Monday, August 27, 2012

How Costly is the Controversial Act to Fund Political Parties?

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

The recent bill passed by the House of Representative, dubbed as ‘An Act to Sustain Democracy’ does not serve the general interest of the masses of the Liberian state, but adds to the burdens of state reconstruction. With this law, our leaders have further proven their self-serving characters. It can be recalled that over the last few years, most of the popular legislations passed have been to service the ambitions, and financial gains of political leaders. While the Liberian people awaited a well-organized process of Constitutional reform as a fundamental requirement of post-war statebuilding, the Liberian leaders, railroaded a constitutional referendum intended to serve their electoral interests. Key questions of citizenship, local governance autonomy and land ownership, among other pressing issues were completely left out. In addition to these selfish legislations was the outcome of the constituency threshold process that ended up in a resolution not reflecting the 2008 Census, but supporting the wishes of those who felt threatened that they were to lose legislative seats.

A law to fund political parties is not the solution to sustaining democracy in Liberia. We are all aware that political parties in Liberia have not gone beyond ‘clubs of friends’ organized for elections, and groups lacking stated agenda and ideology or vision for the country. These organizations are not rooted in the population, thus they cannot not be qualified for support by the state. If this law goes through, it will be a legitimized theft of public money. This is why we encourage progressive forces not to allow this to happen to the Liberian people. How much do politicians want to take from the Liberian people using this law? While many activists and commentators have eloquently voiced out their opposition to this law, I join them this time with a simulation using the results of the first round of the 2011 elections to bring to light expected amount to be diverted from genuine and pressing national issues to funding political parties under the guise of ‘sustaining democracy’. According to the proposed “Act to Sustain Democracy”, parties are expected to get funding as follow: Any party that wins 5% to 9% of the presidential votes will get USD $250, 000; 10% to 19% - $360,000; 20% to 29%-$450,000; 30% to 39% - $675,000.00; 40% to 49% -$825,000; 50% to 100%-$1,125,000.00.

Using the results of the 2011 elections, only four parties are qualified for this funding. They are, the ruling Unity Party that won 43%, Congress for Democratic Change, 32%, National Union for Democratic Progress, 11.6% and the Liberty Party, 5.5% of the total votes. Based on the provision of the law quoted above, over the period of six years Unity Party will get a total of USD 4, 950, 000 for obtaining 43% of the votes. This will be against the aspirations of the remaining 57% of the voters that voted against this party. In the same way, CDC will get a of USD 4, 050, 000 against the wish of the 68% of the people that voted against this party; NUDP and LP will walk away with USD 2, 160, 000 and USD 1, 500, 000 respectively over the six years. In total, the Liberian people will be deprived of USD $12, 660, 000 just for the presidential elections if we were to consider this election for simulation purposes to predict the weight this legislation will have on the national treasury.

It does not stop to the presidential elections. The lawmakers work harder to ensure that their seats are given bonuses in addition to the huge salaries and benefits they get monthly. Parties, alliances and coalitions and independent candidates that win seats in either House will get 15, 000 per annum for a seat in the Senate and 12, 500 per annum for a seat in the House. Since every single seat is won by a party or an independent candidate, this means that every year $ 912, 500 will be given out to the 73 seats in the House and 450, 000 to the 30 seats in the Senate.

Another simulation is also possible here. I looked at the leading parties in both Houses from the 2011 election. Fifteen seats were contested for in the Senate and 73 in the House. In the Senate election the Unity Party won 4 seats qualifying it for USD 60, 000 annually, and 24 seats in the House of Representatives which qualifies the party for $300, 000 annually. This means that the party will collect 360, 000 annually for its seats in both houses. Taken for a period of six years the party will get $2, 160, 000 from the national treasury for its legislative success in 2011. The other leading parties are to get the following for their legislative seats over the six years: CDC (2 Sen.; 11 Rep.) - $1,005, 000; NUDP (1 Sen.; 6 Rep.) – $540, 000; LP (7 Rep.) – $525, 000. The National Patriotic Party that got nothing from the presidential election will get $585, 000 over the 6-year period for the 4 Senate seats and 3 House seats it won in 2011. And individuals in both houses that are called ‘Independent Candidates’ are also qualified to get $ 12, 500 as representatives and $15, 000 as senators. Seven persons won seats as Independents in the House and one in the Senate. The total amount for these individuals per year is USD $102, 500; and over a period of six years, this will be $650, 000. For these individuals one can easily tell that this money will be a bonus to their salary since they are independent and report to no organization or group of people.

The figures above are clear enough to tell how much Liberians will be losing to politicians and their parties. If this legislation goes through it will be against not only the wishes of the majority of the citizenry, but also in violation of their rights since many people will be paying taxes to support organizations they do not support. It is evident that no party has been able to convince 51% (a majority) of Liberians in any recent general election. On the side of pressing national issue, this law will put basic services like education, water, electricity and security in competition with political parties during budget debates, and no one would be surprise if political parties are given priority over these issues. What we think the parties need to do in sustaining democracy is to first sustain democracy in their internal structures by opening them up for broad-based participation, and becoming accountable to their members. Once the parties move from the stage of being centered around individuals and get established among their members, the members will take ownership of the parties and their visions thereby making each party to get a reliable source of funding in its membership.

The parties in Liberia also have to prove themselves beyond being ‘clubs of friends’ that are only visible during elections. Ruling parties that feed on state funds are the only ones visible after elections, and the sources of support for ruling parties need to be checked and monitored as a way of ensuring a level playing field. This was proven by the elaborate presence of the ruling Unity Party after the 2005 elections. Even though this organization was nominally poor in the years before the 2005 elections, it was able to assemble dozens of pickups, massive bill-boards once it was in power. Nothing has convinced some of us that those things were not funded by state resources, or that the party’s influence at the helm of power was not peddled in getting them.

This law will add a new phenomenon to politicking in Liberia. Political parties are usually formed around an objective and ideology, which they pursue through seeking state power, the ultimate prize. But this law will add a new prize – money - in the competition for state power in Liberia. This is likely to polarize the process and will be an incentive to making the competition for state power even fiercer, because parties that will see themselves losing will do anything possible to get qualified for state funding, and they might resort to fraud, and if possible violence to attain this aim. In addition, this law will give some parties undue edge over others, and will further limit the field to the manipulations of few actors who will be funded by the state at the disadvantage of other actors. These are all reasons why this bill must be defeated in the Senate. Progressive activists will have to continue the mobilization against these kinds of legitimized thievery and no one should buy into the deception that the fact that other countries are funding political parties, Liberia should do the same. We must resist this legislations to the latter. It is even heartbreaking that individuals who grew out of the struggle for social justice and economic empowerment have now abandoned the long time objective of the popular struggle. Their actions in recent years like the one supporting this legislation, and even allowing the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be ignored by the political establishment, are supportive of the allegations in some quarters that the long struggle for economic empowerment and social justice in Liberia has long been betrayed, reechoing the need for a broad based mobilization and re-consciencitization of the people with the hope that the future will be better.

Finally, it is worth noting here that sustaining democracy in Liberia requires mass education of the citizenry. This means sustained support to education and basic services. In this regard, supporting civil society organizations to carry out civic education projects around the country will serve further better than putting money in the accounts of unaccountable organizations. We must continue to monitor this legislation till it is defeated in the Senate or vetoed by the President. And we look up to political parties (including ones that we have associated ourselves with before) to build internal democracies that will appeal to members better that will make them get supports that are even remarkable and greater than money – loyalty, emotional, and passionate support which can be built from conviction established through a well –articulated ideology.

-In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry-

Monday, April 30, 2012

Taylor’s Verdict: From the Accounts of an Eye Witness in the Hague

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

In 2003 I was a senior high school student in Monrovia – then a tense and violent city under siege by two rebel movements - one from the Northwest and the other from the Southeast. In the city and in areas controlled by Taylor’s Government forces, there was of course no difference from those controlled by the rebels. It was terrifying, and on many occasions, we ran from school fearing attacks and stray bullets. During this time, I had joined many other young people and we have all been introduced to resistant street politics in the city. Mobilizing against the increasing militarization and the conscription of children (students) into government militias for what Taylor called to ‘defend the country’. At several times, we had to be indoor the whole day hiding from militia commanders chasing young men and sending them to ‘defend the country’. Then at some points we will assemble for demonstrations against the system. In no time, the local civil pressure and international pressure where increasing against the state of affairs. The rebels were swiftly advancing on the city. The state of emergency declared in 2002 was in force and the infamous decree of ‘No public gathering’, aimed at disbursing and deterring civic demonstrations was strictly enforced.

June 4, 2003: No one knew exactly who broke the news, but Monrovia ran helter-skelter, and we all ran from school. I didn’t know what was going on, but of course I had to run and take cover before inquiring. So I reached home, and tried to connect with other youth and student activists…this was impossible as everyone was busy first with personal safety. After several phone calls, I got to know that the President of Liberia, Mr. Charles Taylor, who had gone to open a peace conference on Liberia in Accra had been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for war crimes committed in that country. Again situation intensified, and there were growing fear in the city. Later on the same day the then joint chief of staff made his infamous statement saying ‘If anyone tries anything there will be military vibration’. That statement was intended to increase fear in the population and to deter anyone planning to get into the street or perceived coup plotters. Taylor returned to Monrovia the same day, and the rebels entered the city two days after-putting us through three months of intensive city fighting attended by shelling of residential areas, mass killing and looting. As the rebels approached the center of government, Taylor realized that they were just five kilometers away from him, so he resigned as president and went into exile.

Back then, as a high school student, joining others in resistance and at the same time fearing reprisals, little did I know that I will be in the courtroom landing down a verdict on this man who dominated our lives for over 14 years. The man we feared. The grandstanding man, Dakpanah Dr. Charles Ghankay Taylor.

After his arrest in 2006, I was still in Monrovia, this time in university and leading a campus-based political movement. Two days after his transfer we organized a symposium discussing the arrest and the implications for the Mano River basin area of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the region he nearly established himself as an emperor.

It has been six years of judicial processes involving court hearings, legal briefings, and testimonies from witnesses of both the prosecution and defense teams. So as I got the news of the verdict, I was now in Maastricht, just few miles away from the seat of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. I then contacted a friend of mine (a Bosnian) who works for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to arrange me a pass to attend the verdict. She was so excited to make this arrangement. She knew what it meant to be at such hearing, as she had also gone through a period of violence as a citizen of the of the former Yugoslavia.

So I made my way to The Hague early on the morning of April 26, reached the court hosted in the court building of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. As I took my seat and began to steer at the chambers of the court separated from the audience by a glass shielding, I paid more attention to looking at Mr. Taylor than the head judge reading the Verdict. Mr. Taylor on that day was not the Dapkanah that we used to hear on radio or see on television. He was not the Ghankay whom during his testimonies was courageous, strong and very eloquent. As a human, I felt sorry for him to admit. I saw him struggling with his eyes; he was unstable and very jittery. I am not sure if anyone can be normal on a day set to determine his fate, particularly when the whole world is watching. Elegantly dressed in navy blue suit, Mr. Taylor would at times try to write, but one could see that he was not really writing. As the judge read the verdict, he attempted taking notes, and quickly leaving it to listen again, and looking all around himself. That was Mr. Taylor on the day of the verdict.

So it went on slowly with the head judge eloquently reading out the verdict. He narrated from both prosecution and defense arguments and brought down opinions of his trial chamber. Since I have followed this case from 2003 there were three main arguments the prosecution had had against Mr. Taylor for which the 11 counts of war crimes, rape, murder and so forth were leveled against him. The prosecution had argued that he was personally and criminally responsible for the atrocities committed against the people of Sierra Leone; he was part of a joint criminal enterprise that unleashed terror on the people of Sierra Leone and looted their resources; and he was in charge of the command and control of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that committed the atrocities in Sierra Leone. It was on the basis of these that the 11 counts were drawn.

Reading the verdict Judge Richard Lussick went one by one citing issues and arguments. On all the three arguments above he said the trial chamber found that the prosecution failed to prove that the accused is personally responsible and that he operated in a joint criminal enterprise, and also that he was in charge of the command structure of the RUF. However, on the main issue for which he was found guilty, ‘aiding and abetting’, the trial chamber found that Mr. Taylor provided arms and ammunitions, moral and financial supports to the RUF and the Armed Forces Revolutionary (AFRC) Council between 1997 and 2001. And that he provided military personnel to RUF/AFRC joint operations on Freetown which was called ‘operation no living thing’. These issues were clearly read out by the judge. And what we could see happening in both the chamber and among the audience was the growing euphoria of nervousness, as everyone tried taking some notes and listening keenly. The verdict was now coming to land. It has been two hours of reading and what the whole world was waiting to hear was ‘guilty or acquitted’.

13:08 GMT April 26: Judge Lussick asked Mr. Taylor to stand up. Mr. Taylor stood up and the judge began to read out that he is criminally responsible for aiding and abetting the crimes committed by the RUF in Sierra Leone and was therefore guilty of all of the 11 counts leveled by the prosecution. According to the judge his support to the RUF through logistics, encouragement, advice, etc. all influenced the atrocities committed by the RUF. It was over! The rest were all after-event commentaries in the building and the street around the court building heavily guarded by security men.

But what was the most problematic issue? The world did not see this as they saw the entire ceremony from 11 GMT till after 13GMT. It was the position boldly stated by the alternate judge: Justice El Hadji Malick Sow. I remember seeing him and hearing him say ‘I have something to say’ and immediately after that the entire curtain separating the audience from the Chamber came down and the microphones were all switched off, the other three judges left him sitting and walked out. This action I believe was unfair to the world, and it can form any genuine basis for questioning the credibility of the court. No matter what, as a judge in the process, his opinion should have come out and the world deserved to hear him. However, the legal defense team of Mr. Taylor brought out a statement which they said was the transcript of what Justice Sow said. In the statement, Justice Sow said: “I disagree with the findings and conclusions of the other judges…the guilt of the accused from the evidence provided in this trial is not proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.” From the statement one can see that Justice Sow believes that the principles of justice were not followed in finding Mr. Taylor guilty, and that the prosecution could not prove their case against him. So if it were Justice Sow alone, Mr. Taylor should walk free. Justice Sow said he didn’t have the opportunity to make this position clear during the deliberations before the verdict, so the only place he had was the courtroom, but he was cut off.

So the after-event commentaries went on with press conferences and side discussions. Taylor’s lawyer and defense team came out and met the Taylor’s family. I and two other Liberian observers stood by in national solidarity and we chatted on several other issues. But the family showed strength and they were calm and organized even taking photos and responding to journalists.

The prosecution held a news conference and declared victory for the people of Sierra Leone. The UN Special Representative for sexual violence applauded the ruling, so did representatives of several human rights organizations at the occasion. A man with one hand amputated, who represented the Sierra Leone victims, was also present and responding to journalists. As I listened to him there was one thing that he said and I took serious note of: ‘’So much money has been spent just to try this one man, what about our lives as victims’’? He applauded the ruling though. But his position is a serious issue. Victims deserve to get better reparations to be able to cope with life challenges in their difficult situations.

Barrister Courtenay Griffiths, QC, the head of Taylor’s defense team, took the stand to address a news conference in the building. It seems many people like to listen to this eloquent lawyer. So we were all keen listening. He started with the dissenting opinion of Justice Sow and how humiliating it was to be left alone. As usual, Griffiths continued his anti-colonial argument that the court is an instrument of neo-colonialism and that the outcome of the Taylor case was a product of political machinations rather than legal. He believes that atrocities were committed in Sierra Leone, but his case is that his client was not involved to the extent argued by the prosecution, and therefore not criminally responsible. Griffiths cited cases of world leaders interfering in the affairs of other countries, and also ongoing atrocities committed elsewhere around the world. From the numerous commentaries and the statements of the defense team, one can presume that the verdict will be appealed after the sentencing is announced on May 30.

So a long process spanning so many years seemingly came to an end on April 26, 2012. I think in some way if at all we take it as it is then Mr. Taylor was given justice since he had long years and many opportunities to exonerate himself from the allegations unlike the victims of the RUF who were accused the same day and executed or amputated on the spot with no opportunities to prove their innocence for the crimes they committed. Most of those crimes were just either their ethnicities, political affiliation, material possession or something they probably had no control over.

Again, while I see the verdict of Mr. Taylor as a process of justice consummating itself, I joined the numerous African activists condemning the selective process of the international justice system. From all indications, this process with two eyes: - one eye in the global north and one in the global south - has proven to be extremely biased. The eye of international justice in the global north is closed and not seeing the atrocities committed against people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. But the eye in the global south shines even more than the sun over it. It would seem that only African victims deserve justice, but not victims in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq; but of course it is not the case. The case is that some perpetrators are above the system and can dictate its course so they are immune.

This is evidenced by the fact that the International Criminal Court is quick to pay attention to African conflicts – even conflicts that last just few months – but ignores conflicts that have gone for decades. Examples include Ivory Coast, Libya, and the recent statement by the court to look into Mali. This system is unfair not just to African leaders who are being dragged to court, but also to victims in different places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is where I join other African activists to advocate an African justice system to try Africans accused of war crimes in Africa and also to host prisoners in Africa if convicted.

Back in Liberia, the reactions were different, some hailed Taylor’s verdict while others were extremely sad about the news. In Sierra Leone, the verdict came down on the eve of the anniversary of their independence celebration. There were massive celebrations after the verdict as we learned. What many people around the world who have not followed the case in details do not know is the fact that Taylor had only been tried for war crimes in Sierra Leone and not Liberia, so the questions continue to go around: What about the victims of the Liberian war; when will they get justice? This verdict of Mr. Taylor would probably renew the call long made for justice in Liberia.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Statement to Delegates at the National Islamic Youth Conference of Liberia – April 27, 2012

In the Name of Allah, the most merciful, the most beneficent


I bring you warm greetings in the name of our creator, Allah, the Almighty. As I am physically absent today, I join you in hopes of successful deliberations at this conference. This conference has come at a time that it is most needed, and events of such nature will always be needed if we are to advance the status of Islam and Muslims in Liberia.

For so many years, we have worked building institutions to support Islamic activities and to improve the living status of Muslims in Liberia. Unfortunately, it seems almost every day, that we are just beginning and that Islam is just entering Liberia. Islam has a long history and it precedes every other universally known religion in the territories today called Liberia. But the evidence of its existence is discouraging, and for some reasons we Muslims have reduced ourselves to the status of a minority group, when in fact we are not. Even with a good number of resources and capacity at our individual levels, we have not made significant impacts on the social wellbeing of our fellow Muslims and the country at large. What then are the issues and challenges? This is not a new question. It has been asked years after years, and solutions have been recommended over time at conferences and meetings. The problems have been the lack of progressive leadership in the Islamic community, selfishness, sectarianism, and the growing power of tribal cleavages at the highest level of Islamic leadership in Liberia. These are issues that have plagued the frontline leadership of the Islamic community – The National Muslim Council of Liberia – and have therefore come down to affect other local organizations including Muslim youth and student organizations.

All previous Islamic youth conferences have dealt with issues of development, education and empowerment and national issues affecting Muslims, and the contribution of Muslims to the country’s development. Interestingly, leadership deficit have retarded progress on those issues. This is manifested in most of our organizations where the personal pursuits of individuals have overshadowed the workings of institutions formed for the advancement of Muslims. A clear case is in our own National Muslim Students Association of Liberia (NAMSAL) where the insatiable greed and selfish pursuit of the first president, ruined the credibility of the institution, something which even after five years, the organization have not fully recovered from. The failures of members of organizations also to remain engaged with institutions and support activities have always undermined genuine efforts. The underlining issue first therefore, is to build strong Islamic institutions with credible and progressive leaderships supported by committed members.

This conference today, the fourth of its kind since the end of the civil war, has succeeded in doing mass mobilization in Liberia and across the diaspora. Thus, the prospects for success and mass support for post-conference activities are high. It is our hope that you will fully deliberate and follow issues emerging from the conference. Fortunately, the first resolution that came from the conference organized by NAMSAL in 2006 concerning the introduction of Islamic education in the curriculum of public schools has been accepted and implemented by the government of Liberia. This effort was supported by numerous calls from conferences organized by the Coalition of Islamic Youth Organizations in 2006 at the Monrovia City Hall, and a subsequent one organized by the Organization of Liberian Muslim Youth (OLMY) in 2008. Many other issues were touched at both the CIYO (2006) and OLMY (2008) conferences, including the need for progressive leadership, the need for the provision of social services like more schools and clinics by Muslim organizations, and the need for the Government of Liberia to recognize the Eid-ul Fitr as a national holiday. NAMSAL, OLMY and several other organizations that formed the CIYO of 2006 worked over the years to improve social cohesion and co-existence amongst Muslims and non-Muslims in the country. With the same organizations and many more coming again years after under the same banner of CIYO (even if it was a coincident), then the need to look into history and review progress is critical at this conference. This is needed to build on the progresses, outline and deliberate on the pitfalls, and set a new agenda for the future.

I see this conference as a move forward by Muslim youths at a time Liberia is going through a process of long term national planning with a call for the involvement of all people in all sectors. It is my hope that this conference will derive ways that will forge unity and coherence of purpose amongst Islamic organizations in Liberia; and also derive a framework that will demand from Islamic organizations development projects aimed at advancing the economic and educational advancement of Muslim youths and women. It is also my hope that this conference will join the perennial advocacy of NAMSAL for a transformation of the National Muslim Council into a functional institution with social service delivery as part of its mandates of propagating Islam in Liberia.

Finally, I look forward, like many of you delegates, to sound resolutions and an institutional framework charged with following up those resolutions that will emanate from your deliberations.

The National Muslim Students Association of Liberia as always will remain supportive of these efforts and will continue to participate in the post-conference activities.

May Allah Bless Us All

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

ECOWAS and the Political Crisis in Mali

The ongoing political crisis in Mali presents a dilemma for ECOWAS as it strives to restore calm and bring back the ousted regime. ECOWAS is caught between minimizing civilian casualty, maintaining stability and on the other hand restoring the ousted regime of Amadu Toumani Toure. Any success attain any side will be the organization’s first most successful attempt at restoring civilian democratic rule and stability as previous efforts in Guinea (2008) and Niger (2010) failed. At the same time the crisis poses a challenge to the legitimacy of ECOWAS as a sub-regional governing body, and this will be seen if the military juntas survive the pressure and hold on to power. This was the legitimacy crisis that faced ECOWAS when it failed in isolating the juntas in Guinea and Niger.

Days before the coup in Mali ECOWAS had a fact-finding mission in Mali during which they called on parties in the crisis – the Government of Mali under ousted President Toure and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) – to observe a ceasefire and allow humanitarian missions to reach civilian areas. ECOWAS also declared support for the Government of Mali and asked member states to support the regime with necessary logistics in fighting to regain its territories. This call was made two days before the coup on March 21. Unfortunately, member states could not support the regime with logistics, and this was evidenced by the rapid advances made by the rebels, and the frustration of soldiers who led the mutiny that resulted in a coup. At the moment the NMLA has overrun government forces and has claimed Northern Mali ‘liberated’. The question now is will ECOWAS continue to mobilize its 2000 standby soldiers to support Mali or will it continue to impose sanctions on the current junta leadership?

What ECOWAS has to realize at the moment is that the coup has changed the situation in Mali dramatically, and the self-claimed victory of the NMLA in the North has deepened the fragility of the situation. The need therefore to design a strategy that will stabilize the situation and minimize further civilian casualties and destruction is imperative. Threats of sanctions and isolation will not succeed in this case, but will increasingly make Mali ungovernable thereby giving rise to insurgent activities in other areas including the capital Bamako.

ECOWAS’ current action against the junta is supported by its Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, in which the leaders of the subregion commits themselves to recognizing only governments that are formed through constitutional means, and not through force of arms. Article 1 (b) states: ‘Every accession to power must be made through free, fair and transparent elections’; and (c) Zero tolerance for power obtained or maintained by unconstitutional means. By this Protocol ECOWAS members therefore, cannot recognize the current junta leadership as a legitimate governing authority. But what happens to the people of Mali in this case. In anyway, returning Toure to power cannot easily resolve the political crisis. The government of Toure has been delegitimized and demoralized in the face of the Malian people. At the same time the military cannot be trusted as history has shown. ECOWAS at this point will want to be careful not to worsen the situation. Sanctions on the country will be felt more terribly by the ordinary people of Mali than the ruling military. The need therefore to find a trade-off between enforcing the protocol and the survival of the Malian people is critical at this point.

ECOWAS invocation of its protocol on Governance and Democracy in case of military coups have not also succeeded in fully isolating and compelling juntas to turn over power to civilian rule. Recent cases in Guinea and Niger were clear examples. Even with threats of isolation and sanctions from the sub-regional body, and the African Union, West African leaders worked and allied with both juntas. In the last political crisis in Ivory Coast, efforts by ECOWAS to use military force against defiant Laurent Gbagbo was frustrated by Ghana, seen then as an allied of the Gbagbo regime. The refusal of Ghana to participate in the campaign was a major blow to the organization because Ghana is a major power in the sub-region, and its territories were earmarked as a base for the military operation.

Nonetheless, the situation in Mali is seeing some coherence amongst ECOWAS members, but also pundits believe that the efforts are only aimed at bringing back a deposed ‘friend’ to power despite the precarious situation and the loss of legitimacy. Malian civilians have proven this by their support for the junta leadership. Opposition politicians have also not called for the return of Toure but continue to demand a turn over power to a civilian transitional arrangement. We believe that Toure’s return to power will degenerate the situation into further chaos, since we cannot out rule the possibilities of persecutions, and purges in the military and the political class.

Increased isolation of the juntas while they still hold onto power will also increase the tendency to strongman and dictatorial rule as characteristic of military leaderships. It is important to be reminded of the case of Guinea when outside pressures led the civilians to demonstrations against the military during which over 150 civilians were killed. What can be seen as opportunity for progress at this early stage are the moves for recognition by the military and its submission to the demand for the restoration of the Constitution. The announcement by the junta leader on April 1 2012 that the Constitution has been restored is a sign of progress which ECOWAS can build on. A second opportunity is the planned national transitional dialogue with civil society and political parties which the junta leadership is organizing. ECOWAS can participate and give guidance to this transition process.
ECOWAS’ initial plan to boost the military capacity by deploying 2000 troops from the ECOWAS Standby Force needs to be revised considering the dramatic change in leadership and the occupation of the North by the Tuaregs (NMLA). The force can now be deployed with a new objective of separating the two sides in the war. This force will also enforce the ceasefire and maintain stability. Any attempt to engage the Tuaregs militarily will possibly lead to years of war and destruction that will at the end, return to a referendum like the case of South Sudan.

The dialogue initially called for by ECOWAS between the Government of Mali and the NMLA can begin now and without delay. In this case ECOWAS will want to constitute a working committee to engage the Tuaregs, and also such committee can lead negotiations between the Tuaregs and the juntas to establish and enforce a ceasefire until a civilian government is elected after the proposed transition period. The civilian government with ECOWAS and United Nations support can now lay the foundations for discussing the future of Mali with focus on the demand of the Tuaregs. This will include deciding whether the Tuaregs will vote for an independent Azawad or will run an autonomous authority in the Republic of Mali.

Additional dialogues by sub-regional actors are also needed to examine the Tuaregs insurrection on the stability of West Africa, considering the increasing militarization and proliferation of small arms in the sub-region. Here we take note of the increasing instability in Nigeria by militants of Boko Haram, intermittent unrests in the Cassamance region of Senegal, and the alleged mobilization of rebels along the Liberian-Ivorian border.

Lastly, it is important for ECOWAS to strengthen its institutions and begin to promote programs aimed at increasing political and economic integration of the West African sub-region. The need to rationalize policy positions on international issues and a common security strategy for the region cannot be overemphasized. Efforts at rationalizing a common West African position on international issues have been frustrated by countries still under imperial control and led by puppet governments. ECOWAS must therefore include in its protocols sanctions against governments that undermine declared positions of the organization. Unless the members of the organization recognize it as a sub-regional governing authority, ECOWAS will continue to struggle for legitimacy.

-In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Liberia’s emergence as a petro-state: Who licks the oil?

The recent news of the discovery of oil and hydrocarbons off the coast of Liberia has been welcoming, and many analysts are already critical of not just how the newfound wealth in oil will lead to economic growth, but also how it will be managed to avoid the curse of being a rich nation. This is the curse that most developing countries have suffered despite the resource endowment. In some cases the curse have not just been limited to poverty, but had also extended to large scale armed violence as a result of neglect of people in the resources abundant areas.

Natural resources have turned to curse rather than blessing in third world countries–mostly in sub-Saharan Africa due to the weaknesses of African regimes in doing due diligence and enforcing compliance laws. The roots of these weaknesses are in the greed and corrupt character of politicians and their corporate partners who have presided over those nations. Resources have been exploited in most instances to the disadvantages of local populations. The disadvantage talked about here refers to the condition in which local people see politicians and corporation owners getting extremely wealthy from resources extracted from their (local people) territories while they the local people lack basic amenities of life such as schools, hospitals, and public infrastructures and utilities like roads, clean water and electricity.

The other major part of the disadvantage is where, in addition to the social neglect of local communities, resource exploitations inflict environmental harms through pollution, environmental degradation and contamination of water sources, and the long term effect of unsustainable use in which future generations are deprived of the same resources. Cases of such are replete in Africa and other third world countries. In Liberia for example the excesses of mining companies like the former Liberia Mining Company in Bomi Hills is conspicuous with the underdevelopment and poverty of the county. The unsustainable mining practices have left the county to be nick-named ‘Bomi Hole’. A second and most recent example is the poverty of the people of Margibi County that have hosted the world’s largest rubber plantation for decades. Local communities around the Firestone Plantation in Margibi have accused the company of environmental pollutions and the dumping of chemical pollutants in water sources used by the people.

In other countries, disadvantaged people have risen up against the state and corporations. This is currently the case in the oil-rich region of Nigeria’s Niger Delta where militant groups, supported by local people have staged several insurgencies demanding dividends from their resources. The case of the newly independent state of South Sudan is also important to mention here. South Sudan has a huge deposit of oil and served as a source of most of Sudan’s oil wealth over the years. The neglect of the southerners by the state, concentrated in the North, led the southerners to decades of civil conflict and eventually succeeding from the North. Today, the southerners have full ownership of their oil wealth which accounts for 90% of the budget of the South Sudan.

With these cases cited, it is important for Liberia to begin to design strategies in answering the key questions surrounding natural resources exploitation and management: Who benefits and who loses? In the recent case of oil discovery, the specific question is: Who licks the oil and who washes the dishes? In the abstracts of social contract and political economy theories, resources of a state are to be used to the benefit of all its citizens and managed by a responsible government amenable to the people.

Can the current state in Liberia survive the pressure of managing a petro-state? Of course we know that most petro-states lack technology, and capital and skill to find and extract the products, least to speak of a technically-deficient postwar country. Foreign firms from industrialized countries therefore take over to do the business. It is under the concessions with foreign firms that things mostly go wrong; this is where Liberia needs to be careful as it tries to go into oil deals with international corporations. The mistakes made in other resource areas like the granting of land, forestry and mineral concessions are worthy to learn from. Critical to the development and management of Liberia’s oil resources is first the strengthening of the oil regulatory agency and transparency in implementing the petroleum law and other public contract laws. The next thing will be developing a local labor market for the emerging oil industry. This will require technical education for young Liberians. While it remains the obligation of the government of Liberia to provide education as a public or good or at least the conditions for quality education for every citizen, it is strongly recommended that young Liberians pursue careers in this industry so as to meet the labor market demand in the next few years. Without training and education and the development of local labor market for this industry much of the gains from this sector will be repatriated to other countries by foreign workers and corporation owners.

As most nations in sub-Saharan Africa including petro-states like Nigeria are moving towards manufacturing and planning to replace reliance on resource exportation to industrialization, Liberia needs to develop trade policies towards the same end. How can Liberia’s oil industry produce more jobs than the level required for extraction and how can the dividends from the oil trade increase economic growth? This will require more technical planning and strategic policy that will require oil companies to do some local productions home at least at some intermediate levels in the long term. Development from Ghana, a new petro-state, indicates that the economy has experienced double-digit growth since the first barrels of oil were poured in 2010. This, development we believe was the result of careful planning and effective management which Liberia will want to benefit from.

With reference to welfare gains, it is good to reemphasize here that oil business arrangements take seriously into consideration the need of local populations equally as it considers the revenue generation requirement of the government of Liberia. Environmental issues and social development for local communities should not be underestimated. The failure to consider local development concerns and to do long term plans that will maximize gains from the oil industry may keep Liberia in the state of a primary exporting country which will see growth without development, unemployment and the perennial tragedies of the resource curse as seen in other sectors.

The challenge now for progressive activists is to seek the expertise in monitoring the sector for transparency and accountability, and to advance the cause of local communities. At the heart of the advocacy should be the welfare argument: that the resources be used to the benefit of all citizens of the state, and that there should be no loser. If progressive forces neglect to champion this cause, politicians and corporate owners will lick the oil, while the ordinary Liberians remain in the kitchen to wash the dishes.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Liberia Vision 2030: Towards a Middle-Income Economy

Liberia’s 18-year development plan dubbed Vision 2030 or Liberia Rising 2030 has become the issue of public discourses with skepticisms that it is no different from former development agendas promulgated by past administration but did not go beyond the shelves of the various government ministries. Even though, the cynics have reasons based on experience to be critical, the patterns of development of this vision makes it starkly different from others: It originated from amongst the people, and its promulgation is people driven as well. So there are signs of fulfillments provided the resources are fully mobilized and the leadership committed to the plan. The challenge is mostly on progressive activists in Liberia to mobilize forces that will seek the legislation of the vision, support resource mobilization and monitoring of vision-specific projects.

A key theme of the vision is developing Liberia to the status of a middle-income. This particular theme has emerged at a very controversial time in economic development and the balance of global power politics. Whether this government and its successors can muster the necessary strength needed to match up in this era and lead Liberia to a middle income economy are the questions progressive activists are pondering over. At the moment, the powerful nations in the West are facing deepening financial crises, the campaign for a market economy across the world by western nations has recently proven to benefit capitalist forces only against the majority of the world citizens as demonstrated in the themes of the occupy movements in Europe and the United States. Also intriguing is the dynamics of the global power play that sees an intensification of the struggle for control between Europe and the US on one hand and China and Russia on the other hand. In all of these, African nations stand to suffer the most if the charisma and characters needed for strong and vibrant leadership are not formed across Africa. Africa will be exploited again in all forms to solve the problems of other countries outside the continent, and is likely again to be the object of intense scramble in the new global power struggle like the land grab phenomenon shows recently. The charisma and character needed in this era is progressive pan-African leadership that will work out home grown solutions to development challenges at the same time rationalizing foreign aids with local demands and traditions and culture. A leadership of such will in the long run create a vibrant and self-sustainable state that will need no foreign aid and imported ideas. Such leadership will require strong economic management and resistance to the numerous unfit tool-kits of governance and neo-liberal policies from abroad. Can Liberia build such a character in its leadership and work towards a middle income economy? While we believe that this is possible we are very much concern about the increasing neo-colonial agendas in Liberia which the current regime is doing little or nothing to counter. The continuous acceptance of neo-imperial policies under the guise of reform strategies imported from above is the new front-line for pan-African activists across the continent. Liberian activists must join this struggle and help support policies of local ownership and protection in working towards the middle income economy we crave.

A middle income economy is a country whose people have incomes that fall in the range of the overall world population income. This means, at the middle income level, the people are neither poor nor rich, but their incomes can provide basic life needs. Liberia is currently not part of the 86 middle-income countries in the world, but part of the very poor nations and ranked as the fourth poorest nation in the world. This stark contradiction is in a country with abundant natural resource reserve and sparse population density. The extent of inequality in the country speak of the immediate difficulty in working out this vision in the required timeframe, however, it has emerged as the development challenge of our country. It is therefore necessary to begin at laying out home grown strategies and framework that will roll out over time till 2030 when the ordinary Liberian will have no cause to worry about daily bread, shelter, medication and education. The required framework are part of the larger criteria of economic development some of which include rules and institutions to enforce contracts, infrastructures, security, capital and skilled labor endowment, and purchasing power etc. As we attempt to build the economy, the above issues are direct responsibilities of the state and achieving them cannot be done at the current level of management in the public and private sectors; the current education provided, and the heavy reliance on rents from natural resources.

Two key factors drive the creation of middle income economy in any country and they are (1) stable, secure and well paid jobs, and (2) higher education. Advocates for the vision must mobilize towards higher education and job security for the ordinary Liberians. This should not be limited to Monrovia, but must extend to all parts of the country. Affordable technical and higher education is key to alleviating the poverty in the country particularly in the rural areas that host 70% of Liberia’s poor.

For years Liberia has relied on and mismanaged rents generated from resource exploitation. It is clear that ‘rentier’ economies are not effective in facilitating local economic development; but very efficient in enriching multinationals. At times it leads to the deceptive paradox of economic growth without development like we had in the 1960s. Attention needs to be given now to agricultural production in locally needed commodities for both local consumption and export since about 70% of our economy is dependent on agricultural activities – but largely controlled by multinational plantations. Support to local farmers to produce in large quantities and create local employment will be needed in this transition. The country could adopt a local comparative advantage strategy supporting specific regions to grow products they have arable land, climate and tradition for. In addition to empowering local farmers is the need for promoting local enterprises and encouraging the growth of more Liberian-owned businesses for local and regional trade depending on the capitals. The critical role of the government in all of this is to strengthen laws that enforce contracts in transactions between people and provide the necessary infrastructures to facilitate trade within the country. Road and other infrastructures facilitate urbanizations and mass settlements that can provide markets for goods and services, and movement of goods and people, and reduces internal trade barriers like distance (distance have negative effects on trade).

The issue of housing is also critical to reducing poverty and elevating income status for the majority of Liberians who are poor. At present rent on housing in Monrovia and other local areas are increasing against the general income level. There is almost no housing market. In this particular area, the government needs to develop a pragmatic policy of providing low-income housing this time in the counties and occupants made to pay affordable rents annually. The lack of affordable housing and other economic service are part of the causes of the country’s worsening poverty situation. Financial services like insurance, credible pension and social security, health care and education are largely absent in Liberia. Health payments at hospital are becoming unbearable and fees are too high even at the nation’s highest referral hospital. Out-of-pocket payments for health care are increasingly worsening the conditions of our people most of whom survive on daily ‘hand-to-mouth’ businesses.

Finally, home grown solutions to our economic and development problems and the expansion of other sectors of the economy are critical to reducing reliance on foreign aid and external control that is likely to derail the implementation of this vision. As the momentum increases in Monrovia, and many Liberians support the process albeit the skepticisms, it is hoped that this vision is fully articulated in practice and that by 2030, there will be very few poor people or if possible none. But we cannot get there if we do not mobilize local resources under a progressive leadership that will advance pro-poor policies aimed at reducing income inequality amongst Liberians.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Liberia’s Vision 2030: Where do we begin?

Looking back few years ago, I remember sitting in couple of meetings discussing the plans for the development of a roadmap to a National Vision for Liberia. From June 2010 up to its launch in February 2010 several meetings were held and studies done on so many themes and cross-cutting issues. There were meetings of various stakeholder groups including religious leaders, civil society activities and political leaders. Vision 2030 therefore comes with the distinction of being a policy developed from the bottom to the top, and not an ‘arm-chair’ creation. At present it is been spearheaded by a committee reflective of our national mosaic.

We still look forward to a complete possession of the vision by the people. By this we hope that the Vision 2030 becomes legislated and issues are time-specific till 2030. A great lesson can be learned from Botswana where the vision was done into phases legislated by the National Parliament. The gradual and successful implementation of Batswana’s vision, largely supported by a binding legislation over the years has ranked the country as a fast growing economy in Africa.

Key issues of Liberia’s Vision 2030 include national identity and national reconciliation. How do we go about defining the Liberian identity and citizenship? This is something that must begin in our schools with emphasis on civic education at the basic level. Reconciliation of course is a long term process and can be merged into the identity question. By 2030 it will be 27 years after the civil war, at which time a new generation will be out. That generation will be the reconciled generation depending on the balance in information and education on our national history and mosaic they receive. The kind of information and education will either weaken or strengthen the identity. At this point the beginning of reconciliation, particularly in the aftermath of a controversial Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) program, needs to engender more public dialogues on the issues at stake. Despite the controversies, the Report of the TRC cannot be considered in anyway irrelevant, Liberians will therefore want to discuss its findings and recommendations and derive at a way forward. Another issue of reconciliation which we cannot continue to ignore is reparation for victims. The issue of providing reparations for victims (individuals and communities) of the civil war whose present living conditions are defined by events of the war will be a remarkable start of reconciliation in our vision project.

A second goal of the vision is to lead Liberia to a middle income economy come 2030. This is a thematic issue that will be the center of discussion in the next edition. At present Liberia is among the world’s poorest nations despite the abundance of natural resources and arable land and space for large scale agriculture. This ‘resource curse’ as development experts describe the conditions of nations like Liberia is common in the Mano River Basin area and the most of sub-Saharan Africa- the region that has abundant natural resources but poor people. Reversing this resource curse towards that of progressive economic growth and human development requires long term strategic planning that reflects the needs, and broader views and aspirations of the population.

The vision is therefore most needed at this time as the country transitions from an emergency situation of recovery from violence and instability, and low-growth to peace and sustainable development. At the heart of this should be the question of governance and management in both the public and private sectors. Liberia’s stagnation in the low income category has largely been due to poor governance and ineffective management of state institutions and resources. Effective governances with set guidelines and rules supported and executed by responsible institutions have to be emphasized in this transition. The on-going public sector reform must therefore focus more on institution building to implement relevant policies and those relating directly to the vision.

Finally, the beginning of Vision 2030 as a property of the Liberian people should be its enactment into law thereby making it a binding national development agenda till 2030. Legislating this Vision 2030 will insulate it from political manipulations. Trends of manipulation of development agendas are replete in our history where successive governments have ignored projects of their predecessors. This is the same in most of Africa. A ‘people’s vision’ therefore must be the guiding platform for every political organization seeking state power. There are three presidential terms between now and 2030 (considering the present Constitution) and two more elections. In the next two elections, with a the vision enacted as a national development agenda, political parties and candidates need not entice the voting public with any platforms and new development plans, but with strategies and available capacities to implement the vision in time. With a law in place, the next step will be to build responsible institutions adapted to the rules of governance and implementation of the vision. With strong institutions in force, and governing rules and procedures enforced, Liberia can maximizes immense welfare benefits form it resources and maintain peace and stability. Institutions, rules and effective management are also critical to protecting the resources needed for the vision from public theft.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry