Politics in Liberia
Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, a ranking that is largely due to the corrupt practices of its politicians. Economic mismanagement and various other corrupt practices plaguing politics in Liberia have sparked protests in the country as its residents become increasingly upset with a failure to tackle the situation. In order to understand the rise in civil unrest and dissatisfaction with the government, it is important to understand certain aspects of politics in Liberia that have collectively brought about its corrupt practices.

10 Facts About Politics in Liberia

  1. Previous Leadership: Liberia’s citizens previously revered their previous president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but the people eventually accused her of nepotism. Despite taking an oath to tackle corruption in 2005, the country did not effectively deal with its corrupt politics during her time as president. Approximately 20 ministers experienced accusations of corruption during this time, but the country did not take action to convict them of any wrongdoing or investigate the claims against them.
  2. Liberia’s New President: George Weah is currently the president of Liberia; people originally expected that his administration would help the Liberian people overcome the persistent problem of corruption within their politics. However, during his relatively short period as president, inflation rates dramatically increased and economic growth has shrunk.
  3. A Shift in Power: The election that Weah won followed a period of war within Liberia. Liberia elected its previous president during a significant time of war, and the most recent election in 2017 was the first democratic transfer of power that the country observed in many years.
  4. Continued Corruption: The previous election in 2017 took place not only in a time of war but in a time that would have been fairly definitive for politics in Liberia. The continuation of corruption undermined the country’s newfound hope in the democratic transition of power. The state institutions remained weak as a result of the corrupt politics in Liberia and it remained clear that personal relationships within politics still heavily dictated the decision-making process.
  5. The Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission: The country has made attempts in the past to tackle corruption but unfortunately has not been widely successful. Liberia implemented the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission in 2008 but it only led to two prosecutions between 2008 and 2017.
  6. Wage Discrepancies: Citizens in the nation typically earn less than $2 a day. The corrupt politics in Liberia ensure that its politicians receive compensation on a much larger scale. Legislators often pay themselves as much as $200,000 a year despite the persistent poverty that overtakes its citizens. Because of this, politics in Liberia tend to lean toward a means of personal promotion rather than true public service.
  7. Ebola’s Impact: The economy in the country took a large blow following an Ebola outbreak. While the outbreak was widespread and already difficult to assess and handle effectively, the politics in Liberia seemed to do more harm than good in the wake of the crisis. Its corrupt practices continued the growth of distrust in the government and politicians were unable to adopt a concerted effort to properly tackle and solve the crisis or stop the spreading.
  8. Lack of Protectionist Policies: Liberia, unfortunately, does not have a protectionist policy or law in place for whistleblowing accounts. As a result, authorities have arrested government employees that have pushed for greater transparency within the country’s politics. President Weah recently fired Konah Karmo who served as head of the secretariat for the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. As a replacement, Weah appointed a loyalist in order to further his own personal goals which sparked discontent and criticism from his constituents.
  9. Citizens Take Action: On a more uplifting note, citizens remain actively concerned and are attempting to tackle corruption and questionable politics in Liberia. Approximately two-thirds of the eligible population within the country can vote and this movement has allowed more women and first-time voters to become more involved with the political processes or, at the very least, the protests of corrupt practices.
  10. The Media vs. the Government: The relationship between the media and government has become increasingly tense in recent years as a result of the corrupt politics in Liberia. This relationship has grown so strained that the press union has recently brought attention to the intimidation and stifling practices that the press often face. Personal attacks of journalists and closures of local newspapers have taken place, further solidifying the corrupt politics in Liberia and making the situation more difficult to tackle and solve.

Liberia’s poverty and low economic growth closely link with its political practices. Despite a seemingly calm, democratic transition of power taking place just a few years ago, it seems that the current administration within the country has continued its corrupt practices rather than solving the problem internally. Liberian citizens are now taking a stance against these corrupt practices and attempting to influence their politicians to change their ways. The country can only make economic progress once it addresses its corrupt politics; once a leader comes into power that prioritizes truly challenging corruption or the current president changes his ways, the country will be on the road to progress and increased transparency.

Hannah Easley
Photo: Flickr

corruption in Liberia
Political issues have riddled Liberia, one of Africa’s poorest countries, since its declaration of independence from the United States in 1847. Despite its abundance in natural resources, Liberia continues to face the consequences of poverty, including corruption within its government institutions, epidemic outbreaks and violence. Here are 10 facts about corruption in Liberia.

10 Facts About Corruption in Liberia

  1. Corruption Perception Index: According to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index, Liberia ranks 91 out of the 183 countries and territories analyzed, with a score of 3.2 on the zero (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean) scale. This is a tremendous improvement since the index score for Liberia in 2005, which put the country at 137 out of 158 countries and territories that Transparency International assessed. One can credit this to the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program that emerged in 2005, which strictly adhered to practices of transparency and accountability, as well as working to embrace the role of international help in fighting corruption.
  2. Illegal Forestry: Money that came in to fuel weaponry supplies for the 14-year Liberian Civil War came from the illegal forestry of Liberia’s wilderness, which contributed to the lengthy duration of the war. The outcome resulted in 250,000 casualties and mass deforestation. However, over time, the government has taken necessary action to eradicate this practice such as enforcing reformed forest laws and canceling wartime contracts.
  3. Police Corruption: The Liberian National Police stands at 4,417 police officers, which is twice the size of its army. People have perceived the Liberian police institution as being corrupt due to a lack of professionalism, accountability and abuse of power. This is due to countless accounts from victims about police enforcing senseless brutality and partaking in bribery dealings. The United Nations Mission in Liberia has been working to address the need for better police governing by targeting poor police conduct and pursuing cases against high-ranking personnel in these security institutions.
  4. Female Genital Mutilation: As with most Western African countries, Liberia has not fallen short of falling into the practice of performing female genital mutilation on young girls. Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf put a one-year ban on female genitalia mutilation. However, this ban has since come to an end and the government has not renewed it. The ban only condemned female genitalia mutilation to those under the age of 18, however, which means adults who gave consent could still receive it. The inauguration of the new president, George Weah, largely overshadowed this proving that Liberia still does not see women’s rights as a top priority.
  5. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Liberia elected its first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in 2006 and she remained in office until 2018. Despite being a female in a government position of leadership, she did not strictly advocate for women’s rights during her presidency and did not consider herself a feminist. More so, just as with many other presidents before her, she was under suspicion for corruption and nepotism, such as when she elected her three sons into high-ranking government positions. This ultimately lead to her stepping down as president.
  6. Education Fraud: Education fraud has long been a serious issue in Liberia. Much of Liberia’s student population has taken shortcuts through bribery offerings in order to receive credentials for a degree. Socio-economic and political development may stall if there are no educated young people entering the Liberian workforce, as it will create a workforce that does not have the work ethic or skillset to uphold a stable democracy. In the efforts to uphold accountability, authorities are subjecting people guilty of such crimes to lawful punishment.
  7. The Anti-Same-Sex Marriage Bill: The LGBT community has been in a long battle against the Liberian government for human rights, but in 2012, things continued to escalate when the government passed the Anti-Same-Sex Marriage bill, which punishes people engaging in same-sex marriage and sentences offenders with up to five years in prison. Liberia has done little to outlaw the poor political treatment of LGBT people.
  8. The United Nations Mission in Liberia: The United Nations Mission in Liberia deployed in 2003 to provide Liberia with aid in security assistance and human rights advocacy, as the Liberian government and its people worked to strengthen their democracy, fully intending to leave in the future once Liberia was strong enough to stand on its own. However, according to the Secretary-General’s progress report in 2018, although the Liberian government has shown vast improvements in planning and enacting political affairs, it still requires aid to ensure that such institutions receive sufficient funds to keep them functioning effectively.
  9. Liberia’s GDP: Despite continuing economic stresses, Liberia’s GDP growth has taken a positive turn in the last couple of years. GDP growth increased by 0.7 percent in 2018 over a the span of a year due to major contributions from the agricultural, forestry and fishing industries to the economy. GDP rates should reach 4.8 percent in 2020, along with decreased inflation rates of 9.5 percent in 2020. The Liberian government’s continued corruption elimination tactics have been a major factor in decreasing crime and encouraging its people to work and actively engage in their country’s economic sustainability.
  10. The Domestic Resource Mobilization Initiative: Under the Domestic Resource Mobilization initiative, Liberia and the United States Agency for International Development have united to increase the number of institutions, which will help increase taxpayer education and facilitate positive engagement in Domestic Resource Mobilization affairs. In exchange, the Liberian government will distribute profits that it gains from this program to a multitude of agencies to put them towards education, health and sanitation, thus putting a steady end to corruption within Liberian communities.

Despite the challenges that these 10 facts about corruption in Liberia express, the country is on the path to eliminating corruption. With the help of Liberia’s people and continued ethical improvements within Liberia’s government system, there is still hope that the country will be able to climb out of poverty once and for all.

Lucia Elmi
Photo: United Nations

In February, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting leadership and governance across Africa, dispenses the $5 million honor to former African heads of state that “have developed their countries and strengthened democracy and human rights for the shared benefit of their people.”

Mo Ibrahim Prize

Johnson Sirleaf is the fifth recipient of this honor, which is reserved for democratically elected leaders who, in the previous three years, have demonstrated leadership and left office following legally mandated terms. Previous winners include the former presidents of Mozambique, Botswana, Cape Verde and Namibia.

The selection committee, which chose not to issue the award in 2015 and 2016, selected Johnson Sirleaf for having “led a process of reconciliation” in Liberia in the aftermath of the nation’s civil war. The first female recipient of the Ibrahim Prize, Johnson Sirleaf became the first democratically elected African head of state when she was inaugurated as President of Liberia in 2006.

In many ways, Johnson Sirleaf’s journey mirrors that of her country — both have weathered significant tumult and overcome controversy in their search for stability.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was born and raised in Liberia, and eventually came to the United States to study, earning an MBA from Harvard in 1972. She was back in Liberia working as a finance official, when, in 1980, a staff sergeant led a coup which ousted its president. The coup, which resulted from tensions between the indigenous people and the Americo-Liberians – descendants of settlers who came to the nation as part of a program of the American Colonization Society – commenced the nation’s descent into chaos.

Johnson Sirleaf managed to escape to the United States. Following an interlude working in international finance, she returned to Liberia and ran for the Senate, but was arrested and sentenced to work in a labor camp. Mounting international pressure culminated in her release after less than a year of her ten-year sentence.

Tensions between competing militias intensified, thrusting the nation into further violence and civil war. Forced to flee once more, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took a job at the United Nations.

Development and Women’s Rights

She returned to Liberia in 1997, and lost her presidential bid before being elected in 2005. During her tenure, she leveraged her ties with international organizations to bring development assistance to Liberia. She also prioritized women’s rights and stopping “gender-based violence, building ‘capacity’ and furthering reconciliation among former combatants” to stabilize the country.

Helped by her financial expertise, Liberia succeeded in having much of its international debt forgiven, and also managed to secure significant foreign direct investment to a nation whose infrastructure had been decimated by its civil wars.

Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency was punctuated by the Ebola crisis; under her leadership, Liberia became the first of three nations to stop the outbreak.

Faults and Success

Despite her successes, Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency was not without controversy. She faced substantial criticism for her brief support of the warlord Charles Taylor in 1990 and she also weathered charges of nepotism for her appointment of her sons to government posts. Critics consider this behavior a regrettable irony for a leader who made combating corruption a hallmark of her campaign.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation recognized these “shortcomings” but chose to issue the award because Liberia was the only nation in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance which improved its scores in each category during Johnson Sirleaf’s tenure.

– Brendan Wade

Photo: Flickr

Widespread hunger in Liberia has plagued the country partly as a result of a coup d’état in 1980. However, a combination of president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s poverty reduction programs, other government programs and nongovernmental initiatives has led to a reduction in hunger.

In 1980, a military regime replaced the civilian government in Liberia. The people rebelled in 1989. The resulting conflict continued until 2003, when a peace agreement was signed. Then, in 2006, Sirleaf, the first post-war president, was sworn into office. The relative stability since 2006 proved helpful in the effort of reducing hunger in Liberia.

Nearly one-third of the Liberian population is undernourished. Every fifth household is food insecure, according to a 2012 government-led survey.

The staple food for families is rice. Liberia imports 90 percent of this commodity, so any change in price has a large impact on the Liberian people. For example, in 2008, the price for a 110 pound bag of rice equaled one month’s salary for a security guard in the country’s capital of Monrovia, a relatively well-paying position. That bag of rice could only feed a family of seven (the average is five in Liberia) for around two weeks.

In addition, about 14 percent of children under five are underweight and these children’s mortality rate was 7.8 percent in 2011. At one point in 2009, health officials feared that an estimated 74,000 Liberian children would die from malnutrition by 2015.

That fear motivated them to act.

In 2009, health officials succeeded in getting the government to adopt a policy committing them to improve food security, especially in the rural areas where it were most needed. John Agbor, head of child survival at UNICEF, said back then that the policy “refocuses nutrition and puts it where it ought to be—on the higher agenda of government.”

Sirleaf’s government did even more. Acknowledging that poverty and food insecurity are strongly correlated, Sirleaf’s government first implemented Poverty Reduction Strategy and then Poverty Reduction Strategy II, which built upon the successes its predecessor.

The policies’ successes were possibly reflected in 2013’s Global Hunger Index. While Liberia ranked only 50th out of 78 and remained in a “serious” status, its GHI ranking has been steadily improving since 1995.

Unfortunately, the recent Ebola outbreak in Liberia has presented Sirleaf’s government with new challenges in reducing hunger.

In a controversial move, Sirleaf ordered a quarantine of sizable villages, which have been cordoned off by the military. The villagers lack access to food and medical supplies, and the threat of starvation is motivating some to attempt an escape, which many fear will help Ebola spread.

Unless the government and other organizations can find a way to keep these quarantined populations fed, hunger among the people could make Ebola quite difficult to contain in Liberia.

Ryan Yanke

Sources: World Food Programme, Action Against Hunger, IRIN, Newsweek, International Food Policy Research Institute 1, International Food Policy Research Institute 2, World Health Organization
Photo: Flickr

1. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia

In 2006, Sirleaf became the first elected female head in Africa. As the new Liberian president, she had inherited a war-torn country that was desperate for peace after 13 years of civil war and violence. Her administration rebuilt Liberia’s economy, strengthened its infrastructure, erased the enormous national debt and tackled problems like corruption, security, education and women’s rights.

In 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in promoting democracy and gender equality. Nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” Sirleaf continues to promote increased education and opportunity for women to gain skills and become more competitive in the world. She showed the world that women could no longer be excluded from African politics.

She is currently serving her second term as president after winning re-election in 2011.

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

2. President Joyce Banda of Malawi

In 2012, after the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, his vice president became the first female president of Malawi and the second female head of an African state.

As the first two female presidents of African nations, Banda and Sirleaf share a common background. Both women escaped abusive marriages and overcame single motherhood and poverty to become leaders of African nations. Both women are strong supporters of women’s rights, women’s education and reproductive rights. After taking office, Banda launched the Presidential Initiative for Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood. In Liberia, Sirleaf founded the Reach Every Pregnant Woman program to ensure medical care for pregnant women.

“Most African women are taught to endure abusive marriages. They say endurance means a good wife but most women endure abusive relationship because they are not empowered economically” – Joyce Banda

3. President Catherine Samba-Panza in the Central African Republic

In January, Catherine Samba-Panza defeated seven other candidates to be elected as the Central African Republic’s (CAR) interim president. Due to months of violence and killings, the CAR has collapsed politically and economically. She has the colossal task of leading the state safely into elections next year, rebuilding the CAR’s government and economy, and repairing the hostile relationship between the Muslim Seleka fighters and the Christian anti-balaka militias.

Called “Mother Courage,” Samba-Panza continues to promote women’s rights in a country where men dominate. She cites Sirleaf as her political inspiration and vows to find a solution to her country’s problems.

“The majority of my sisters and daughters in the Central African Republic don’t know their rights so they can’t defend them. But we who know our rights can help them. We must always help them: the battle is always to promote and protect the rights of women. When they are victims of violence, notably sexual violence, in the area of my activities in civil society, it was a battle I always led.” – Catherine Samba-Panza

Sarah Yan

Sources: The Root, The Guardian, BBC

Liberian Education System
Liberia has a unique connection to the United States. African Americans immigrating from the U.S. to the West African Coast officially founded the nation in 1847. While the country has struggled to achieve prosperity and economic stability for its citizens, the Liberian education system has made considerable recent progress.

Liberia is still recovering from the civil wars that began in 1980 and lasted until 2003. As a result, Liberia ranks near the bottom of the United Nations Development Program Human Development Index at 174th out of 187. Correspondingly, nearly 36 percent of the Liberian population suffers from malnutrition.

During the years of civil car, educational systems were almost nonexistent. This leaves a massive gap in skilled workers entering the job market and by extension, extreme unemployment (close to 80 percent) and poverty. Liberia has a literacy rate of 60.8 percent, and an education system described as “a mess” by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Not all news about the Liberian education system is bleak, however. In 2011, President Sirleaf signed into law the Education Reform Act, which seeks to decentralize the education system and help create a new educational management structure more locally focused. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has also instituted the Liberia Teacher Training Program to help train, develop and recruit more teachers for the nation.

An additional component of USAID’s work in Liberia is encouraging participation in education by girls and women. The Girls’ Opportunities Access Learning Program hopes to increase school enrollment and retention for girls by identifying key policy issues with Liberia’s Ministry of Education.

According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Corporal Organization’s Education for All Initiative, at least 15 percent of a nation’s budget should be allocated for education. Currently, Liberia only spends around 3 percent of its national budget on education.  In order to fully jumpstart educational progress in Liberia, there is much more to be done.

– Taylor Diamond

Sources: The Guardian, USAID, WFP, Liberian Education Trust
Photo: International Book Bank