By: Josephus Moses Gray
Precisely a year ago, Liberia was the focused of global attention, not just the focus of world, but was captured on the front pages of an influential international newspapers and in the headlines of leading global television and radio stations across the world when power peacefully shifted from one democratic leader to another, something that hasn’t been done in Liberia in seven decades of the nation’s past. Since then, what are the dividends and impacts that come with the shift in leadership especially international outcomes resulting from the nation’s foreign policy and international relations as regards Liberia’s socio-economic development and the pro-poor agenda? An Assistant Professor of the University of Liberia Graduate Program Of International Studies provides an in-depth assessment, and at the same time offers insight into the importance of the subject.
If there’s a single consistent aspect to President George Weah’s strategic vision for Liberia, it’s this: Power to the people, we will not permit Liberian-owned businesses to be marginalized. We cannot remain spectators in our own economy, and my government will prioritize the interests of Liberian-owned businesses. He vowed to root out corruption. “My greatest contribution to this country as President may not lie in the eloquence of my speeches, but will definitely lie in the quality of the decisions that I will make over the next six years to advance the lives of poor Liberians”. The declaration which was echoed during his historic investiture was greeted with thunderous cheers echoing through the venue of the occasion, and across the country as thousands Liberians waving flags and dancing through the various streets and communities, while thousands queued for miles to get to the Samuel K. Doe’s Sports Complex, the venue of Weah’s inauguration.
The transferred of power from ex-president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and President George Weah came with an inherited task including jobs creation, provision of a socio-economic development, removal greater number of poverty-stricken masses from abject poverty, the accessibility of electricity and safe-drinking water across the various communities and construction of paved roads across the fifteen political sub-division of Liberia, provision of economics practicability and empowerment of the poor, reduction of the high prices of basic commodities and merchandises.
The affection for President George Weah nowadays is in two-forth-depending on which of the sides you find yourself especially in the face of the deep political wound. President Weah has risen from the slums of Clara town, outside Monrovia to the nation’s highest office after two unsuccessful attempts in 2005 and 2011 for the presidency.
It can be recalled that in his inaugural address, President Weah used the historic occasion to set forth his administration foreign policy and domestic agenda constructively as he reached out to friendly countries and Liberia’s international partners especially to Washington, Beijing, European Union, ECOWAS, African Union, United Nations, World Bank International Monetary Fund and Arab League countries.
The current government domestically remained popular which the government should use to reinforce its foreign policy and international relations with the outside world especially Liberia’s development partners and friendly nations and governments. But has the domestic attraction transits into international tangibles, and to what extent is international amiability of the regime transmitting into socio-economic development?
The Sino-Liberia and U.S. Liberia ties rapprochement will definitely help to create the unique conditions that led to the limited apprehensions but contributed and move the existing relations to another level of exceptionality. The Weah’s regime needs to balance its diplomatic ties with America and China perhaps most important, it will be a great help in strengthening President Weah administration domestic sources of national control in several vital areas particularly the pro-poor agenda, human capital development, quality education, job creation, improved health delivery system, pave leading and fender roads, technological advancement, industrialization and economic growth.
Keeping a balance with Washington and Beijing will reinforce Liberia’s domestic policies and programs that fortify the bedrock of prosperity and stability will also enhance domestic control and its influence home and overcoming the primarily economic vulnerability that the government, state and people of Liberia are faced.
The Weah’s regime needs to effectively exercise what I described as “diplomatic equilibrium” in its dealings with the two rival world blocs to avoid being seemed as weighing heavily towards one bloc. In this case, the government should move faster and put its diplomats to work, define China and USA interests and use the country’s bilateral ties to the advantage of the government. The Weah’s regime should solemnly understand the new level of diplomatic maneuvering across the globe as relative Beijing and Washington.
The diplomatic equilibrium can only be achieved if the rightful individuals assigned at Liberia’s embassies and diplomatic missions abroad are demanded to perform a national duty since the president or the foreign minister cannot be present everywhere at once to project the nation’s images and encourage foreign investors to invest in the country.
Let it be noted that diplomacy goes far beyond sparkling red and white wines, champagne, ceremonial dinner and soliciting financial for personal enrichment, instead, need to undertake an extraordinary display of diplomatic modus operandi to enable the government to receive the worldwide benevolence.
Other areas of concern include quality and affordable education and health delivery system, improve the monthly incomes for civil servants, university professors, medical doctors, Foreign Service officers, enhance social institutions development, promote reconciliation to heal wounds, respect for norms and values, and eliminate all forms of corruptions from public sector, among other pressing societal tribulations.
Liberia’s international stature and standing among the comity of nations have improved immensely from the failed and pariah state situations of the 1990s and early 2000 to a responsible and well-respected member of the International system. But how noteworthy are the concepts of international relations and foreign policy of a sovereignty state? Knowledgeably, international relations are strategies of self-interest adopted by a state to protect national interest and respect to its sovereignty including independence, regulation, power, authority, a government with the much-needed goal in the international system.
While foreign policy takes into consideration developing events across the globe since politics deal not only with government or state but also several dynamics that occurring at other states levels. Let us not forget that foreign policy and domestic policy are both interconnected because foreign policy formulation is originated from the inner of state programs which determines government developmental priories based on budgetary appropriation.
Liberia, like other post-conflict countries in the world today, is no exception to the dependence on Liberia’s development partners and friendly governments for development assistance. While Liberia enjoyed relative peace and stability since the cessation of the civil war about fifteen-year ago, the country remains fragile in several areas chief among economic, reconciliation, corruption, and environment, political and societal dimensions.
In order rebuild the fragmented and dysfunction system, former president Sirleaf was seemed as a magic touch in the body politics of Liberia in 2005, one who the greater number of electorates assumed with the political and economic chemistry to repair the broken system left behind due to the 14-year of ridiculous war, one who could create prosperity for the destitute population since she was being granted in politics and fought bad governances in the past.
Just as ex-president Johnson-Sirleaf in 2006 inherited a massive desolation economy some of which have since passed over the president Weah’s administration. This placed Weah’s regime into a difficult position to meet the high expectations of the greater population that rewarded the president with 61 percent of the valid vote cast in the December 2017 runoff presidential balloting. Like Weah, Johnson-Sirleaf too took office in 2006 undoubtedly stunning, she kept her cabinets on their feet and demanded successes; those would perhaps for other reason were replaced with other Liberians with the requisite expertise.
On doubt, in 2005, the people needed a leader who could maneuver her way in the international community and knock of the doors of financial institutions and Liberian development partners, therefore during the two successive presidential elections in 2005 and 2011, Liberian saw Johnson-Sirleaf as people centered-person who many believed came with the reservoir ideas to fix the fragmented economics, reduce poverty and unemployment in the country, create enormous jobs and provide security for the entire population, ensure quality educations and unique health delivery system booming in the country.
It is difficult to make a definitive conclusion if Madam Johnson-Sirleaf has met the aspiration of the population, others lauded her leadership while for other she has failed to perform, however, it depends on who assessed the ex-president. But to address the inherited problems, Madam Johnson-Sirleaf embarks a vigorous on a diplomatic campaign across the global, knocking at the doors of powers states and regional and continental institutions and multilateral organizations.
Just as was the case of ex-president Johnson-Sirleaf, in 2017 majority of the registered youth in the 2017 presidential election switched their political allegiance to the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) ticket headed by President Weah, perhaps due to the CDC’s manifestos popularly crafted on President George Weah’s people-centered pro-poor philosophy, a wildly planned national project geared towards empowering the greater population most of whom are less privileged and poverty-stricken.
Majority of these disadvantage youths were abandoned by the former sequential governing parties including the Unity Party led-government, thus comparing the majority of the youths to overwhelmingly vote the CDC into power. This alienated group, which the society branded with all kinds of uninvited names and descriptions, saw the CDC not UP either the ANC or LP and other political parties as their identity and community where they could have sought refuge and could no longer be alienated by the society especially the political bureaucrats and corrupt elites.
The Weah’s pro-poor project, borders on five pillars including agriculture, job creation, infrastructure development, improved education, and health delivery systems and pave roads across the country should strongly receive support at all levels of the public. The alienated population had no doubt that the CDC ticket was the best solution to alleviate them from poverty-driven communities where across the country.
While political pundits viewed three menaces- poverty, unemployment, and poor education, if alleviated to some level, which without doubt can be achieved, will conceivably lead to economic attainability and growth from one city to another and from town to other in the country, where no segment of the society would again be isolated and leveled with intolerable titles
Though in different magnitudes, miserable poor, huge unemployment, poor education, and fragmented health delivery still exist around the world, these uninvited conditions are not epidemics in other continents and regions of the world, as compared to African continent which is listed as the world poorest region. The seriousness of the problem may vary from one state to another on the continent, but it is a concern of both the developed and underdeveloped nations that will not go away rapidly any time soon.
The World Bank in its 2016 reports that extreme poverty remains unacceptably high, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region now has the largest number of extreme poor in the world, with 389 million accounts for half of the total number of extreme poor in the world, and more than all the other regions combined.
While unemployment, poverty, and poor education are not only unique to Liberia as these perils vary from one country to another; these have been serious problems plaguing international economy as far back as from the period of great depression when the existence of high level of unemployment, poverty, and poor education are still a menace in the world especially the under-developed regions. Although these threats, driven by abject poor, huge unemployment and poor education, are not the directly making of the President Weah CDC led-administration, but let it be cleared that government is continuity, until these national melanomas are properly handled, the sufferers will continue to accuse the current leadership “for their appalling condition.
Just as the Sirleaf’s administration won the international community and development partners’ aspiration and confidence, the Weah’s regime needs to embark on the similar expedition by keeping those heading government ministries and agencies and our diplomats’ abroad feet to their fire to knock on the doors of friendly governments and multilateral organizations for foreign aid assistance. All the numerous support the ex-president Johnson-Sirleaf’s government received was due it visibility at international conferences and the use of effective multilateral diplomacy.
During the administration of ex-president Johnson-Sirleaf, the country has received massive aids in the form of loan and grant form international institutions representing a greater part of Liberia’s socio-economic development; the volume of aid flows and the number of development projects and technical assistance have increased tremendously. Liberia received three-times more ODA than the Sub-Saharan. According to the World Ban, 2014 report, Liberia also became entitled to generous debt forgiveness in 2006 under the World Bank/IMF HIPC initiative.
According to Paris based OECD 2012 annual report, Liberia received over US$571 million dollars in official development assistance from the World Bank and IMF while in the same year, the United States of America (USA) also provided Liberia with $181 financial assistance or aid dollars. As a result,
Liberia has benefited from many other donors such as the Republic of China, European Union, Federal Republic of Germany, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), France, Norway, Danish, SWISS, and Sweden Governments, Arab League, United Nations, IMF, WTO, and ILO.
Liberia would not have received the worldwide benevolence it got during the last 12 years, if not for apt diplomatic initiatives by the former regime, and had serious negotiations not taken place sometimes long hours into the night, as perceptively as possible with grinding efforts, employing the tools of diplomacy for national development.
The CDC-led government also stands the chance to receive the worldwide benevolence just like the former regime, similar chance to benefit and receive comparable foreign aid assistance like the former regime if embark on multilateral diplomacy, play to the politics of the global powers and influential financial and development institutions and organizations; play fool to gain knowledge and make him the darling of the development world and state actors and and effectively take advantage of telephone diplomacy instead of traditional diplomacy.
According to Morrissey, 2001, the relationship between aid and economic growth remains unconvincing and recommends that it worth further studied, but modernization theory shows that aid is found to have a positive impact on economic growth through several mechanisms in that, aid increases investment, aid increases the capacity to import capital goods or technology, aid does not have an adverse impact on investment and savings, aid increases the capital productivity and promotes endogenous technical change.
The Government need to institute uncompromising policies and at the same time highlight harmonization of donors’ processes and procedures with government policies through pool financial instruments and compliance with all monetary oversight and accountability procedures stipulated in the 2009 Public financial management document; and place people with the necessary rudiments in the positions to embark on the daunting international task to undertake an extraordinary display of diplomatic modus operandi and negotiation skills.
In the face of Liberia-China’s remarkable ties and Liberia-USA esteemed relations, President Weah’s administration needs to move faster to take advantage of exceptional bonds of friendships with USA, China, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, and European Union member countries and Arab League member states to achieve its pro-poor agenda. The Weah’s regime can use its unique friendship to seek more assistance to engage in other several developmental projects especially in the areas of agriculture and social-economic development, but this requires an extraordinary display of diplomatic modus.
The CDC-led government can also use the unique ties Liberia and China to access the Bank of China US$100 billion investment grants earmarked for African countries’ development. The amount is geared towards achieving win-win cooperation between China and African countries; just as other African countries like Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya, Senegal, Egypt, Uganda, and Ethiopia among others are highly benefiting from the Bank of China financial assistance aid.
China views development and foreign aid as practical policy instruments to promote political friendship and economic cooperation, while the U.S. attaches clearly stated goals, stringent conditions, and strict criteria for its development programs. The United States is a Liberia traditional partner while China is Liberia’s strategic partner, both maintained active diplomatic missions in the country.
Liberia’s new ties with Washington should respectively seek the United States to continue to support in various aspects based on both interests that tied to Liberia and America. Washington is Liberia’s oldest and reliable partner, the United States has also led the international efforts to end the armed conflict in Liberia through its financial support for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL. As a consequence, Liberia is gradually recovering from its bitter. While at the same time, Liberia relations with European countries should reflect dealings and reiterate the Weah’s regime desire to continue ties with Europe.
Let us not forget that diplomacy nowadays takes place among multiple sites of authority, power, and influence; at its essence is the conduct of relationships, using peaceful means, by and among international actors, at least one of whom is usually governmental. The typical international actors are states and the bulk of diplomacy involves relations between states directly, or between states, international organizations, and other international actors.
The issue of maintenance of closer and stronger ties friendship and economic partnership with traditional allies and friends, as well as the opening of new avenues of engagements and mutual solidarity with other states, and earmark on diplomatic balance with sisterly republic and development partners.
Studied have shown that a diplomat should be fully aware of work every day to be able to partner with local businesses and companies in the host country to enhance economic growth back home in his country. That is why those tasked with economic activities at embassy must be sharp, cognizant of global prevailing wheeling and dealing; keep check of the financial movers and shakers, be well-schooled and knowledgeable of economic diplomacy which encourages greater cooperation and relations that protect investment and bilateral ties between two states or among companies.
Beside multilateral diplomacy, another area of interest is economic diplomacy particularly those related to investment, exports, protection, and assistance could be essential aspects of the diplomatic activities of a considerable number of countries. This noble profession which goes with greater demands is not an end but a means; not a purpose but a method. It seeks, by the use of reason, conciliation and the exchange of interests to prevent major conflicts arising between sovereign states and other organizations.
An additional issue of concern is the serious issue of Foreign Service officers and heads of missions negotiating which missions to be assigned, instead of getting posted to counties by those with the appointing powers. President Weah needs to critically observe this and institute action since it is common for these so-called influential diplomats to lobby for posting to prestigious diplomatic missions, as greater numbers are not willing to be posted to underdeveloped states.
Besides, President Weah needs to respectfully review the existence of too many of Liberian diplomatic missions abroad, which place a heavy financial burden on the scarce resources of the nation’s ailing economy. For instance, Washington, Paris, London or Beijing won’t post diplomats to countries of their choice or where diplomats do not have command over the language of the host state or uninformed diplomats to countries of strategic importance in a particular region or continent. Diplomacy serves states in three useful channels of communication including means of negotiating agreements between states, a source of information about what is happening in host states and representing the interest of the sending state.
Political pundits have forecasted that the overwhelmed election of President Weah will translate into the creation of jobs that young Liberians desperately need, and improve livelihoods and basic ample income distribution for the bigger population. In order to contribute to the government’s pro-poor agenda, the regime needs to encourage other Liberians especially those with the rightful skills, experience, education, and academic credentials, technological skills are encouraged to contribute to national development. Not just anyone but people with strong backgrounds.
But considering Liberia’s present situation, the Weah administration should ensure that economic diplomacy should be given greater priority in our international relations since economic diplomacy is now a key factor in the development of contemporary international politics. The former regime primarily focused on development diplomacy in the formulation of a nation’s foreign policy and the practice of international relations, Weah’s administration needs to focus on multilateral and economic diplomacy.
Former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine K. Albright in her esteemed publication: New American Diplomacy,(2000), pinpointed that Diplomacy is the art and practice of negotiation between nations, conducted mostly through private conversations and the exchange of confidential documents. According to her, Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors use public statements and news conferences to explain their policies, seek support for their governments, and put pressure on other countries in the negotiations of a specified situation.
A former American Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger in his thoughtful new book: New Order: Explained that practically, new actors on the international scene are increasingly using practices employed by states with the aim of furthering their interests in the international arena and putting new issues on the global agenda.
In the words of Warren Christopher, diplomat is a crisis manager and must possess: A good knowledge of international relations, a good understanding of how international relations function between states, should be well informed, smart, bridge and possess the ingredients of contemporary diplomatic know how and the aspirations in negotiating, great moral and intellectual sensitivity, imagination and courage, the ability to make parties feel convincing and grateful for successful negotiation.
For the former Senior Ambassador At Large of Liberia, Carlton Karpeh (2010) diplomat presents his or her government policies to the foreign country in a persuasive and persuading tone, not a demanding one, as such, a diplomat always represents the interest of the nation but at the same time cannot ignore the public opinion on national and international issues that go beyond defined borders. In the words of former Liberian Minister of Foreign Affairs, T. Ernest Eastman (2006), “The field of international relations is so important that they called diplomacy the ‘master-institution’ of international politics which influenced domestic politics.
While in international relations, Eastman (2006) said diplomacy functions through a labyrinth of foreign offices, embassies, consulates, and special missions all over the world. In the much-quoted definition of a renowned Liberian author and former diplomat, Dr. Joseph Saye Guanua, “diplomat as an honest Man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country.”
While in his recent book: Liberian Emerging Democracy, Josephus M. Gray, (2013) reiterated that beyond representation, a diplomat is expected to possess a good knowledge and understanding of his own country; its geography, history and culture, its economy, political, social and its demographic structure, natural resources, its industry and the determinants of its foreign policy priorities.
According to a leading twentieth-century figure in the study of international politics, Hans Morgenthau, diplomacy will naturally decline with the onset of modern communication technologies such as the telephone, telegraph, cable and communication satellite.
A nation’s diplomat required functioning as his or her country’s eyes, ears, and voice abroad, must be aware of national interests and values while being able to understand foreign politics and cultures. At the same time, the skills required of professional diplomats include intelligence, tact, discretion, circumspection, patience, self-control, teamwork, adaptability, creative imagination, the ability to signal and communicate messages precisely to the target audience.
Diplomat presents his or her government’s policies to the foreign and domestic publics in a persuasive and persuading tone, not a demanding one, as such; a diplomat always represents the interest of the nation but at the same time cannot ignore the public opinion on national and international issues that go beyond defined borders.
Author: Josephus Moses Gbala-hinnih Gray, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Liberia Graduate Studies Program. He is a native-born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern village of Kayken Chiefdom in Barclayville, Grand Kru County. He is an author, professor, diplomat and scholar with a wealth of rich credentials in International Relations, Diplomacy and Foreign Policy Studies from Paris, France. He has authored two books, and two graduate theses and a 600-page Doctoral Dissertation on the theme: “Geopolitics of African Oil and Energy: China and America New Strategic Interests in Africa”. He has written extensively and published over 60 articles on various contemporary issues. He can be contacted at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile (+231)77824437 or (+231)88-03302-99