Reshaping our Foreign Policy: the conduit for Development and Security

By Plingloh Emmanuel Munyeneh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 1, 2006


Our Country has always lived under a false assumption, or for lack of better description, a willful dodging of the reality of diplomacy which is based on shifting alliances. Successive Liberian governments have therefore built the country’s foreign policy around a simple mentality that the United States of America is Liberia’s traditional ally with which Liberia must have an unchanging relationship. This age-old mentality has led to a state of dependency, and to a very large degree, has transcended to generations of young Liberians.

The argument of this paper is that the so-called special relationship between America and Liberia, as well as the resulting, unequal but dependence relationship it has engendered, is wrong and unless we make a quick u-turn, our country will remain in the cell of underdevelopment thereby giving rise to a security dilemma.

Architects of our foreign policy have overtime disclosed that the United States of America is a traditional allied of West Africa impoverished, war made devastated and poverty stricken Liberia. This politically motivated and economic dependence infested statement, has over the period of time been transformed into a psychological- turn reality- phraseology to the extent that every elected president during their inauguration speech had to make an insertion of this traditional relationship.
Our history is replete with traces of the United States of America’s involvement in our domestic and international affairs. There were times that Liberia had to rely on the US to make decisions at the level of the United Nations. There have also been times when the US had to use words of threats to compare some of our lawmakers to sign agreements that protected that country’s interest. The US has been involved in Liberia from the resettlement of former slaves from the Americas in the early 1800s to the formulation of our Constitution, our flag, our consumption pattern, our dress code, our schools and so forth.

Critics, including foreign policy experts have also not hesitated to affirm the fact that America is our traditional ally is no more a contestable debate and that the real issue that arises out of this discourse is what are the implications of this traditional relationship that has become a tingling cymbal or a sounding brass for every elected president of Liberia when the foreign policy of the US is clear and unambiguous? Though there are perceptible instances of selectivity in the conduct of her foreign policy with economic and security interests at the forefront, however, in the context of strategic interest, Liberia falls outside of the US foreign policy mapping or perimeter.

During these sometimes highly politically charged speeches, lengthy paragraphs are allotted to this traditional relationship with the United States. Even during formal and informal gatherings by our executives and other low key members of government, this redundant statement is issued on the basis of wanting to attract assistance. Seemingly, our leaders have taken this statement to be one of a recitation intended to draw from the economic pool of the United States.

The embarrassing implication of this century old statement has also sort of cocoonized the thinking of our leaders as they go about conducting our foreign policy. The borderline perception that is engendered from this discourse is that Liberia does not seem to understand the ramifications of an integrated network of trade and commerce and the sense of restoring our dignity by moving modestly toward a state of democratic peace which is possible from the regionalization and horizontality of the conduct of our foreign policy. The negative consequences however, can be traced to the security dilemma it poses through the infiltration of our borderlines by belligerent forces fighting under the name of freedom fighters- all of their liberation doctrine has been centered around the quest for a power sharing arrangement with no intent to change the status quo.

More importantly, during a time of fragile peace, we are quick to stop thinking about the roles and sacrifices made by our regional neighbors. Though during speeches, short lines are made in reference to their roles and sacrifices. This is often times done in passing with no serious attachment to their importance. But in short, we spend precious and tall times recounting and day dreaming of the days when the United States will come to the rescue of our ravaged and underdeveloped country by pumping their tax payer’s money into our crumbling or otherwise stagnant economy.

Our strategic and historic relationship with our traditional ally has also led us to believe that in times of war, they are capable of saving us by diverting the rockets that would fly by day and night. Though our mindset has proved contrary on many occasions, we still harbored the belief that our traditional ally has the capacity to save us as oppose to our African brothers we quickly dismiss during a time of relative peace. As a false proof of this, during time of crises, like the various world wars, some Liberians imbued with this fixed way of thinking found the path to death by seeking refuge in the famous death camp of Gray Stone near the United States Embassy.

Sometimes, we are so overwhelmed by the role of the United States in our domestic affairs that major decision making must first be approved by them before it can be transmitted to the masses. In trade, in security and intelligence, in structural adjustment in public sector management, in macro- economics, in politics, in the recruitment of international and local experts, in the selection of investment opportunities and even in the structure and selectivity of officials of government, we tend to seek consultation from our traditional friend.

But how many times have we commended ECOWAS for coming to our aid in times of crises? How many times have we consulted our regional counterparts before making or taking decisions? How many times while making elaborate speeches have our leaders paid tributes to our fallen African brothers (Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Uganda, Mali, etc) who gave their lives that peace may come to Liberia? How many times have we given our African Companies the opportunity or the right away of investing in our Country without remarking that their products are faked and of low qualities? How many times have we paid our dues to ECOWAS, the AU or even the MRU?

And so, in all of these, how possible is it for us to pursue our national development agenda and strengthen our security outside the parameter of these unanswered questions? What makes us think that a vertical approach in the conduct of our foreign policy is the best alternative for achieving our national goals and vision? Why are we so clung unto the tail coats of these Western International Financial Institutions including the World Bank and the IMF as if to imply that without them, we are doomed? These institutions are necessary though but should not be perceived as our only alternative to economic stability, lasting peace and restorative democracy.

The real strength of this government lies in its capacity to create or expand existing avenues of development by sustaining the democracy we now sparsely enjoy. One way of so doing, is the rethinking of foreign policy in the context of economic liberalization through a network of regional trade and commerce.

As Liberians, we must come face to face with the true culture of nationalism by living up to the hard reality that we are first and foremost Africans and as such our relationship with our neighbors must be well defined, tightened and integrated with a sense of shared value and a common identity. By so doing, we should form a body of collectivities that will ensure a sense of genuine peace and security, not only in the sense of fouling military aggression but also in the true meaning of economic, trade and commerce.

In order to foster this regionalized initiative, we must begin to chart a new course with our West African and continental counterparts by solidifying our positions within various regional and continental organizations. We must also encourage or if possible give preferential treatments to African industries with legitimate business portfolios and incentives for investment. The role of regional organizations has helped massively in the economic development and the establishment of democratic peace among countries around the world.

When neighboring countries shared a common trade link through organize tariffs and trade regulations, it becomes unlikely for them to ever go to war or allow mercenaries to use their borders to infiltrate their neighbors. For example, countries within the European Union may never ever go to war in that their economies are closely interwoven and that they live in a state of interdependence. The need to see our neighbors as a pillar of economic development should by all account mark the beginning of rethinking and re-engineering our foreign policy agenda.

When we as Liberians divorce ourselves from the phantasm of Americanism and begin to see ourselves in the practical meaning of Africanism, our next focus will then be to harness our relationship with our brothers for the advancement of our continent by identifying our national development agenda in the context of an overall African development agenda such as was envisaged by the Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa.

Not only will our knitted and well defined relationship with our neighbors allay the security dilemma that now confront us most notably, but rather, it will allow us the opportunity of exploring many avenues associated with comparative analysis through cultural and educational advancement and comparative advantage through natural resources and the mode of production of goods and services. For example, why do we place too much emphasis on the consumption of rice when in the context of an African- agro development through cross border or the envision trans-African highway, we can import or grow other dietaries such as yam, eddoes, corn, plantain and other local commodities that have more nutritional values as compare to the starchiness of rice?

As a backdrop, the statement that rice is our staple gained a psychological currency in the minds of many Liberians since the establishment of Firestone Rubber Plantation and the introduction of PL 480- Piassava rice. To this end, one can eat as much food as possible, and yet without rice, he will assume that he has eaten nothing since day, even though his belly remains fill. Whether the importation of Piassava rice by Firestone was meant to divert the attention of farmers to the rubber plantation is yet still a debatable subject.

Currently, the high tension of rigmarole over the importation of rice has made it more appropriate to commence the exercise in fostering our relationship with the continent, especially with those countries that are agriculturally self- sufficient. Additionally, it is necessary to register that it is a shame for a country that once produce rice during primitive times to heavily rely on the importation of the commodity in this globalize period given the availability of modernized technology.

The content of this writing is not intended to disregard the assistance the US and other Western nations have rendered Liberia over the years, but rather it is meant for us to rediscover our priorities and sense of nationhood within the context of an approach that is wholly incorporated with the African world. The challenge that now confronts our country in this new era requires the redefinition our priorities by adopting a multi dimensional approach in the pursuit of our national development goals. Like the EU, we must give priorities to African investments and not allow undue Western interest to influence or manipulate our decisions; we must ensure our consistent participations in all of the activities of our regional bodies.

Judging from the points that have been outlined, it is advisable to say that the dimension of our foreign policy in this new epoch should no longer be structurally engrained in the concept of Western strategic interest or reciprocity- when we have nothing to offer at this time, rather, it must now take into consideration a multi prong approach to include the prioritization of our security and economy. Less we forget the years of violent conflicts that have attended Liberia have been committed through our borders and not from the West, hence the justification for solidifying our relationship with our neighbors. More over, the sustenance of the informal as well as the formal sector of our economy can only be guaranteed by our interaction through cross border trade with our neighbors and other regional member countries. We must begin to think through the enormous benefits associated with good neighborliness and reshape our foreign policy thinking within the context of an integrated network of Africanism.

© 2006 by The Perspective

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