Liberia News: Boakai Embraces U.S, China Relations

-Says Liberia Open For Business

Monrovia-May-17-TNR:Despite the end of the US-Africa summit in Dallas, Taxes, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and delegation continue to knock on the doors of Washington for much-needed direct foreign investment in Liberia.

The Unity Party Government continued to mount sustained campaign against corruption to win trust and new international investments, whether they come from the U.S. or China.

From a transcript of an interview with the Washington Times, the Liberian President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, tells the world that Liberia as former U.S. colony, finds itself caught in a tug-of-war over African markets between Washington and Beijing, with the continent emerging as a key proving ground in a global economic competition.

President Boakai said Liberia will not pick and choose between its American and Chinese friends when it comes to boosting an economy that is posting strong growth rates but remains among the poorest and least developed in the world.

“The traditional saying here is that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers,” Mr. Boakai said. “We hope that the big countries will understand that they have to coexist, that they will have to work along, to give us the chance to be able to do the things that we can do to provide sustainable life for our people, and I think sometimes they understand it,” the Liberian leader said.

Liberia’s economy grew by 4.7% in 2023, helped by a surge in mining activity, according to the World Bank, and is expected to average growth rates of nearly 6% over the next two years. But some two decades after the end of a devastating civil war, half of the country lives below the official poverty line and the country’s GDP per capita ranks as one of the lowest in the world.

Liberia’s new President took office in January following a narrow election victory, winning in a runoff. The relatively smooth transition to power was hailed by the U.S. Institute of Peace, which said it demonstrated a “path toward democracy in West Africa.”

Mr. Boakai, 79, defeated incumbent President George Weah, a national soccer hero who was more than 20 years his junior, and the new President has made rooting out corruption a public priority.

The latest global ranking issued annually by Transparency.org put Liberia 145th out of 180 nations on the group’s Global Corruption Monitor, dropping one place from the year before.

Liberia joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2019, with Mr. Weah adding the coastal nation with a population smaller than Maryland to the list of more than 150 countries and international organizations participating in China’s multitrillion dollar infrastructure development plan. Washington has long viewed Beijing’s program with skepticism, warning recipients are in danger of falling into a “debt trap” and facing large bills when the projects are completed.

Mr. Boakai met with China’s Ambassador to Liberia in February soon after taking office. According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Boakai pledged to oppose Taiwan’s independence and said Liberia cherished its good friendship with China.

The President told The Washington Times he also values Monrovia’s relationship with the U.S. He said his visit to America came at the invitation of the Biden administration, and included a stop at the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Dallas, Texas.

Mr. Boakai said Liberia has no interest in domains where America and China are battling for supremacy.

“We just want to live as a country, and I’m sure, I always say, ‘The mouse will eat and the elephant will not suffer,” he said.

Last week, while in Dallas, Mr. Boakai met with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and lauded her love for Liberia and desire to see the country deal with corruption and respect the rule of law. Relations between the two countries date back to U.S. efforts in the 19th century to use Liberia as an independent homeland for freed slaves in the decades before the Civil War.

“If we do those things right, the U.S. government is willing to work with us to help us to provide quality of life for our people, education, and I think we are on course with Linda and obviously, we are on course with the United States government,” Mr. Boakai said.

Mr. Boakai’s work to establish a War and Economic Crimes Court was an important topic of conversation in the meeting with Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, according to U.S. Mission to the U.N. Spokesperson Nate Evans. The Ambassador congratulated Mr. Boakai on the progress he made toward the establishment of the court.

An estimated 250,000 people died in the civil wars raging in Liberia throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s.

Earlier this month, Mr. Boakai signed an Executive Order to establish the war crimes court intended to bring justice for victims of the killings, sexual violence and torture. Liberia’s lawmakers passed legislation supporting the court’s establishment, including some lawmakers who could face investigation for their participation in the wars.

Accused Liberian warlords have sought refuge in the U.S. and some have faced criminal charges or deportation proceedings, including Mohammed Jabbateh, convicted of immigration fraud in 2017, and George Boley, who was deported from the U.S. in 2012.

Skeptics are concerned the latest effort to obtain justice for victims of the civil wars will be tainted by former warlords seeking to influence its proceedings. But Mr. Boakai was adamant that “we are going to fight corruption.”

“The issue of corruption is part of a systemic condition in our country, but we are also emphasizing the rule of law and then to make people know that people who believe and practice corruption are going to be investigated and subsequently [prosecuted],” Mr. Boakai said.

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