names of individuals from the former ruling Unity Party at the highest level, and not necessarily people who endorsed his candidacy in the runoff. Amongst such persons is the Vice Standard Bearing of the former ruling UP, Emmanuel Nuquah. He was appointed to the cabinet-level and security-sensitive post of Director General the Liberian Aviation Authority. Many stalwarts of the ruling party and other opposition political parties—both those who crossed carpet in the runoff and those who did not—were appointed to several important positions of trust by President Weah.
The list includes some members of the Liberty Party, including its chairman Ben Sanvee and Vice Chairperson Israel Akinsaye.
President Weah also demonstrated political maturity when he, during the second quarter of his regime’s first year, organized an all-parties dialogue. Reportedly, the conference, which was attended by several top opposition politicians, was intended to cultivate amiable relations with the opposition community and to extract ideas and cooperation from other politicians of the country on ways forward towards sustaining national peace, stability and unity.
Furthermore, against the advice of some politically conscious members of his Coalition for Democratic Change, the President has maintained or reappointed several opposition politicians in his Government. In fact, against moves by some of his partisans to sack civil servants and other officials of Government, President Weah moved quickly and squashed those actions, instructing that they retain their positions.
Leading by example, the president, upon taking his seat, declared waiver of 25% of his salary—the first ever in the political history of the country. When he had done that to himself, he moved on his appointees and ordered that the highest paid official of his government should make no more than US$7,800 and that all payments be subject to appropriate taxes. This means, public officials who were reportedly making up to US$20,000 to US$30,000 monthly in the past, something that triggered public outrage, are now forfeiting those fabulous earnings.
Sustaining Freer Media Space
George Gbarku-Kpeh Tarpeh Weah has also made history in the national media freedom and free speech space. Most complaints against him and his officials on the media freedom and free-speech front is that they don’t ignore criticisms. They often respond. They often bark back; something that needed to be understood as part of the free speech demands of democracy: the free ventilation of ideas and comments on issues of national concern by all citizens, including those in Government. But the President whose regime coincides with the unprecedented explosion of information channels brought about by the Internet and its associate, the social media, has put on a thick skin against media onslaughts, including crude language, vituperations and even profanities against him on the social media and radio stations.
No doubt, the temperaments of leaders before him would flare and lead to reprisals. So far, President Weah’s temperament has not ever flared up as to leading to physical reprisals against any journalist. Perhaps he has developed this immunity from soccer stardom which exposes an athlete to the crudest of criticisms. While it is true that one official or another, naturally, would get bitter about some editorialized news stories or some politicized editorials President Weah, according to insiders, would quickly calm down such officials and say, “Let them write and say anything. It will not distract us from our focus.” So, apparently, there might be threats of law suits or threats of reprimands against one media outlet or another by one official or the other, but those threats during the President’s year never got expressed in reprisal actions by the President or any official.
One of the major epitomes of the President’s pro-media and pro-freedom commitments is the speed with which he did push the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom at the House of Representatives. This anti-libel and anti-free speech bill had been dusting on the shelves of the Legislature before President Weah’s advent. The passage of this bill by Lower House exposes many self-styled revolutionary political leaderships before him who paraded with pseudo commitments to media freedom. In a matter of few months, the 24th President of Liberia pushed the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom through the Lower House and he kept up extreme pressure on the Senate until their adjournment few weeks ago. The President is reportedly foaming with excitement to push the Act to its final state of law in the first quarter of 2019.
Countless Liberian journalists and civil society actors had fallen victim to draconian laws restraining freedom of speech and press freedom since independence. This is why the President did not waste any time in exerting deliberate efforts to this law that will in the end promote free speech, expression, independence and the safety of the Liberian Press.
The House amended (cancel) or modified the Liberian Codes Revised, Penal Law of 1978 of the Republic of Liberia, Chapter 11, by repealing section 11:11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence. This was done early July.
Heroic Deviance of Inherited Messy Economy
Economically, President George Manneh Weah inherited Liberia’s version of “Economy Crunch” or “Great Depression”. By inheriting this situation means his new regime has got no hand in the creation of the factors that have given rise to the prevailing economic crises. A year or two before his inauguration, President Weah’s predecessor, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her annual message after the Ebola outbreak, said there were difficult days ahead and the nation and its people should brace themselves for it. Even a few years after the presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the World Bank report on the state of the Liberian economy for 2018 attributed the Liberian economic crunch to circumstances and factors that spilled over from the previous regime.
This is how the Bank states the situation in the 2018 report: “Liberia’s economy is still struggling to recover fully from the effects of multiple shocks in recent years; namely, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak, collapse of commodity prices, UNMIL withdrawal and the perception of risk associated with the political transition in January 2018. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2017, is estimated to have recovered to 2.5% and is projected to rise to 3.0% in 2018.”
Not shifting blame for the grim situation inherited, the President has positioned his government to mitigate the impact—at least so that it does not degenerate into worse scenario but to rise from the deep cliff towards upward movement and betterment. The President has since ordered the suspension of tariffs on thousands of essential imported commodities including sugar, rice, and frozen meat amongst others. While the ordinary end consumer don’t seem to notice or feel a radical reduction in the prices of these commodities, careful look finds out that the prizes would have gone far than they are if those redemptive measures were not taken. And, as other economists would say, the continued depreciation of L$ against the US$ has obscured the impact of the economic policy measures applied by the President.
Still struggling to force down the prices of goods and services amid the serious shocks inherited, the President further ordered his financial team to arrest the galloping pace of the US$ against the Liberian Dollar. The infusion of millions of US$ and other prudent temporary economic measures has since stopped the daily if not the hourly rise in the money parity market. One economist noted: “If there weren’t radical measures taken by the President and his government in the money market, and measuring by the speed with which the US Dollar was rising against the Liberian Dollar, we will be talking about a ratio of 1:300 today. But what we have now is a constant of around 1:55 and 1:158 almost static. What’s keeping it this way is the set of measures taken by the President.”
Unusual Social Service, Infrastructure Building Moves
As the President battles the macroeconomic shocks inherited by his government, he, at the same time, continues to put smiles on the faces of the ordinary people in many ways. He hasn’t surrendered nor raised a white flag nor lamenting in the economic fight. He’s under the dire circumstances making Liberians smile.
Amongst the President’s first redemptive or pro-poor moves was the pronouncement that his government would take responsibility for the payment of WAEC now WASSE fees, an internationally administered exam taken yearly by nearly 40,000 Liberian students on the average. This relieves the students, particularly impoverished parents who had had difficulties paying in the past.
The President’s enormous interest in young Liberians’ education and the overall improvement of the quality of education was further demonstrated during the year by the unprecedented declaration of free tuition for the University of Liberia and other public colleges. Again, this is the first time such a move for mass education is ever made by a Liberian president. Thousands of Liberians who had opted for a college degree did not make it or became dinosaurs in universities or colleges before graduating simply because they could not easily afford tuitions for first degree.
The President’s declaration took the nation by storm so much that skeptics, including potential beneficiaries, were asking how such a policy would be funded without hiccups. Some meant the question for mere propaganda; others intended it for prayers and appreciation of the president. Whatever the case, President George Manneh Weah has put himself on the right side of history: under his leadership, college-going Liberians will get first degree without paying tuition.
Still revolutionary on the part of President Weah in the education sector is his e-Portal registration process at the biggest public academic referral center—the University of Liberia. Over the years, particularly since the 1980s when its doors got widely open to many underprivileged Liberians, the University of Liberia had had a rather chaotic registration process. This was a source of fatigue and frustration for students and potential students. It triggered drop-outs. For the first time ever, President Weah brought modernity and huge relief to university education when his government invested reasonable sums of money for the establishment of the e-Portal. Students are now registration in the comfort of their homes and elsewhere. No need to stand in long queues in the rain or blazing sun. No need for registration-related protests. The perennial taekwondo efforts needed for registration as well as the chaos, protests and upheavals triggered are now history.
Still on social service infrastructures, particularly paved roads construction, President George Manneh Weah has proved himself unmatched in the political history of Liberia. Not only has he promised to building far more tarmac roads than all his predecessors from independence combined, he has actually begun demonstrating that vow, targeting communities and regions that had not been in the radar of national development in the history of the country.
The 24th Liberian President has brought his natural “First Person” tag from his soccer stardom to the political stardom. He is the first President to send nearly 50 health practitioners for advance study abroad at once. He’s the first President of Liberia to commit to building the first military hospital. He’s the first Liberian President to initiate the building of paved roads to dozens of communities in Monrovia and in a couple of provincial capital cities—at once. He’s the first President to think about and poised to build costal highway and critical rural corridors—and once. These projects he tackling, at once.
Go to New Kru Town. In the last decade or so, all hopes had faded in salvaging the multimillion dollar D. Twe High School and Redemption Hospital. Workers and beneficiaries of these institutions had lost all hope they could be saved. But now, they are saved. The safety came because President George Weah had ordered a costal defense project. He did not rest monitoring and encouraging project contractors and the residents of New Kru Town until total safety was found. Today, ace engineers have pronounced D. Twe and Redemption Hospital secured from sea erosion for the next hundred years as a result of the President’s costal defense project.
Go to Doe Community and Clara Town. Go to Tusa Field and St. Michael School Community. Visit Vokar Mission and Chucky Community roads. Take a tour to Johnsonville Township and Pipeline Community. Or simply go the Kakata or go to Buchanan or Gbarnga or Sanniquillie. Scores of laterite roads are turning into tarmac pavements. All these are happening in just 12 months. Already, in addition to this, Forkey Klohn Tarpeh Weah’s natural leadership charms have firmly secured enormous loans and grants for several countryside road corridors known from time immemorial for their epic travel records due to their bad states of condition in this country. These corridors include Buchanan through River Cess to Sinoe and to Maryland through Grand Kru. Another one is Ganta to Zwedru through Tappitta and to Rivergee. All in one year—2018.
Disapproving Naysayers Wrong
As George Manneh Weah took the rostrum at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Stadium, taking the Oath of Office and giving his inaugural oration, supporters and moderates of his regime were bracing themselves to see if his ascendency to the highest public office would justify critics who had lot of negative things to say about his education, his oratory capacity and his attraction to the international community. So far, if any supporter of the President had had the palpitation of the heart—the fear about his capacity to lead, to speak on stage well and to attract foreign acceptability—they should be thoroughly calmed by now. They should be happy.
President Weah has contradicted them all. The floodgate of foreign funding flow—both in grants and loans towards all sectors of the Liberian society—have overwhelmed and inundated the national coffer. The French have given copiously to Liberia under Weah, and so are the Germans, the Indonesians, the Chinese, the British, the Middle Easterners, the Americans and many others, who have poured out their national purses into Liberia’s development program contrarily to doomsday perceptions by opponents that Liberia under Weah would be economically asphyxiated. Nearly all traditional international financing institutions, including the World Bank, the IMF, in addition to bilateral approvals, have provided their own giant shares in financing to Liberia’s Weah-headed development crusade. All in just 12 months—the 24th President’s first year in office.
The President has travelled to the United Nations General Assembly and delivered a speech that stunned critics—eloquently and confidently. He was in France and China during the year. He was in several African and European countries. All in a single year—the first of his six-year term. The world community, during the year, did not reject him or close their doors on him. They clamored for him.
Demonstrated Actions Against Graft
At the close of the year, when he was sobering up from the formation of the governance system, he began to go tough on corruption. He harassed executive appointees who could not declare their assets during the year to do so. The surrendered three of his appointees accused of corruption at the National Housing Authority for prosecution. He suspended them time for time indefinite. He increased the pestering of his officials to pay their taxes and work consistent with international best practices, including adherence to public procurement precepts. He announced punishments for deviants. The key point here is, the 24th President of the Republic is not condoning corruption and scoundrels. He’s not giving any inkling of shield and approbation for economic pillagers. He’s taking off the veil on them to be exposed, shamed and punished.
So, in just 12 months, Liberians have had a President who, though confronted by an incessant economic crunch inherited, has made concrete and tangible relieving strides that have kept the nation buoyant over rough seas and put reasonable smiles on the faces of the populace. Much of what he achieved in so short a time is unprecedented. The largest employer in the country, Government is paying salaries regularly and timely despite the economic crisis. He has surrendered a huge chunk of his salary and order significant slashes of executive officials’ salaries. That’s unprecedented.
Many dusty and muddy roads that afflicted so many communities and citizens are turning, some already turned, into asphalt pavements. High school students, at least 40,000 yearly, will no more pay WASSE fees. This is rare. Tens of thousands of Liberians will now get a college degree without paying for it. This is awesomely unhistorical in Liberia. The country’s first military hospital is sprouting up. Nearly a billion dollars have been secured to pave thousands of miles of roads linking capital cities upcountry, bringing to an end epic journeys into the countryside. That’s marvelously unusual. Liberians are free to speak their heart anyhow and they go to sleep not invited or harassed or intimidated by security and government officials. He has send tens of doctors abroad for advanced training.
Yes, Liberian presidents before him might have done some things here and there, touching the sectors of Government and society. However, unarguably, none did so with the huge volume together, and with such a deliberate speed and an awesomely exuberant passion with which George Forkey Klohn Jlaleh Gbaku-Kpeh Tarpeh Manneh Weah has done—just in 12 months. That’s why he’s our Man of the Year.