Why Obama Praised Corrupt Sirleaf Of Liberia?

By: J. Yanqui Zaza 

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 5, 2015


President Sirleaf & President Obama

The U.S. President, Barack Obama, during a White House meeting held on February 28, 2015, did characterize President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia as a reformist, contrary to reports, including Global Witness’. The international non-governmental Agency has and continues to accuse President Silreaf government as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. In fact, Sirleaf, calling corruption as a vampire, has admitted that she has failed to reduce corruption. Yet, President Obama did praise Sirleaf and said “...she has worked steadily to solidify democracy, to reduce corruption, to deliver basic services to a very poor country…”

Awarding sweet heart deals in exchange for bribes, an economic arrangement that undermines democracy, is rampant within the Sirleaf government, her critics say. One of those critics, Global Witness, stated in a recent report, called “Liberia has burned the furniture to warm the house, that the government has sold off valuable oil assets in what appears to be a very bad deal for Liberia.” Warning President Silreaf not to doctor her records, the NGO stated this: “…President Johnson Sirleaf will be looking to demonstrate to President Obama that Liberia has made efforts to reform its oil sector, including moves to indict allegedly corrupt officials…Yet this news is unfortunately offset by a slew of recent scandals, including the award of a valuable oil contract to two dodgy companies, the mysterious death of a whistle-blower, and a suspicious payment of US$ 31,000 to a lawmaker.” 

With such a damaging corruption report about President Sirleaf, why did President Obama praise her, critics are asking? Critics, rightly or wrongly, have surmised that President Obama did not invite President Sirleaf to the first US Africa Summit, all because of President Sirleaf’s poor record on fighting corruption. This is because, they assumed, with the exception of corruption, Sirleaf has an impressive resume, including an economic degree from Harvard University Graduate Program, former minister of finance, former employee of the World Bank, former employee of the United Nations, an entrepreneur, former chief executive officer of a bank, first female president of Africa, etc.


Was President Sirleaf successful in spinning her records on corruption? Or has President Obama changed his yardstick on corruption because Sirleaf is America’s ally in the war against China? Did President Obama not promise to reject corruption, no matter whatever form or shape corruption takes? Wouldn’t Liberians view America as a supporter of corrupt officials, rather than a country that will assist in creating a level playing field for everyone?

While it is true that President Obama did not hold up to his promise, let us look at Liberia’s history and understand why America will continue to support corrupt dictators in Liberia. In 1942, Liberia signed a Defense Pact with the United States and assured the U.S. and its allies of all the natural rubber they needed. Also, Liberia allowed the U.S. to use its territory as a bridgehead for transports of soldiers and war supplies and construct military bases. The country’s huge natural resources were awarded to American investors in exchange for bribes. In response to corruption, anti-corruption advocates demanded a change, but America sided with big business, the recipe for the current instability.

Upon Sirleaf’s ascendancy to the presidency, America is once again dictating Liberia’s policies through the World Bank, the premier economic adviser to Liberia. Video interview of Robert Sirleaf, President Sirleaf’s son as well as published reports of the National Oil Company indicate that the World Bank is involved in writing many of the fraudulent concessionary agreements. For example, four of the ten concessionary agreements signed between 2006 through 2009 were considered fraudulent, according to Global Witness. Interestingly, the American companies, including, but not limited to Chevron, Exxon Mobile, Liberty Petroleum, etc. are benefiting from this bribery scheme.


In the view of proponents of privatization, deregulation, market liberalization, etc., awarding sweet heart deals to Firestone, Mittal Steel, Exxon Mobil or Liberty Petroleum Corporation is good for business; hence President Sirleaf is good for business; and by extension, she is a good president for Liberia. Therefore, good government means deregulation, privatization, market liberalization, even though these policies “…actually exacerbate corruption,” according to Ms. Sarah Chayes, in her book called “Thieves of State-Why corruption Threatens Global Security.”

So, for those Liberians who are disappointed with President Obama because of his perceived change in attitude towards dictatorship and corruption, please understand that America is obliged to protect profits.  And if Liberians think that President Obama’s praise for President Sirleaf is bad, they should read about the war on corruption in Egypt, Afghanistan or Tunisia in Ms. Chayes’ book.  She stated that some Afghans believe that America is promoting corruption because the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is paying some of those Afghans who should be prison for corruption. In the case of Liberia, the World Bank is involved in writing fraudulent concessionary agreements. Therefore, is it realistic for President Obama to question the World Bank’s economic policies that create an economic environment conducive for American companies to generate more profits, even if the policies are inimical to society?

Bribing or greasing the wheels of business might be inimical to society, but it is one of the business practices that generate huge profits for big business. In short, any entrepreneur will use the proceeds of lucrative assets to donate contribution, lobby or bribe for more profits or to protect his/her interest. And, chief executives are obliged to protect the interest of its shareholders, even if it means violating labor laws, violating environmental laws, abrogating concessionary agreements, offering bribes in exchange of favors, etc.

Liberians can win the war on corruption, not only by electing leaders, but also by enacting laws, that make it difficult to award lucrative resources to investors; thereby removing the incentives (i.e., huge profits) to offer bribes.


james wright
monkey will never leave it black hands behind.
james wright at 06:34AM, 2015/03/05.
Arthur Tamba
Who is Global Witness? Are they from HEAVEN? Thank Obama and to you Yanqua for the research.
Arthur Tamba at 08:43AM, 2015/03/05.
Quiwonkpa Zuo
Say what you may about Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, but you cannot deny the fact that she is wickedly brilliant. She doesn't just relegate an entire country to extreme poverty with nepotism, cronyism and artful corruption; she's masterful enough to convince the rest of the Developed World into believing she's a savior of Liberia! This is true Third-World consolidation; Satan has nothing on this vampire!
Quiwonkpa Zuo at 09:35AM, 2015/03/05.
Sylvester Moses
We say thanks again Mr. Yanqui Zaza for a thought - provoking article on the meeting between President Sirleaf, and President Obama. In answering the question - Why Obama Praised Corrupt Sirleaf of Liberia? - you quoted the following to support your take: “She has worked steadily to solidify democracy, to reduce corruption, to deliver basic services to a poor country…” One is left pondering, however, whether that’s sufficient evidence for drawing the conclusion.

Obviously, there are other factors that ought to be considered in explaining his non - accusatory approach. For starters, President Sirleaf is a head of state who hasn’t been tried and convicted of a crime; secondly, diplomatic rectitude demands mutual felicitations; thirdly, she is a lady, and his guest; fourthly, a mother old enough to be his, and fifthly, he is an American whose father came from Kenya where matriarchs still rule their husbands and the kraals.

Nonetheless, to use a boxing image, he fell his “words of praise” with this undercut jab: “We want to accelerate as much as possible a return to Liberian growth and development, to accelerate some of the efforts that President Sirleaf had already begun to reduce corruption, and to make sure that prosperity and growth is broad - based, not just in Monrovia, but throughout rural areas“. And that was the coup de grace of a man whose depth of knowledge about current Liberia indicates access to the best intelligence.

For Obama let it known that Ellen drags feet on corruption, and she might have been jolted to realize that the American president knew she pays lip service to rural development. One can just imagine how this proud and narcissistic despot squirms when Obama respectfully upbraids her. We must give it to her, though; she took a hard punch for Liberia, yet showed grit and grace. After all, Liberia will be better off if her mission is accomplished.
Sylvester Moses at 01:45PM, 2015/03/05.
James McGill
After reading Mr. J. Yanqui Zaza’s perspective on President Johnson-Sirleaf’s visit, a few thoughts came to my mind which I thought to make a few comments on. In the beginning paragraph of his essay he stated,

“In fact, Sirleaf, calling corruption as a vampire, has admitted that she has failed to reduce corruption.”

In quoting President Obama’s response, Mr. Zaza says, “Yet, President Obama did praise Sirleaf and said “...she has worked steadily to solidify democracy, to reduce corruption, to deliver basic services to a very poor country…”

When President Obama used the phrase, “…to reduce corruption…” he uses it against the backdrop that there is not one government in the world that is shielded from the scourge of corruption. The phrase, “…eradication of corruption” has become a commonplace expression in Liberia.” However, can corruption be totally eradicated? No, because even with the best technology ever invented, men will always seek ways to circumvent the system. Notwithstanding, corruption can be minimized with the application of a good system of internal control, so that much needed resources can be used to deliver basic services to our people, instead of the resources remaining in the hands heartless criminals.

In spite of the harshest criticisms coming from both friends and foes of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, she finds favor with many world leaders and objective thinkers. Why? She is a realist and she tells it like it is. She approaches the issue of corruption with frankness and a contrite spirit. I use the phrase “contrite spirit”, not in the sense that she is an active participant of corruption. I use it in the sense that she feels regretful for the shape the nation is in and some of the prevailing circumstances which are impelling people to indulge in corruption. Ellen is not in denial nor is she the new-kid-on-the-block when it comes to this issue. She is aware that corruption existed since the founding of the country. It is a known fact that she was once an anti-corruption advocate.

An argument can be made however, that she is the president, and that it is happening under her watch. So she should be held accountable. This argument is true, but it has a relative perspective and it needs to be looked at. It does not take rocket science to examine the performances of some of our past presidents, and come up with a logical conclusion of which president that in spite of the odds, has at least try to put some systems in place to combat this plague. Ellen setup the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and other organizations for fighting white collar crimes. If one is to reflect on these two contemporaries, Doe and Taylor, he will conclude that this kind of idea would have been the farthest on those tyrants’ minds.

On the concessionary agreements that Liberia has been signing with foreign players, I have not read the contents of those agreements, so I cannot take positions on those issues. However, this issue perhaps can be viewed through a lens of speculation by looking at some of the drivers which maybe necessitating the need for our lawmakers to make the kind of decisions which are engendering a lot of public outcry and negative implications. Let us face the facts; Liberia does not have the technical expertise to tap her own resources, process them and make them merchantable on the world market; moreover, she lacks the capital and the bargaining power. It would take a lot of investment in human capital to send Liberians abroad to be trained, educated and to acquire skills in diverse areas of specialization. This is not a short term fix.

At the same time the country is in desperate need of capital to build infrastructures and distribute much needed social services to a poverty-stricken population. One solution could be to practice protectionism thus forcing our global players to play fair to the rules, and putting restrictions on our vital commodities. Rumors were heard quite recently that some Liberian intelligentsia was discussing the idea of “Economic Nationalism” which has a semblance of protectionism. Nonetheless, how will it be done, when the country is not capable to spur its own economic growth? This will only lead to a more worsening crisis, as industrial powers could interpret this, as Liberia is posing barriers and tariffs to free trade. This scenario is very dangerous for a developing country that is trying to emerge from a destructive civil war. It is a recipe for further social unrest. Therefore when our lawmakers go on the table with representatives of the multinationals they are only poised to receive deals which these powerful corporations feel are suitable to the country’s needs. This albatross holds the country hostage, and consequently bargaining power often tilts in favor of our global competitors!

I make these comments to ensure a balance in the discourses that the perspective web site publishes; it is not an apologia on behalf of anybody.
James McGill at 08:07AM, 2015/03/06.
Liberians must know who their true enemies are. Until then Liberians will continued to be played, like the one being talked about
aminata at 10:12AM, 2015/03/06.
Paul Massaquoi
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is a devil, a very wicked woman who has no shame and conscience.
Paul Massaquoi at 01:40AM, 2015/11/16.
Volusion Custom Development at 12:59AM, 2017/09/12.

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