Obama Movement Versus Big Business In Liberia

By J. Yanqui Zaza

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 22, 2008


Liberians are rejoicing the heroic achievement of President-elect Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the Presidency of the United States of America with mixed emotions. On the one hand, Obama’s journey to the White House dismisses the myth that blackness signals inferiority or inefficiency and might increase the bargaining leverage of black leaders against white-dominated institutions. This is especially true given Obama’s magnificent performance in outsmarting and clipping the wings of Hilary Clinton, former first lady of America’s darling former President, Bill Clinton.

On the other hand, big business has not allowed the achievement of political freedom or ascendancy to political office as a vehicle to shift economic benefits for Liberians. The question is would the Obama Administration dissuade big business or prevent excessive greed. Even as far back as in 1821, when the U.S. government deported African-Americans to Liberia as part of the means of addressing the concern of whites who fear the co-existence with a growing free-black population, big business used divisiveness to deny economic benefits to Liberians. And neither did big business allow liberating fighters across Africa in the 60s such as Patrice Lummuba to distribute peace dividends to the struggling masses.

In the last three decades, experts claim that big business instigated many civil wars in Africa, including Liberia, Rwanda, Congo, etc even though black leaders were at the pinnacle of political power. Kofi Anna succeeded Boutros Boutros Ghali in 1991 as the second African Secretary General of the United Nations. During the 90s prominent African Americans such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, Susan Rice, the Obama choice as U.S. representative to the U.N., were the eyes and ears of President Clinton on African affairs. In the George Bush Administration, Condeleezza Rice replaced Colin Powell as the U.S. Secretary of State. Colin Powell's testimony presented at the U.N., contrary to other evidence within the State Department and elsewhere before his testimony, is an example of the influence of big business.

Good at capitalizing on hatreds among groups, big business also squashed an economic reform effort led by the former Liberian President E. J. Roy during 1870 and the 1943 policy of co-existence by another former Liberian President William V.S. Tubman. Tubman's integration policy to end apartheid in Liberia, after 96 years of independence in 1847, did not bring economic benefits to the indigenous by instituting policy of education, housing, roads, healthcare, etc. Rather, the integration policy elevated indigenous from non-citizen status to second class citizen status.

With big business’s aversion to people’s policies on the rise, is it conceivable, for example, that the Obama Administration would encourage the Liberian Firestone Rubber Plantation to increase its dividend payments. In fact, the Liberian Firestone Rubber Plantation has not only prohibited the release of any information on the payment of dividends to the Liberian government, but has immunity from any law suit, according to a report by Global Witness and Safe my Future Foundation (SMAFU). Or can the Obama Movement ask the armament industry to reduce its profits, end feuding hatreds amongst, and stop selling weapons to rival groupings such as those rivals in Congo, in Nigeria, in Somalia, etc?

However, is it possible that the Obama Movement could encourage big business to reduce its greed or excessive profits, the primary factor of the high cost of living, civil war or bankruptcy on Wall Street? Efforts to reduce cost of living has been on the match around every corner of the world even before the white majority in America elected Obama. For instance, due to economic reasons, capitalists have admitted Russia and China into the World Trade Organization. Peppering hard core capitalists who had vowed to fight the decision to allow government to own shares of defunct banks, Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of Britain did ask China to invest into the International Monetary Fund. (NY Times, 11/14/08). Shouldn’t capitalists be advancing to take over socialist countries where government bureaucrats are managing natural resources, utility entities, banks, airlines, etc? For now, socialist countries such as China and Russia with huge cash reserves, skilled manpower, low cost of living, etc are in position to control significant segment of the global economy.

In the case of Liberia, the demand of reform is being advanced by prominent Liberians, including Dr. Amos Sawyer, former Interim President of Liberia and Charles Brumskine, a corporate lawyer and a former presidential candidate during the 2005 Liberian elections In reviewing the Proposed Economic Governance Plan (GEMAP) recommended by the World Bank, Dr. Sawyer did not only predict the inability of experts of the World Bank and GEMAP to assist in reducing corruption, but he also outlined a way forward. (Liberian local newspaper, Daily Observer, 7/22/05). Surprisingly, Brumskine, a corporate lawyer, is now admitting that capitalism is not effective.

Convinced that capitalism is crumbling, proponents of government intervention are elated about the results of the 2008 election. Paul Krugman, the Economic Noble price winner in 2001, stated that American voters chose between advocates of capitalism and those who prefer government’s intervention, and the socialists won. Most importantly, the myth that profiteers are less greedy than government bureaucrats has disappeared because of rampant corruption of big business and the $62 trillion dollar debt swap-derivative debacle. How could so many major corporations simultaneously be at the brink of bankruptcy? And why did many experts and, or academic institutions keep silent? Is the old defence of corruption “that the system is sound, but for few rotten apples” relevant anymore?

These kinds of questions should guide the Obama Movement to search for real reform and not rely on isolated or uncoordinated statements. For instance, the decision by Hungary and South Korea not to accept loan from the World Bank (NY Times, 10/30/08) is not substitute for an economic plan. Or the Liberian Liberty Party’s suggestion, that Liberia should shy away from donor countries that require Liberia to produce cash crop, is also not a policy of food sufficiency. Neither is the idea of throwing billions of dollars for worthy projects a good reform policy, only for profiteers to siphon the money, as in the case of New Orleans, Louisiana; Iraq; Afghanistan; etc. In addition, capitalists will regroup to resurrect its profit-making mechanism through cosmetic policies. For instance, on January 18, 2006, Condoleezza Rice, at Georgetown University admitted that "fundamental threats now come from weak and failed state." Yet the Bush administration coerced Liberia into accepting inimical policies of the Millennium Challenge Account, policies that will undermine real growth and increase cost of living.

A study group should investigate why there is rapid increase in the cost of living in countries that allow capitalists to manage natural resources and provide services (education, housing, food production, healthcare, transportation, or utility) as compared to countries that adopt mixed economics. The European countries investigation would be a beginning. The report indicated that pharmaceutical companies were adding billion of dollars to the cost of drugs by paying $200 million dollars to smaller drug companies to keep cheap drugs off of the market. (NY Times, 11/28/08). Additionally, Obama Movement should investigate what economic elements drove an average price of a two-family house in New York City that cost $200,000.00 in 1995 to jump to $600,000.00 in 2008. Find out from Donald Trump, the real estate and casino tycoon, why he believes that the prices of homes are “ridiculously overpriced.” (NY Times, 12/5/08).

In the case of Liberia, Shouldn’t we study why Botswana, with government ownership and involvement in management of its diamonds, receives reasonable share profits of diamonds as compared to the share of dividends Sierra Leone and, or Liberia receives from private investors? I think so. However, its study should not wait for the U.S. study, if any. An effort in the U.S. to institute policies that reduces cost of living would be intensive and prolonged, because banks rely on predatory lending practices to survive, according Trump. Similarly, insurance would not make huge profits if government invested in housing and mass transit. Banks would lose interest income and insurance companies would also lose insurance premium for each home owned and operated by the government and operated (the type mass transit found in European countries).

Obama Movement might not magically reduce the cost of insurance or bank fees the way President George Bush removed dictator Charles Taylor from Liberia. Neither will Liberia benefit from the Obama Movement if President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf continues to embrace the culture of corruption. Certainly, anti-corruption campaign is different from Ma Ellen’s unwillingness to prosecute some members of her inner circle, influenced big business to augment salary of some of advisors with $15,000.00 per month, encouraged Mittal Steel to provide our lawmakers with vehicles, etc. Additionally, if Liberians do not change their habit of consumption, the Obama Movement might not propel us to get higher profits from our natural resources.

© 2008 by The Perspective
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