Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
By Jones Nhinson Williams
New York, NY – December 22, 2017
Allies don’t vote against allies, but Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered a vote against the U.S. and Israel at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) because of her ‘apparent’ disdain for U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Sr. and an alleged ‘inducement’ from a ‘powerful’ Arab state. This is a historic mistake rooted in misjudgment, unsophisticated political and diplomatic skills, and short-sightedness.
President Sirleaf ordered her UN ambassador Lewis Brown, a non-career, and unprepared diplomat, to join forces with other nations in shaming and condemning the Jewish state of Israel and the U.S., two of Liberia’s traditional and historical allies. President Sirleaf’s ill-informed and premature action comes as the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly resisted U.S. warnings and voted Thursday to condemn President Donald J. Trump, Sr.’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The resolution passed with 128 member states voting in favor of the resolution, nine voting against, and 35 countries abstaining. Outstanding abstentions included U.S. other traditional allies Canada and Australia, as well as others like Mexico and Argentina. Israel merged with the U.S. in voting “no.” The question is: Why didn’t Liberia abstain if at all the Sirleaf’s government felt a compelling need to study the ‘Jerusalem’ matter before the UN General Assembly?
The erroneous vote by the Liberian UN delegation signals the level of poor leadership, bad governance and voodoo foreign policy Liberia has championed and witnessed in the last 12 years under the Sirleaf’s administration. Besides, that vote sends a clear message as to why leaders should not and never govern based on personal feelings or preferences. From the day President Donald J. Trump, Sr. was elected, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf developed a personal dislike for him. She was and has been the only African leader who expressed disgust for the then newly elected U.S. president. This expression was vivid during her BBC’s Focus On Africa’s interview. That was an unsolicited interference in U.S. domestic political affairs. But there is one thing that is clear: the so-called Liberia’s vote at the United Nation General Assembly is an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s vote; that vote does not, in any way, reflect the will of the Liberian nation and people.
What President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her corrupt government have failed to realize and understand is that President Donald J. Trump, Sr., is an unconventional U.S. president. If you go after him, he will go after you. If you shamed the United States under his watch, the United States will shame you under his watch. And this has started already. Barely two days after the UNGA’s vote, President Trump has issued an Executive Order on international corruption and rights abuses–something that almost all of President Sirleaf’s select officials and cronies cannot escape so easily. The game is just starting with the latest White House’s Executive Order with far-reaching consequences!
Liberia is a traditional ally of Israel and the U.S. and was one of the African nations to vote ‘yes’ to Israel becoming an independent and sovereign nation and a Jewish state. On the other hand, U.S. relations with Liberia date back to 1819, when the US Congress allocated $100,000 for the establishment of Liberia.
The U.S. officially recognized Liberia as a nation in 1862, about 15 years after its formation as a sovereign and independent nation. Since then, the two nations have shared very close diplomatic, economic, and military ties until the 1990s.
Furthermore, the U.S. has had a very long history of intervening in Liberia’s internal and external affairs providing protection. In 1909, when Liberia faced serious external threats to its sovereignty from the European colonial powers over unpaid foreign loans and annexation of its borderlands, former U.S. President William Howard Taft devoted a significant share of his First Annual Message to Congress (December 7, 1909) to the Liberian subject, noting the close historical ties between the two countries that gave an opening for a wider intervention:
“It will be remembered that the interest of the United States in the Republic of Liberia springs from the historical fact of the foundation of the Republic by the colonization of American citizens of the African race. In an early treaty with Liberia, there is a provision under which the United States may be called upon for advice or assistance. Pursuant to this provision and in the spirit of the moral relationship of the United States to Liberia, that Republic last year asked this Government to lend assistance in the solution of certain of their national problems, and hence the Commission was sent across the ocean on two cruisers.”
In 1912, the U.S. organized a 40-year international loan of $ 1.7 million, against which Liberia had to consent to four Western powers (America, Britain, France, and Germany) monitoring Liberian Government revenues for the next 14 years, until 1926. The U.S. policing of the Liberian border also stabilized the frontier with Sierra Leone and checked French ambitions to annex more Liberian territories.
In addition, the U.S. Navy established a coaling station in Liberia, cementing its presence. So, when World War I began, Liberia declared war on Germany and expelled its resident German merchants, who established the country’s largest investors and trading partners – even though Liberia suffered economically as a result.
In 1926, the Government of Liberia gave a concession to the U.S. rubber company Firestone to start the world’s largest rubber plantation at Harbel, Liberia. Simultaneously, Firestone prepared and issued a $5 million private loan to Liberia. In the 1930s, when Liberia was bankrupt, the U.S. facilitated a loan assistance plan for the country from the League of Nations, now the United Nations.
So, the alliance was and continues to be strong. In fact, during World War II, Liberia supported the Allied Forces from the Liberian capital, Monrovia, named after former U.S. president James Monroe. Liberia also paid host to vital Allied logistics bases.
With President Sirleaf’s misguided UN vote, the unlearned lesson is cleared: President Sirleaf has not read the Presidential history of President William R. Tolbert, Jr. Liberia and U.S. relationships became rocky between 1971 and 1980 due to the late Liberian President William R. Tolbert, Jr’s institution of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations, and that continued until the overthrow of Tolbert in 1980.
In the 1980s, the U.S. established close ties with Liberia as part of a Cold War effort to dominate Communist movements on the African continent. President Samuel K. Doe’s administration in Liberia was then perceived by U.S. strategists as being important to their Cold War policies in Africa. For this, Liberia received between $500 million and $1.3 billion from the U.S. during the 1980s through direct and indirect channels. Moreover, Liberia was the base of a relay station for the Voice of America, a large navigation tower, and the CIA’s main African base for the majority of this period. All these efforts and installations created rewarding employment for some Liberians.
Then came the formation of the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), a job seeking and power-hungry U.S.-based group of exiled Liberians who gave rise to instability in Liberia and gave birth to the eventual emergence of Charles Taylor’s government. Madam Sirleaf, the current president of Liberia who has ordered a vote against the U.S. and Israel, was a senior organizer and chief financier of the ACDL. The ACDL, reportedly, facilitated the Liberian Civil War, gross human rights abuses, and regional instability in the West African sub-region through its affiliate, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). This effort allegedly interrupted the close relations between Liberia and the U.S. and Madam Sirleaf was one of the responsible factors.
Charles Taylor’s election in 1997 and his eventual presidency compelled the U.S. to not only cut direct financial and military aid to the Liberian government but withdrew its Peace Corps operations, imposed a travel ban on senior Liberian Government officials, and frequently criticized Charles Taylor’s government.
Moreover, Taylor’s government’s approved support for the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel group that operated in Sierra Leone and surrounding regional neighbors widened the rift between the U.S. and Liberia and ordinary Liberians became the victims. This rift affected Liberians. When the world sat to itself as Liberia further self-destroy, it was U.S. President George W. Bush who stepped up and ordered Charles Taylor to resign which he did on August 11, 2003. The resignation and exile of Charles Taylor in 2003 brought changes in diplomatic ties between Liberia and the U.S.
On July 30, 2003, the United States proposed a UN Security Council draft resolution to authorize the deployment of a multi-national stabilization force in Liberia. U.S. president George W. Bush sent 200 marines to Monrovia’s airport to support the peace-keeping effort. The U.S. also deployed warships along Liberia’s coast as part of the stabilization effort as well as committed $1.16 billion to Liberia between the years of 2004 and 2006.
In the past 12 years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been the lifeline of the Liberian people, especially as corruption by officials in the Sirleaf’s administration has become uncontrollable and far-reaching.
One thing that is clear is that the so-called Liberia’s vote at the United Nation General Assembly is an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s vote; it does not, in any way, reflect the will of the Liberian nation and people. Therefore, Madam Sirleaf alone should bear the consequences, if any.
USAID has and continues to implement the U.S. Government’s development assistance program to Liberia. The agency’s post-conflict rebuilding strategy in Liberia focuses on reintegration and is increasingly moving towards a longer-term development focus.
The agency’s rehabilitation initiatives include national and community infrastructure projects, such as building roads, refurbishing government buildings, and training Liberians in vocational skills. USAID also supports basic education programs, improving education for children, focusing on girls, and training teachers and journalists.
In the health area, the agency’s programs include primary health care clinics, HIV/AIDS prevention, and a large malaria program. The agency funds the rule of law programs, and has been establishing legal aid clinics and victim abuse centers nationwide; training judges and lawyers, facilitating community peace building and reconciliation efforts, and anti-corruption projects to promote transparency and accountability in public sector entities.
The U.S. government, through USAID, is also funding the strengthening of the Liberian legislature and other political processes. USAID is also strengthening civil society’s role in delivering services and advocating good governance in Liberia. According to open data, the total USAID funding for these programs in FY 2007 was $65.9 million. In 2009, USAID offered a 17.5 million dollar contract to Liberia with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems as the conduit. These funds were used to support the 2011 general elections and 2014 Senate elections. From 2014 to present, USAID has spent additional funds to leverage Liberia’s resuscitation. These allocations exclude other U.S. government funding streams such as those provided by the Millennium Challenge Corporation and others that flow into Liberia for various purposes while officials of the Sirleaf’s regime become sensational millionaires overnight.
Besides, the U.S. hosts several thousands of Liberian refugees and asylum seekers who cannot return to Liberia not because they don’t want to, but because the Sirleaf administration has failed to deliver in creating private sector jobs and providing basic social services such as medical facilities, good education etc. The roads are terrible, electricity is virtually non-existent and poverty is widespread, leading to rampant armed robbery and insecurity.
The importance of Israel to Liberia and to Liberia’s development in various sectors, including in the security sector and in other support areas cannot be minimized. Apart from that, Israel offers a lot to the world despite respectful disagreement with most countries on the direction of its sovereignty.
During President William V.S. Tubman’s era (1944 -1971), it was an Israelite company that built the Executive Mansion, the official office, and residence of the Liberian presidency. And during President Samuel K. Doe’s administration (1980-1990), it was an Israelite company called Yona International that built the new defense ministry (which has been demolished by the Sirleaf administration in favor of the Chinese). Coupled with that, President Doe invited the Israelites to train all sectors of the Liberian security forces, including the Special Anti-Terrorist (SATU) with Israelite advisors assigned various forces.
What is also very sad is that President Sirleaf’s global public relations agent is an American Jew and a descendant of Israel. Through her propaganda efforts, President Sirleaf was wrongfully awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for initiating war in Liberia.
The U.S. Congress, for decades, has been concerned that countries receiving U.S. foreign aid often opposed U.S. efforts, initiatives, and priorities at the United Nations. This is why since 1983, Congress has mandated a State Department Annual Report on the voting practices in the U.N. General Assembly.
In the last six annual reports dating back to 2011, it shows that several recipients of U.S. foreign assistance usually oppose U.S. diplomatic initiatives and vote against the U.S. in the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA). To deal with this issue and concern, there has been a consideration that the U.S. Congress should instruct State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to take into account countries’ U.N. voting practices when allocating U.S.’s development assistance.
The U.S. envoy to the UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley warned on Tuesday that the U.S. would be “taking names” of member states that voted to condemn moves to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nikki Haley warns ‘the US will be taking names’ of countries against Jerusalem embassy move. Essentially, Haley’s points are countries that shamed the U.S. and condemned the Jewish state of Israel should be willing to accept the consequences for their action. Obviously, Liberians are not prepared and willing to bear any consequences for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s poor judgment and reckless action in this direction.
Our views are not that Liberia should not stand for fairness and justice when those values are under attack in any form and shape. This is not the point. The concern is diplomacy is not about right and wrong; it is about interest, antics, perception, and persuasion; reason, and consequences or results. What does Liberia achieve by this ill-informed and meaningless no-impact vote when powerful, developed and self-sufficient nations like Canada, Australia, Mexico and Argentina and others have elected to abstain?
Since the Libyan treatment of sub-Sahara Africans as slaves, not a single Arab nation up to today’s date has condemned Libya for such action. It is not that they cannot do so; they have refrained from doing so perhaps openly because of ‘diplomacy’ and Arab alliance. Why not Liberia in the case of Israel and the U.S.?
First and foremost and after 12 years, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is leaving Liberia grossly divided politically and socially; financially bankrupt, economically unsustainable, and fragile national security-wise. Assuming the Sirleaf’s administration did not make this reckless option at the UNGA because of diplomatic bankruptcy by an untrained envoy and a bunch of seemingly ill-prepared foreign affairs officials, then the next possible reason is that it is a calculated plot to virtually and practically tie the hands of the next Liberian president and government when it comes to relations with the U.S., as Ambassador Nikki Haley puts it: “the United States will remember this day” when it was “singled out for attack.”