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Foreign diplomats and local politics: The case of Michael McCarthy, U.S. Ambassador to Liberia

On March 27, 2023, the White House announced a new US Ambassador to Liberia, Mark Christopher Toner.

Mr Tober is to replace Mr Michael McCarthy, who has only been in office since January 22, 2021. 

The announcement of Mr Toner as the new United States Ambassador to Liberia has sparked a new wave of controversy among Liberians. 

Many believe that Mr McCarthy is the shortest-ever Ambassador to have served in Liberia and are quick to accuse him of meddling. 

A Liberian blog, Shine Liberia, triggered this conversation, asserting that Mr McCarthy is the shortest-serving US ambassador to Liberia. 

He further stated that the Weah government is not happy with Michael McCarthy’s style of diplomacy in Liberia. Also, a chronicle of diplomatic exchanges between the McCarthy-led US Embassy in Liberia and agents of the Liberian government will bear testimony. 

DUBAWA looks at some of these exchanges and how they may have played a role in McCarthy’s relatively short stint as US Ambassador to Liberia.

The announcement of Mark Christopher Toner as the new Ambassador to Liberia comes on the heels of President George Weah’s recent visit to the United States.

On March 17, 2023, President George Weah departed Liberia for an official visit to the United States and The United Arab Emirates but did not disclose the details of the visit.

There are claims that President Weah and the government of Liberia may have had a hand in withdrawing Mr McCarthy from Monrovia. The timing between the announcement of the new Ambassador and Weah’s visit to the US is all too striking.

Why do Liberians think President Weah influenced Ambassador McCarthy’s replacement?

In November last year, the United States Ambassador issued a statement warning the Liberian government and Liberians, in general, to avoid doing business with officials of the Liberian government who have been sanctioned for corruption.

In that  statement, Ambassador McCarthy reminded the Liberian citizens that anyone who transacted any form of business with these sanctioned individuals “may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action.”

On March 15, 2022, during the last year’s birth anniversary celebration of the first Liberian President, Joseph J. Roberts, Ambassador McCarthy expressed frustration over how the country is being led under President Weah. He noted that despite huge contributions made by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the health and other sectors of the country, the country’s development is not impressive.           

Ambassador McCarthy also stressed the filthiness of the city of Monrovia under the Mayor-ship of the CDC general secretary, Jefferson Koijii, a statement the Monrovia City Mayor found offensive. 

With the support of the CDC government, the Mayor issued a rejoinder to the US ambassador, as seen here and here.

Recently, the former US Ambassador again stated that the National Elections Commission (NEC) must be fully funded for Liberia to have a fair and transparent electoral process.  

McCarthy’s assertion resulted from calls made by the National Elections Commission (NEC) over funds not yet released to conduct the country’s Presidential and legislative polls in October this year.

On December 9, 2022, Ambassador McCarthy again wrote an open letter to the Liberian government, highlighting that though the United States was not announcing any more sanctions against corrupt Liberian officials, its anti-corruption efforts against Liberia will continue and remain robust. 

The letter, in part, reads: “Even though we are announcing no new U.S. sanctions here today, I want to assure the Liberian people that our anti-corruption efforts remain robust and continuous. As the Global Magnitsky sanctions of three Liberian officials in August demonstrated, the U.S. government can and will employ sanctions as needed on an ongoing basis to support our shared development, democracy, and security goals, guided by the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption.”

After a chain of similar events and protestations by some Liberians, it did not take too long a time for the US government to announce a new Ambassador.

How long did the US Ambassador spend in Liberia before his replacement?

According to Article II, section 2 of the United States Constitution, the Senate is responsible for confirming that all presidential appointees and ambassadors are no exception. 

After a person is nominated by the US President, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations conducts a rigorous scrutiny process and public hearings to check the nominee’s personal and financial backgrounds and determine their suitability for the job.

From research and the time interval between previous U.S. ambassadors to Liberia since the end of the country’s civil war, it has been mostly three years and not more than five years.    

Terms of Past US Ambassadors to Liberia

Since post-war, Liberia has had at least four Ambassadors. They are Ambassadors Linda Thomas Greenfield, who served the US from August 2008 to February 29, 2012; Deborah R. Malac, from September 20, 2012, to December 18, 2015; and Christine A. Elder, from June 23, 2016, to March 21, 2020. Michael McCarthy served from January 22, 2021, until the US Senate can confirm the newly named ambassador to come to Liberia and take over officially.

 AmbassadorsYear In OfficeYear OutMonths
1Linda Thomas-GreenfieldAugust 2008February 29, 201254 Months
2Deborah R. MalacSept. 20, 2012Dec. 18, 2015 33 months
3Christine A. ElderJune 23, 2016March 21, 202056 months
4Michael McCarthyJanuary 22, 2021Present (A new one announced in March 2023 to takeover soon)26 months


From the above, it is clear that Mr Michael McCarthy has spent about 26 months in office as US Ambassador to Liberia, pending his final handing over to Mr Toner in the coming weeks. While it is true the Weah government was not happy with Mr McCarthy’s alleged interference in the local politics of Liberia, there is no evidence to suggest the outgoing Ambassador was recalled due to pressure from the Liberia government led by George Weah.

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