While Liberia and Africa’s first democratically elected female president, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, may have left the bar high for successive political administrations to measure up to it in terms of international diplomacy, it can also be said that the George Manneh Weah administration has proven purely woefully complacent if not lazy, and has scored very poorly, on the foreign engagement front. Over three years has gone since its inception and yet the Weah administration cannot boast of a single major diplomatic breakthrough, not to speak of a visit to the country by a middle-level staff of the US State Department or of any major foreign power. It seems enough is enough and the government is now waking up from the slumber that has denied the country opportunities in many ways over the last years. The first aggressive push came two weeks ago, and after what is described as “engagements and discussions with U.S. Government officials and influential” private people, the Government delegation is reporting goods news, though not without preconditions or benchmarks laid out by the hosts towards improving better relations. The Analyst reports on a lengthy press statement issued from Washington DC.
It is not known what prompted the rather spontaneous diplomatic adventure, catapulting a high powerful delegation from the country to the United States. What can however be recalled that the US embassy near Monrovia has been issuing statements many describe as offensive and interference in Liberia’s matters and some pundits believe this was coming from the Weah government’s carefree relations with Washington.
Ever since the Weah administration took power, even non-diplomats have known what seems to be sluggish diplomatic agenda, leaving the country’s Foreign Service community mere employees without tangible works. And, and there are some who contend that the poor rating on the diplomatic front is all made known glaringly because the immediate past government demonstrated mastery of diplomacy and foreign service acumen which would certainly dwarf the impact of any succeeding regime.
The disconnect nearly gives diplomatic missions a somewhat undue leverage and the gut to say anything anytime even beyond normal diplomatic etiquette. Now the government is going the base whence comes the trouble, tying the knots and regenerating the umbilical cord that has subsisted between the United States and its former quasi colony.
Outside the lens of the media, a huge delegation, headed Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, departed the country two weeks ago.
Other members included the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel F. McGill; the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Williametta Saydee-Tarr; the Minister of State without Portfolio, Trokon Kpui and the Mayor of the City of Monrovia, Jefferson Koijee.
Surprisingly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Liberian Ambassador to the United Nations, was not part of the delegation, triggering rumors that he was being pressured by President Weah to resign his post.
According to the press statement issued over the weekend, the objective of the mission was to update U.S. officials, including Congressional leaders, about the progress of the administration of President George Manneh Weah, discuss critical challenges and explore opportunities for increased Liberia–U.S. partnership.
Strategic Meetings Held
The delegation held substantive meetings with several members of the United States House of Representatives. They included Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chair of the House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and related programs under the appropriations committee; Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; and Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC), the Majority Whip and the third ranking Democrat in the United States House of Representatives.
The delegation also met with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and held wide-ranging discussions with officials at the Departments of State and Treasury, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Development Finance Corporation.
At the State Department, the delegation held talks with Michael C. Gonzales, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs and with Madam Lisa Peterson, Acting Assistant Secretary and Scott Busby, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, both in the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. At Treasury, the delegation met with Eric Meyer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa and the Middle East.
At the MCC, the delegation met with Mamoud Bah, Acting Chief Executive Officer and other members of senior management.
Key Discussion Issues
Discussions with Congressional leaders and U.S. Government officials covered a wide range of subjects which can be narrowed into four broad areas. They included Liberia’s recovery from the macroeconomic shocks of 2018 and from the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic – and the Government’s evidentiary commitment to improving governance, fighting corruption, and preventing money laundering, terrorist financing and illicit financial flows and Liberia’s investment opportunities and possibilities. It also included the ambition to anchor Liberia-U.S. relations on American investment and on grounding Liberian tourism on the deep umbilical ties between Liberia and the United States, and the Government’s commitment to reforming the business climate, highlighted by the pending Judicial Conference on the investment climate and the planned Investment Forum in Washington D.C. under the auspices of the Liberian Embassy.
The third issue had to do with the state of Liberian democracy and the Government’s evidentiary commitment to upholding the tenets of democratic governance through the holding of free and fair elections, the guaranteeing of basic freedoms to assemble, protests or criticize and upholding of the fundamental human rights of all Liberians.
And the fourth issue was to review the five-year Compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the drive for a second Compact through demonstrated governance improvements as gauged through the MCC eligibility scorecard and through the Government’s commitment to sustaining the impact investments under the first Compact.
According to the press statement, in all the discussions, the Liberian delegation emphasized Government’s strong commitment to a slate of macroeconomic and business climate reforms.
The delegation told its American counterparts that if President Weah could achieve wage reforms through salary harmonization and standardization, an outcome that was difficult to achieve since the end of war in 2003 because of its huge political risks, there is very little in the way of policy reform that the Government cannot accomplish.
The delegation also stressed that with macroeconomic stability in sight, as gauged by inflation coming down to 10 percent from a high of 31 percent two years ago, the Government is working hard on investment and growing the economy.
The delegation apprised the U.S. leaders of progress on ongoing discussions with Accelor Mittal on its phase two investment of nearly 800 million, on the Implementation Agreement signed with the Government of Guinea to develop the Liberia-Guinea Economic Corridor for the exploitation of Guinean ore through the port of Buchanan, as well as on progress on the development of a Special Economic Zone in the Port of Buchanan.
As a sign of its commitment to resolving issues in the business climate, the delegation presented the forthcoming Judicial Conference which is an agenda on the investment and the business climate as a critical step that brings the investment and business communities with Supreme Court justices, lawyers and judges to develop a framework for improving the business climate.
The delegation invited Congressional Leaders and U.S. officials to pay close attention to the Judiciary Conference. The delegation expressed the Government’s commitment to taking other actions to improve the investment and business climate.
They also assured the U.S. leaders of the Government’s commitment to sustaining democratic freedoms, to upholding the rule of law through free, fair and transparent elections and to enlarging the space for civic participation.
The delegation informed U.S. stakeholders about a pending engagement with all civil society actors with the aim of enlarging the space for civil society participation and strengthening the partnership between the Government and the Liberian civil society. The delegation noted that it views the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report as an important guide for improving the state of democracy in the country, and noted that the Government is committed to addressing many of the structural issues the report has raised consistently over the last decade.
Responses of Key Hosts
In response, Congressional leaders underscored their commitment to helping Liberia and expressed thanks for the important updates provided by the delegation.
Congress woman Babara Lee promised to work toward leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus to visit Liberia, while Congressman Clyburn stressed the need to launch Liberia’s tourism ambition around the 200th anniversary of the landing of free slaves on the shores of Liberia, promising to work with the Government to achieve these goals. Congressman McGovern stressed the importance of the Government providing accurate information and updates on developments in Liberia to relevant Congressional leaders, showing particular appreciation for the updates provided by the delegation.
Officials at State and Treasury recognized the strong gains the Weah administration has made, but urged the Government to continue to work harder.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Meyer noted that updates Treasury receives from the IMF Mission working on Liberia show strong progress on macroeconomic recovery and applauded the Government’s plan to overhaul anti-money laundering, counter terrorist financing and Illicit financial flows framework through legislation and other mechanism.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Gonzales stressed the need for the Government to demonstrate strong steps in the fight against corruption and continue to work on improving governance.
In response to the delegation’s call for an objective evidenced-based framework that guides and informs U.S. Government’s and U.S. embassy’s assessments of on-the-ground developments and actions by the Liberian Government, both Meyer and Gonzales agreed that more engagement with the Liberian Government is needed beyond engagements that happen on the sidelines of annual World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington, with both committing to work toward developing such a framework.
During discussions held with senior management of MCC, Acting CEO Mamoud Bah and other senior members of management noted that Liberia’s second compact will depend on a sustained trajectory of improvements on the scorecard and on the Government’s commitment to ensuring the continued success of MCC Compact investments.
Discussions with the Development Finance Corporation focused on ways and strategies to grow the pipeline of DFC projects in Liberia. Both the delegation and DFC officials agree on the importance of working together on an agreed framework that targets specific sectors and small and medium enterprises.
Beyond official U.S. Government circles, the Delegation also engaged with tink-tanks and business organizations. The Delegation engaged the National Democratic Institute, holding discussions with Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa Programs, and, Madam Florie Liser, President and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa, an organization which helps connect private sector investors to African markets. The Delegation is returning to Liberia to work with the Government to reinforce ongoing actions on governance, the fight against corruption, the investment and business climate, the continual protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights, and the enlargement of democratic and civic space for civil society actors.