Liberia has never been so close to being in total receivership and well-deserving the moniker “Banana Republic” since the 1990s, when the country’s survival depended on the goodwill of ECOWAS and the international community. Back then, Liberians were engaged in a warfare, killing and destroying at random and ECOWAS came in, stopped the bleeding, sacrificing the blood of their youth and spending billions of dollars as the late President Conde put it, to “baby sit warlords and criminals.” From 2006, and slowly, it was expected that the nation would recover and become an “adult,” being able to take care of the welfare of its people. Now, in 2019, the country is returning to the status of dependence and is on its way to lose the last square of sovereignty upon which it governs itself.
As it happened before the June 7 demonstration, the international community, composed of ECOWAS, the UN and embassies of donor countries in Liberia went on marathon negotiations with organizers and the government to avert the December 30 demonstration. The international community bought into the argument by the government that demonstrations would spark violence and may lead to war. Rather than address the issues affecting the people and which lead them to take the streets, the negotiations played along that false narrative. People go to war when given no space to express their grievances. Protests turn violent when demonstrators are pushed again the wall.
Since the advent of multi-party democracy in the 1990s, political demonstrations are a common occurring in the region. People in Guinea, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and other places hold pro-or anti-government demonstrations almost daily but unlike in Liberia, there is no such thing as international mediators. But for the past two years, the international community is everywhere whenever a group wants to vent its frustration.
In a press statement released after “negotiations” over the Christmas weekend, the UN-ECOWAS mission summarizes its findings and conclusions in 4 points: 1. President Weah was elected with a mandate for 6 years; 2. Liberians have the right to demonstrate in accordance with the Constitution and the Government has the obligation to protect its citizens. And most importantly, 4. the communiqué suggests that the UN and ECOWAS will work with the government to establish a platform for national dialogue. A platform for national dialogue is one of the major pillars of governance. Liberian national politics will therefore now be (again) directed by ECOWAS and the UN.
The second thing that happened was an announcement by the American Embassy in Monrovia that USAID will help the Central Bank on financial issues to lay the basis for “inclusive economic growth.” This is another major pillar of governance, taken away. And finally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will come in once it starts to disburse its new loan to Liberia.
Liberians can’t blame the ‘international community” in the days to come for taking away their sovereignty, their government gave it away. What ECOWAS, UN and a certain number of diplomatic missions are doing is not what diplomats do traditionally. They are not to get involved in local affairs and their interlocutors is the state, not non-state-actors. Foreign diplomats are now turning into colonial governors.
With IMF-USAID running the economy and finances, ECOWAS-UN handling national political dialogue, what role is left to the government? This is where a nation becomes a “banana republic.” Like most of Africa, Liberia is a resource colony, now political and economic layers will complete the process of take-over. One cannot blame those who intervened and are taking the country under their wings. The failure is all the government’s, for its incapacity to address national issues in a frank and constructive manner with citizens.
As economic difficulties will mount, so will frustration and protest, until the government finds a way out. Will the international community continue to baby sit and protect failing policies or will it set aside and allow Liberians to solve their problems? Falling for the narrative of “protest leads to war” is self-serving for the international community… what greater honor for an ambassador than to be able to lecture a president and give him/her instructions on how to run their country. Will Liberia mature to run itself one day? By 2023, if things continue this way, the Government of Liberia will be nothing more than a paper entity. Abdoulaye W. Dukulé