EJS is Right for Neglecting Liberia’s Poor

They Sealed Their Own Fate by Twice Voting Her Blindly Into Power


By:  James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 5, 2014


     If the results of the last two elections in Liberia meant anything then Liberians certainly have nothing to be complaining about today.  In the two elections held in 2005 and 2011 respectively, Liberians voted overwhelmingly for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  As far as they were concerned, she was the best person to lead their war-ravaged nation, never mind the fact that she too had contributed to the carnage that raged there for almost two decades.

     It actually baffles me why the Liberian people would put the future and destiny of their country into the hands of the same lifelong opportunists who helped to destroy it.  In my view, insanity is the correct word that perfectly describes their collective vote for Sirleaf and her bunch.    That is exactly why they deserve the highly corrupt and immoral government they have today.

Opportunity comes but once
      It is said quite often that in life opportunity comes but once.  My late teacher at Bassa High School, “Prof.” Edward J. Harris, Sr., used to tell us that if opportunity ever comes our way, we better grab it and run.  In this context, Liberians have had more than one opportunity to step back, take a deep breath and decide “together” what kind of country they wanted following years of grossly senseless civil wars.

     For the most part, they had two basic options.  One option was to go back to the status quo ante which saw the vast majority of indigenous Liberians denied their right to participate fully in their country’s political process.  There was also massive underdevelopment throughout Liberia during this period. The second option was for them to break away completely from the past and rebuild their war-wrecked nation from scratch, emphasizing equality for all, transparency, accountability, moral fortitude and other attributes of “good” governance.  Apparently they chose the former – to return to the status quo ante by electing Sirleaf who is a direct product of the old True Whig Party (TWP) blatantly corrupt oligarchy.

      After entrusting their country to her, one would think that Sirleaf, as a woman and mother, in spite of her support for Charles Taylor, would have seized the opportunity and finally make it right with the Liberian people.  Making it right with the Liberian people simply means abandoning the old and ugly practices of the immediate past – practices of nepotism, economic marginalization and corruption, for example.  But it was not a part of her agenda.  As Liberians are beginning to find out the hard way now, Sirleaf’s only agenda (like most of the other serial opportunists in her government), was to ascend to the highest office in Liberia by “any means necessary” just to satisfy her insatiable ego for state power.

Country still in darkness…literally
     And so, after almost eight years in power and sustained financial and logistic support from the international community totaling hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars, Liberia still remains in darkness, underdeveloped (especially in the rural areas) and fragile.  Even worse is the harsh reality that the vast majority of Liberians are being driven deeper into abject poverty (63.8 percent according to World Bank figures), while the small class of new Liberian elites continue to have a field day plundering the country just as was done under previous rogue regimes.
      In her first inaugural address to the still traumatized Liberian nation, Sirleaf said this on January 16, 2006, “Times were hard before.  Times are even harder today. But I make this pledge to you: Under my Administration, we will work to change that situation (in reference to men having the means to feed their families).  We will work to ensure that when our children say ‘papa na come’, papa will come home joyfully with something, no matter how meager, to sustain his family.”  “In other words,” she further pledged, “we will create the jobs for our mothers and fathers to be gainfully employed.  We will create the social and economic opportunities that will restore our people’s dignity and self-worth.”  As we now know, these words were nothing more than cheap rhetoric intended to appease the gullible Liberian people who bought into her usual deception.

     As Liberians on the ground stare another holiday season right in the face this year empty handed, they are wondering when “papa will come” to put smiles on their faces.  While the country’s elites and their families are flying in and out of Liberia to celebrate their holidays with monies they may have allegedly pillaged from the nation’s coffers, Liberians at home are getting more and more disenchanted and disappointed in the UP government.

     A recent FrontPageAfricaOnline.com story quoted one Fatu Sirleaf, reportedly a women’s used clothes merchant on Mechlin St, Monrovia, as making these remarks in growing frustration.  “I voted for Ma Ellen because I felt as a female, she was going to make things easy for us.  So I am vexed with her because the hard time is too much.  I thought as a woman, she was going to bring some changes but the same old thing is happening just like when the men were president,” she cried.  Boy, she (Fatu) was wrong! 

     Interestingly, the dire economic state currently facing Liberia was not lost on the ruling Unity Party (UP) Chairman, Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman when he delivered the 166th Independence Day National Oration this past July 26, 2013.  Considered by many as one of the most brutally honest remarks from a major Liberian public figure, Cllr. Sherman lamented that “for today’s Liberia, Independence Day cannot merely be a day of remembrance and celebration.  Even after nearly ten years of the absence of gunfire, the wounds of our civil war are still fresh; for you know that peace is not necessarily the absence of war.”

     “Even after two cycles of general and presidential elections, the social and development challenges which face our people are still very daunting; some of our people appear to give up all hope for the betterment of their situation during their lifetime,” he added.

     After putting the country’s present status in its correct historical perspective, the prominent Liberian lawyer also said, “…my fellow Liberians, peace and reconciliation in Liberia can never be achieved if we ignore what caused our civil war and if we do not resolve those causes and change ourselves and our country around for the better.”

    He then proceeded to ask some very serious rhetorical questions, like, “Does the mere absence of war in our country constitute peace?  Have we really reconciled our differences among ourselves?  Have we carefully examined the ethnic, religious, and economic schisms in our society and bridge them in order to enhance genuine national unity and integration?  If not, do we have the quality of peace and reconciliation that we could consolidate for transformation of our common patrimony?  That is our question, and that we should find answers for.”

Answers lie in TRC final report
    But I thought that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had already found answers to the Cllr.’s questions.  Well, I may be mistaken.  Had the grossly inept Sirleaf administration summoned the courage to implement the report instead of letting it gather dust under the rug, maybe Liberia would be on its way to true reconciliation as well as genuine and lasting peace. I do empathize with Sirleaf, though, because implementing the report really would not be in her interest or the interests of some of her close allies.  However, she absolutely does not have the right to change the rule in the middle of the game by failing to implement the report.
     What some people seem to be forgetting is that the TRC was also a key

component of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Accra, Ghana, in 2003, which ended the Liberian civil war and made way for a civilian government. When the 2017 elections come around, I sincerely hope that Liberians will do themselves a huge favor by electing someone to the presidency that would be fully committed to implementing the report that Sirleaf has been keeping under her watchful eyes all these years.  

      As Cllr. Sherman also observed, “in a country where nearly every successful political program or action must be driven by the highest political office, I submit, again, that you [Sirleaf] were elected to set the examples of good governance – examples that would be worthy of emulation by your successors.” He then added,  “You were elected because Liberians believe that of all the contestants for the presidency of this country, you were the best prepared and most qualified to be the trendsetter and pacesetter for the progress of our country and the fulfillment of their individual and collective dreams.”  Well, Cllr, as we all know now, this government, which have taken corruption in the resources rich but vastly underdeveloped country to a new level has long shattered the dreams of countless Liberians.

     Although I am not too sure whether Liberia would be any better off under the UP Chairman since he too was groomed by the same iron-fisted and negligent TWP, I must commend him for telling it like it is.  The problem here is that Sirleaf just is not listening!

More sensible approach to peacebuilding
     According to Paris (2004), a more sensible approach to postconflict peacebuilding would seek, first, to establish a system of domestic institutions that are capable of managing the destabilizing effects of democratization and marketization within peaceful bounds and, second, to phase in political and economic reforms slowly over time, as conditions warrant.  One set of elections [or even two sets of elections in the case of Liberia], without creating the necessary stable political and economic institutions, does not produce durable peace in most cases (Paris, 2004).  This statement is so true especially in the case of Liberia today.
     Attempting to transform war-shattered states [like Liberia] into liberal democracies with market economies can backfire badly, Paris (2004) determined in his study, contending that the rapid introduction of democracy and capitalism in the absence of effective institutions [like the courts, presidency, law enforcement and legislature] can increase rather than decrease the danger of renewed fighting. So, Liberians, there you have it!

Sirleaf’s Achilles’ heel
     Beside her stubborn failure to implement the TRC final report, which may go a long way in reconciling the nation as well as seeking justice for war crimes victims, the prevalence of rampant corruption in the country remains Sirleaf’s Achilles’ heel.  But of course, the president’s blind supporters, diehard loyalist and apologists continue to blame the war and Liberia’s near collapse as reasons why the UP government has not brought corruption under control.
     Such shameless excuse should be an affront to all well meaning Liberians.  After all, it has long since been established that President Sirleaf did personally sponsor several wars in the country starting with Taylor’s invasion from the Ivory Coast in December 1989.  So, in fact, I really do not see why Sirleaf or any of the other so-called major actors in the ongoing Liberian drama should be given a pass.  If anything, Liberians should collectively be demanding that they fix what they have broken. It is not like they were innocent bystanders, because they called the shots then and are calling them now.

      Hopefully, a future Liberian leader (male or female) will realize that the moral test of any nation is not how many millionaires it creates from ill-gotten wealth or how many skyscrapers dot the vast landscapes or how many new roads were built, but how far it is willing to look back and lend a helping hand to those in society that are less fortunate.

    The sad thing is this - people like Fatu will continue to vote for the likes of Sirleaf as long as they keep feeding them and giving handouts only during elections season.  Liberians therefore cannot blame anyone for their present plight but themselves.

     This whole situation reminds me of a popular adage that says, “fool me once…shame on you, fool me twice…shame on me!”  The shame is definitely on the suffering Liberian people this time, while the nation’s new elites are laughing all the way to the bank.  With relatively young Liberians like Binyan Kesseley, T. Nelson Williams, II, Amara Konneh, Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, Kofi Woods, Julia “Pinky” Duncan-Cassell, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan and Gbehzohngar Findley, amongst others, seemingly treading the same path as the immediate generation before them, “papa” may not be coming home any time soon.

­­­­­­­About the author – James W. Harris is a U.S.-based journalist and communication professional.  He is a longtime contributor to various Liberian online websites and earned a BA degree (Magna Cum) in Journalism from the Prairie View A&M University of Texas and an MA in Public Communication from the American University in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at jimiharris@comcast.net.

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