Should America Have Lied about Liberia’s Security Condition?


By Cornelius N. Nagbe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
May 30, 2006


On 30 March 2006 the United States State Department in Washington issued an updated Travel Warning directed at US citizens in, traveling to or planning to travel to Liberia. The document, according to the US Govt., updates and supersedes the Travel Warning of November 4, 2005 (see

A regular internet loafer, I happened to have read this warning on the US State Department few days after it was released. And poor me, I never imagined that this otherwise regular advisory – from government to its tax-paying citizens whose security it has obligation to ensure – would turn out to be the source of much consternation among supposedly enlightened minds in Liberia!

But I was in for a great surprise. More than a month after the warning was posted on the website, a local newspaper in Monrovia lifted a story out of the document, and soon the city was abuzz with condemnations and castigation of America on two-count charges of “creating fear and insecurity” and “discouraging investors” from coming to Liberia.

Why for heaven’s sake would the great United States whose voice resounds across the globe in split seconds of utterance, whose word is gospel for most countries and international organizations, funding agencies, major financial institutions, corporations and agencies worldwide, and which has a “sixth sense” in world politics and international security – say or even imply that there is insecurity in Liberia? That was the mind boggling question that was fed into the minds of many ordinary Liberians as prominent personalities, within and out of government, poured their diatribes on the American government. The US Embassy near Monrovia managed to absorb the public pressure by publishing a fact sheet clarifying that the Travel Warning was merely a routine cautionary statement for US citizens and that it did not say or imply that Liberia was unsafe.

My puzzlement is over the uninformed manner in which some senior government officials and policy makers, including lawmakers that are supposedly versed in security matters, jumped in the fray without critically analyzing the issue. In the first instance, the content of the Travel Warning is clearly reflective of the actual security situation in Liberia. A careful review of the document would reveal that nothing –absolutely nothing was blown out of proportion: Liberia is gradually recovering from a prolonged, vicious civil strife that has left in its wake a myriad of security challenges, and the presence of UNMIL and the installation of an elected government (which has stayed just few months in office) has not completely wiped away the atmosphere of insecurity or the potential for violence.

One part of the Travel Warning reads thus: “Department of State continues to urge American citizens to consider carefully the risks of travel to Liberia. Notwithstanding the UN’s deployment of 15,000 peacekeepers and 1,100 police advisors nationwide, the overall security situation remains unpredictable. There was no major civil unrest during the elections held on October 11 and November 8, or during the inauguration of the new president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on January 16. However, there remains an undercurrent of political and social tension and economic hardship that could result in sporadic violence and instability.”

The US Government statement further advises that “Owing to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, street demonstrations, and any gathering of security forces…Foreigners, including Americans, are high-profile targets for robbery…U.S. citizens in Liberia should be aware of their surroundings at all times and use caution in traveling. Traveling alone or after dark is strongly discouraged…”

So, who wants to doubt that there are “security risks” and “an undercurrent of political and social tension and economic hardship”? Or are we wearing our Emperor’s New Clothes such that we think President Johnson-Sirleaf and her team have used a magic wand to solve all of Liberia’s security problems in a couple of weeks? The president herself is obviously aware of the security challenges for which she has pushed for security sector reform and supported the continual presence of UNMIL in Liberia.

Or are we enraged by the “manner” in which the statement was released? Then the question is, “How was it released?” Did the US Embassy call a press conference to tell the world that Liberia was unsafe? Did the Americans circulate the statement to the media or other foreign missions, international agencies, etc.? No, she did not. What the Americans did was what they have been doing year after year, and not for Liberia alone but for several other countries: post the Travel Warning on the US State Department website for so that American citizens can be aware of prevailing conditions in Liberia and freely choose whether or not to travel to or stay in Liberia.

The bottom line is that there are some civilized governments that recognize the right of their citizens to protection from the state; the American Government happens to be one, I reckon.

The point to keep in mind is that potential foreign investors would certainly want an opportunity to know the facts surrounding any country they hope to pour their capital into, and a factual statement on the security risks involved with an investment rather helps them make an informed decision – it does not necessarily discourage foreign investment.
Though it is true that citizens of Liberia and officials of the Liberian government would want an improvement in the security environment to quicken the pace of foreign investment, the solution is not to be unnecessarily passionate about the issue and deny that problems currently exist; it lies in harnessing our resources and working as a united people to find sustainable remedies to those problems.

About the author: Cornelius N. Nagbe is a Liberian journalist working in Monrovia; he holds a BA in Mass Communication and Political Science from the University of Liberia (UL) and is presently pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the Babangida Graduate School of International Studies, UL.
© 2006 by The Perspective

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