19 March 2014

Liberia: 'Don't Befriend Brutal Dictators' - Gongloe Warns Over Eq. Guinea

Photo: Facebook
Téodorin Obiang Nguema

Liberia and the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea have enjoyed a friendly relationship in recent years with that country offering to undertake a number of mega projects in Liberia including the rehabilitation of the Roberts International Airport which was stalled by what is now known as the Corkrum gate strings of secret recordings.

Equatorial Guinea also pledged to construct housing units in Liberia for poor income earners, but the donor country itself has a huge population living in abject poverty while the President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo and his son live in luxury. Estates worth millions of dollars belonging to the son of President Obiang were a few years ago seized in France, the United States of America and other countries.

Liberian Human Rights Lawyer, Cllr. Tiawon S. Gongloe has frowned on the close ties between President Sirleaf and the Liberian Government on one hand and Equatorial Guinea and its president Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, calling on the Liberian leader to depart from such association.

"We have been pressuring our government over the years to depart from such friendship. Our President that came to power in an election that was declared by all in the world to be free and fair makes us nervous, very nervous when she is getting closer to a man like President Obiang whose greed for power led him to killed his own uncle in other to replace him and now ruling a country that is blessed with so much money, but majority of its people living in extreme poor condition", said Cllr. Gongloe. Cllr. Gongloe believes such friendship between President Sirleaf and Obiang is seen that the Liberian leader is endorsing dictatorship.

No Gifts from Dictators

Said Gongloe "I call on President Sirleaf as an exercise of mine right to speak to stop her close friendship with president Obiang. She does not understand why the people opposed Obiang's offer to build free housing units and all that, we do not want gift from dictators. By her close friendship it is perceived as endorsing dictatorship and all the bad practices that go along with it including criminal libel and speech".

The human rights lawyer recounted what he termed a long existing terrible relationship between Liberia and the country which was formerly Fernando Po, dating from accusations that Liberia was involved in slavery on the island which led to the establishment of an Inquiry Commission by the League of Nations.

Stated Cllr. Gongloe "perhaps some of the reasons some Liberians do not see anything good coming from Equilateral Guinea, especially in a situation where the current leader of that country is a brutal dictator is the history of the relationship between that island and Liberia, it is a terrible history. Some Liberians including this speaker do not want our government to befriend... ..leader".

Providing an overview of repressive laws against freedom of expression in Liberia Cllr. Gongloe mentioned the case of a former Liberian lawmaker who was found guilty of sedition in Liberia because he testified before the League of Nations about Liberia's involvement in the allegations of the slave trade.

"Francis Morais, was a former representative of Maryland County who was found guilty of sedition and convicted by Spain 1935 simply because he testified before the commission of inquiry at the League of Nations that was investigating Liberia on allegations of slavery and slave labour to Fernando Po, currently known as Equatorial Guinea", the human rights lawyer stated in retrospect.

Sedition contradicts Liberia's Establishment

Cllr. Gongloe indicated that laws such as sedition, criminal malevolence and criminal libel against the president are laws that contradict the basis for the establishment of Liberia as a sovereign nation. He said as the name Liberia depicts, it was meant to be a place for people to be free and having such laws on the books is not in the interest of the national existence of the country.

President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo & President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Some of the laws he observed have been in existence for centuries and were at the time introduced to suppress people who were expressing dissent over the manner in which the pioneers were expanding in the interior of Liberia and as such should not be maintained on the books under the current democracy. Liberia, he said, was founded on the basis where respect for the fundamental rights of human beings would be a priority in the governance process.

Obiang's luxury amid poverty

Obiang, the friend of President Sirleaf and his son live a lavish lifestyle while the vast majority of the people live in poverty. Presdient Obaing's son Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue is currently being sought on corruption charges with his lavish lifestyle. His Paris villa is thought to be worth between 100m (£79M: $124M) and 150M euros according to AFP news agency reports. Mr. Obiang, the 43-year-old son of President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, denies any wrongdoing.

Authorities seized the six-storey property on July 19, 2012. The luxury mansion is located on Avenue Foch in one the most prestigious neighbourhoods of the French capital, Paris. Mr. Obiang, who serves as agriculture minister, under his father rule is known for his lavish lifestyle. He hit the headlines in 2012 when he honoured his promise to pay his national football team $1m (£641,000) for winning the opening game of the Africa Cup of Nations which Equatorial Guinea co-hosted.

In October 2011, the US government said it would seek to recover assets worth more $70M from Mr Obiang. A month earlier, French police seized some fifteen luxury cars belonging to Mr. Obiang, including a Maserati, Aston Martin and Rolls Royce. Equatorial Guinea is one of Africa's largest oil exporters, but most of its 720,000-strong population lives in poverty. President Obiang seized power from his uncle in 1979 and was re-elected last year with 95% of the vote.

Is Sirleaf inching towards Obiang?

A recent report issued by the Liberia Governance Stakeholder Survey (LGSS) pointed to the similar situation prevailing in Equatorial Guinea under the rule of Obaing. The LGSS report states that political patronage and family ties are still strong in Liberia with elites having a stronger connection with protecting their personal and business affairs and with such ties extending in the employment sector.

"Only a small fraction of Liberia's relatively small population of 3.7 million operates in the formal political, governance, and economic sphere. As a result, kinship ties among those elites are strong, and everyone knows one another and their personal and business affairs. There is a cultural trend toward hiring people that you know well and not creating a stir when a family member, friend, colleague, or even an acquaintance does something that is clearly wrong or illegal. Likewise, many interviewees told the LGSS Team that the trend in Liberia is to "live and let live".

Suspensions vs. Sacked

Interviewees during the survey told the LGSS team that those are some of the vices that led to the armed conflict the shattered Liberia.

Stated the report: "Some people we interviewed suggested that both of these are coping strategies to deal with scarcity and protracted armed conflict. In other words, if you have access to a revenue or resources stream, then you must "take care of your own" and spread that wealth around. It is better, at such times, to look the other way than to take action if doing so could create a stir and lead to more violence. Together, these factors are a leading cause of the culture of impunity described above".

"Relative to the focus of the LGSS, there is no better example of this than the President herself. She has appointed three of her four sons to high-level government positions. Robert Sirleaf was head of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). Fomba Sirleaf is head of the National Security Agency. Charles Sirleaf is a Deputy Governor of the Central Bank. Many interviewees suggested that they receive personal financial benefit from their positions beyond their official salaries. In August 2012, the President suspended Charles and 45 others for not declaring their assets consistent with her Executive Order. Some Liberia interviewees pointed out the nuance of "suspended" versus "sacked" within Liberia's culture of political patronage and family ties: He essentially got a slap on the wrist and soon returned to his job. The President took care of her own and did not create a sir", the report stated.

Robert Sirleaf has since resigned as head of NOCAL but has once again resurfaced and was recently appointed Special Envoy to Kuwait to negotiate petroleum deals on behalf of the Liberian government. Robert is also still said to be running the affairs of NOCAL behind the scene, making major decisions through proxies.

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