FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

17 June 2013

Liberia: U.S. Policy Shift? John Kerry Vs. Hillary Clinton - a Liberia Tale of the Tape

In her four years as U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton made two key visits to Liberia - the first during a seven-nation tour of Africa in 2009 and another to attend the second inauguration of her long-time friend, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in January 2012.

Sirleaf, in return met Clinton almost a dozen times during her first term, on separate visits to Washington, climaxing with a final meeting which marked the signing of a U.S.-Liberia Partnership agreement. The initiative focuses on what observers consider as three complex issues and therefore requiring open and consistent dialogue between the two nations: agriculture and food security, energy and power infrastructure, and human development.

The deal doesn't come with any new aid money. But working groups will be established on those three areas, according to Clinton, to help Liberian farmers use their land and get their crops to market more efficiently, give citizens access to affordable and reliable energy that is essential to job creation and growth, and create more economic opportunities through expanding access to education and jobs.

In contrast, Clinton's successor, John Kerry has not yet managed to fit Liberia into his schedule. A meeting scheduled in mid May was called off at the last minute due to what some aides say, was a conflict in schedule. The two met once in June 2012 when Kerry was still a Senator and head of the Foreign Service Committee in the Senate.

Some political observers have taken Kerry's distance from Sirleaf as a sign that the Obama administration is trying to send a message to the Liberian president to step on the anti corruption pedal in the post-war nation, a report, the Executive Mansion has dismissed as baseless and having no iota of truth.

Piah: No strains with Washington

Press Secretary Jerolinmick Piah recently dismissed reports that relations between the two countries have deteriorated to the extent that Madam Sirleaf who recently visited the United States on several occasions could not get an audience with President Obama.

"The papers went on to say President Sirleaf's interactions with American officials are now limited to meetings at the level of Under Secretary of State until she can address growing concerns about corruption in her administration. But the entire publications are calculated falsehood intended to paint negative picture of the administration of Her Excellency."

Piah clarified that President Sirleaf has at no time did go to Washington; DC; not to mention attempt on her part to meet with President Obama or Secretary Kerry as have been reported.

Sirleaf, who returned last weekend from the U.S. is currently attending the G-8 Summit of the world's eight richest nations summit, in Northern Ireland.

The Group of Eight or G8 is a forum for the governments of the world's eight wealthiest nations. The summit taking place at the Lough Erne Golf Resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, this week, has as its theme: "Taxes, Trade and Transparency." Sirleaf has been invited to speak on transparency and trade.

The Liberian president is attending at the invitation of British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a luncheon and marks the first time that Liberia has been included among African leaders invited to the Summit of the world's leading economies.

The G8 and the Summit are part of a consultation process intended to resolve differences among members. Its core members are the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the European Commission and the European Council.

Supporters of Sirleaf say, her appearance at the G8 is a clear sign that she remains immensely popular among world leaders and is still regarded highly in international circles. But many remain unsure with some pointing to the U.S. conditions for the Millennium Challenge money as another indication of Washington's nervy power play.

At issue, observers say is some US$250 million Millennium Challenge money on the table for Liberia. Washington, sources say have put forward a number of conditions for the Sirleaf administration to address before the funds can be released. The Sirleaf government's reluctance to tackle the issues on the table appears to be drawing an ire from Washington.

Sirleaf's supporters are hard pressed to explain two key events: Obama meeting with three African presidents from emerging democracies in Cape Verde, Malawi and surprisingly next door Sierra Leone in a fanfare seen around the world as an endorsement of the democratic and governance directions of these governments; the other is Obama's planned trip to Africa in from June 26 to July 3 of this year, where he is once again bypassing Liberia, visiting Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa. On a previous trip to Ghana, Obama bypassed Liberia and effusively praised Ghanaians for their democratic inclinations.

Sirleaf's supporters blame the difficulties in meeting with Kerry by saying the Secretary of State has simply been too preoccupied with issues in the Middle East, principally Syria and other more important matters which prevent him from dedicating time for Liberia.

Uneasy Life after Hillary

The Secretary of State recently made his first visit to the continent in his capacity as the U.S. Foreign Police chief when he attended the 50th anniversary of the African Union in Addis Ababa where he held a succession of bilateral meetings with leaders of African countries including Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Egypt.

U.S. officials say, Kerry's visit to Africa was to emphasize U.S. concerns about governance, economic development, and peace and security across the region ahead of a late June visit to Africa by President Barack Obama.

But what remains clear for many is that life after Hilary has been an uneasy one for the Sirleaf administration so far.

The ties between the pair came to light in the heat of the U.S. presidential campaign when Sirleaf, at a campaign function during the heated race between Clinton and then rival, Barack Obama, remarked:

"Women Make Good Presidents", a statement many took to mean that Sirleaf had endorsed Clinton over Obama and what many believe is the root of the strains between Obama and the Sirleaf government.

Since then, Clinton has been supportive of the Sirleaf administration and came to Sirleaf's aide when questions regarding her support for Charles Taylor appeared to be a factor in Sirleaf's reelection bid.

It was in 2009, shortly after theTruth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that Sirleaf be banned from political activity for 30 years because of her alleged involvement in the civil wars.

The panel investigating Liberia's successive 1989-2003 civil wars included Sirleaf's name in a list of people it accused of being "the financiers and political leaders of the different warring factions". Sirleaf denied ever being a member of the movement led by rebel leader and warlord Charles Taylor.

Clinton at the time praised Sirleaf's post-war transformation of Liberia, while dismissing a controversy over her alleged links to Taylor. Clinton offered a ringing endorsement of Sirleaf, describing Africa's first woman president as "a leader whom I admire and someone who has provided great leadership for her country." She added: "We are supportive and will continue to be so because we think that Liberia is on the right track, as difficult as that path may be." Sirleaf had told the truth panel she had met Taylor several times during Liberia's successive conflicts and had also collected funds for him while he was preparing to oust Doe in the 1980s.

At the time, Clinton, asked about the commission's recommendation, made it clear that Washington credited Sirleaf with having led Liberia to recovery from the grisly wars that left more than 250,000 people dead from 1989 to 2003.

The United States had "looked at the entire record" of Sirleaf and credited her with starting to revive an economy ravaged by war, he said. Today Liberia is a model of successful transition from conflict to post-conflict, from lawlessness to democracy, from despair to hope," Clinton said.

Kerry-Sirleaf ally against Doe

Prior to becoming Secretary of State, Kerry was one of the vocal leaders in the U.S. Senate on Liberia especially in the aftermath of the 1985 fraudulent elections which marked the transition of Samuel Doe from a military man to a civilian president.

At the time, Kerry was a strong ally of Sirleaf who was advocating for aid cuts against the Doe regime. Sirleaf had declined to accept the results of the elections even though she had won a Senate seat.

A declaration from the former Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker who had been called to testify on what many believed was a stolen elections, that the U.S. would stand by Doe despite the results, drew angry response from an irritated Kerry who fired back and said: "It's time that the U.S. stopped playing Uncle Sucker to this dictator.

Why should the U.S. contribute $90 million a year to what is clearly an unpopular and unstable regime?" Subcommittee chair Nancy Kassebaum, a Republican, noted Congress's "growing concern" over developments in Liberia, adding that Doe's self-proclaimed victory "almost makes a mockery of the process."

Crocker, in support of the Reagan administration, had said: "There is now the beginning, however imperfect, of a democratic experience that Liberia and its friends can use as a benchmark for future elections--one on which they want to build."

Overall, he said, "election day was a remarkable achievement.... The Liberian experience was not only important for Liberia but for all of West Africa." As a result, he concluded, the United States would stand by Doe.

Sirleaf, writing in the Los Angeles Times at the time said: "The State Department, when asked by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to release field reports confirming Doe's defeat, pointedly refused. Chester A. Crocker, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, was reported to have responded, "Not on my watch!"

For 140 years Liberia has been America's closest ally in Africa. Colonized by American blacks fleeing slavery in the 1820s, Liberia always has been bonded to the United States by unique cultural and historical ties."

Despite U.S. sanctions against South Africa, Sirleaf continued, "Crocker continues to conduct a West African version of "constructive engagement" in Liberia with Doe, a man widely regarded as having forfeited his right to govern. During Crocker's visit to Monrovia in April he was presented with a petition signed by more than 3,000 members of the Concerned Women of Liberia demanding cut-off of all U.S. aid--even humanitarian aid.

The U.S. government always argues that such an aid cut-off would hurt the very people whom it is meant to help. But many people in Liberia would rather suffer the short-term consequences of an immediate end to aid than be forced to endure the continued deprivations of the repressive Doe regime.

The country's treasury is so barren that Doe has been forced to mint his own coins--about $100 million worth in a country where the legal tender is the U.S. dollar. This has completely corrupted the economy. Even with the coins, civil servants and members of the military--except for the executive mansion guards--have not been paid for months."

Sirleaf's pressure and Kerry's persistence paid off in the end as the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution days later, condemning the election as fraudulent and mandating the suspension of all military aid until free elections could be held. The House took up a similar resolution which was resisted by the Reagan administration.

Despite its support of Doe, the Reagan administration came to Sirleaf's aid when she was imprisoned along with other political figures as the State Department suspended $25.5 million in aid.

An angry Doe threatened to send his foreign minister to Libya, but after a few weeks he relented and released the detainees. The aid was subsequently provided. After the attempted coup, Administration officials privately pressured Doe to refrain from mistreating political prisoners; U.N. ambassador Vernon Walters personally telephoned Doe to tell him to back off.

Kerry was also vocal against Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush's administration whom he took to task on July 22, 2003 for ignoring the pleadings of the Liberian people. Said Kerry in a statement: "The humanitarian crisis in Liberia has become even more violent and tragic over the past few days, and it requires the immediate engagement of the international community and the United States. The Bush

Kerry Talks Tough on Taylor

Administration has offered no plan to help end the increasing violence in spite of the pleas of the people of Liberia and the community of nations for the United States to demonstrate leadership. Taking action in Liberia is the right thing to do, not only because of our special historical link to the country, but because failing states pose a direct threat to our national security.

If we've learned anything from watching failed states in Afghanistan turn into terrorist hotbeds, we should know that it's in our security interests to respond to the chaos in Liberia before another breeding ground for terrorism and transnational crimes is created. We must halt this cycle of death by working in partnership with the global community, instead of turning away as the Bush Administration has done again and again."

In a statement shortly after former President Charles Taylor was found guilty, Kerry declared that the verdict should send a chilling message to war criminals that they can't operate with impunity.

"Charles Taylor is at last being punished and held accountable for his role in the murder, rape, and mutilation of untold numbers of men, women, and children in Sierra Leone, and now President Obama's Atrocities Prevention Board will lead the U.S. effort to help stop mass atrocities before they happen."

Complicating the apparent shift from Clinton to Kerry are what political observers say has been Kerry's strong stance against impunity including money laundering, corruption and impunity. If this is anything to go by, political observers say, the Sirleaf administration has a lot of work to do to convince Kerry, who has been consistent for 30 plus years, insisting on accountability, transparency and the rule of law.

With Kerry still in his first year as Secretary of State, Supporters of Sirleaf, while almost certain that the bond that existed between Clinton and Sirleaf will not be duplicated under Kerry, are even more hopeful that Kerry will come around. But first, political observers say, the Sirleaf administration has its work cut out in taking the steps Washington appears increasingly unwilling to compromise on.

With US$250 million Millennium Challenge money on the table, the Sirleaf administration is racing against time and a quiet Washington, mute on happenings on the ground appear, at least for now to be content, watching from the sidelines anticipating the Sirleaf administration's next move.

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