Lured into populist rhetoric, bewitched by political pageantry, and robbed through hardcore electoral maneuverings, the Liberian people missed out on yet another chance in 2017 to choose REAL CHANGE over FALSE HOPE. It seems like they are gradually waking up from the scars of fantasy and ecstasy. As though the Liberian people were spellbound or entrapped into enchantment, they made a risky choice to have experimented with a clueless and extravagant footballer who has zero knowledge in governance, leadership and diplomacy. The election of ex-Soccer Star George Weah has proven to be an “experimento peligroso” (a dangerous experiment). Such abysmal gamble has now landed Liberia and Liberians into national catastrophe. The future remains opaque as uncertainties loom.
On Friday, December 20, 2019, President George M. Weah had yet another opportunity to rekindle lost hope, renew public confidence, and prove his critics wrong especially ahead of a popular protest on December 30, 2019. In his first ever radio call-in talk-show with Liberians, President Weah seemed to have provoked public discontent by ejecting a baggage of subterfuges and tantrums. Instead of elevating sound policy prescriptions which offer sustained and concrete remedies or solutions to Liberia’s prevailing tragedy, CDC Political Leader rambled in solecism and sophism for almost an hour during his incoherent interview.
After President Weah’s interview, Liberia still remains beyond stress level as hopelessness soars due to increasing hardship. His message on December 20, 2019 gave “Zero Hope” and “Zero Assurance” for a better future. His poor performance has further impugned Liberia’s reputation both locally and internationally. What really did Liberians get from his interview? The President’s interview was never solution-based, policy-driven, and vision-oriented. As usual, he was on yet another spree to lash out at opposition figures and shift blame on his predecessor for handing over a “broken economy”. With little or no hope renewed, Liberians remain wanderers and beggars in their own country as a result of governance breakdown and ‘zero vision’ under CDC. The problem of Liberia seems far bigger than President Weah and his confidants.
Both abroad and at home, President George Forky Klon Jlaleh Gbekugbeh Tarpeh Manneh Oppong Weah has abused a number of popular platforms and golden opportunities to deliver a strong message of hope, revival and resilience amidst a collapsing Republic under his reign. Like President Weah failed for the second time in roll to fully maximize the World Stage at this year’s UN General Assembly, he has also failed at home to reawaken his nation and people from slumber. This has become a routine. What a faux pas indeed! As Africa’s oldest Republic undergoes its toughest economic period, coupled with rising political crises, no real answer(s) has/have been prescribed or derived by the Weah’s hegemony to cure prevailing woes. His latest interview was too far from the REAL ANSWER(S).
Hence, this antithesis, which is my first analysis from exile, is primarily intended to unpack a number of contradictions and/or debris of Weah’s incoherent interview into four (4) fundamentally parameters, namely:
Faux Pas (Blunder)
Fairy-tale (Spider Story)
Farce (Mockery or Comedy)
Fantasy (Impossible Imagination)
The interview of President George M. Weah fits in these parameters so well. It was just an unarguable reflection of blunder, spider story, comedy, and imagination. Till now, the nation and its people remain bewildered and downcast by this interview. It is safe to conclude that the CDC is an emblem of Fake Change and False Hope. The byproducts of Weah’s Presidency and the CDC-led government are increased poverty, misery, obscurity, and ignominy. The Republic is truly in the state of trance and the new ruling class has lost its way.
Addressing the Liberian people, President George M. Weah described prevailing economic challenges as “serious but temporary”. Did President Weah say “temporary”? It was a faux pas (blunder) on his part to have said this. It seemed like he had zero knowledge of Liberia’s structural economic problems. An economy, like Liberia’s, that has been and remains import-based, aid-dependent and food insecure, will always be vulnerable to shocks.
Even up to now, there is no concrete action in terms of engendering appropriate policy measures to shift from import-based to export-based. The Liberian economy is still dependent on traditional exports like iron ore, rubber, gold, diamond, cocoa, coffee, and timber amidst falling prices of these raw materials globally. There is no concrete plan to add value to these commodities and hugely invest in economic diversification (tourism, entrepreneurship, agriculture, technology, energy, infrastructure, etc.).
The Economic Management Team failed to furnish President Weah with these declining economic stats or facts: Inflation Rate – 28.5 percent, Currency Depreciation (LRD) – 20.3 percent, Current Account Deficit – 23.3 percent of GDP, Trade Deficit – 17.7 percent of GDP, Fiscal Deficit – 5.5 percent, Growth Forecast – 0.4 percent, Decline in Output at the end of 2019 – 0.1 percent. How can these economic challenges be “temporary” when almost everything sector/area is declining under this pro-poor government.
The President along with his EMT has proposed investment in agriculture as a jump-start to resolving Liberia’s economic crisis but this verbal proposal seems to be another fiasco. It will interest you to know that the entire agriculture sector last fiscal year 2018/2019 received just US$7,851,066 which accounts for 1.3% of the National Budget. This is a violation of the regional threshold of at least 10% for all African nations (Ref. The African Union Maputo Declaration). This 2019/2020 Fiscal Year, the entire agriculture sector has a budget of US$6,208,754. Are they honest about investing in agriculture?
The Liberian Leader again shifted blame on his predecessor when he said “…it would be unreasonable for anyone to think that the magnitude of economic woes inherited by his administration would be resolved in a single month or in a single year.” This cliché of inheriting a “broken economy” is yet to be scientifically proven through any form of forensic audit even though his administration will clock 2 years on January 22, 2020. Where is the 116-page hand-over note that was left by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf? Why are they refusing to publish it?
The President said his government has paid the debts accrued by his predecessor amounting to US$9 million to LEC and US$65 million to commercial banks. But President Weah failed to say that his administration has pushed Liberia’s debt stock to around US$1.2 billion in less than 2 years from about US$874 million after 12 years under EJS. The impact of borrowing over US$326 million is yet to be felt or seen under President George M. Weah. It is a blunder or a big mistake to run away from the facts or tasks and begin to shift blame. There is no solution in blame-shifting. The President could not even justify why his government requested the infusion of L$4 billion and the printing of L$35 billion new banknotes.
Fairy-tale (Spider Story)
To even add currency to the blunder, President Weah said, “The entire economic issue is a supply and demand issue. If we are facing economic hardship, let the business people bring more products and the common citizens will buy them and they will make more money, and money will be in the country.”
This economic school of thought as espoused by President George Weah is a fairytale (spider story). Importing goods and services does not attract foreign currencies to the economy. It does not necessarily increase the profit margin of business people. Import is a leakage in Economics. The country or economy loses more foreign currencies if business people bring in more products. And if foreign currencies are in shortage as a result of this flawed economic proposal made by President Weah, inflation will rise steeply and local currency (LRD) will further depreciate. The government should now focus on restraining imports and increasing exports.
Amidst stagflation (high inflation, unemployment and low growth), how will common citizens buy imported products when they have little or no purchasing power and zero savings. How can common citizens, especially civil servants, buy goods and services when their salaries have been cut and harmonized amidst inflation? How can this happen when the circular flow of money has collapsed under President Weah? The President’s thoughts on the economy were punctuated by flaws. Weahnomics or Tweahnomics? The President needs to understand that the entire economic issue is not just a “supply and demand” issue. It goes far beyond.
The President could not even proffer any real policy prescription on how his government intends to increase revenue base – deal with inflation and depreciation – expand economic growth – service the debt stock – invest in agriculture – reduce food insecurity – advance social welfare and improve livelihood – add value to raw materials – reduce high tariffs – attract foreign direct investment – promote private sector investment – cut down on public waste and recurrent expenditure – limit aid dependency – invest in human capital – restore confidence in our banking sector – resolve liquidity crisis – fight corruption, tax evasion and fiscal indiscipline – etc. The fairytale (spider story) on the economy as narrated by President Weah was enough for any listener to cut his/her radio off.
Farce (Mockery or Comedy)
The greatest mockery of this year was when President George Weah publicly told over 70,000 civil servants during this festive season that “Salary delayed is not salary denied”. His statement has even solidified what his Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah recently said, “President Weah was not elected to pay civil servants on time.” If Weah was not elected to pay civil servants on time, what was he elected to do? To build private mansions and an empire of wealth? These are mocking comments that have enraged the people. This has even increased the momentum of December 30th Protest. Any government that is unable to pay those who are honestly laboring for its success is not only unpatriotic and irresponsible, but insensitive and an abuser of labor.
It was a complete farce for President George M. Weah to be calling for reconciliation and peace while at the same time lashing out at those he is extending an olive branch to. The President abandoned the essence of his interview and began throwing jabs at former Vice President Joseph Boakai. He said, “Boakai is an old man. He was sick, I paid his medical bills. Even the two cars he is riding today, I bought them. Let Boakai behave”. Imagine a 53-year-old President is addressing a 75-year-old former Vice President in such disdainful manner especially in Africa. Where is culture and tradition?
The President who is fronting for reconciliation is addressing opposition leaders in this manner. He remarked, “I cannot waste my time on those people. Boakai, Urey, and Cummings cannot ask me to step down. I am not going anywhere. I defeated them in 2017 and if you bring all of them together, I will defeat them again.”
The President’s quest to seek genuine peace and reconciliation is hypocritical and a betrayal of his own conscience. Furthermore, it is a comedy to even think that he can beat UP, LP, ANC, and ALP combined. These four (4) leading opposition political parties had 732,524 votes combined while his Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC, NPP, and LPDP including MDR) had 723,703 votes in 2017 presidential elections.
With increased public anger and internal cracks within the CDC, the margin in favor of the opposition would be too wide in any impending election. The recent Montserrrado County Senatorial by-election is a unique example to reference. The CDC was massively defeated in its stronghold by an opposition candidate.
Fantasy (Impossible Imagination)
In his interview, these were two (2) impossible imaginations voiced by the President: To think that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has a magic wand to perform miracle in turning around Liberia’s worsening economic woes;
To think that the War and Economic Crimes Court will not be established in order to prosecute war and economic criminals.
Lately, the entire government has been running to the IMF for solution. The President said, “IMF will help overcome the vexing economic challenges facing Liberia”. The President needs to understand that the IMF is a neoliberal and capitalist institution. Enrolling into its Extended Credit Facility (ECF) Program does not suggest economic boom or recovery. The IMF focuses more on capital accumulation. Where is Liberia after IMF spent about US$1.2 billion for 12 years under EJS? President Weah and his EMT must stop running to IMF for miracle. To think that the IMF has a magic wand to quickly cure Liberia’s economic malaise would be a form of fantasy (impossible imagination).
On the issue of justice, the President continues to shun retributive justice. In his interview, he made specific reference to the “Palava Hut Mechanism” as opposed to establishing a War and Economic Crimes Court. The President has been dishonest and inconsistent about the WECC debate. During 2011 elections, he declared full support for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court. In 2018 at the UN General Assembly, he changed his tongue and called for dialogue as a conflict-resolution mechanism.
In 2019 at the UNGA, he again leaned on the side of Retributive Justice (WECC). Before this year can even end, he has shifted gear in his latest interview to ‘Palava Hut Mechanism’. His interview further proposed interactive engagements with victims and perpetrators as a relevant step. Where really does the President stand on this matter? Whether he is for or against, it is just another impossible imagination to think that this Court (WECC) will not be established anytime soon.
The President again promised “brighter days” in his speech. This repetitious promise seems to be more of an impossible imagination. Liberians are fatigued of too many hopeless promises. They are set to express their disenchantment through a mass protest on December 30. Since the President’s interview failed to address the core issues and rekindle lost hope, the masses will move into history on 12/30. As the CDC-led government gradually crumbles from within and without, the masses are resolved to send a resounding caveat and reclaim their socio-economic and political destiny.
About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian activist, columnist, and emerging economist (Cum Laude in Economics – University of Liberia). He hails from Bong County and is an avowed proponent of social democracy and economic freedom. Martin is a former student leader who currently lives in exile and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.