PR Firm Hired To Fix Taylor's "Image Problem"
"An Investigative Report"
By George H. Nubo
March 28, 2001
Public Relations has become one of the fastest growing and lucrative fields in recent years, as firms from the West have found a goldmine of clients in Third World countries engulfed in crisis. Dubbed PR firms, their goal is two-fold: One, to polish, reshape, replace, almost making over a country or leader, mostly from a Third World country whose reputation has been badly damaged internationally. Second, PR firms may play an advisory, consultative role in helping countries with their political, economic or commercial relations with a developed country. Developing countries therefore, with its enormity of problems have become fertile markets for Public Relations firms.
While the latter goal is significant, and many have taken advantage of this to improve their socio-economic development status, the former has gained ascendancy among countries that are deeply troubled, and have become misplaced among the community of democratic states. Liberia, which fits this bill - has been referred to as an international "pariah" or "rogue" state, because of human rights violations against its citizens, the repression of freedom of speech and the press, and the country's involvement in spreading terror and instability in the West African sub-region, is now resorting to the use of PR firm to polish its image with the United States.
It wasn't too long, in fact three years ago, after being "democratically-elected" as President of Liberia, Mr. Taylor then flirted with the idea of hiring a public relations firm to smoothen his relationship with the United States and emblazon his image with the American public. Two years ago, Mr. Taylor hired Herman Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs to do precisely that. It is reported that the firm was contracted for US$300,000.00 to undertake the task.
Using his connections as a old hand in government, former Secretary Cohen ably worked smothering the way, by having the US Government remove some of the obstacles that stood in the way of Taylor visiting the US. One such obstacle was the removal of the "convicted felon" charge that still awaited him for breaking jail in Boston where he was incarcerated and awaiting extradition for embezzling close to a US$1 million from the Liberian Government when he served as General Services Director during the Doe administration.
Even though he did not attend a planned UN Conference in 1999, due to pressure from the Liberian community in the US, the work of the PR firm impacted certain public officials and some influential Americans. A Congresswoman from Georgia, Cynthia McKinney, touted Taylor as a "continental leader." While a Congressman from New Jersey, Rep. Donald Payne portrayed him as a man who understood "both worlds," meaning America and Africa, because of his exposure to Western education and his knowledge of classical music such as that of Beethoven and Mozart.
Not relenting in his efforts to gain acceptance by the United States, Mr. Taylor has again hired another PR firm. Then as now, this new firm, Jefferson Waterman International, has been contracted, using Am Lib United Minerals as a cover, by the Taylor Government for an "undefined period."
Since the 1997 elections that rewarded Charles Taylor the presidency, the Liberian president is said to have spent over a million dollars yearly on PR firms. Some analysts feel that Liberia, a nation without basic necessities such as running water, electricity, etc., spends more than two percent of it 64 million dollars annual budget on public relation. Currently, there are two foreign agents in the United States who have registered with the US Department of Justice as agents for the Liberian government.
Recently, The Perspective contacted the new PR firm, a Washington based PR firm by the name of Jefferson Waterman International (JWI), which is said to have entered a contractual agreement with the Taylor government. Few days later, Ken Yates, the pointman of JWI contacted this paper.
Mr. Yates told The Perspective that the information about a contractual agreement between his company and the Liberian Government was not true. He said, "We do not have a contract with the Liberian government. We have a contract with [an] American company that works in Liberia. So that places the connection. We work with [an] American company." He indicated that JWI had signed a consulting agreement with an American company called RDV and the information on the contract was available at the Justice Department.
When asked about the nature of the agreement, he said JWI was "helping (as we can) Liberia in terms of its communication problems but as part of the contract with the American company." Asked to elaborate on the communication problem of Liberia, Mr. Yates said, "I am not sure. You are more familiar with it than I am. Liberia has an image problem here"
Following our discussion with Mr. Yates, we contacted the US Department of Justice for information on the said agreement. Contrary to the information given by Mr. Yates that JWI signed a contract with RDV Corp, we learnt that JWI signed a contract with AmLib United Minerals, a company with Kenneth A. Ross III, an American citizen as its chairman, Nathaniel Richardson, a Liberian citizen and brother of Taylor's John T. Richardson as its president.
But in the registration documents filed with the US Justice Department, JWI doesn't mention the Government of Liberia as its client, instead the documents name AmLib United Minerals as its "foreign principal", which supposedly is its client. But when asked to disclose the nature of the agreement between the parties involved, the Government of Liberia was clearly referenced. The document states that:
"Registrant [JWI] will advise above-named Principal [AmLib United Minerals] on diverse matters related to political, economic, commercial relations with the United States. Registrant will consult with US Government officials and Members of Congress as well as the media and academic and public policy institutions, in strengthening relations between the US and Liberia."
There are even more inconsistencies and contradictory statements by JWI in their registration document filed. When asked for example, whether the so-called "foreign principal" is owned, directed and controlled or financed by a foreign government, foreign political party or foreign principal, the response is in the negative. But when asked whether the activities on behalf of its foreign principal shall include political activities, JWI answers in the affirmative. In describing the political activities it shall influence, it asserts that:
JWI will "Report orally and in writing all legislative and Administration actions of interest to the Principal. As requested, contact in person, or by phone, or by fax, or letter representatives of the US Government, media or private sector individuals as indicated in periodic dissemination report filings, to communicate the Principals objectives in the US. Communicate with the Government of Liberia, as appropriate, and as requested, to discuss policies and to advance the Principals objectives. Contact in person, by phone, fax or letter, representatives of the US media and academic institutions to organize educational programs to advance the interests of the Principal."
As a further example, the document filed with the Justice Department reveals that JWI will be paid a monthly fee by its foreign principal. "The arrangement calls for a monthly fee of $25,000.00 plus reasonable expenses, on a month to month basis for an undefined period."
By its very nature, there appears to be an invisible presence of the Liberian government represented in disguise by its "foreign principal", the AmLib United Minerals. Seemingly, the AmLib United Minerals which is registered as a business corporation, is also assuming political functions well beyond its business interest. AmLib, owned by Kenneth Ross III (an American) is said to be involved in gold and diamond mining exploration in Southeastern Liberia, an area that "Freedom Gold", a mining concern reportedly owned by the American Tele-Evangelist Pat Robertson, is said to be operating as well. Its president, Nathaniel R. Richardson, is a Liberian geologist, who is considered one of Taylor's advisors on mineral and energy.
How is it therefore that AmLib, a private "corporation", would want to be advised by a public relations firm on how to consult with the US government officials and members of congress as well as the media and academic and public institutions, in strengthening relation between the U.S. Government and the Republic of Liberia?
"There is no question that the Government of Liberia has a desperate yearning for relations with the West and the U.S. in particular. But with UN sanctions pending, and with the travel ban in effect, all channels for direct cooperation don't seem possible. Now, government doesn't only see the need to disguise itself to break this logjam, it is now resorting to the use of public relations firms to revamp its image. JWI does not only compromise the integrity of this noble profession, but it has shown a lack of moral conscience for the plight of Liberia", a former Taylor's Government official stated.
In the end, as millions of dollars are siphoned by irredeemable and highly corrupt rulers wishing to have respectable images that money can never buy in most cases, their people suffer. Liberia is without light, water, paid school teachers, a lawless society in which the President decides who lives and who dies. And yet, it is business as usual to promise giving such a country under an innately corrupt man a good image deserving millions and recognition from Washington and therefore the prolongation of a people's misery. They call this PR--promoting rottenness.