America Works For Firestone; Is President Sirleaf Too?
By J. Yanqui Zaza
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Warlord Charles M. Taylor and Interim Chairman Amos Sawyer
The adage that says “He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune” or the common knowledge that lobbyists write legislation or influence politicians crossed my mind when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated that she didn’t want to think about why Firestone Rubber Plantation illegally transferred government’s revenue to warlord Charles Taylor.
Dr. Amos Sawyer, who was Interim Leader of Liberia at the time, stated in the Frontline Documentary: “You know, until now I haven’t seen this. But with this I can say, very clearly, that Firestone was in complicity. And I wish our Government today would raise the issue with Firestone. I think the Liberian people deserve some explanations to these types of transactions. I think so.”
After Dr. Amos Sawyer implied that the Sirleaf government should review Firestone’s decision to finance Charles Taylor war with government’s revenue, President Sirleaf said, in the 11/18/2014 Frontline Documentary story (Firestone and Warlord) aired by PBS, that she didn’t want to think about investigating the illegal transfer of Liberia’s funds. President Sirleaf stated: “This is one document that has not been brought to my attention, although you do hear rumors …that Firestone paid taxes, you know…, to the Taylor Government… At this stage…, quite frankly we don’t know and some time we don’t want to know. We just want to proceed.”
Predictably, President Sirleaf doesn’t want to investigate Firestone, all because of her relationship with America, a country that works for big business. So, yes, if America works for Firestone, as stated by a Firestone's representative in the Documentary, so is President Sirleaf, who has and continues to benefit from her relationship with America. Therefore, instead of discussing why or why not President Sirleaf doesn’t want to think about Firestone financing Charles Taylor’s war against innocent people, the question should be, why America didn’t help to end the Liberian civil war.
Was there an interest in Liberia that America needed to protect? Certainly, it was profit-rights, but not human-rights. Dr. D. Elwood Dunn, President William Tolbert’s former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs did share some of America's interest in Liberia. He said, “commercial relations between the United States and Liberia have benefited U.S. interests at the expense of the majority of Liberians. In the 1920s, U.S. demand for rubber was growing in conjunction with the growth of the U.S. auto industry. To break British dominance in the global rubber market, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company (“Firestone”) sought, with assistance from the U.S. State Department, a concession from the Liberian government to tap Liberia’s significant rubber resources.” According to some scholars, Firestone didn’t only fail to carry out many of its promises to develop Liberia’s infrastructure, but used the loan to keep Liberia permanently weak and underdeveloped. In addition, the Firestone agreement gave America and the company ownership of any minerals or oil found in the leased area, he stated.
With such a significant business interest, America, like any capitalistic country, didn't embrace the idea of a strong government that would have denied many of the sweet heart deals President Sirleaf government has signed in favor of big business. I guess, had America believed that it would usher into power business-friendly leaders, the U.S. would have helped to end the war in 1990. For example, the white House would have allowed the Assistant Secretary of State, Herman J. Cohen to carry out the promise to airlift President Samuel Doe to Togo. Mr. Cohen, during an interview with a PBS journalist, stated that he communicated with the White House that he had promised to airlift President Doe to Togo, but he never got an approval. Alternatively, the killing of President Samuel K. Doe wouldn’t have been videoed and circulated, thereby, mitigating the pain and humiliation inflicted on President Doe’s ethnic group, which dominated the military and paramilitary institutions. America was or should have been aware of the rivalry and the 1985 armed conflict between Doe’s ethnic group and Prince Johnson’s ethnic group. Having reneged on the promise to airlift President Doe, and subsequently, lured Doe to his death, of course, based on the advice of U.S. officials, did add fuel to the conflict.
Big business rejecting nationalist leaders or effective government that increases employees’ wages, raises corporate taxes or enforces labor and environmental laws is not limited to Liberia. Profiteers despise dictatorial, but nationalistic governments of China, Libya, Cuba, etc., but at the same embrace dictatorial, and business-friendly governments in Togo, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc. Why? Investors search for Profitrights, but not humanrights.
Guess what, the idea of big business embracing weak government or ineffective government is not limited to developing countries, according to Jeff Sommer. Mr. Sommer said Wall Street seeks governments (Republican government, Democratic government and, or a divided government) in Washington that are ineffective. He explained in an article called “Does Wall Street like Gridlock” how and why profiteers don’t like an effective government. (NY Times, 11/23/14). He said that when Washington is absorbed in political posturing and sniping that it can’t manage to write regulations to increase wages, raise taxes or enforce laws, etc., stock prices go up. Nowadays, the rising political polarization in the U.S. Congress correlates closely with rising income inequality in America, stated Keith T. Poole, professor of political Science at the University of the State of Georgia.
Not knowing what America wanted or the interest of America, Liberians as well as peace-loving advocates did campaign for America to end the war. At a U.S. Congressional Hearing on Liberia, statement givers pleaded with officials to end the war, according Dr. Elwood Dunn. They stated that if the warring factions did honor America’s call for a ceasefire and lay down their arms in 1990 in preparation to evacuate American citizens, the warring factions would have obeyed America’s demand to end the war. The Catholic Archbishop of Monrovia, the late Michael Francis, was quoted as saying that a few well-trained U.S. soldiers would have made the rebel soldiers terrorizing the capital “just throw away their guns and run away,” stated Dr. Dunn.
In America’s belief, ending the war without ushering into power an effective government wouldn’t have resulted into awarding the many sweet heart deals to big business. So, it adopted strategic ploys such as Firestone financing Charles Taylor, Taylor refusing to honor peace-agreements or arming new warring factions in order to continue the war until citizens such as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, warlords, etc. are electable. America’s delay did pay off. The delay in ending the war resulted into the loss of lives of many professionals; forced others into exile, while others do not wish to serve in government.
Consequently, the lawmakers elected in 2006 and 2011 are weak to ask President Sirleaf to investigate Firestone’s illegal remittance of government’s revenue to Charles Taylor. As, the saying goes, big business preferred political leaders are just de facto employees of big business. And President Sirleaf, a good friend of big business, may be loyal to big business than to her governed.