Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Clarence Jackson of Liberia’s OK Morning Rush and Rodney Sieh of FrontPage Africa

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Monrovia, Liberia
January 23, 2024

MODERATOR 1: Madame Ambassador, I’d like to say welcome back to Liberia and welcome to the show. Thank you so much for coming.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. I’m really delighted to be here.

MODERATOR 1: Of course, it was good that you headed the U.S. Government delegation to Liberia after service here as ambassador. Let me ask you, did you get any Liberian name when you were here?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know that I did. So President Boakai, when he was vice president, learned I had lived in Lofa county, when I lived here in the 1970s as a student. And so he gave me the name Sia –

MODERATOR 1: Sia.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: – Siah, first-born – and the superintendent gave me the name Kebeh.

MODERATOR 1: Kebeh.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: So I became Siah Kebeh.

MODERATOR 1: Wow. (Inaudible.) Welcome to the show.

MODERATOR 2: Thank you.

MODERATOR 1: Yeah.

MODERATOR 2: Ambassador, it’s good to see you again.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Great to see you too.

MODERATOR 2: A lot wouldn’t know, but was it 2006 or -7 when I interviewed you when I came back to Liberia for a couple of weeks. You actually encouraged me to start from the start FrontPage Africa newspaper in Liberia, so I am grateful to you for that.

Let’s start with this issue of the Israel-Palestinian vote. That was a very controversial decision by Liberia to vote against the situation that’s happened in Gaza. And people are saying that that was under pressure from the U.S. government for the way they voted. Was there any pressure on Liberia to vote that way that it went?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Absolutely not. Liberia has been a strong partner to us at the United Nations, and most of the time we are in sync and agreement with each other, but there are times when we’re not, and that happens across the board with other countries as well. So there was no pressure on our part. That’s an internal decision that was made by the administration. And we – I don’t have any comment on how that decision was made, but I will say that we hope to continue a strong partnership with Liberia under the new administration at the United Nations.

MODERATOR 1: Okay. Yeah, that’s where I was coming – I was interested in knowing, for example, whether there is any reassurance that the U.S. will continue to work with Liberia under the Boakai administration?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: There is absolute assurance that we will continue to work with the administration – under the Boakai administration. That’s why I’m here. That’s why President Biden selected me to come to lead the U.S. delegation. In my position at the United Nations, I’m a cabinet official in the administration. And to send a senior-level delegation – and particularly me, having served in Liberia – is definitely a sign that our relationship, our commitment to Liberia will remain strong.

MODERATOR 2: Let’s take a look at the issue of the institution yesterday at the inauguration. The president spoke about war crimes, which is very, very important for many Liberians. What’s the U.S. position on this issue regarding Liberia? Is it – do they welcome that kind of statement coming from the president?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we have always been a country that has supported countries addressing issues of accountability, whether it’s in Liberia or other places in the world. Again, this is something that this administration will have to address, and how they address it will be a decision that they will make. But any efforts that they make to address the real strong need for Liberians to have accountability I think is truly important. But also with accountability, also comes forgiveness and the ability to work together. And that has to be important as well as Liberia tries to address many of the ills that they are facing today that resulted from that 14-year civil war.

MODERATOR 2: Is there any disappointment on the U.S. part in the sense that a lot of people who have been sanctioned remain in government? And also, there have been a lot of people who were sanctioned before this government, in previous governments, that are still under sanctions. Are there any plans to revisit the sanctions, in terms of maybe removing some of them because of time lapse?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: People have to earn being removed from sanctions. We review our sanctions on a regular basis. And certainly, there will be – always be efforts to review. And yes, I am disappointed that people who were sanctioned are still in government. But again, this is a decision that Liberians themselves have to address. Our sanctions are not sanctions against Liberia. They’re not sanctions against the government. They’re sanctions against individuals who have committed acts of corruption in this country, or violations of human rights, or they take – took steps to bar democracy moving forward. These are steps that we take because they break our laws. But the accountability side of that is up to the Liberian people.

MODERATOR 1: And Madam Ambassador, is there any particular assistance your government is willing to provide Liberia in the event the Boakai administration is kind of serious about the establishment of (inaudible) economic grant support?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we’ll – we are committed to continuing to work with this government as it addresses the myriad issues that it will be facing in the coming years and as it sets its priorities for what it wants to work on. I don’t know what the plans of the administration are, so I can’t make an absolute commitment. But what I will commit to is that we will support this administration addressing Liberia’s immense economic issues and helping this country to move forward. As you know, USAID is one of the largest donors and supporters of Liberia. It is not just something that will start with this administration. It is a commitment that has been made for many years. When I was ambassador here, we gave many millions of dollars to Liberia to support its growth, and we’ll continue to do that.

MODERATOR 1: And how do you respond to some Liberians who believe the U.S. Government played a pivotal role in ensuring George Weah becomes a one-term president by sanctioning a lot of government officials, especially people very close to the president? And is your government willing to assist Liberia with evidence to prosecute some of these people in the event the government wanted to do so?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we’re not – we didn’t play a role in the political process here in Liberia. Liberian people voted, and they chose the person of their choice. And it had nothing to do with the decisions that we made on sanctioning people who were engaged in corruption in this – in this country. It’s up to the administration to determine how they will address these issues moving forward. Again, our sanctions are about breaking laws in the United States. It’s not about holding people accountable in Liberia. That’s for the Liberian people.

MODERATOR 1: There are reports of more sanctions in the coming weeks and months. Madam Ambassador, you are very close to the State Department, the White House, if you like, and your position is a cabinet-level position in the U.S. Can you confirm this?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t confirm this. This is something that is a long process; it’s ongoing. It is not just about Liberia. We impose sanctions in a number of countries around the world. So what is coming in the future is not something that I can comment on or that I even have any advance information on.

MODERATOR 2: Madam Ambassador, there’s been a lot of talk about corruption in Liberia. You described it one time as a killer. What do you hope to see this government do that would make it any different from the previous government?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think we have seen over many, many years how corruption has held Liberia back. We see the unfinished roads, the unfinished buildings, the education system suffering, teachers not being paid, health centers not being supported. I think our previous ambassador did a tour around the country and found that many government institutions in rural areas were not receiving funding. President Boakai has committed to addressing these issues. He has committed to being a president who will address the needs of the people. And we’re committed to supporting him in that effort, as we have done over many years for the people of Liberia.

MODERATOR 2: Is there any timeline? Like, what would you like to see, like, a hundred days from now, six months from now, one year from now? What would you like to see from this government to convince you that, yes, they’re real?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, I’m not going to put that pressure on President Boakai. He has to set his own priorities, and he has to determine what a timeline will be for the implementation of those priorities. And he’s going to need the second branch of government, parliament, his parliament – the senate – to help him to address these requirements. So we will be looking, we will be hopeful, we will be supportive of him. I’m not going to pressure him with putting a timeline on our support.

MODERATOR 1: Now, President Boakai has been very outspoken about the issue of corruption. This is what he says he intends to do. At what level, at what time, when do you say as the U.S. Government, yes, Joe Boakai is ready to fight corruption? What do you look out for?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, he said it. He said it yesterday. He said it during the campaign. Until I hear otherwise, I have to believe that he is committed. So I believe he’s committed to addressing an issue that has held Liberia back for so many years. And it’s not just Liberia; we see it all over the world. We see it all over Africa. We have corruption in the United States. Liberia is not alone in all of this, but the impact in Liberia is so immense.

We should be seeing little kids in school that we see roaming on the streets of Monrovia during the daytime. We should see health centers working so that when the next epidemic or pandemic hits Liberia, Liberia is prepared to address it. You had to address Ebola and then, on top of that, COVID in the last few years, and your health system was very, very lacking. And so all of these areas, the challenges that the president will face are immense.

MODERATOR 1: My question was from the perspective of practicality. What practical steps and actions do you want to see Joe Boakai take as a president, so that you know that, yes, I think we’re getting somewhere, we can support him, he’s ready to fight corruption?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, first and foremost, to say to his new administration – excuse me – to his team that this is going to be a corruption-free government, first. Secondly, of course there will be people who fall off the rail, and to hold them accountable – to fire them on the spot if he has evidence that they are committing corrupt acts. I think that would be a huge, huge statement to the rest of the administration that this is not acceptable in my administration.

MODERATOR 2: Your answer, Ambassador, suggests that the U.S. was keeping a track on the last government – the outgoing government – because I don’t recall any cabinet reshuffle during that whole time despite all the things that were happening in the public domain. Is that something that you guys pay keen attention to?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Of course we pay attention to it. We pay attention to it all over the world. President Biden, when he came in, said we were a country that would be supportive of democracies, and we want to support democracies. We’ve had a number of Summits of Democracies across the globe, and democracies deliver to their people. And if corruption is the order of the day, a government can’t deliver.

MODERATOR 2: Is there any impression you have of the departing government? Because you’ve been around for since Sirleaf’s time and you’ve seen the last six years. Is there anything that you can put your finger on that is something you remember?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, the most important thing is that President Weah graciously accepted the results of the election and allowed for a smooth transition.

MODERATOR 2: Were you surprised?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, I was not surprised. I was happy. I expect every government should do that. And we know that democracies can be messy. People are watching the United States and seeing how we are addressing some of the same issues. So not surprised but absolutely happy to see Liberia have another transition from one administration to another – to an opposition party again – and that people, the people of Liberia, spoke through their votes.

MODERATOR 1: Now, there are multidimensional discussion amongst Liberians about the U.S. sanction on specific Liberian Government officials and its impact in the different counties they represent, especially with members of the legislature. For example, some Liberians think that, like, two senators in Margibi are sanctioned. I mean, others are thinking, for example, that USAID and other institutions funded by American taxpayers’ money will draw their support because of these sanctions on these kinds of counties. Can you speak to that?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have no sanctions on any counties. We have no sanctions on the Government of Liberia. Our sanctions are on individuals. We will continue to support the people of Margibi as we support people all over Liberia.

MODERATOR 1: The last time I spoke to Richard Nephew from the U.S. – I think he’s the coordinator on anti-corruption – and he was saying one of the reasons of some of the sanctions is a change in attitude. And so I wanted to know at what stage and who monitors change in attitude? I’m just curious.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, I don’t know. I can’t comment on that. I can say we monitor the situation. And certainly, we – the Biden administration has made a commitment to addressing issues of corruption and accountability, which was not done as much in the previous administration. So I think that could be what he was referring to, but I am not sure.

MODERATOR 1: You’re no stranger to Liberia. You were here before the war. You came back during the war as a diplomat, served here for four years, went to some of the remote places in our country. Do you think we still have a lot of potential for development?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, my God. You know the answer to that. Liberia is a rich country. You still have some of the richest rainforest in the world. You have amazing coastlines and beaches. You have amazing agricultural resources, and you have people who work hard. So yes, Liberia has enormous resources, and it has enormous potential. And we just have to work together, Liberians have to work together, to harness that potential, to harness those resources for good.

MODERATOR 2: Madam Ambassador, America is Liberia’s long-serving partner. And part of rebuilding a country or rescuing from another government is the issue of investment. I was in – was it – I’m in Rwanda, I think Burundi, some years ago, and I saw a lot of American chains there. And Liberia doesn’t have any American chain. And for me, I think that’s a tragedy. What can your government do to ensure that investment will lead to the likes of Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC that is something from America to have in Liberia?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Investments by any company, from anywhere in the world, requires confidence. It requires confidence and trust in the governments where they are working, and it requires them to believe that their investments will be respected and their financial gains will not be taken from them. Investments create jobs. So it is really, really important to have that kind of trust and that kind of commitment.

The Chamber of Commerce hosted the inaugural ball last night. And one of the messages to the Chamber was that they have to work with government to make the investment climate in this country more amenable, more attractive to outside investors. Outside investors want to come to Liberia, but they want to know that this country is safe, it’s stable – that corruption is not going to stand in the way of their investments. Companies invest to make money, and we need to understand that they’re investing to make money. But when they make money, they’re creating jobs. They’re creating opportunities. They’re creating infrastructure for the country they’re investing in.

So I think, again, Liberia has the potential for this; we just all have to work together to start to build that confidence that companies know their investments in Liberia are safe.

MODERATOR 2: Is an international (inaudible) conference relating to investors in America and Liberia something you think you’d be open to – open to embracing?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: There’s an organization in Washington, in the United States, called the Corporate Council on Africa, and they work with companies that are working on the African continent. And so I am sure that if companies in Liberia expressed an interest to work with CCA to pull together investors who are interested in looking at the potential for investments in Liberia, people would be delighted to have that happen. And I’d be willing to discuss that with CCA when I’m back in Washington.

MODERATOR 1: Okay, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former ambassador to Liberia Linda “Sia” Thomas-Greenfield is right here in our studio. We’re taking three calls – just three because of time. We have to be on time. 0777-700-995. If you’re outside Liberia, you can call. Our number is on Facebook.

Hello. Good morning. Caller your name, straight to the point.

QUESTION: This is Thomas Tamabulu (ph). (In Kissi.)

MODERATOR 1: He is greeting you in Kissi because you are a Sia. (Laughter.) But go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, yes. Okay. So my thing, I want to say good morning. I wanted to welcome back to Liberia. You know your history in Liberia is (inaudible) Liberia was the welcome, and we hope that the U.S. will partner with Liberia in ensuring that the Joseph Boakai administration, they are (inaudible) Liberia. I wanted to thank you and extend our greetings to the U.S. Government. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.

MODERATOR 1: Okay. Let me take a Q right here. Hello.

QUESTION: Yes, good morning.

MODERATOR 1: Good morning.

QUESTION: Yeah, (inaudible), this is Charlese Coffey.

MODERATOR 1: Charlese Coffey, president (inaudible) Press Union of Liberia. Let’s hear you.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks for hosting the Ambassador. And what Liberians need now is for United States Government to support the government, embracing our country. America and Liberia is like mother and daughter, it’s the father and son. So she knows very well about our terrain, institution, our country. What is required now is the full support of United States Government to restore some of the institutions, as she indicated, and bringing (inaudible) to our country so that this government will make progress. And once the government is making progress, it will trickle down to every Liberian, especially in the area of free speech and of expression and natural development.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I agree with you.

MODERATOR 1: Thank you. Let me take another call, this time from the U.S. state of Minnesota. Let me take you. Hello?

QUESTION: Good morning, (inaudible).

MODERATOR 1: Good morning.

QUESTION: Good morning to Mr. Jackson and good morning to the Ambassador in the studio.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good morning.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) William calling from Minnesota.

MODERATOR 1: Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a question for the Ambassador. Mrs. Ambassador, what would be your response to people (inaudible) supporter of George Weah, supporter of this recent government, who believes that the American Government was very, very biased as it relates to erecting necessary checkpoints? For example, when you served as ambassador in Liberia, they are arguing and some of these things are (inaudible) government, also happy (inaudible). Which side are you on, as the representative of the United States of America, where America did not take action? Why (inaudible)?

MODERATOR 1: Okay, thank you. Let me take the final call right here. We’ll go to Sia Kebeh with the response. Hello?

QUESTION: Good morning, Clarence, and good morning to the Ambassador. I am (inaudible) Joseph calling from New Georgia (inaudible).

MODERATOR 1: Quickly.

QUESTION: And let me say welcome, Ambassador, and God bless you. I’m concerned with instead of a fair – especially when it comes to the rule of law – what is the American Government doing to ensure to contain the government of the day to respect the rule of law, which is a basic principle for promoting of peace? We observe lately that when the court rules on certain issue, the government – the Executive Mansion – refuse or the Executive Branch of government refuse to implement the rule of law. (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR 1: Thank you, Joseph. Ambassador, thank you. We’ll leave it there. She got to be – she got to leave on time. Ambassador, you have the questions here.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank all of you for your questions. The second caller, calling from Minnesota, suggested that during my tenure as ambassador somehow checkpoints were set up. I don’t know anything about what he’s talking about. We did have the United Nations here in Liberia –

MODERATOR 1: No, what he was talking about was –

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay.

MODERATOR 1: – some of the conditions that made some of the Weah officials to get sanctions existed on and early when you were here as ambassador, but no action was taken by the U.S. Are you biased?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, okay. I see.

MODERATOR 1: Yeah.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we always look at issues related to corruption, and we work on holding people accountable. And the Biden administration has made this a priority. There was no bias in this, and I think it’s really, really important that you understand that we passed this global law in 2018 that gave us the authority to do this, but we have always addressed issues of corruption.

And the last caller asked about support for rule of law. And again, this is something that is a core commitment of the Biden administration. And we have worked across the globe – not just in Africa or in Liberia, but across the globe – to support issues of rule of law, press freedoms, the human rights of individuals everywhere. And this is something that I have committed to at the United Nations and will continue to work on during my tenure, and I know the Biden administration will continue to press these issues across the globe. Because we know that democracies, if they work, if they work well, they deliver to the people.

MODERATOR 1: Madam Ambassador, we certainly want to say something else, but we wanted to say thank you so much for coming today, for interacting with the Liberian people through this medium. I don’t know whether there’s something particular you wanted to say to Liberians before you leave us?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, let me just say congratulations. Congratulations to the people of Liberia. You spoke, and you have elected a new president. Your vote matters, and I used to say that all the time that the most valuable thing people hold in their hands is their vote. And I want to congratulate you and thank you for the extraordinary hospitality that you have shown my delegation since I arrived on Sunday evening.

MODERATOR 1: Rodney, thank you too for joining me to do this.

MODERATOR 2: Thanks, Clarence. Good to be here.

MODERATOR 1: Well, thank you so much. Thanks to all of you for listening. Madam Linda Thomas-Greenfield, head of the U.S. Government’s delegation to our country for the inauguration.

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