FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

24 February 2014

Liberia: Whatever Happened to America's 'Success Story' - George W. Bush's 'Legacy' - Barack Obama's Debacle

analysis

"In the past year, Liberia has worsened on the whole, with over half of its indicators showing signs of (albeit slight) deterioration. The most notable changes were in the External Intervention and Demographic Pressures scores. Only the Economy and State Legitimacy indicators registered a very slight improvement. Over a five-year period, the country experienced has seen the majority of its indicators worsen to varying degrees. There was a significant worsening in External Intervention and a marked worsening in Refugees/IDPs and in Demographic Pressures." - Foreign Policy Index

Monrovia - In a March 2006 address to the joint sitting of the United States congress, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, fresh off her election as the first woman head of state in Africa promised to make Liberia "America's success story in Africa."

Last May, many were caught aback when Obama jumped over Liberia to invite the heads of states of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma Macky Sall of Senegal, Joyce Banda of Malawi, and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves of Cape Verde to the White House. At the time, the White House noted that the United States has strong partnerships with these countries based on shared democratic values and shared interests.

"Each of these leaders has undertaken significant efforts to strengthen democratic institutions protect and expand human rights and civil liberties, and increase economic opportunities for their people," the White House noted.

One year later, in an October 2007 meeting with the 43rd President of the United States of America, George W. Bush, President Sirleaf once again reminded Bush and the U.S. government of her desire to make America proud of its stepchild when she declared: "I want you to know that the challenges are many, but with the continued support of the American people and continued support of the American administration and Congress, that we feel that Liberia can become a post-conflict success story."

'We Are Committed'

Sirleaf went a step further in a 2008 meeting with Bush to emphasize again: "We are committed to make Liberia a post-conflict success story. We want it to be part of your legacy. We want you to be able to look back and say, when I was there I helped Liberia to be a success, to come out of the ashes of war and to be a successful economy responding to the needs of its people."

That was 2008. Five years later and eight years into her post-war reign, the challenges Sirleaf feared are still haunting her leadership amid growing concerns that things could get worse before they get better.

What went wrong? How did a nation with so much promise and hope continue to flirt with a return to a confused state of terror which sent scores of its citizens into exile?

Last year's Foreign Policy's Failed State Index maintained Liberia under a failed state category, declaring: "In the past year, Liberia has worsened on the whole, with over half of its indicators showing signs of (albeit slight) deterioration. The most notable changes were in the External Intervention and Demographic Pressures scores. Only the Economy and

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and former US President, George W. Bush, Jr. at the White House

State Legitimacy indicators registered a very slight improvement. Over a five-year period, the country experienced has seen the majority of its indicators worsen to varying degrees. There was a significant worsening in External Intervention and a marked worsening in Refugees/IDPs and in Demographic Pressures."

Still Waiting for 'Papa'

Today, the state of the economy remains poor and the plight of many Liberians is becoming more and more unbearable as many struggle to make ends meet and provide for their family a contrast to Sirleaf's pledge in her 2006 inaugural address when she promised to make suffering children smile again.

Said Sirleaf: "Across this country, from Cape Mount in the West to Cape Palmas in the East, from Mount Nimba in the North to Cape Montserrado in the South, from Mount Wologizi in North central to Mount Gedeh in the Southeast, our citizens at this very moment are listening to my voice by radio - and some are watching by television. I want to speak directly to you. As you know, in our various communities and towns, our children have a way of greeting their fathers when they come home after a long, tiring day of trying to find the means to feed the family that night and send the children to school the next day. They say, "Papa na come."

Sirleaf went on to say that too many times, for too many families: "Papa comes home with nothing, having failed to find a job or to get the help to feed the hungry children. Imagine then the disappointment and the hurt in the mother and children; the frustration and the loss of self-confidence in the father. Through the message of this story, I want you to know that I understand what you, our ordinary citizens, go through each day to make ends meet for yourselves and for your families. Times were hard before. Times are even harder today. But I make this pledge to you: Under my Administration, we will work to change that situation. We will work to ensure that when our children say "papa na come", papa will come home joyfully with something, no matter how meager, to sustain his family. In other words, we will create the jobs for our mothers and fathers to be gainfully employed. We will create the social and economic opportunities that will restore our people's dignity and self-worth."

The President pledged to make the children smile again. "The thousands of children who could not present their voting cards, but repeatedly told me whenever I met and shook their hands that they voted for me. Indeed, they voted with their hearts. To those children and to all other Liberian children across this nation, I say to you, I love you very, very much. I shall work, beginning today, to give you hope and a better future."

In contrast, the future remains bleak for many as the deterioration of the local currency continues to cause hardships for many.

Until last week, many Liberians felt abandoned by its adopted stepfather, the United States of America, which has been coy on criticizing the Sirleaf administration over widespread corruption in the government.

Sleepy US Finally Wakes up

It was a surprise to many when Deborah Malac, the ambassador accredited here, finally termed corruption as a serious problem that needs to be addressed so as to ease the difficulties Liberians are faced with in affording ends meal. Said Malack: "Corruption remains a serious problem in Liberia. It undermines transparency, accountability, and people's confidence in government institutions.

Continued Malac: "It [corruption] also adds unnecessary costs to products and services that are already difficult for many Liberians to afford." "President Sirleaf, in a recent statement declared corruption to be public enemy number one."

For many Liberians, corruption has become the ruling government's best friend and a far cry from what Sirleaf pledge to Bush and Congress in 2006 and 2007.

The President, on the occasion of the White House Summit on International Development in 2010 even went a step further to express her gratitude to Bush for his belief in her leadership. Said Sirleaf at the time. "I am told that in Liberia, President Bush saw the embodiment of what can be accomplished when responsible governance is embraced and then encouraged by policies of donor nations. I further understand that in Liberia a new paradigm of bilateral relationship was re-defined; one that makes our nations partners in development."

Many, including some senior officials in Sirleaf's government fear that her blind eye against good governance and corruption could hamper her input in any influence she may be hoping to have in her succession.

"It is a problem, she will have to deal with - and it is a problem, I would not like to you," a senior Minister told FPA Sunday, on condition of anonymity.

Many international observers point to Sirleaf's failure to address the issue of corruption as a key reason why the current U.S. President Barack Obama has been coy toward her leadership. Obama has met Sirleaf officially only once since he took over compared to three times she met his predecessor, Bush.

Liberia Noticeably Omitted

Some diplomats point to Obama's snubbing of Sirleaf as a signal of his dissatisfaction with her lapses on corruption and governance, although Sirleaf is expected to be among 47 African heads of states visiting the White House for a special summit in August. The summit, according to the White House will focus on trade and investment in Africa, highlight America's commitment to Africa's security, its democratic development, and its people.

Last May, many were caught aback when Obama jumped over Liberia to invite the heads of states of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma Macky Sall of Senegal, Joyce Banda of Malawi, and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves of Cape Verde to the White House. At the time, the White House noted that the United States has strong partnerships with these countries based on shared democratic values and shared interests. "Each of these leaders has undertaken significant efforts to strengthen democratic institutions protect and expand human rights and civil liberties, and increase economic opportunities for their people," the White House noted.

President Obama said, "the reason that I met with these four... they exemplify the progress we are seeing in Africa," said President Obama. "All of them have had to deal with some extraordinary challenges. Sierra Leone just 10 years ago was in the midst of as brutal a civil war as we have ever seen. And yet now we have seen consecutive fair and free elections." He indicated that his goal is to build on those gains. "When you have got good governance - when you have democracies that work, sound management of public funds, transparency and accountability to the citizens that put leaders in place - it turns out that that is not only good for the state and the functioning of government, it is also good for economic development, he said.

Must Behave to Meet Obama

In VOA interview, at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Mathurin Houngnikpo noted that the Obama administration wants other African leaders to draw a simple conclusion: "'If I want to meet President Barack Obama, I need to behave.' It is a demonstration that, indeed, the U.S. means it when it says it is going to support democracy on the continent," said Houngnikpo. Jennifer Cooke at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a separate interview added that it is no accident that President Obama met with the four leaders. "Strong institutions, rather than strongmen, democratic principles, really [are] the cornerstone of U.S. policy towards Africa. And these are countries that have done well or are struggling to do well. They are not the big powerhouses on the African continent. But they are examples that I think he [Obama] and the administration want to encourage support and see continued democratic consolidation," said Cooke. But many Liberians counter that not inviting the Liberian President to Whitehouse events is not sufficient and that the U.S. needs to do more because Liberia depends on America for a lot of things and Liberians expect a different treat other than ignoring and speaking truth to power but rather, concentrate actions to rein the excesses of corruption and mismanagement in Liberia.

Last July, Obama, said that although Liberia has made advances to promote democracy, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone recently convicted Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the actions and policies of former Liberian President Charles Taylor and other persons, in particular their unlawful depletion of Liberian resources and their removal from Liberia and secreting of Liberian funds and property, could still challenge Liberia's efforts to strengthen its democracy and the orderly development of its political, administrative, and economic institutions and resources.

In a rather stern message to Congress, the U.S. President announced in statement on the White House website, the continuation of the National Emergency with respect to the former Liberian Regime of Charles Taylor

Said President Obama: "These actions and policies continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States. For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to the former Liberian regime of Charles Taylor."

Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. "In accordance with this provision, I have sent the enclosed notice to the Federal Register for publication stating that the national emergency and related measures dealing with the former Liberian regime of Charles Taylor are to continue in effect beyond July 22, 2013," Obama said.

Liberia also took a hit last year when the Foreign Policy magazine rated Liberia as among the worst Performers along with Afghanistan, South Sudan, Sudan and Haiti. Foreign Policy is the most widely read foreign policy magazine in the world and it is produced by the Council of Foreign Relations.

Liberia currently ties among the-poorest-countries in the world and is labeled as suffering from a near total lack of infrastructure like clean water public-telephones or sewage. The West-African nation also-has a huge problem with refugees, according to the report. The watchdog group, Transparency International has also ranked Liberia the most corrupt nation on planet earth.

Selective Indictments, Mounting Pressures

For the foreseeable future many political observers say Sirleaf appears content with her two terms that she is no longer worried about her post-presidency or her legacy. But some say last week's wake-up call from the U.S. could force Sirleaf to change her approach.

Last week, the government finally announced indictments of several players accused of defrauding the country of millions of dollars by issuing bogus permits that allowed foreign companies to exploit the country's hardwood forests between 2006 and 2012. The illegal permits defrauded the government of 12 to 15 million dollars. However many are concerned that the omission of some of the key players like Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth and some close aides to the President could taint the credibility of whatever inroads or appeasement the administration is hoping to make amid mounting pressure from donors and international partners.

In the past year, Liberia has worsened on the whole, with over half of its indicators showing signs of (albeit slight) deterioration. The most notable changes were in the External Intervention and Demographic Pressures scores. Only the Economy and State Legitimacy indicators registered a very slight improvement.

Over a five-year period, the country experienced has seen the majority of its indicators worsen to varying degrees. There was a significant worsening in External Intervention and a marked worsening in Refugees/IDPs and in Demographic Pressures.

Note that a change between 0.2 and -0.2 is considered within the margin of error and thus not statistically significant

Liberia is better off in 2013 than it was in 2006; indeed there was a two-year period of significant improvement between 2006-2008. However, since 2008 Liberia has experienced a generally worsening trend.

The chart above demonstrates the proportion of the total score for which each indicator is responsible, with comparisons provided with the country experiencing the highest pressure (Somalia) and the country experiencing the lowest pressure (Finland).

The chart above provides another visualization of each indicator score, compared against the average for all countries and the average for other countries in the same region.

The chart above demonstrates fluctuations in the scores for each indicator between 2006 and 2013. For each indicator, the left-most column represents 2006, the right-most 2013.

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