Presidential Displeasure Versus People’s Power

By Joe Bartuah

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 18, 2011


Since her abrupt dismissal several days ago, most of her numerous supporters now refer to former Nimba County Superintendent, Mrs. Edith Gongloe-Weh as “the People’s Superintendent”. Reports emanating from Nimba indicate that most of Mrs. Weh’s supporters have decided to confer this populist distinction on her, not only in appreciation of her exemplary leadership during her 22-month sojourn as the administrative head of the county, but also as a form of protest against the aura of arbitrarinesswhich surrounded her “ejection” from Sanniquellie.

As a result, Nimbaians now virtually have two categories of “superintendent” in the county: The first one is a presidential appointee who currently occupies the administrative compound in Sanniquellie and the other one is a humble, law-abiding private citizen who has no political authority at this moment, but enjoys popular following across the county, primarily due to the exceptional fashion in which she ably steered the administrative affairs of the county before she was booted out by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

For the moment, Nimbaians are still holding their breath, for they don’t actually know the development agenda of the new superintendent, neither are most people au courant with her administrative capacity and leadership posture. What is certain is that Nimba County has once again lost another capable, socially gregarious administrator well known for her sheer congeniality, a young lady who treats every human being that she comes across with respect and dignity. That’s one of the characteristic hallmarks which set Mrs. Edith Gongloe-Weh apart from most other former and current government officials; she’s not one who is easily intoxicated, or overwhelmed by the ostentations of power. She remained focused and level-headed during her tenure in Sanniquellie. She made the chiefs, elders, district commissioners and other traditional leaders to know that indeed, they were an integral part of the county’s administrativestructure.

Lest I forget, this is not the first time that Nimba is being deprived of a sagacious leadership by the tentacles of an imperial presidency, courtesy of our constitutional anomalies. In 1968, barely four years after the creation of the county from the former Central Province, Superintendent Gabriel G. Farngalo, along with some of his colleagues—including the late Ambassador Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Sr.—was arrested and incarcerated by the despotic William Tubman. His reason: he claimed that Farngalo, Fahnbulleh and others wanted to overthrow his regime. The fact is that as Tubman was increasingly becoming senile and utterly unpopular with the Liberian people, he was dangerously becoming paranoid and vindictive. As a result, he grossly perceived any mirage as a sea. As was characteristic of Tubmanic Machiavellianism, Farngalo and others remained in jail until the demise of the paranoid oldman in July of 1971.

The second deprivation of leadership that Nimba suffered was in 1975 when the veteran educator and progressive administrator, David Gborboe Dwanyen was given an ignoble marching order for trivial reasons. Upon pensive reflection, I wonder why Nimba County is often deprived of sound leadership that usually exhibits the inclination and determination to uplift the county? Is it because power elites in the Montserrado basin are so frightened by the sheer “height” of the county’s endowment that they are often frantically searching for anyone who will mislead it down the doldrums of failure rather than an administrator that will help thrust it towards a nobler destiny?

When I’m told here in Boston that on the date that the Executive Mansion in Monrovia announced the sacking (they called it“has been relieved”) of Superintendent Gongloe-Weh, there were heightened apprehensions and consternations across Nimba, characterized by sobbing, weeping and wailing and a somber atmosphere, I reason that those traditional displays of affection were simply due to her superb interpersonal relationships with her fellow human beings.ldon’t think that as superintendent, Edith was able to dish out money and other goodies to every household or individual in the county.Obviously, she does not have the economic wherewithal to do that.

In my estimation, it was because of her cordial interactions with the people, those inspiring and complimentary nicknames she usually has for a lot of people and her honesty with her local government co-workers. I’m referring to the town, zone, clan and paramount chiefs; the development superintendent, the county inspector, administrative assistant, the city mayors and district commissioners, police commanders, cleaners—all those local officials that some county administrators and other Monrovia-based officials usually treat with disdain and arrogance as if they don’t exist.

It was in recognition of those enviable leadership qualities that the sovereign people of Nimba County in June of this year, petitioned Superintendent Weh to seek the constitutionally vacant senatorial seat of the county. When the people from across the length and breadth of the county gave their words to the superintendent, they told her that they were convinced that she was qualified, competent and capable of representing them in the Senate; that she has the requisite political orientation, solid academic credentials and formidable intellectual acumen to fluently articulate their aspirations--their epic yearnings for socio-economic development—in the Senate.

But in a bizarre turn of event, the people’s enthusiasm to see their capable superintendent go to the Senate elicited torrents of presidential displeasure. As a result, Superintendent Gongloe-Weh was martialled out of the administrative compound.Of course, as far as the president wasconcerned, she was exercising her constitutional authority and prerogative.

According to article 56(a) of our constitution, “All cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials, both military and civilian, appointed by the President pursuant to this Constitution shall hold their offices at the pleasure of the President(emphasis is mine).” The constitution does not define what constitutes a presidential pleasure; it’s a sort of an unwritten rule on the wall; no one actually knows where the line is drawn in the sand.

I emphatically concur with the president that under our organic law, she has the power and authority to eject any of her appointees.However, I need not remind President Sirleaf that appointments and dismissals are political decisions, and since they are inherently political, the people too, however pauperized and unlettered they might be, have the inherent right to squarely react or respond to such decisions, especially so when they consider such decisions as being extremely countervailing and inimical to their strategic interests.

If in less than three weeks following her dismissal, the profile of Mrs. Weh has been catapulted from an obscure provincial administrator to a much-talked-about female public figure who was utterly humiliated by a female president, simply because her people want her to serve them in the Senate, it’s not because President Sirleaf was not exercising her right, but because the Nimba people in particular and the Liberian people in general, are extremely baffled by the acts of a president who, years ago, strongly spoke against the cult of an imperial presidency. After all, article(1) of the same constitution says, “All power is inherent in the people”. It further adds that“All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require”.

In my candid assessment, most Nimbaians perceive the president’s decision as an attempt to impose on them a recalcitrant ex-rebel General who is yet to divorce his repulsive antics from his brutal past. Moreover, many people consider the president’s move as being utterly unfair, since many of her appointees--who are seeking elective offices--are still holding their appointive positions in the very government. Many people are wondering as to why Edith was singled out, or was her senatorial candidacy just an alibi?For example, why has Alphonso Gaye, who is vying for a Representative position for Grand Gedeh not been booted out of the General Services Agency? What’s about Henry Fahnbulleh of the Internal Affairs Ministry who wants to be a Representative of Cape Mount County? Is Maima Kanneh not still at the Commerce Ministry?Is she not also a presidential appointee desirous of being elected to the House of Representatives? Or is it because Adolphus Dolo, the incumbent Senator of Nimba County is so special to the president that the mere thought of challenging him is now considered a sort of political blaspheme in Liberia? At the Labor Ministry, Deputy Minister John Josiah is seeking elective office; likewise, Deputy Transport Minister Gabriel Nyekan is vying for elective office, and the list goes on and on, but all those presidential appointees are still occupying their positions.

Following her victory in the 2005 elections, while strongly congratulating and commending President Sirleaf on triumph, I asserted at the time that during her tenure, the president might radically revamp our economy, transform our society and engender a sustainable growth amidst multiple infrastructural development initiatives, but the most memorable crowning moment of her administration would be when she peacefully transfer power to her successor. Six years on, I still stand by that assertion, even if she emerges victorious in the impending elections. As I see it, cultivating an unfettered political environment in which the chief executive and standard bearer of the party in power is generally perceived as an impartial umpire in intraparty democratic dispensation is very paramount to such a serene transfer of power and durable national stability. Anything to the contrary is a gross negation of the very efforts being made.

About the Author: Formerly editor of The NEWS newspaper in Monrovia, Joe Bartuah currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts. Along with three of his colleagues—Abdullah Dukuly, Jerome Dalieh and the late Bobby Tapson—Bartuah had a stint at the Monrovia Central Prison in 2001 during the Charles Taylor cartel, due to the editorial candor of the newspaper he headed. He can be reached at email:,, or telephone 617-642-8537.

© 2011 by The Perspective

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