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The fragility of the Liberian State under George Weah

By S.Karweaye

On July 26, 2022 (Independence Day), members of the University of Liberia campus-based political party known as the Student Unification Party (SUP) were attacked by a group calling itself Coalition for Democratic Change Council of Patriots (CDC-COP), an auxiliary group of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of President George M. Weah during the SUP’s “Fix The Country” protest in Monrovia.

An unsettling video from the scene shows Christopher Walter Sisulu Sivili, a SUP member, being beaten and abused. The student was observed being beaten up by a mob of CDC supporters who were around him, in what seemed to be a disturbing echo of the past in which President Samuel Doe was naked, beaten, and tortured by Warlord Prince Johnson, now Senator and a firm supporter of Weah during our violent civil war in Liberia. As blood dripped from his mouth and nose, they stripped him naked. Some cursed him, tortured him, and accused him and his colleagues of being unappreciative of President Weah, who has provided them with free tuition among other things. To the surprise of journalists, some witnesses, and motorcyclists who subsequently came to his rescue when he was abandoned by his tormentors, anti-riot police did nothing to save him while he was being brutalized. Paul Dolo, another SUP member, also sustained injuries. According to SUP officials, a few members are still missing. Since then, they have claimed that the violent acts committed against their members were planned and carried out by the ruling party.

There are increasing concerns amongst citizens about the fragility of the Liberian state under the CDC-led government. The 1986 Liberia constitution states that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. The 2020 suspicious deaths of four public-sector internal auditors in Liberia sent shock waves throughout the country. Occurring over eight days, from October 3-10, the four deaths involved Emmanuel Barten Nyeswua, director general, Liberia Internal Audit Agency, Albert Peters, Gifty Lama, and George F. Fanbutu, all with the Liberia Revenue Authority. All four reportedly were conducting audits of Liberia government accounts over allegations of misappropriation of funds. Nyeswua died of an apparent fall, while the others died in apparent car accidents. In February of 2022, Melvin Earley,   a presidential guard-Executive Protective Service (EPS) traveling with the president on a nationwide tour died from a gunshot. According to EPS, Melvin Earley committed suicide, however, the family of Melvin Early said under no circumstance he would have killed himself. According to the family, Melvin was executed.

The 2022 Fragile States Index (FSI) ranked Liberia as the 33rd most fragile state in the world and 21st in Africa. According to the Index, Yemen is the “most failed” state, followed closely by Somalia, while Finland, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Denmark, and Switzerland are among the best and most stable states on earth.  FSI, a yearly report by Washington, DC-based think tank Fund for Peace, ranks 178 countries “across” 12 indicators of the risks and vulnerabilities faced by individual nations. Some of the risk indicators include security, group grievances, economic decline, brain drain, state legitimacy/human rights and rule of law, demographic pressures, and internally displaced persons or refugees. These indicators assessed: “the vulnerability of states to collapse” by measuring “vulnerability in pre-conflict, active conflict, and post-conflict situations. The 2022 FSI report identified Liberia as one of the states the international community must keep in view, having scored a relatively high figure which places it in the “alert” category, trailed only by countries with long-standing political and security woes like the Central African Republic, Sudan, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Nigeria and the like.

On September 6–13, 2019, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) secretariat visited Liberia to observe “key impressions” to determine if the country is “Fit for Fragility Project.” The group collected cutting-edge data and research to advise and direct donor policy in delicate situations. It compiles information and research on fragility, adopts a fact-based understanding of what makes certain contexts vulnerable, contributes to keeping issues related to fragility at the top of the international development agenda, and encourages more productive programming on the ground. The OECD 2020 report titled “The States of Fragility,” stated Liberia is becoming a fragile state. According to the report, the lack of faith in the government continued impunity for war crimes, and corruption remains ingrained in the Liberian state.  State fragility is also manifested in the failure of the state to deliver basic services to citizens. And, of course, Liberia lacks the ability to get things done, to provide basic things that are taken for granted in many other states! Liberia probably has one of the worst public sectors in West Africa, with poor quality of policy delivery and public investment management.

There is no disputing the fact that Liberia merits her position. Government legitimacy is not just about winning elections, it’s also about the social contract. If a government doesn’t meet the needs of the people, it would lack legitimacy in their eyes. Liberia is a country where successive governments have failed to tackle unemployment, poverty, inequality, and insecurity, while public officers abuse the state for personal gain.  The failure to do these things is put squarely at the doorsteps of the government that has lost the capacity to rein in sundry auxiliary groups of Weah’s CDC who now terrorize any group or individual protesting against Weah’s administration around the country. To compound the problem, the prevailing economic downturn has constrained the capacity of individuals, so much so that necessities of life, including food, medicare, and shelter have gone far beyond the reach of most Liberians under Weah’s administration. The conflicts are widening, and agitations are increasing by the day.

The solutions to state fragility are largely domestic. Liberia must build strong and effective institutions of governance, develop the right societal norms and values, create a business and market-friendly environment, have honest leaders with the vision and competence to transform the nation, and create an enduring political settlement, including decentralized governance structures, to engender harmony and cohesion. Liberia, with an estimated population of 5.4 million and a gross domestic product of $3.4 billion United States dollars, is the first independent country in Africa with a history of coups and civil war. This means that this West African country cannot afford to succumb to insecurity or state fragility because it will reverberate across West Africa as it did in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast during the Liberian civil wars (1997, 2003).

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