Executive Mansion: A Missing Link In The Sirleaf Presidency

By P. Nimley-Sie Tuon

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 11, 2011

In every civilized society, there are paths or processes by which political power is achieved or acquired, and within these paths or processes are symbolic acts combine with actual events that must occur in order for the process to be completed. In the Liberian society, the occupation of the Executive Mansion by whosoever is elected or designated as leader don’t only brings to full conclusion to the path leading to the acquisition of political power but also a powerful symbol that removes any hint of guessing game as to who indeed is the president of Liberia. The current Liberian presidency led by long time opposition leader Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf seems to lack this powerful symbol and has failed to complete this political journey. Ever since she took the oath of office as president of Liberia, Madam Sirleaf has either refused or demonstrated her inability to take her seat in the Executive Mansion but instead has reduced the power of the Liberian presidency by squeezing its importance on one floor of the Liberian Foreign ministry.

President Sirleaf’s failure to make the occupancy of the Executive Mansion a priority has a troubling element attached to it the fact that she is the first woman ever elected to such position, and to have our first woman president not sitting in the Executive Mansion is re-enforcing an ugly perception that women are not equal to men no matter what. All President Sirleaf’s predecessors were men and all have, at least, made the Executive Mansion their home or office or combined. The excuse or official reason for the Sirleaf presidency’s absence in the Executive Mansion is that the building has safety issues but those familiar with the mansion are saying that the issues in question are affecting just one floor and could have been corrected within the first months of her presidency. There are some critics of hers who hold a cynical view to why President Sirleaf has refused to use the Executive Mansion. In July of 1990, Madam Sirleaf, at the time, a top supporter of rebel leader Charles Taylor’s war efforts, called for the destruction of the Executive Mansion in order to get former Liberian ruler Samuel Doe out.

When Madam Sirleaf made that announcement which some of her critics are describing as a direct order to destroy Monrovia, there were between 2,000 to 2500 Liberians who had taken refuge in the mansion, and the execution of that order by Taylor would have destroyed thousands of lives. Her critics are linking her refusal to use the Executive Mansion for her presidency to that ill-advise statement made to veteran BBC reporter Robin White. According to these critics she’s being haunted by that statement and is causing her to be afraid to use the same office used by a man whosepublic execution she once ordered. No matter the reason, the current situation under which the Liberian presidency is being housed on a single floor of a building of a subordinate institution is raising serious and series of questions as to the effectiveness of the Sirleaf Presidency. Her non-occupation of the Executive Mansion has created doubts about her ability to assert herself as the president of Liberia.

Just imagine US president Barrack Obama using a one floor suite at Foggy Bottom, the home of the US State Department, as his office. Many Americans, mainly African-Americans, would considered it too demeaning or degrading to have the first black American president not occupying theWhite House. What about David Cameron, the current British Prime Minister unable to make Number 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister his home. Just think about the uproar it would cause to see the first British Prime Minister of Ukraine decent not occupying the official residence of the British Prime Minister. Where would the French presidency be if Nicholas Sarkozy was not occupying the Elysee Palace, or the Russian Presidency if Dmitry Medvedev did not have his office in the Kremlin? The citizens in these countries will not sit back and be silent or give excuses as to why their leaders are not using the appropriate symbols and powers in leading their nations.

The Executive Mansion is the seat of Liberia’s presidential powers, this why everyone running for the presidency is aiming at taking seat in the Executive Mansion. The Liberian civil conflict had no victor because none of the rebel groups was able to capture the Executive Mansion. Despite claims by Charles Taylor that his NPFL had occupied most of Liberia, Taylor was never regarded the president of Liberia because he did not capture the mansion. Taylor was only recognized as president after the 1997 election when he was declared the victor and occupied the Executive Mansion. Despite not having her office in the Executive Mansion, press releases issued by the Sirleaf presidency always depict them as “Executive Mansion” Press Releases. The fact that each press release issued by the Sirleaf government always titled “Executive Mansion” Press Release means there exists some level of recognition of the importance of having the president’s office at the Executive Mansion, if not these press releases would be entitled “Foreign Ministry” Press Release by the president.