Liberians Are Their Own Enemy: The Age-Old Problem of Corruption in Liberia

By Tito M. Johnson

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 22, 2008


Corruption is the curse of Liberia. Corruption has always existed in the country—at least as long as I can record it, in the many years I have been around as a Liberian citizen. It permeates the society at epidemic proportions. It is overwhelming the nation at such a magnitude that Liberians have come to think of it as a reality of life they must learn to tolerate or live with; the people have accepted it as their life’s condition, albeit reluctantly. However, like the scourge it is, it has quite literally posed existential threats to the very soul of the nation. And, as if to pay for our collective sin(s), today, we live with the consequences of corruption, among which is the woeful lack of basic infrastructures and government’s inability in general, to provide for the betterment of its people—just to mention a few—as the list of ills is endless. Some would even argue that corruption is at the top-heap of the myriad reasons that caused the country to be plunged into self-destruction, which by experts estimates will take years to recover from.

Acknowledging this bitter truth, the current government of Liberia pledged as a matter of policy, to fight corruption. No sooner did the government take control, and then the same old picture began to unveil itself; just like other governments in the past.

Oops! nothing changed after all.

Not surprisingly, the people began to wonder: ‘just what is going on’; as debates ensued in some quarters as to what the government was doing or should do to fight corruption. Some drew parallels between the current government and past governments—and rightly so, in my judgment. As peoples’ frustration mounted, the government, shockingly, kept paying lip service to fighting corruption.

Suddenly, out of the most unexpected of places, came the government’s most crushing embarrassment: Its own anti-corruption czar, the then, newly appointed Auditor General of the Republic of Liberia, Mr. John S. Morlu, Jr. accused the government of being three times more corrupt than the government that preceded it.

As predictable, this allegation caused stir in the country. Already, the people are like a wounded lion from the epidemic of corruption in government over the years. Moreover, thus rightly, makes the people very highly suspicious of even the scantest perception of corruption. So, to have the AG—[the statutorily mandated transparency “Watch-Dog”]—making such sweeping accusation, is such a big deal; that it gave even more cause to an already corruption wary population to become jittery and alarmed.

The irony of corruption in Liberia is that it has become a virtual plague and yet, an entrenched [and sometimes even trendy] culture: it gravely ails society and yet glamorized as a status symbol. The destitute masses, whose votes are so pivotal in bringing these politicos to power, are its powerless victim; while a privileged few heartlessly and shamelessly indulges in it, to the detriment of national progress.

Corruption is a toxic, corrosive and self-defeating practice which, when left uncontrolled, if not completely eradicated, can bring a country to its knees. Like a virus, it slowly eats at the very fabric of our nation’s existence and wellbeing.

Yet, the government seems hapless, incompetent and seemingly unsure of itself, when it comes to eradicating the plague of corruption or much-less, discouraging the unconscionable practice of corruption at all levels of society; thereby making it costly on a personal level, to engage in public corruption.


Although the ominous end-result of knowingly swallowing a poison-pill or infesting one-self with a deadly virus is certain death—however long it takes, unscrupulous and selfish people do it anyway. Like the use of poison pill or a self-infestation with a fatal virus by a suicidal individual, corruption is a self-inflicted harm, done to a country by its own citizens. In essence, one man/woman commits the act but everybody pays the price. Their motivation is simple: GREED; however, when a poisoning victim—whether self-inflicted or otherwise—is found, antidotes are immediately administered, to neutralize the effect of the poison and safe the victim’s life.

Why then is our self-defeating culture of corruption not being confronted and defeated with the utmost urgency? Can it be that the tentacles of corruption have become phenomenally rigid that this administration apparently cannot find an effective and fast acting anti-corruption remedy to bring the problem under control?

Meanwhile, the country is unfortunately being slowly but worryingly crushed under the weight of corruption. Even the president herself, has openly admitted it many times before. Where then, is our sense of urgency, considering the treasonable damage corruption has done and continues to do to our country?

I will submit that corruption is a by-product of specific negative practices, which have once again become common in Liberia today: elitism, nepotism, cronyism, undue political influence, and impunity as well as old-fashion criminality. When you come to think of it, because Liberia, historically had been run like a private social club—along the lines of a privately owned family business—where individual family members are answerable only to the matriarch/patriarch—the plight of the rest of society is the least of their concerns. Therefore, if it means sucking the life-blood out of the dying body of a country in coma, these people will shamelessly do so. Their fixation with greed has blinded them to the concept: ‘for the common good of society’.


During the Americo-Liberian oligarchy that spanned from 1822 to 1980, a minority group of elitists—making up the ruling class—who dominated the political scene, used their common Americo-Liberian identity as the common denominator for sharing wealth and power within the Liberian society. In this regard, these people executed their paternalistic and divisive policy of an elite class of a privileged minority, by the adoption of a creed, which was summarized in five words: “DON’T FORGET THE PIONEERS’ CHILDREN”. Clearly, this simple one-liner connotes discrimination. Not surprisingly, discrimination engenders nepotism, cronyism, impunity as well as an ‘exclusive country-club’ mentality/culture. Unfortunately, a sub-set of these vices is the much-hated word: CORRUPTION; consequently, corruption became a way of life in Liberia. It was the unspoken word; yet, the pipeline through which the pioneers’ children got their much-coveted shares of the spoils of their inheritance— Liberia.

In the scramble to grab their respective shares, they either inadvertently neglected or inadequately addressed, or even possibly, out-rightly ignored the needs of the country as a whole; and therefore, Liberian corruption became insidious and irresistible, as preceding generations of Liberians embraced this poisonous culture without giving much thoughts as to the lasting damage corruption does to a society.

The disgraceful impact of the Liberian brand of corruption is the acute state of underdevelopment and deprivation that permeates Liberia today. Again, like the country-club crowd, personal gain or aggrandizement takes precedence over societal wellbeing; thus, corruption thrived at the expense of everything else.


The divisiveness within the Liberian society is an outgrowth of the ever-pervasive ethos of discrimination against some elements of the population. When taken together, the disadvantaged constitute the majority of Liberian society. Their lack of opportunities coupled with the in-your-face-corruption by dishonest officials—which is in-fact, the real cause of their predicament—has made the people cynical of government.

Truly, corruption is evil and criminal; it can stall and prevent the growth, development, social cohesion and socio-economic wellbeing of an entire society.

The Liberia of today is corruption’s reluctant postal child.

We therefore, must stop corruption at all costs.

Already, the country has paid a very high price in blood and treasure, not forgetting the indirect costs such as disunity amongst the citizenry, distrust of government, lagging social services, soul-crushing poverty, dysfunctional families, a largely illiterate populace, overwhelming rate of joblessness, and countless others unspeakable social disorders.

Now, please tell me how difficult can it be, to set up safeguards that will arrest this age-old but still festering problem, that is arguably posing existential threat to us as a people, and eradicate it permanently?

Corruption is certainly very difficult to eliminate because those that perpetrate it are mostly cronies of the power that be. Exposing it is tantamount to exposing one-self. As you are probably aware, only psychopaths will ‘out’ themselves, knowing that obviously, their action will doom their lucrative lifestyles. Moreover, it goes much deeper: it means personal shame and perhaps permanent banishment from public service, provided the government of the day is serious about discouraging corruption.

As for corrupt officials and their cronies, there are no personal incentives for vigorously fighting corruption, but so much more to lose, if corruption were to be defeated. For the most part, inept politicians—with secret agendas—play tone-deaf or pretend to be fighting corruption while stealthily, the status quo continues unabated.

It is some-what ironic that the current government—a product of the ruling Unity Party—which as its name implies, is supposed to be all about unification and a common identity for Liberians as a people, is quite shockingly and incompetently, crying about widespread corruption in government. Surely, this government was well aware of the prevalence of corruption in government long before it came to power, which is why it declared it “enemy number one” in the first place. One would think that this government has a well laid-out plan, to go to war against deep-rooted and well-entrenched corruption with the utmost vigor; Knowing all the pain and set-back it is causing us: inequality, elitism of a few, high illiteracy among the population, underdevelopment, economic hardship, mistrust of the people, of their government and disenchantment with life-as-usual in Liberia. What a lethal and explosive mix for many different social pathologies and societal instability. For starters, consider this: such conditions can cause disunity in society; disunity leads to squabbles, which could bring about anarchy, which then can hasten state collapse (failed states).

A “Unity Party” government cannot and should not allow any situation that will bring about disunity—especially not under its watch. With what is obtaining in Liberia today, it is no stretch to say, the Liberian people are their own enemy: They knowingly engage in self-destructive acts; and then wonder why certain things are happening to them. Wouldn’t it be ironic that a Unity Party government would be the cause of disunity in Liberia? It would be more than that; it would be the greatest shock of their lives for the Liberian people, as they expected a better bargain—with this government in particular, but instead got the same old wine in a new bottle.

Some would say, we’ve been there, done that; so why are we still trending toward self-destruction, when all we need to do is stop corruption in its track?

Ha! In Liberia, it is easier said than done.

Certainly, Liberia as a nation faces grave threat to its progress because of entrenched corruption. However, until the government can get serious about fighting corruption, the people of Liberia will have to wait for another election to send a very clear message that they want corruption eradicated.

Corruption undermines and defeats good governance, noble developmental goals and the overall growth and betterment of any society; and certainly, Liberia is not immune. Moreover, corruption discourages international [bi-lateral and multi-lateral] assistance and goodwill. Donor fatigue—brought about by corruption—does not bode well for the country’s image and more importantly, its recovery efforts—especially not at this time, when we are the most in need.

The definition of insanity is to do the same thing repeatedly, and expect a different outcome. As longtime observers of Liberia will tell you, corruption is no-doubt Liberia’s greatest problem—by far. Considering the egregious harm it has done to the country, one would think the government would adopt a no-tolerance, take-no-prisoner(s) approach to fighting corruption to raid the country and the government in particular, of this scourge.

Why then does the government appear to be powerless in fighting corruption—which has such a deadly chokehold on the entire nation? This is the sixty-four million dollars question. Here we are, with a situation that poses grave danger to our national existence—as our recent history had taught us—with the potential to instigate instability in our society, yet the government seems clueless, in how to eliminate the shameful and destructive culture of corruption, although this was one of its great issues during the campaign of 2005.


It is no exaggeration to lament the toll corruption has taken on our beloved country by a greedy and unscrupulous few. The sorry state of the country bears witness to this national disgrace.

Obviously, it will require substantial amount of resources and human fortitude to restore our homeland. We lack the luxury of time and adequate resources to undertake the huge task of rebuilding our war-torn country exclusively; therefore, we’ll need all the help and goodwill we can muster, and it begins with cleaning up our acts before our luck runs out. Our failure to confront our common and self-defeating challenge of pervasive corruption in society in general, and in government in particular, is to condemn ourselves to perpetual deprivation, thereby proving once again, that we are indeed our own worst enemy.

The author, Tito M. Johnson is a free-lance writer and a concerned Liberian. He can be reached at

© 2008 by The Perspective

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