By Festus Poquie
The Oracle News Daily has seen a confidential document chronicling Liberian political actors’ effective utilization of misinformation to deceive influential state actors and powerbrokers in the United States government in an attempt to gain favor from Washington and sway the outcomes of the October 10 general elections.
Working with interested parties outside the country opposition politicians on one front campaigned to taint and lower the image of President George Weah.
This was occasioned by an inherit fear Weah’s popularity with young people and the country’s large community of aboriginal will keep him in office than expected, the document revealed.
The rallying point to launch the misinformation cameoing was the divesting economic and financial crisis of 2018, when the country between March to July 2018 experienced exchange rate depreciation of more than 22 percent, from US$1.00:LR$131.483 to US$1.00:LR$159.564 .
By November 2019 the exchange rate had further depreciated by an additional 20.1 percent to US$1.00:LR$191.695 .
Opposition politician Alexander Cummings and his Alternative National Congress using its subunit known as ANC Global based in Atlanta, Georgia hired lobbyist between 2019-2021 for various purposes including educating Liberians in the United States about the prevailing situation in Liberia and to also promote agenda on various social media platforms and provided consultation support services as needed, according to US Justice Department records.
Also Unity Party operatives hired Washington advocacy firm BW Global Group, which signed a six-month contract with Johnson Sirleaf-era Minister Sylvester Grigsby on August 15, 2021according to a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing with the US Department of Justice.
BW partners Jeffrey Birrell, who lobbied for the Liberia government back in the early 1990s, and Alan White, a former Department of Defense employee and former chief investigator for the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone, were registered as foreign agents on the account to lead the propaganda war against the Weah administration.
BW’s goal is to “promote good governance and rule of law in Liberia,” according to the contract with Grigsby, in particular through the US promotion of whichever candidate the Liberia Renaissance Office ends up endorsing for the 2023 presidential election.
On September 30, 2021, the Liberia Renaissance Offices received $60,000.00 for six month to registrant provided public relations and government affairs services to the foreign principal, as well as sought meetings with U.S. Government policymakers including Members of Congress and officials of the Administration on matters of human rights, FARA said.
“The strategy employed by opposition operatives and their international supporters was to use the history of corruption in Liberia through a loud drumbeat of discussions on corruption,.
The idea is that discussion of corruption from credible international sources conveys the impression that corruption is more rampant than it had been under the Unity Party.
“The goal here is to pit the people against the Government and President Weah, who, they believe is too popular and is poised to win the next election on the strength of his many development programs,” the document pointed out.
Weah Officials Counter Act
Beaten and weaken in the propaganda warfare and elections just a year away and the country’s bicentennial anniversary advancing, the Weah administration regrouped at the close of 2021 and by 2022 launched a full-scale lobbying efforts to repair damaged image and woo Washington’s support.
They hired three US lobbying and PR firms for a total of $660,000 per year: Washington lobbying firm Ice Miller Strategies, Carbon Thread Agency of Atlanta, and CNN analyst Bakari Sellers’ Strom Public Affairs in Columbia, South Carolina.
The firm in coalition with KRL International, a consulting firm led by former Johnson Sirleaf campaign adviser Riva Levinson, which has had a $20,000-per-month contract helped deepen relations with the US government and business community who have been overwhelmed with negative narratives about Liberia under Weah.
In the end, President Joe Biden’s senior director for Africa, Dana Banks, led a US delegation to Liberia to form part of the bicentennial celebration.
The following is a summary of Liberian government official meetings in Washington D.C with influential lawmakers, powerbrokers, institution and individuals:
Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA): Congressman McGovern chairs the Tom Lantos Commission on human right.
It was important for the Government Delegation to meet him and other members of the Committee to counter misinformation that was being fed the Committee by Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, who is calling for a Congressional hearing on Liberia for alleged ‘violations of human rights and corruption’ under the Magnitsky act.
Congressman Smith invited a staunch Government critic called Cllr. Jerome Verdier and another called Allen White to testify against the current Government of Liberia and to urge Congress to hold a hearing on alleged ‘violations’ happening in Liberia.
Verdier was the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose advocacy for war and economic crime only began after President Weah and the CDC ascended to power.
For the 12 years of Madam Johnson-Sirleaf governance, war and economic crime was not an issue for Mr. Verdier, even though more than 16,000 UN peacekeeping troops were in Liberia.
The Government wanted to ensure the Committee receive the proper context to influence its report.
Congressman McGovern was surprised by the facts he received during the zoom meeting and stated that it was important for the Government to increase its presence in Washington and to provide more information because in his view a lot of negative information about Liberia is being provided to congressional leaders.
He said he was made to understand that President Weah was trying to seek a third term and that he did not understand why Congressman Chris Smiths was trying so hard to hold a hearing on Liberia.
It will be important to sustain the engagement with Congressman McGovern.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX): The meeting with Congresswoman Lee surrounded the same context of the Tom Lantos Commission potential hearings being pushed by Rep Smith.
During this meeting the Delegation hammered the point that that issues of corruption and war crime were merely a political football intended to unseat President Weah.
The delegation warned that reputable congressional leaders such as herself were being used by Verdier to destabilize a country when it is at its most vulnerable point.
The Delegation informed her that the government was instead proposing the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) as an alternative and shared with her the TJC document that was passed by the Liberian Senate more than a year ago and sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence.
The logic of the TJC is to achieve the aims of the TRC without the fraught and potentially disruptive consequences of the TRC.
Congresswoman Lee responded well to the concept of the TJC and said she wanted to know more about it.
She stated that she has a solid reputation for building and promoting democracy around the world and will not be a part of an any attempt to destabilize a country.
She told her office assistant that it may be important ‘to pause’ and she was going ‘to talk this over with Congressman McGovern’.
She asked to be remain in touch with her office.
Congressman Donald J. Payne (D-NJ): The Congressman related what he thought were serious challenges of ‘corruption and lack of transparency’ in Liberia.
He also referenced ‘mysterious killings and a general decline in security’ in the country as well as allegations of ‘missing billions.’
It was clear to the Delegation that the Congressman had been misled by the anti-Government lobby in Washington led by Verdier and people of his ilk. The
Delegation adequately addressed issues and concerns raised by the Congressman, providing detailed information and clarifying misinformation or misunderstanding related to ‘missing billions’ or ‘mysterious deaths,’ explaining important and ongoing reforms in governance, the fight against corruption, growth in revenue, while referencing the Kroll report as the authoritative source or evidence that 16 billion Liberian dollars was never ever missing.
The Congressman welcomed the information provided by the Delegation and expressed interest in a subsequent face to face meeting.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC): Meetings with these members of Congress were held in the context of support for the country’s Bicentennial which began on February 14, 2022.
They each expressed enthusiasm for Liberia and respectively promised to travel. Congresswoman Lee recounted her strong historical support for Liberia.
She was among U.S. leaders who pressed the U.S. Government to intervene in the Liberian during the height of conflict in the early 90s.
Congressman Clyburn believes he hails from Liberia and looks forward to working with the Liberian Government.
Congresswoman Beatty promised to mobilize members of the Congressional Black Caucus in support of Liberia.
Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX): The idea of a Congressional resolution in support of Liberia’s Bicentennial was produced during the Delegation’s meetings with Congressman McCaul.
He expressed surprise at how little is known about Liberia despite the country’s rich history with the United States.
Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC): Senator Graham, who had visited Liberia in 2013, promised to support Liberia’s case for a Second Millennium Challenge Compact.
He also promised to mobilize about US $5 million to support Liberia’s vaccination program.
True to his commitment, he wrote a letter to the management of MCC to lend Liberia a favorable ear once it meets the eligibility criteria for a second compact.
Liberia looks to pass 12 out of 20 indicators this year, which will be a basis for the country to commence its quest for a second compact. Liberia’s first Compact ended in January of 2021.
Senator Ted Cruise (R-TX): Senator Cruise promised to lend Liberia strong support on any issue that comes before the U.S. Senate.
Departments of State: Meetings with State have occurred annually during the Annual meetings of the IMF/World Bank Spring and Annual meetings.
The Government’s major aim at these meetings is to understand why the reports from the State Department do not reflect the significant progress the country is making as reflected in various reports by the IMF and the World Bank. Treasury has usually agreed
Department of Treasury: At Treasury, discussions have invariably focused on economic issues, specially through the prism of the IMF supported program, which Treasury regularly follows.
Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC): Discussions at MCC have revolved around opportunities and challenges germane to implementation of the Compact and around setting the stage for a second Compact. Liberia is nursing strong ambition for a second Compact, hopefully larger than the first compact.
Development Finance Corporation (DFC): At DFC, the GOL has aimed to enlarge DFC presence in Liberia.
The DFC works with private businesses in various areas. Its current portfolio in Liberia is relatively small and the Government has been looking to have it do bigger projects.
One possibly is to have the DFC participate in a regional second Compact project funded by MCC. Other options and projects could also be explored.
Some DFC officials have also been concerned about the narrative coming out of Liberia and have stressed the need to address the root causes of this narrative as a way of getting Liberia better attention in the United States.
- Chamber of Commerce: The Government has had the occasion to make presentation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
- Sustaining these engagements in a more systematic way is critical to attracting US businesses and investors into Liberia.
Meetings in South Carolina: The Delegation held meetings with State legislators in South Carolina with the aim of strengthening ties between Liberian and SC, considering that many of the freed slaves who made the voyage to Liberia may have their origin back in SC.
Discussions highlighted the importance of having President Weah attend the opening of the International African American Museum being built in in Charleston, SC. Fielding business, political and tourist missions to Liberia was also high on the agenda.