Is This The Best Liberia Has To Offer?


An opinion Piece by Philip A. Z. Banks, III


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
Posted November 16, 2005


I had the occasion a few days ago to meet colleagues from other African nations---lawyers, economists, engineers and many more. “Liberia”, they said, “used to be the pride and joy of the African continent, a nation many envied, a nation we could look to when we faltered and were in despair.” Today, they continued, “we are frightened of Africa’s future because of what Liberia is offering the continent.” I was tempted at first to retort that it was none of their business. But my inner voice reminded me of what a United Nations friend had said to me some time ago. “Liberians”, he said, “have virtually been locked out by the world and all of its major institutions because they have had no one to speak for them. Your Foreign Minister can meet no one of substance at the United Nations to speak with; your Finance Minister can meet no one of essence to discuss Liberia’s problems; your Planning Minister is like a ‘gone with the wind’ character; and your Chairman, your Head of State, with his advisors, have done a most marvelous job at taking Liberia to the higher planes of the world’s most corrupt nations.” And my friends asked me, “in this dire hour of your country’s future and Africa’s predicament, is this the best that your country has to offer itself, your people, your future, and mother Africa?”

But there was another dimension to the equation. When the international community had insisted on what eventually became the GEMAP, I asked an associate why the insistence? His response was that the international community had taken one look at the Liberian political landscape and George Weah was a possibility. The GEMAP was to guide against the foreseen consequences of that eventuality. I wondered that when the international community seeks to put a plan into effect not because it desires to help a country but to guide against a potential leader, then there has to be serious problems and there must be cause to pause and do a re-examination.

It wasn’t difficult to see why, as great as he was, as honourable as his intentions may be, as much as he had contributed to keeping the world focused on a better part of Liberia that did not involve the brutal and insensitive taking of the lives of our brothers and sisters, and as loved as he may be by all who love football, this was not the time for his rendezvous with the Liberian presidency; and loved though he may be by all, including myself, his election as President could bring only further harm and disaster to Liberia.

It is not the question of the education, or the lack thereof by George Weah, that must be troubling. No one can ordinarily fault a man (or woman) for not being educated, if he or she had very little or no control over the process. No one faulted Samuel Doe for not being educated. The opportunities were not there, although he tried hard to gain one. But the problem with George Weah is a deeper one. He had every opportunity to prepare himself for this day. They were not missed opportunities. They were deliberate decisions, deliberate refusals to further himself educationally. How, with the millions he earned as a football player, could George Weah believe that it was not important for him to get an education—even a high school education? Surely this must provide an insight into Weah’s thinking and his regard for educating our people. If with his millions of dollars---and he must be applauded for making millions of dollars---George Weah dared to not educate himself, what would be the incentive to him to educate our younger generation, to pursue the information technology of this day and age, to build schools and expand our universities? Many Liberians believe that Weah should not be faulted for his decision not to educate himself. But even if we grant the argument, it is more the reason for George Weah to recognize the limitations which he imposed upon himself by that choice. Could he hold a one-on-one discussion with any world leader on economic, financial and other critical world issues, even on Liberian issues? How the quest for power blinds not only the eyes but also the mind. This factor of Weah’s choice not to educate himself is also critical not only because it deprives the nation of the quality of leadership it deserves, but also because given the names of the people who are said to be amongst his chief advisors (the likes of Baccus Matthews, Emmanuel Shaw, and their likes), who have consistently conducted themselves in manner that have only brought disaster to our country, we can see only impending disaster ahead for our nation and its people.

The problem doesn’t go away because on little matters, perhaps at the behest of his advisors, George Weah felt the need to lie. If one looked at the declaration of assets filed by him, the lie becomes obvious. He reports effectively that he has no bank accounts and that his only assets are those contained in the declaration. We know that George Weah earned his money legally, unlike almost all of the other presidential candidates who either defrauded the government to get the wealth declared, or associated and benefited from others who defrauded the government and the nation, or who directly and indirectly sold off the nation’s wealth or connived with other to sell of the nation’s wealth and its mineral and natural resources, at the expense of the people. So did George Weah believe that it was necessary for him to make a false declaration, unless we are to draw the conclusion that his motive was sinister? The point is that if he lied about such earnings which he honestly made, he could do worse as president of Liberia.

Then there is the question of his citizenship. Remember, under the Liberian constitution one has to be a natural born citizen. First George Weah admitted having acquired French citizenship but contended that he had relinquished it once he had determined to run for the presidency. Then he denied that he ever became a French citizen, a course which would have excluded him contesting the presidency. We can understand the reason for the lie, and thanks to the impotence of the National Elections Commission and the inability of the Liberian press to follow the trail, George Weah remained in the race. But there is a lesson to be learned. If this is what he is capable of doing in order to achieve a political goal, then not only is he no different from other Liberian politicians whom he has decried, but he may be even worse then they are, because, for the first time, we could find our nation being ruled by a foreign person or even a foreign nation.

Both at the beginning and at the end, the question goes beyond George Weah. It transcends his deed or misdeeds. It is a question about Liberia and its future, and will represent the depth to which we have allowed ourselves to sink. The choice we make could determine not only the people we are but the care we have for our country and its future. Today’s debate reminds me of a conversation I had with another Liberian Ph.D. holder several decades ago, when I was still a student and he had just obtained his Ph.D. He was relishing with pride in the fact that he had gone from regular shoes to car tires and to other lowly things, which he said identified him with the people. I could never appreciate why at the time his choice was to sink himself down rather than lift our people up. The conversation was whether the appropriate course was to go down to the level which our unfortunate people found themselves (sleeping on the floor, toileting in the open, and the like) or lift them up to our level where there was good sanitation, adequate education, good health care facilities, etc.) I preferred not merely refuse Champaign and drink palm wine with them, but rather to see how they could refine that palm wine into a marketable industrialized base that would help them earn the monies necessary to send their children to school, build better houses, eat better food, have better health care. Today, I am happy that that Ph.D. holder and I share the same vision. We have come a long way. We cannot afford to turn back now. Not everyone may like Ellen Sirleaf, but she is the best choice we have now; and no one can doubt that.

May God help us!

Editor's Note: Cllr. Banks' article was sent to The Perspective before the Nov 8 election.