Taylor's Administration Launches Public Relations Blitz

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective

Posted: April 6, 1998

With public opinion on its political conduct and performance stack up against the regime since it assumed the reins of power six months ago, the Taylor administration in the past two months, it appears, has embarked upon a well-conceived and orchestrated public relations strategy to not only repair, but to also improve its image amongst the populace at home and the international community abroad.

This strategy has taken on two dimensions. 1) the regime has initiated a policy of dialogue with Liberians at home and abroad with a view of engaging Liberians in an exchange and gauging their thinking and perception of the government and the direction of the country; 2) the regime has launched a calculated media -public relations campaign with various print media - international newspapers and magazines, with a view of projecting a positive image of the government.

There are reports for example, that the embassies abroad, specifically, in the United States and Great Britain, have been given an added responsibility of closely monitoring the U. S. and international media and its coverage of the administration and ensuring that misperceptions were corrected and a positive image conveyed. This paper has also learned that President Taylor's lawyer, Lester Human, has reportedly been asked to work with a media consultant and public relations firm to develop a U. S. public relations strategy.

In the U. S., President Taylor's outreach efforts have taken several forms. Significantly, several high-level government officials have been dispatched to confer with influential members of Congress and the Clinton administration, engage in dialogue with Liberian-American groups and the Liberian communities across the United States. It can be recalled that this magazine reported in its Oct/Dec. 1997 issue about a surreptitious trade conference held in Atlanta, which was addressed by Sen. Charles Brumskine, President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian senate.

Considered as one of the most vibrant Liberian communities in the U. S., the Liberian Community Association of Metropolitan Atlanta was again put at center stage when one of Taylor's principal advisers and director of the cabinet, Mr. Blamoh Nelson, stopped by and engaged Liberians in a dialogue.

In sharp contrast to the condescending and flamboyant nature of Sen. Brumskine, Mr. Nelson engaged the community with humility and respect. In an atmosphere characterized by candor and civility, Mr. Nelson not only articulated government policies and programs, but also listened to the burning concerns of Liberians.

Director Nelson, who was visiting his family in Atlanta after attending a confab on maritime affairs, in self-deprecating humour and style,defined his role as chief clerk of the president. On a more serious note, he said his responsibility includes: handling administrative disputes, resolving conflict between ministries and cabinet officers, monitoring performance of government, just to name a few. Among other things, Mr. Nelson said he is the president's point man on good governance.

Referring to the leadership change in Liberia as generational and historic, Nelson said Liberians have for the first time had the opportunity to effect the kind of changes they wanted, and take charge in shaping the destiny of their country.

Mr. Nelson also discussed a range of other issues, which included human rights and press freedom, political inclusion and national reconciliation, the national budget and economic development, government restructuring and national security.

On human rights and press freedom, he commented that the administration was making progress, but still has a long road to travel. Mr. Nelson admitted that the painstaking transition has made it difficult for the government to totally disarm and demobilize all combatants, hence the existence of tremendous arms still in the country.

Exasperated and concerned, the audience asked Mr. Nelson about the constant clampdown of the press, police brutality and the mysterious disappearances and the abuses of citizens rights. Mr. Nelson said the Liberian press has enormous freedom as evident in the number of independent newspapers and radio stations - eight newspaper and 10 radio stations.

On the issue of the murder of Sam Dokie and his family, Mr. Nelson said there were murderers masquerading in the country bent on eliminating others. He further stated that there was logistical problems caused by inadequate resources in the Gharnga Circuit where the case is scheduled to be tried.

But Mr. Nelson's assertion contradicted remarks made by former Justice Minister Peter Jallah, in which he said government had set aside. $50,000 (U.S.) for the trial.

Echoing the sentiment of most Liberians in the U. S. about Taylor's abysmal human rights record, a call for the replacement of Police Director Joseph Tate, who has acquired a notoriety for brutality and the director of the Special Security Service (SSS) was made.

But this was not all. On the crucial questions of national unity, reconciliation and political inclusion, Mr. Nelson told the group that the government was all inclusive - all political parties and civic groups were represented, and there was a determined effort to ensure that people from various strata of civil society were brought on board. However, there was concern that the recently announced national reconciliation commission was yet to be constituted since its chairman, former guerrilla leader Alahji Kromah was out of the country and feared returning home because his personal safety was not guaranteed.

Addressing the issues of the national budget and economic development plan, Mr. Nelson said the government had announced a $41 million budget, all of which was self- financed without any external funding. He admitted that the regime has no economic development plan or blueprint, but has identified priority programs that needed to be pursued during this urgent crisis period.

Mr. Nelson also called upon Liberians to become proactive, to match their words with deeds by forming themselves into investment corporations as a first step towards taking over their economy from foreigners.

While the latest efforts on the part of Taylor regime to improve its image by initiating a constructive policy of engagement and dialogue with both Liberians and friends of Liberia, seem encouraging, one wonders whether these efforts are not simply lip service, couched in "sweet talk" and insulated from the woeful realities on the ground? Or is this a real commitment to break away form the "iron-hand" and "strongman" approach from the past which has led to nowhere? Surely, time will tell.