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Liberian President in diplomatic crossfire: “I was Misunderstood on Trump’s Election”

Trump Towers, New York – Liberian leader and Africa’s first democratically elected woman President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she was misunderstood during her BBC’s reaction to the U.S. presidential election won by President-elect Donald J. Trump, Sr.

The Liberian leader upon hearing the news of Trump’s win hastily called up the BBC’s Focus on Africa program to rebuff his capacity to lead––something some members on President-elect Trump’s transition team considered as irresponsible.

Uninformed about the diplomatic consequences of her remarks during her BBC’s interview, the Liberian leader meddled in American politics in ways that jeopardize Liberia’s vital interest with the Trump’s administration, especially when it comes to humanitarian support to Liberia and the status of hundreds of Liberians living in the US in a Deferred Enforced Departure Status and on Temporary Protective Status (TPS).

President Sirleaf, who openly expressed her unflinching support to the former secretary of state and democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, took a strong stance that some US and global political analysts as well as diplomatic commentators termed as an imprudent diplomatic failure and an outright interference in American politics at the highest level.

During a clarification appearance on a local radio show hosted by her former presidential press secretary Cyrus Badio, President Sirleaf walked back her initial disdain for President-elect Trump’s capacity to lead the free world.

Clarifying what she meant by her disappointment over the ‘person’ Americans chose to be their leader, President Sirleaf said she did not mean to say that she was against the decision of the American people to elect Mr. Trump.

“I said the American people lost the opportunity to do what smaller democracies have done to reverse the marginalization of women,” she maintained.

Questioned further by radio host Badio as to whether the Liberian leader has communicated with what appears to be her former friend, Secretary Clinton, she said “I have not.” Meanwhile, she said she has written to Mrs. Clinton urging her to continue her strong support for women’s participation in leadership around the world.

Even though the Liberian leader whose one time cordial relationship with Secretary Clinton made never be the same, per some African political observers, seems to be struggling to balance her struggling ties to the Clintons, and in administering Liberia’s interest.

Meanwhile, a top Trump’s campaign aide (who prefers his name withheld) when contacted for the story said President-elect Trump is occupied with more important global issues and how he will make America great again. He added, President-elect Trump and the entire administration may not have time legitimizing and entertaining corrupt and failed leaders who have continuously impoverished their people because of failed policies, corruption, and bad leadership.

Sources close to the campaign and transition team say President-elect Trump may develop and  focus his Africa’s policy on security, fair trade, accountability, transparency, justice, and the rule of law.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president of Liberia in 2006, and has stayed in power for the past 12 years, helping to rebuild a nation consumed by bureaucratic corruption, nepotism and cronyism. While some credit her for ‘maintaining’ peace in the country, millions of dollars in tax revenue and donor support have disappeared without accountability.

The average Liberian citizen or family lives on less than US$1 a day while incompetent officials and the well-connected drive around in expensive cars.  Less than a year to leave power, the Liberian leader who is also the chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a sub regional bloc of nations comprising Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mali, Togo, Benin, The Gambia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso etc. is putting in place a system to halt graft.

She has appointed a presidential taskforce to investigate corrupt elected and unelected officials.  To date, the taskforce has not achieved any tangible results.  Her critics say the taskforce only sought to go after the president’s perceived enemies, which include Grand Cape County Senator and Harvard Law School graduate Cllr. Varney Sherman and former House Speaker Attorney Alex Tyler, who was deposed by his colleagues with a vote of no confidence.

However, supporters of the President say considering the mentality of the Liberian people and the state of Liberia a  decade ago, she deserves some credit, if not for anything, at least for maintaining relative peace in a nation besieged by armed robbery, poverty, hunger and the lack of access to basic educational opportunities for kids and primary healthcare for the majority of Liberians.

Many officials in the current Liberian government are opposed to new and innovative ideas, and frequently serve as obstacles to good ideas and processes that could help move the country forward.  Impunity and back biting are  commonplace throughout the government.  These ills make Liberia extremely vulnerable despite the president’s efforts to improve conditions as she prepares to leave office in January 2018.

President Sirleaf’s clarification could soften the Trump’s team on her and her country, according to one political commentator in Washington, DC.  But  he added, the Liberian leader needs to follow through with a serious diplomatic engagement, if the Trump people will not rebuff her attempts publicly, which they are capable of doing, anyway.990

Some inner campaign aides say the Liberian president may have risked the renewal of hundreds of Liberian with deferred status under the Trump’s administration.  Every year since 1990, US presidents from Bush to Obama have extended the stay of Liberians living in the United States under special immigration status as shown by this mandate below:

 

                 USCIS Announces Deferred Enforced Departure Extended for Liberians
August 29, 2011

Liberians who are currently in the United States and working as well as living in the country may qualify for a new extension of employment authorization. President Obama has recently announced that Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) will be extended through the end of March 2013 for some qualified nationals of Liberia and for some individuals who last lived in Liberia but who have no recognized nationality. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently announced that it will extend employment authorizations for some Liberians. Liberians who have employment authorization and are covered under Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) can have their employment authorization extended through the end of March 2012.

Currently an Employment Authorization Document (EADs) can be automatically extended for six months. During this time, qualified Liberians can apply for the extended employment authorization. Originally, DED was supposed to end for Liberians at the end of September 2011. However, unrest in the homes of many Liberians in the United States as well as foreign policy have meant that the USCIS and the Obama administration have decided to extend DED for some Liberians.

Liberian nationals are not eligible for extended employment authorization under the new rules if:
1) They are not covered by current DED. This may be the case id they did not have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) before September 2007.
2) They have certain criminal records, such as a felony conviction or two misdemeanor convictions.
3) They are subject to bars to Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

President Obama also outlined some additional eligibility requirements for Liberian nationals wanting to extend employment authorization in the US.

The USCIS will publish additional instructions in the Federal Register, informing Liberian nationals how to extend employment authorization through part of 2013. As well, the USCIS has a DED-Liberia Web page on their site, with more information for Liberian nationals about the process. This is a good resource for any Liberians wishing to take advantage of the extension of employment authorization to remain in the United States. Employers and Liberian nationals can also get more information about the extension by calling the USCIS National Customer Service Center à (1-800-375-5283).

In general, Liberians eligible for the extension will need to file Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) and will need to include a $380 filing fee. Eligible Liberian nationals who cannot pay the fee must submit a fee waiver request instead of the fee with their application.

Latest Renewal (2016)

About six months ago, President Obama extended the program six additional months for Liberians.  That extension expires in March 2017 without the possibility of a renewal if President-elect Trump with the advise of his incoming secretary of homeland secretary decides against it.  If this happens, many Liberians will be out of work and their driver’s licenses will not be renewed.

Liberians in the United States are pillars in the running of the Liberian economy by the remittances they send back home to majority of the country’s unemployed citizens.  Trump’s refusal to extend the program could pose a serious political and other problems for the Liberian leader, as many would blame her utterances as being the reason.

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