Liberian Civil Society Organizations Jittery As U.S. Ambassador Ends Tour Of Duty

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted July 25, 2002

U.S. Ambassadors accredited to Liberia are widely known for exerting behind the scenes pressure on sitting governments in Liberia to effect changes leading to political pluralism, good governance, sound public policy and efficient fiscal management, but only few have succeeded in recent times in swaying public opinion in Liberia on a grand scale as outgoing U.S. Ambassador Bismarck Myrick, and Ambassador William Swing in the 1980’s.

Ambassador Myrick, a Clinton Administration appointee, was recently replaced by the Bush Administration with Ambassador John Blaney, Ambassador-designate to Liberia, who underwent confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee early July, and is likely to take up his new assignment soon pending final Senate Confirmation. But it seemed Liberian civil societies have not had enough of Ambassador Myrick, a career soldier-turned diplomat who first took up assignment in Liberia in the aftermath of the 1997 Liberian special general elections that brought former rebel leader Charles Taylor to power as president.

Liberian civil societies, including media and human rights groups, have been lavishing praises on Ambassador Myrick lately through a series of farewell programs to honor him for his “invaluable services to the Liberian nation and people.” The Liberian independent weekly, the Inquirer, went a bit further by devoting an entire editorial in praise of Ambassador Myrick.

In the editorial captioned "He Deserves The Honors", the Inquirer referred to Ambassador Myrick as the "Peoples' ambassador through his developmental activities and programmes.", and said “"because of his assistance towards improving the well-being of the ordinary Liberian, Myrick was often named by various media houses as 'Ambassador of the Year' at year end personalities awards."

“Myrick undertook a number of programmes including a scholarship programme for girls, support to grassroots groups, promotion of local artists and denounced violence, which disrespected democratic values”, the paper said, adding "some individuals and misguided groups in society rained insults, insinuations and innuendoes on him. But thank God, he allowed sleeping dogs to lie by not giving credence to such reckless statements."

But, while Liberian civil societies heaped praises on Ambassador Myrick, it is unlikely the Liberian government of President Charles Taylor will shed any tears for his departure. For in Liberian parlance, the Ambassador was a “torn in the government’s flesh” so much that the government threatened at some point to declare him “persona non grata” . So it is understandable that the Taylor government would rejoice rather than grief along with the Liberian civil society organizations for the Ambassador’s recall.

Myrick and the government were often at loggerhead over issues of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Liberia. The Ambassador was also said to be equally critical of the Taylor government for its ability to provide the Liberian people with safe drinking water, electricity and other basic social services after five years in power.

But Ambassador Myrick’s departure is not likely to ease the U.S. Embassy’s critical stance on political and social issues in Liberia if Ambassador-designate John Blaney’s recent remarks before the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee during his July 9 Confirmation Hearings are any re-assurance at all.

Ambassador-designate Blaney said he looked forward to working closely with members of the Foreign Relations Committee in “implementing an aggressive, practical, and pragmatic policy” in Liberia if confirmed, and lamented that “The (current Liberian) government, led since 1997 by President Charles Taylor, has not improved the lives of Liberians. Unemployment stands at a staggering 75%. Little investment has been made in developing the economic infrastructure. Liberia is without functioning public electricity, water and sewage systems. Instead of investing in its own people, the Taylor government supported the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) insurgency in Sierra Leone and attacks into Guinea by the RUF and other forces.”

Blaney noted that “In this bleak environment, our most immediate objective has been, and remains, to curb Liberia's role as a source of regional instability. The UN Security Council in March 2001 unanimously passed a resolution imposing arms, diamonds, and travel ban sanctions on Liberia; this resolution was renewed and toughened somewhat in May this year. We must monitor carefully the impact and effectiveness of UN sanctions on Liberia, and push the government to adhere to the demands of UN Resolutions 1343 (2001) and 1408 (2002)”

Blaney was unequivocal in how aggressive he intended to be by stating that “If confirmed, I would place a high priority on trying to improve Liberia's human rights practices, which remain highly inadequate. In addition to curbing excesses by the country's security forces, we want to work with all political elements to establish a level playing field that could allow the democratic process, most notably the 2003 elections, to produce a freely and fairly-elected government that serves the interests of the Liberian population and promotes the rule of law”.

And in pursuit of this goal, Blaney added that “Despite the scope of this challenge, we will make every effort to strengthen the democratic process and national reconciliation through civil society, the media --particularly radio, and strengthening political parties and civic education in advance of the elections”.

“We should also focus on longer-lasting assistance to foster community development, democracy and good governance. Appreciable efforts will still be required to meet the basic needs of Liberia's population, whether returning refugees, internally displaced, or those who are victims in other ways”, Blaney to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

© The Perspective
P.O. Box 450493
Atlanta, GA 31145