Sunday, May 30, 2010

DECODING UNCLE SAM: Deciphering U.S. Leaders' Code Talk Tricky for Liberians

U.S. DOUBLE STANDARDS: Critics of the U.S. see double standards in how the Americans deal with countries. For example, during the Samuel Doe era, when charges of human rights abuses and corruption were rampant, Washington maintained a good relationship with Doe, even believing that Doe was steering Liberia toward democracy. President Taylor was initially embraced by former President Clinton to the extent that he appointed Rev. Jesse Jackson as a Special Envoy to Liberia. More than a decade later, Washington appears to be directing assault missiles carefully as Secretary of State Clinton did while visiting Nigeria in January and mixed messages in Liberia. Former President Bush also sent mixed message when he visited Liberia during his last days in office as President. President Obama seems to have followed this long standing tradition of sending strong and mixed messages in coded in sentences only a few can understand. He did so in a meeting with Liberian President Sirleaf last week.

Monrovia –

There was no mincing of words when U.S. President George W. Bush, in July 2003 declared through his press secretary Ari Fleischer that he was focused on what was the most effective way to bring peace and stability to Liberia, and that was for Charles Taylor to depart."

Said Fliescher: “Taylor has "looted the country. He's been a force for instability. He's pitted faction against faction. His departure will have a stabilizing effect. It's important for him to "leave and leave quickly," but Fleischer would not give a timetable, saying, "I'm not going to rule anything out on the timing."

Less than a month later, on August 11, 2003, under intense U.S. and international pressure, Taylor resigned office and departed into exile in Nigeria. Taylor’s departure no doubt showed the impact of America’s influence on its perennial stepchild. To date, Bush’s action has won him a place in the hearts of many Liberians and is widely credited for pressuring Taylor to depart Liberia.

Prior to last week’s meeting between Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and U.S. President Barack Obama, the White House was bombarded with letters and phone calls from Diaspora Liberians and international human rights groups urging among other things to press the Liberian President to address issues of concerns including the setting up of a Human Rights commission and the wave of purported corruption in the post-war government.

When the meeting was finally over many who were looking to Mr. Obama to utilize his whip were left disappointed as the U.S. President showered Africa’s first female leader with praises. Said Obama: “I have been an extraordinary admirer of her work for many years now. I fondly recall the speech that she delivered in a joint session of Congress when I was still in the Senate.”

While showering praise political observers were quick to point out that Mr. Obama was passive in his comments about Sirleaf’s fight against corruption saying that the U.S. has seen a continued determination on Sirleaf’s part to have a full accounting of some of the tragedies that took place earlier and making sure that the country is refocused on development, being willing to tackle corruption, which obviously plagues not just Liberia but countries throughout the continent of Africa. “She has been committed to rule of law. She has made strides in reforming her judiciary.”

‘Determined vs. ‘Willing’ – Liberia vs. Benin

Ironically, just before embarking on his one-day visit to Liberia, Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, on his week-long trip to Africa, kicked off his tour in the French-speaking Benin making sure to note that he chose Benin because its leaders were determined to fight corruption and were careful to make sure U.S. aid dollars were properly spent. "This is such a good lesson. One of the reasons I've come here, sir, is that leaders around the world have got to understand that the United States wants to partner with leaders and their people, but we're not going to do so with people who steal money, pure and simple," Bush told President Yaha Boni.

To date, the United States has given Benin $307 million in a five-year grant to fight poverty, part of Bush's Millennium Challenge Account, which provides aid to countries that the administration says practice democratic principles and sound economic policy.

On his next stop in Tanzania, Bush signed a compact with Tanzania through which the United States is now providing a $698 million Millennium Challenge grant. In Rwanda, where Bush met President Paul Kagame, the United States has provided nearly 7,000 Rwandan troops with training and spent more than $17 million to equip and transport Rwandan troops for service in Sudan. In Liberia, Bush left a million dollars in textbooks for secondary schools. He did not give a dime to Liberia.

In Benin and Tanzania, President Bush was blunt and praised them for fighting corruption. In Liberia he pledged books and chairs, signaling that he could not promise cash to Liberia because as he indicated he does not want to give American money to people who steal from their people.

President thanked the President of Tanzania for fighting corruption. He thanked the Liberian President for "being willing to fight corruption." For critics, this statement of "being willing to fight corruption" is an indication that President Obama is not completely impressed with Liberia’s anti-corruption effort, as even the US Department of States recent report showed that corruption was at levels in Liberia.

In his speech in Ghana, Mr. Obama said he has directed his administration to give greater attention to corruption in the U.S. Human Rights report. “People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying a bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don't, and that is exactly what America will do. This leads directly to our second area of partnership - supporting development that provides opportunity for more people.”

Interestingly, the most recent Human Rights report on Liberia by the United States State Department suggests that court cases involving allegations against corrupt officials are going at a snail pace with some eleven corruption cases still pending at the end of 2009, including the 2007 embezzlement cases of David Zarlee, J.D. Slanger, and former finance minister Luseni Kamara. Said the report: “Judges regularly received bribes or other illegal gifts from damages that they awarded in civil cases. Judges sometimes requested bribes to try cases, release detainees from prison, or find defendants not guilty in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested that defendants pay a gratuity to appease or secure favorable rulings from judges, prosecutors, jurors, and police officers.”

Commitment doesn’t cut it- Opposition weigh in

For followers of African politics, Mr. Obama’s rain of praises and commitment recognized, just doesn’t cut it.

Counselor Winston Tubman, the political leader of the opposition Liberian National Union said it was a good thing for Mr. Obama to meet the Liberian President, the U.S. leader was simply full of too much praise which makes it difficult for the opposition to really read: “They (the Americans) are viewed as the Godfather so it is difficult to handle but the opposition will press on and in the end it will come down to Liberians to make the final choice. We have to show our own responsibility. That is why I think we must come together as we are doing now with the seven-party coalition.”

Continued Tubman. “My sense of what happened in Washington is that it doesn’t help us (the opposition). For the fact that she has been banned from politics for 30 years and this didn’t come up once in the conversation with President Sirleaf and Mr. Obama. It only shows that only Liberians can save Liberia. That is why the move by opposition to form a coalition is very timely.”

‘Devil in details’: Snowe hopes backdoor discussions

While many have been deciphering what Mr. Obama said or didn’t say, one opposition lawmakers, Edwin Melvin Snowe(Independent – 5th District, Montserrado County) is hoping that Mr. Obama did raise some of the issues on the minds of many, including those raised by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch. Says Snowe: “In politics, the devil is in the details, one would hope that Mr. Obama raised the issue of the TRC report which should be of interest since the Americans spent a lot of money to see it through. The fact that she was invited there I don’t think anyone expected much from the first visit. I hope she would not grow feathers but use it as a challenge. When he mentioned Guinea and Niger and other countries I am sure it was an indirect message to Mrs. Sirleaf. “I would hope those were things that were discussed behind closed doors.”

Mr. Obama also commended the Liberian leader for her for her commitment to democracy with an eye on some African countries which have had problems in recent years. “There are going to be legislative and presidential elections in 2011. And part of President Sirleaf’s legacy is that she will continue to usher in a sense that democracy is the regular way of doing business in Liberia. And in that way, she can be an example for countries like Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire and Niger that I think can -- should look to Liberia as an example for democracy and rule of law.”

Obama’s language was clear that Liberia under Sirleaf – or after - could be a shining example for others to follow. Liberia’s next door neighbor, Guinea endured a convulsion of grief over violence and outrageous human rights abuses, including rapes of scores of women and the massacre of nearly 150 patriots, mostly from the opposition side simply because they were demonstrating and exercising the fundamental freedom of speech that a functional democracy offers. The riots were set off when coup leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara suddenly announced that he would postpone elections and declared himself a candidate for the projected elections, which caused a reaction that resulted in large-scale, unprecedented violence and brutality. Late President Lasana Conte pushed himself for decades to maintain himself in power at the expense of democracy which led to the violence after he died.

Coded messages in Cote d’Ivoire, Niger & Guinea

In Cote d’Ivoire, a civil war split another Liberian neighbor in half in 2002. Voter registration issues, particularly issues of nationality and voter eligibility, have prompted Ivory Coast to push back the election several times since President Laurent Gbagbo's mandate ran out in 2005 but he has continuously postponed elections to stay in power. The uncertainty over elections have kept the world's top cocoa producer in peril and prevented much-needed reforms to the cocoa sector.

In Niger, prior to a military coup which ended his third term in office, the U.S. declared that President Mamadou Tandja undermined a decade of good government in his attempts to stay in power beyond the legal limit. But Tandja did not survive. Following a constitutional crisis in 2009, which was caused by Tandja's efforts to remain in office beyond the originally scheduled end of his term, he was ousted by the military in a coup d’etat in February 2010. Tandja, who ruled Benin from 1999 to 2010 is believed to be held at a military barracks on the outskirts of Niamey. Ironically, in Niger, the soldiers who took power last month immediately won explicit domestic support, and tacit Western approval, for their anti-graft stance.

Observers say the reference to Guinea, Ivory Coast and Niger could suggest that Obama was thinking that the Sirleaf administration could do all it can to remain in power as it is the case in these countries. A well placed diplomat indicated that they are afraid that the Threshold bill logjam is an attempt to postpone or undermine the elections in 2011. Secretary State Clinton, in her visit to Liberia also pressed lawmakers to pass the threshold bill to avoid hiccups in the 2011 political process.

While many have been critical about what Mr. Obama said or didn’t say, supporters of the post-war government say Mr. Obama and the U.S. could be walking a fine line in an attempt to keep the peace and also recognize the progress Liberia is making from war to peace. As Mr. Obama said: “The United States and Liberia are close friends, long-standing partners, and Liberia is now emerging from a very difficult period in its history. Part of the reason that it has been able to emerge is because of the heroism and the courage of President Sirleaf. Her own personal story obviously is extraordinary -- somebody who came from being a prisoner to the first female President not just of her own country but also on the continent.”

In contrast, Mr. Obama’s Africa Policy which was exhibited in his speech during a one-day stop in Accra, Ghana where he pledged support for those African countries that showed commitment to the rule of law and democratic practice. “Countries that demonstrated the fundamentals of good governance -- defined in the policy as stability and leadership accountability -- would also be supported by the US government. African governments that are successful in these directions will be supported with better trade opportunities, given help in strengthening their internal development capacity and engaged in stronger bilateral and multilateral relations.”

Coded message in Ghana choice

Mr. Obama’s choice of Ghana was primarily due to the fact that Liberia’s neighbors had just successfully elected a new president from the opposition party, was being rewarded for the apparent progress that this represented in democratic practice. Obama was also show-casing Ghana as a country well in the practice of the rule of law with commendable anti-corruption efforts. The US president pointedly avoided visiting Kenya, his father's home country, and Nigeria, a country that lays claim to regional leadership. The message was that these two countries, because of electoral malpractices and rampant corruption in government, had failed the Obama policy test.

Much of Mr. Obama’s message was repeated directly and indirectly by his Secretary and former election rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton during her visit to Liberia last year.

Said Mrs. Clinton during her address to the national legislature. “Ending corruption is necessary to growing and sustaining such institutions and restoring the public's trust. I have been to countries that are far richer than Liberia. These democracies have been in existence far longer, but because they never tackled corruption, their future is repeating before their eyes.”

At the time, Clinton, a friend of Sirleaf went to great lengths to draw an analogy in a bid to show what Liberia could achieve, if it plays its cards right. “I will say to you what I said in two days in Nigeria, a country that has the fifth-largest supply of petroleum and gas, so many riches, and yet the number of people living in poverty is growing. Nigeria is now further away from achieving the Millennium Development Goals than they were ten years ago. That is a travesty. That does not have to be either Nigeria's future, and it should not be Liberia's future.” This was an indirect message to Sirleaf not let corruption runaway to the point that Liberia becomes another Nigeria, or a State that has failed to tackle corruption and by extension impoverished its people.

No guarantee in democracy

In what many saw as another indirect message to Sirleaf, who has been accused of not incorporating opposition forces in the post-war government, Mrs. Clinton said. “Now, I've been, again, on both sides. I've won elections, and I've lost elections. In a democracy, there is no guarantee you're going to win. I spent two years and a lot of money running against president Obama, and he won. And then I went to work to elect him. And then, much to my amazement, he asked me to be his Secretary of State. And I must say that one of the most common questions I'm asked around the world, from Indonesia to Angola, is: “How could you go to work for someone you were running against? I said, because we both love our country.”

Clinton says she argues occasionally when the question pops up that “it is that love that every successful country has to inculcate in its people and its leaders so that the political process of a democracy doesn't break apart the country, doesn't create so much bad blood and ill feelings that people won't accept the outcome of an election, or not believe that they could have lost or refuse to move forward under those circumstances. And that is what we know Liberia can do.”

Critics see U.S. double standard

Liberians have since Clinton visit been struggling to decipher the undertones of some of the highpoints of Mrs. Clinton’s speech. In particular, her suggestion that it is also critical to have an electoral system that is credible, that will produce free and fair elections in 2011. “The world is watching, and we take a personal interest in the elections to come in Liberia because we know that this election, where there will be a peaceful transition of power from one civilian authority to another, will set in motion the future legitimacy of elections for years to come.” Some have asked the obvious question: Who is transitioning in and who is transitioning out? Does the US fear that the Sirleaf Government will rake the elections?

Critics of the U.S. see double standards in how the Americans deal with countries. For example, during the Samuel Doe era, when charges of human rights abuses and corruption were rampant, Washington maintained a good relationship with Doe, even believing that Doe was steering Liberia toward democracy. At the time, Liberia was the largest per capita recipient of United States aid in the sub-Sahara from 1980 to 1985, after which Congress, responding to reports of mismanagement and misappropriation, began to steadily slash aid levels. More than a decade later, Washington appears to be directing assault missiles carefully as Secretary of State Clinton did while visiting Nigeria in January. Clinton blasted what she called "unbelievable" levels of corruption in that country, one of Africa's biggest oil exporters, drawing a link between poor governance and the growth of extremism.

Lost in the quest to decipher the sometimes confusing messages of America is the fact that corruption, according to an African Union study, cost the continent roughly $150 billion.

While many African governments have made some efforts to fight corruption in recent years, many of those have come at the urging of international donors pushing for transparency and good governance as well as domestic pressure to fulfill promises of reform made on the campaign trail.

Countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, have made meager progress on fighting graft. All three countries have established anti-corruption agencies that sought to prevent, investigate, and prosecute corruption. But a 2008 paper from the UN Economic Commission for Africa says such commissions have been largely inefficient and ineffective due to their uncertain political footing. Often funded and overseen by the executive branch, anti-corruption agencies can be eliminated (as in South Africa, where the Scorpions investigating unit was disbanded in 2009), and their leaders can be sidelined or forced out of the country (as in Nigeria and Kenya).

In the case of Liberia, Sirleaf says the challenges exist because most of the country’s brains are in exile. “Corruption; the rule of law; our judiciary system and its weakness; unemployment among the many young who did not have the opportunity to go to school, who knew only war and violence in their young days. But those challenges we see as the ones that we have to tackle. And the progress we have made enable us to have the commitment and capacity to meet those challenges.”

Deciphering codes requires sophistication

The claims and counter claims will continue over the visit of President Sirleaf at the White House. But one thing is certain, American leaders speak in coded message that requires a sophisticated mind to decipher. Diplomatic observers say praises could indicate something different, while condemnation could also indicate something different. Whether it was Obama, Bush or Secretary of State Clinton, they all appear to have used sober references to Nigeria in the case of corruption and to Guinea, Niger and Ivory Coast to send a clear message: Do not go down that route, as if some of the same tendencies are visible in post-war Liberia.

Keen observers also took notice that unlike late President Doe and so many world leaders, neither Bush nor Obama came out and stood with President Sirleaf on the White House to answer questions from the Podium. This is a common American tradition for US Presidents to accompany other Presidents to the White House lawn. Mr. Bush did so during his first visit with Sirleaf at the White House in 2006. What did it all mean?

For supporters of Sirleaf and her opposition reading between the coded messages could mean deciphering the devil in the inexplicit details. Liberians far and wide will no doubt continue to weigh in and debate what Mr. Obama said or didn’t say. In the finally analysis, political analysts say, when it comes to Africa, the United States appear concern only about its policy. For the moment, its policy toward Africa is appears to be pressing for good governance and corrupt-free societies. But even without, deciphering fact from fiction, truth from false can be a daunted task as journalist found out during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first global news conference, when asked whether President Obama‘s decision to make Ghana, the first choice of his trip to Ghana, was not a snub to other African countries including Nigeria and Liberia. Clinton replied that the visit to Ghana was ”To demonstrate our commitment to Africa. It is not meant in any other way than what I just said. It is intended to tee up what will be a continuing intensive engagement with Africa.” Even for the modest observer of modern politics, the quest for the truth is always in the details. But for Uncle Sam, there always seems to be something beneath the surface and it often appears that perceptions and declarations often times than one requires more reading between the lines. In the case of Liberia, it is difficult to decipher the truth told is in the eyes of the beholder or the one at the doorsteps seeking aid.

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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