By J. Yanqui Zaza

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 17, 2007


President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her eagerness to have the American security network (AFRICOM) established in Liberia, did not only violate Liberia’s Constitutional provision on consultation with the Legislative Branch, but also violated foreign diplomatic protocol. A couple of weeks ago, instead of using appropriate channel to communicate this security issue with heads of sovereign states, she wrote an opinion piece carried by telling African leaders what a good idea it is for them to all sign up and support AFRICOM. She was not content with this role as a public relations officer of the America global security service. So on July 4th at the US Independence Day reception at the American embassy in Monrovia, the President finally extended an official verbal invitation to the American government to choose Liberia as the site of its AFRICOM headquarters.

For at least two months now, the President of Liberia had been hinting that Liberia would welcome the headquarters of AFRICOM, and had been actively seeking to persuade the American government to make a request, signaling that her government would speedily approve. While campaigning for AFRICOM, she did not consult with the Legislative Branch of government to explain why she is undertaking a major security decision, a violation of the Liberian Constitution? Members of the Legislature who I have been in touch with have confirmed that the President has never even raised the issue with that body. Even her cabinet has never had an opportunity to discuss this issue. No Liberian civil society organization or research institution has made this proposal to her. This is a clear case of presidential arbitrariness.

Does this type of approach dismantle the “imperial presidency”? How can a president approach a foreign nation to bring its military installation to her country without even consulting her own people? This type of action can only promote dictatorship and prevent democracy from taking root. Did President Sirleaf not promise, when she was campaigning, to “dismantle the imperial presidency”? Well, her action on this issue suggests otherwise.

Why complicate problems associated with the “imperial presidency” syndrome, by not creating a forum for Liberians to discuss issues such as AFRICOM? Nonetheless, the president is making this offer to the Americans at a time when Liberia does not even have a defense policy of its own. The President seems to prefer to govern arbitrarily and in an ad hoc manner. Besides the interim poverty reduction strategy paper which is a very general economic development framework demanded by the World Bank, Liberia does not have a national policy on many of the critical areas of governance. There is no national security policy, no defense policy because she withdrew the draft policy she had sent to the Legislation for enactment. It is in a national policy vacuum that she is anxiously pursuing the American to come and establish their African security headquarters.

Additionally, there are some very important questions connected with this American security headquarters that need to be answered. For example, how will the American installation fit into Liberian security needs? What risks will it expose Liberia to? How is it compatible with Liberia’s security responsibility in West Africa? What obligations will it impose on Liberia? What benefits will it bring to Liberia? Not only should the President tell the Liberian people the answers to these questions, but Liberians need to investigate the answers for themselves. There must be a sound basis upon which this decision is made.

Even if the benefits to be accrued to Liberia out weight the risks, why did at least three other African countries refuse the American request to establish AFRICOM headquarters on their territory? Ghana is one of those countries. Ghana is a member of ECOWAS, maintains a close relationship with Liberia and is also struggling with its development program. So if a country like Ghana can reject an American request to host the headquarters of AFRICOM, there must be some compelling Ghanaian national or West African interest involved in their decision. Do Liberians know why the Ghanaians rejected the American request? Morocco is also a close friend of the United States but Morocco has also rejected the American request. How come the countries that the Americans are asking are saying no and the Liberian president is the only one going out of her way to bring the American military installations to Liberia? Mrs. Sirleaf should tell Liberians what is truly motivating her to do so.

Would economic benefits be some of the motivating reasons as some Liberians have indicated? If history is any guide, then the answer is no. Liberia got nothing in return for allowing America to use Liberia’s resources and territory during World War I and II. Also the existence of the Center of Intelligence Agency headquarters in Liberia did not yield any economic benefits to the country besides the crumbs from the spoils that Monrovia landlords accumulated. If Liberia, supposedly a step-child of America, got no school, clinics, roads, etc, but only bad deeds from a paternal relationship, would AFRICOM beget better deeds?

Predictably, President Sirleaf and corrupt businesses would benefit since they would use fear mongering to silent patriotic citizens. As her predecessors did in the past and other dictatorial regimes are doing, they would label formidable political parties, not only as socialists, but as terrorist organizations, thereby creating an environment for President Sirleaf and her partisans to retain political power. In fact, President Sirleaf and her advisors have already begun to use fear as a way of silencing her oppositions. Over the last few months, they have accused unidentified opposition leaders for planning to topple her government without any iota of evidence.

Putting aside President Sirleaf’s failure to institute policies that would promote democracy, her recent visit to Equatorial Guinea is troubling. (Gbe Sneh, Perspective, 7/2/07). Why would a victim of dictatorship, such as Sirleaf herself, instead of distancing herself from dictators including President Obaing of Equatorial Guinea, choose to honor his rule by visiting him? This despot has kept his country massively poor despite a high national revenue intake. Interestingly, President Sirleaf’s entourage did not include advisors on economics, justice and human rights, rather her Defense Minister and oil tycoons. So, if I may ask, did the Liberian Defense Minister, a kid on the block within the military profession, learn the lessons of perpetuity and how to use the presence of AFRICOM in prolonging President Sirleaf’s reign? Obviously, opposition leaders capable of defeating President Sirleaf, but accused as terrorists would face the wrath of AFRICOM.

© 2007 by The Perspective

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