Liberia: Assessing President Weah's UNGA Address

President Kagame speaks at a High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage which was organised on the margins of the 74th United Nations General Assembly underway in New York yesterday.

President Weah's address before the United Nations General Assembly has been hailed by his supporters as outstanding, while his critics have slammed him for using the time and space not to present Liberia's case but to instead charge critics, including the political opposition, with attempting to attain state power through undemocratic means.

This was his second appearance before the world body and, unlike the previous occasion when he virtually rambled and stuttered through what should have been a prepared text, this time his delivery was much smoother but far off the mark from what was a discussion on climate change.

But just on the heels of the UN General Assembly, the Norwegian government announced that it had authorized payment to the government of Gabon in the amount of US$150 million for preserving its forests, which form part of the Congo basin forest, a biodiversity hotspot. It can be recalled that in 2014, at the UN summit on Climate Change, the Norwegian government announced that it had entered an agreement with its Liberian counterpart under which the Norwegian government committed to pay the Liberian government the same amount in return for assurances to stop commercial logging in a bid to conserve Liberia's forests.

Liberia is home to 43 percent of the remaining Upper Guinean forest, which also covers parts of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. It is estimated that one third of Liberia's 4.3 million people live in the country's forests, with many more reliant on them. But despite the signing of such an agreement, the Liberian government under the watch of former President Sirleaf permitted or encouraged the massive abuse of the so-called Private Use Permits (PUPs) under which millions of acres of forest were concessioned out to shady individuals and companies.

The just concluded UN climate summit therefore provided the perfect space and opportunity to present Liberia's case before the world assembly. But rather disappointingly, President Weah veered off into a discussion on national politics and the perceived existential threat posed to his government by the political opposition. The threats posed by rising sea levels to Liberian coastal communities, especially West Point, which sits on the brink of extinction, were completely ignored.

This notwithstanding, there were some good news coming out of the President's Address and it had to do with his acquiescence to popular demands for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia. The rather heart-warming effects of his pronouncement were, however, dampened by questions he posed asking why such demands were not made earlier during the tenure of President Sirleaf whose government was the immediate offspring of the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Accords.

As relevant as that question is, it is now moot but, more importantly, it is self-incriminating because President Weah once served as head of President Sirleaf's reconciliation committee. He also served as Senator of Montserrado County for at least two years during which he had ample opportunities to query President Sirleaf on why she was remiss in performing her obligation to make quarterly reports to the Legislature on progress made in the implementation of the TRC recommendations.

In view of this, President Weah is estopped from posing such a question because, as a legislator, he was part and parcel of the previous administration and he therefore lacks standing in this regard. What is, however, important is the fact that he has welcomed the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia. And he must be commended for that, especially in view of reports that some key members of his governing Council have strongly opposed a move in that direction.

Coming back to home, national health workers have continued their go-slow action and perhaps to demonstrate their seriousness, health workers, including nurses, staged a public protest under a heavy downpour to the amazement of passers-by and the general public. The Daily Observer has consistently reminded President Weah of the potential dangers and risk posed to his legitimacy as well as that of his government by such public protests against excruciating hardships being faced by the people while his officials are seen riding high and running roughshod over their legitimate concerns.

Perhaps, President Weah genuinely is not aware of developments unfolding around him but such is no excuse because, as the leader of the country, it is expected that he would not only remain fully conversant with ongoing developments but that he would adopt a hands-on approach in dealing with them. Unfortunately, this appears not to be the case and, as mentioned in a previous editorial, President Weah's governing council should not be absolved of blame for running the country down, so to speak.

But all said, at the end of the day, it is President Weah who shall stand to blame for the mess they helped to create. He ought to realize this sooner than later, at least for his own legitimacy and the longevity of his government. He ought to be reminded time and again of the implications of having a popular revolt brewed under his watch. Currently, a strike by health workers is having a paralyzing effect on national health care delivery.

Others, including soldiers and security personnel who are also feeling the bite and pinch of a growing crisis of this government's own making, may likely enter the fray and, perhaps, only God knows what may happen next in view of the precariousness of the economic situation and President Weah's perceived inability to come to grips with it.

Lamentations before the world body about opposition elements attempting to foist themselves into power by non-salutary means will not cut ice.

Why? It is because the big powers all have their representation on the ground, who have borne witness to the lawless behavior and absolute disrespect for the rule of law exhibited by CDC supporters. Truth be told, the CDC governing council has failed its leader and President, George Manneh Weah, and they should either resign or be sent packing.

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