Don’t Let Liberian Mayor Jefferson Koijee Embrace the Mogadishu Model

By Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin

The United States and international community poured billions of dollars into Somalia in recent years. Much of that money was not only wasted, but also made matters worse. Propping up high officials without regard to their corruption and terror connections cost lives.

In Mogadishu, the problem was Fahad Yasin. A former Al Jazeera journalist, Fahad was Somali President Mohamed Farmaajo’s Rasputin. Despite Fahad’s extensive terror ties, he rose through the ranks to become Farmaajo’s intelligence chief. Rather than strengthen democracy, Fahad’s kneejerk response was to use violence to pursue narrow personal goals. Largely because of Fahad, Farmaajo’s presidency left Somalia worse than before he began.

Unfortunately, history now repeats in the West African state of Liberia. The United States and Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves, have a two-century relationship. Between 1989 and 2003, Liberia suffered two civil wars but emerged with the help and assistance of the international community. In 2011, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected post-war president, shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

Democracy, however, is fragile. In 2018, Liberians elected football star George Weah. While Weah excelled on the pitch, he never captained a team; he simply was not a leader of men. Weah broke promises to stand up an economic crimes court. Corruption surged. As his popularity plummeted, Weah sought to weaponize the judiciary against political challengers. When that did not work, he used Liberia’s treasury as a personal slush fund to travel to the United States, Europe, and the Middle East for weeks at a time.

On the sidelines of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, President Joe Biden pulled aside Weah and a few other leaders backsliding away from democracy. Unfortunately, he coupled that meeting with a photograph that Weah dishonestly used to suggest endorsement.

As Weah hemorrhages popular support, he increasingly relies on Monrovia Mayor Jefferson Koijee, a man who stands credibly accused of civil war-era crimes. In effect, Koijee has become the Liberian equivalent of Somalia’s Fahad. Most recently, Josephine Nkrumah, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ambassador, reported a communication involving a Koijee associate calling for Koijee to have Nkrumah murdered, allegedly for objecting to plans to rig the election.

While Koijee might demur responsibility for the statements of his supporters, they do not occur in a vacuum: Liberians say he ordered the assassination of former Liberian Supreme Court Chief Justice Gloria Musu-Scott, whom Koijee opposed for opposition to efforts to interfere with the coming polls. The attempt failed, but Musu’s daughter died as the judge escaped. To protect Koijee, Weah now investigates the judge for self-staging the assassination attempt in an elaborate plot to murder her daughter.

Mayor or not, Koijee is a force for instability and a mastermind for Weah’s efforts to steer Liberia away from democracy. Inaction is not policy. Ignoring Fahad in Somalia wasted billions of dollars, almost ruined the country, and allowed terrorism to thrive. Hundreds died needlessly as Fahad targeted opponents and used terror to allow Farmaajo to subvert democracy. Koijee today does the same thing, perhaps aware of previous US inaction. Meanwhile, the Wagner Group waits in the wings.

After botching pressure on Weah with the ill-considered Africa Summit photo last December, it is time to force the issue. It is time to sanction not only Weah but also Koijee, stand up Liberia’s economic crimes court, and let both have their day in court.

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