By Martin K. N. Kollie, Youth Activist
The total votes tallied accounted for 98.1 percent according to a provisional announcement by NEC on December 28, 2017. It seemed all over as CDC of Presidential Candidate George M. Weah had a comfortable lead of 61.5 percent ahead of UP Presidential Candidate Joseph Nyuma Boakai’s 38.5 percent.
The ‘expressed choice’ of the people was made known by a voting turnout of 1.2 million Liberians. Finally, the people retired UP after a 12-year rule and transferred their inherent power to a new ruling class, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). The World watched as Liberians added a new page to their historical journal.
As NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya began to read provisional results from various counties, a jubilant atmosphere in Monrovia and across dozens of cities awakened. The ecstatic emission from such an overly-charged atmosphere rapidly spread to the slums and shacks. The masses, once loyal to CDC, flooded almost everywhere in their thousands to claim full ownership of this yearning victory.
Local entertainment centers and public areas were bustling with a number of popular campaign songs such as: Move on the Road – Country Giant coming again, Corrupt Monkey come down, Your leave us ooo – Da Weah we want, Da who your want, CDC Muyan, Sure win – papay you force to win, etc. The euphoria signaled a “New Dawn” of relief and freedom in most quarters. But soon the contrary would be a reality.
The masses thought they had finally been unchained from the shackles of economic bondage because someone of their kind/liking had come to deliver them. They were made to believe that ex-Soccer Legend George M. Weah had all the answers to their long years of poverty and misery. Finally, a son of GIBRALTAR, one of Liberia’s largest shantytowns, was on his way to the Executive Mansion for a 6-year term.
As they jubilantly danced to the lyrics of “The Country Giant Coming Again”, some even chanted “our liberator and redeemer has come to deliver us from poverty.” On one occasion, a young female CDC partisan said “Our problems are over”. For once, the hope of motorcyclists, marketers, pen-pen riders, taxi drivers, rock crushers, sand miners, shoeshine boys, zogos, street peddlers, farmers, slum and rural dwellers seemed rekindled after a prolonged period of indignity and uncertainty.
The masses were continuously assured by “The Country Giant” and his Party (CDC) of an improved condition upon ascending to power. The “Change for Hope” mantra resonated so well especially with Liberia’s poverty-stricken, illiterate and unemployed population, most of whom are youth. This mantra was indeed intoned and hummed.
The CDC through a 4-pillar Manifesto had promised to get the country working again by instituting these sweeping ‘pro-poor’ reforms such as:
1. Power to the People (Education and Training, Health and Sanitation, Gender Equality, Youth Reorientation and Empowerment, Focus on Physically Challenged and Senior Citizens);
2. Economy and Jobs (Sustained Economic Growth, Agriculture and Forestry, Infrastructure Development);
3. Sustaining the Peace (Human Rights, Reconciliation, Security and National Defense);
4. Governance and Transparency (Decentralization of Institutions and Systems, Accountability and Anti-Corruption, Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Relations).
The masses seemed to have had little or no idea of what they were getting into. But they couldn’t listen either because of their unquenched desperation for CHANGE after a failed and corrupt hegemony under Africa’s first female President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Due to such desperation, they unknowingly entrapped themselves.
The class of intelligentsia and some freethinkers became skeptical about Weah’s baggage of rhetoric presented in the form of a manifesto. The CDC’s manifesto fell short of pragmatic strategies and offered no realistic solutions to Liberia’s socio-economic malaise. It was just another ‘carbon copy’ of empty promises that wooed the masses into cowardice and mediocrity.
The masses were never under any form of spell or incantation, this I believe. They were simply desperate to embrace a new beginning of economic emancipation. The “Country Giant” through CDC took advantage of this situation to have ridden on the plinth of ‘football populism’. The mass of the people were actually swindled and duped. Amidst loud alarm and allegation of electoral frauds and irregularities, the “Country Giant” was officially crowned by NEC as the new face of the Executive Mansion.
Finally on January 22, 2018, the Unity Party was retired and power was transferred to a new ruling clique led by CDC, a coalition of NPP, LPDP and CDC. Such peaceful transition after 73 years, though contested through a number of lawsuits, became a historic milestone for a nation that still bears the scars of a prolonged civil war.
The masses had played their part, it was now time for the “Country Giant” to play his. The first blunder this “Country Giant” made was to begin recycling corrupt public officials from past regimes into high-profile positions such as ministers, managing directors, advisors, etc. The new President insistently refused to declare his assets and audit his predecessor as growing outcry to fight corruption emerged. Up to now, no such action to audit the past government has taken precedence.
As the expectation of the masses grew beyond limit, the “Country Giant” along with some of his closest confidents began constructing and purchasing giant-sized properties in less than 4 months even though they claimed to have inherited a broken economy, a claim Sirleaf has consistently refuted. Amidst sharp economic decline, The “Country Giant” was ‘offered’ a private jet by a friend in order to boost his morale and fly around to beg for foreign aid and loan.
Without any regard for MERIT, COMPETENCE and EXCELLENCE, Weah chose to accommodate hundreds of his supporters and partisans strictly based on patronage, political compensation and nepotism. To make matter worse, the President signed into law a ‘pro-rich’ 2018/2019 National Budget with over 86 percent accounting for recurrent expenditure (payment of astronomical salaries and allowances, purchasing luxurious cars, etc.).
The annual budget of the “Country Giant” for this fiscal year is over US$3.3 million while First Lady Clar Weah gets US$1 million even though Liberia is the 4th poorest country on earth. Is the “Country Giant” a pro-poor president or a pro-rich president? The latter would suffice for any reasonable mind.
As the rhetorical cliché of “pro-poor” began to gradually evaporate in less than 4 months, it seemed too late for the masses to recollect and gain self-consciousness. So they had no option, but to find solace in HOPE and PATIENCE. As the President broke down his properties to construct new ones, the masses were left to wonder whether the “Country Giant” came to liberate them or to liberate himself. The answer was recently found in the Bong County Senatorial By-Election and the District #13 By-Election.
As harsh economic realities confronted the people so early due to inflation and rising exchange rate, the government had no economic development plan in order to offset global macroeconomic shocks. The Liberian economy feebly ballooned in free fall. For almost a year, the nation under CDC has been operating on a scattered agenda through imaginary concepts and barren prescriptions.
Up-to-date, Weah’s Economic Management Team (EMT) is more of a group of apprentice mechanics who lack the appropriate tools to unscrew the socio-economic malaise confronting the country and its economy. While the appetite of Weah’s government for foreign aid and loan upsurged, the “Country Giant” kept raising the expectation of the masses by pronouncing more big promises such as:
a. The construction of a Coastal Highway
b. The construction of a Modern City on Bali Island
c. The construction of modernized mini stadiums in 7 counties
d. The installation of 400 street lights along RIA Highway
e. The arrival of 6000 Teachers from Nigeria
f. The sourcing of ETON and EBOMAF Loans
g. The rehabilitation and reintegration of youth at risk (zogos)
h. The fall in prices of basic commodities (petrol, rice, transportation fare, etc)
i. Youth employment and empowerment of Liberian-owned businesses
j. The construction of 14 Military Hospital
k. The establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court (2011)
l. Access to WIFI and a Digitalized Registration System for UL; just to name a few.
Almost a year now, these promises remain unfulfilled as Weah’s government drowns in uncertainty. The country’s problem seems far bigger than the country giant. Sadly, massive CORRUPTION has become an entrenched culture under Weah. The CDC led government has clinched unto BUSINESS AS USUAL and it seems determined to squeeze every bit out of Liberia. The masses are fast losing hope and confidence in the ability of the new ruling clique to deliver them from poverty. They have been left to wonder whether President Weah is actually the Country Giant or the Country Ginna.
Up-to-date, Weah and his Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) cannot account for:
1. The missing US$16 billion (US$106 million) which accounts for 5 percent of Liberia’s GDP and 18 percent of its National Budget. This is the biggest corruption scandal since 1847
2. The US$25 million which was meant to mop up excess liquidity in the economy
3. The diversion of US$1.2 million from public to private health centers
4. The NHA Corruption Scandal involving high-ranking public officials
5. Single sourcing of contracts which violates PPCC Law.
Amidst increased corruption and a worsening economic situation, is President Weah really a ‘Country Giant’ or a ‘Country Ginna’? So soon the ‘Giant’ has metamorphosed in a ‘Ginna’ in the lenses of the masses. This ‘Country Ginna’ is making almost everyone afraid as he viciously attempts to consolidate power by instituting gangster politics ahead of 2023.
The early signs and symptoms of dictatorship and a domineering presidency are becoming visibly pervasive as President Weah continues to violate almost every Law/Statute including the Liberian Constitution.
Barely a year, it has become crystal clear that the masses are being neglected once more. This time around, such neglect is orchestrated by someone they perceived to be their redeemer. When they are unable to afford their children’s tuition and even find food to eat, a lot of them are beginning to vent out their frustration so early. Such resentment seems unexplainable and too painful to narrate. The harsh realities on ground speak volume.
The country seems to be at the edge of socio-economic collapse at a time when World Bank is predicting over US$100 million deficit or shortfall for fiscal year 2018/2019. This forecast or prognosis has further sent the masses into a state of frenzy. 64 percent of Liberians recently said that the country is moving in the wrong direction while 70 percent of them rated the current economic condition in the country as poor according to a November 2018 Survey Report released by NAYMOTE.
According to a November 2018 AfroBarometer Report, 6 in 10 Liberians are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working under President George M. Weah. Almost half (47 percent) of the Liberian people think that the level of corruption in the country just in a relatively short period has increased. All odds seem to be against the CDC led government.
The public rejection of Weah and CDC in two latest by-elections signals that the once popular voice of the “Country Giant” no longer resonates with the masses. The presence of Weah and an array of influential public officials and party executives could not even help the CDC to claim victory in District #13. The masses were again resolved to send another caveat like they did in Bong.
The masses now consider President Weah as the “Country Ginna” instead of the “Country Giant”. The CDC is losing ground and gradually cracking. The feud emerging between CDC and NPP is even adding insult to injury. There may be volcanic political eruption anytime soon as a result of this contradiction. As the masses expeditiously suffocate in extreme poverty, they could find an alternative solution to their collective nightmare.
The former ‘Country Giant’ could be left in the cold ahead of 2023 if he doesn’t perform quick miracle to fix the economy and improve the livelihood of the downtrodden. As it stands, nothing seems to be working for the masses. The recently launched ‘pro-poor’ agenda, which promises to uplift 1 million Liberians out of poverty in 60 months, is similar to a premature pregnancy that may experience miscarriage as a result of its ambiguous and unrealistic nature.
The latest defeat of CDC in Bong and District #13 is a clarion caveat to the new ruling elite/clique that the masses are tired with populist rhetoric and would self-liberate themselves when the time comes. The masses were hoodwinked before 2017 Presidential Election in my opinion. They mistook a Country Ginna for a Country Giant. They mistook a canoe man for a pilot. Certainly, they mistook a nurse for a surgeon. But only resilience and a collective sense of solidarity can liberate them from this current horror and prevailing fright. Only the masses can redeem themselves.
In the context of this article, “Giant” means someone who uplifts his people while “Ginna” means someone who frightens or terrifies his people as a result of public wrongdoings.
About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a youth and student activist, a columnist and an emerging economist who studies Economics at the University of Liberia. He is a young patriot and a stalwart of the indomitable Vanguard Student Unification Party (SUP).