To Speaker George Dweh: "He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune"

By Theodore T. Hodge


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 7, 2004

Amb. John Blaney - © IRIN
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it suddenly does. Whoever coined that thought, must have had Liberia in mind. That state of being is so commonplace in Liberia, it might as well become our national motto. These last few weeks, we have been watching events unfold in Liberia. To the keen observer, it may not be an exaggeration to conclude that we are headed down a slippery slope. As I write, a bitter controversy is brewing in Liberia. If we are not careful, this potential controversy could explode and engulf the Liberian nation into another catastrophe. Here is the story:

The National Transitional Legislative Assembly of Liberia (NTLA) has signed a legislative bill requiring a full census to be conducted in Liberia before the scheduled elections to be held in October, 2005. The problem is, according to projections being made by officials, a full census cannot be conducted and completed before the scheduled time. This means the NTLA is proposing the postponement of the elections for as many as two to three years.

Right after the bill was signed and sent to Chairman Gyude Bryant for his signature to turn it into law, Ambassador Jacques Klein, the UN's Special Representative to Liberia and head of UNMIL, warned that certain unscrupulous officials were attempting to delay the upcoming elections for their own political aggrandizement. The Speaker of the NTGL, George Dweh and a number of his colleagues fired back at Ambassador Klein, accusing him of meddling in the political affairs of a sovereign country; way beyond the requirement his official responsibilities. Under normal circumstances, that assertion would be correct. Since the matter under review refers to Liberia, it is safe to say, this is not a normal situation as shall be revealed in the course of this article.

It wasn't only Ambassador Klein that decried the passage of this bill, the Vice President of the interim administration, Mr. Wesley Johnson also asked the lawmakers to consider the full ramifications of the bill; he asked them to rescind it. Other members of the civil society also asked for the rescission of the bill; all to no avail.

Recently the US Ambassador accredited to the Republic of Liberia, John Blaney, held a press conference and delivered some harsh words with a stern message to issue a threat. Being the career diplomat he is, he first took the liberty to apologize for his bluntness, then he said: "There are many places in the world that need US assistance. The US is here to help, but if a few small-minded, selfish Liberians are allowed to play endless games designed to keep Liberia from keeping its end of the bargain in the peace process, there is a very real possibility that our assistance will have to be redirected. The United States does not normally give generously to states that deny their citizens their timely right to vote and be properly represented".

If the casual reader is wondering what moved the diplomat representing Liberia's oldest and staunchest ally to utter such a threat, wonder no more. Ambassador Blaney is of the opinion that the NTLA is in direct violation of the agreement that brought it into being. You will recall that the National Transitional Government of Liberia was formed to serve as an interim administration when President Charles Taylor's administration came to an unceremonious end.

The agreement, referred to as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), was signed in the Ghanaian capital of Accra on 18th August, 2003. It was mainly instrumented under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The CPA was formulated at the end of a prolonged conference and signed by delegates representing the defunct Taylor government, the rebel movements (MODEL and LURD), other political stakeholders and members of the civil society of Liberia. All parties agreed to adhere to the letter of the agreement and to work together to restore Liberia to functional statehood; hitherto, it had come close to being stateless, devouring itself and threatening self-annihilation.

Now as Ambassador Blaney takes the NTLA to task, he refers to the CPA and calls for its full implementation. Is Ambassador Blaney right to claim that the NTGL is beholden to the CPA? The short answer is, yes. Please click on link for full agreement: ( For the sake of brevity and the convenience of our readers, I shall quote two passages directly related to the establishment of the NTGL and national elections.

2. National elections shall be conducted not later than October, 2005

1. An all-inclusive Transitional Government to be called the National Transitional Government of Liberia, (NTGL), is hereby established to replace the present Government of Liberia.

2. The NTGL shall be inaugurated and fully commence operations by 14th October, 2003 and its mandate shall expire on the third Monday of January 2006 when the next elected Government of Liberia shall be inaugurated…

In the foregoing paragraphs, it is established beyond a doubt that the NTGL was created based on the propositions of the CPA. Would it not be a gross violation to now ignore its provisions for the sake of expediency? That is exactly what the NTLA's actions purportedly amount to. The NTLA now claims that a full census must be held because the constitution of the Republic of Liberia requires a full census before a national election, according to article 80 (d).
But is there a need to follow the constitution on this issue? The ambassador does not think so; neither do I. This is what he said: "The United States Government does not think that the NTLA's involvement is essential in this process, since this election is clearly an extra-constitutional event that lies within the framework of the CPA and is governed by the CPA". I concur.

It may be useful to argue in theory whose right or wrong here. The Speaker argues that Liberia's independence and sovereignty are threatened if "outsiders" so grossly interfere with its internal affairs. According to him, it is unacceptable to have foreign diplomats dictate the government's course of actions. Under normal circumstances, that would be a valid argument. But when has anything been normal in Liberia?

Under the deposed dictator, Charles Taylor, Liberia reached its lowest depths gaining the undistinguished designation of "the world's worst place to live" according to the Economist. Charles Taylor was plundering and pillaging the resources of the country and killing anyone who dared oppose his tyranny. Two rebel factions accepted his challenge; the logic was to fight or die; the rebels opted to fight. The rebels called themselves "liberators". By the time Charles Taylor was sent packing into exile, they country almost ceased to exist; almost suffocating itself through self-strangulation.

That's when the international community intervened. Our West African neighbors took the lead, followed by other African countries and the world at large. It was a moment to make the UN proud. The UN embarked on a mission to save Liberia, backed by a host of powerful countries, principally including the United States. I was proud and relieved that day when the international community pledged over a half billion dollars to help restore Liberia. US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, warned: "Liberia, this may be your last chance". The implication was, ‘don't screw this up'.

In my opinion, that is exactly what the "Honorable Speaker" of the NTLA is trying so hard to do. I disagree with him and urge other Liberians to discuss this matter fully. What is at stake is too huge to be left to the political expediency of a few stakeholders. We are stakeholders too, and our opinions should count.

It is difficult to sit back and have an "outsider" dictate your course of actions when you should be "captain of your own ship". I say let's put that foolish pride aside and deal with reality here. First, "a bargain made is a bargain closed". The NTGL was formulated by the CPA, honorable men who signed on should honor the bargain they made and adhere to its principles. It couldn't be any simpler than that; it shouldn't be.

The UN and other principal stakeholders, including the US have bankrolled the country and the evidence is there for all to see. Liberia is trying to become a state again. Why should we jeopardize all that because of foolish pride or calculated selfishness? How does the country gain from such a new bargain? An old saying was true when I was growing up and it is true today as well: "He who pays the piper calls the tune". Live with that, Mr. Speaker. We can't afford to screw up this last chance; that's a hint to the wise.