The Elephant That Gave Birth to a Mouse: The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Legacy

By Theodore Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 12, 2014



Ellen's Book

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been called many nicknames to signify her greatness. Her favorite nickname is the Iron Lady. She loves to be praised and she is not modest when it comes to praising herself. She titled her memoir "This Child Will Be Great" and published it soon after she became President of Liberia. She appeared on radio and television talk shows around the world as talk show hosts called her "Africa's first female president" and she glowed in the spotlight as her praises were sung. She is at ease with the world's wealthiest and most powerful people. She counts many of her friends among some of the most well-known people of the world such as former President Gorge W. Bush, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former US First Lady Hilary Clinton, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the late great Nelson Mandela, just to name a few. She has such powerful friends that she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for no apparent justification; none was needed. She simply got it because she had friends in high places and powerful people get what powerful people want. The rest of us may huff and puff, but our protests fall on deaf ears; our consternation is ignored.

One thing is clear, the legacy of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is two-fold. There is Ellen the globetrotter who spends more time abroad with her circle of global friends, and Ellen, the President of Liberia. While her popularity abroad knows no bounds, her legacy at home is not so assured. Upon careful scrutiny, it seems to be that all the talk surrounding this political giant amounts to no actual significance. She is simply a political animal who knows how to talk a good game but is very short on substance.

She has had a long and successful tenure; perhaps a long and successful existence. Though she has had her critics over the years, but she has been great at manipulating the media. Through her own personable character and through paid lobbyists, she has managed to weather the storm and come up looking good. But a little known natural virus has exposed her for the fraud she is. Ebola has exposed 'Her Excellency' as being no better than her numerous predecessors, whom she has criticized bitterly over the years in order to lift herself higher and higher on the world stage. Now, as things come to focus, it easy for all to see that all she ever did for Liberia was to build a Potemkin Village. She has built a house of cards and now it is crumbling around her. She could be likened to the mountain who gave birth to a mouse.

The tale comes from Aesop's Fables, and here it is in modern translation.

A Mountain was once greatly agitated.
Loud groans and noises were heard,
and crowds of people came from all parts
to see what was the matter.
While they were assembled in anxious
expectation of some terrible calamity, out came a mouse.

Moral of the fable: Don't make much ado about nothing.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has had presidential ambitions for a very long time now, decades perhaps. Evidence abound. In 1972, during a speech at her high school alma mater she criticized the Tubman administration for being wasteful and corrupt. She later went on to criticize the Tolbert administration and leaving the Ministry of Finance to accept a job at the World Bank, where she began to court and assemble her remarkable list of friends in high places. By the time the Doe administration emerged, her presidential ambitions could not be concealed anymore. She ran for the Senate and won a seat. But she refused to take the seat, instead, she openly criticized President Doe and went to jail for her boldness. According to her, she miraculously escaped with some inside help. She became an unofficial candidate for president and never stopped running for the job until she got it at the end of the 2005 presidential election.

She has been particularly hard on President William V. S.Tubman. This is what she wrote about him: "President Tubman had presided over our country for twenty-seven years, years of patronage and oppression, of Old World charm and iron-fisted control... He spoke well of unification, of ending the cleavage that had so long divided the country, but did little in the way of concrete actions toward those lofty goals. Tubman had led what was essentially a benevolent dictatorship... He had possessed the power, the money, and the capability to move our country forward along the path of real political and economic unity but failed to do so..."

In her memoir, referring to an occasion when she addressed a high school graduation exercise, she writes: "I told the students that the nation stood at the verge of a crisis, a crisis over which we might have no control. Tensions were mounting --- economically, socially, and politically. Yet within this tension existed the potential for change, but only if we, as a nation, were able and willing to push aside the curtain of fear and deceit in discussion of our national plight. It was time, I said, to stand up and speak the truth about who we were as a country." This was in 1972.

On President Tolbert's hosting of the OAU summit in 1979, at the time she was Deputy Minister of Finance, she writes further in her memoir: "To me, then, as to many others, it seemed unwise, if not downright dangerous, to be spending so much money hosting this exaggerated men's night out at a time when the Liberian economy was under such serious strain. In a nutshell, we simply did not have the money to host the summit. I found myself taking rather strong positions in opposition, both to the overspending on the summit itself and to the many blatantly inflated invoices being submitted to the government by contractors on behalf of the OAU project."

All along the way, EJS has told everyone who cared to listen that she was the most qualified to lead Liberia. She knew Liberia was a broken nation from its mismanagement by previous leaders. She knew that, but she was going to fix it. During the critical years that followed, Liberia experienced one catastrophe after another, culminating into a series of civil wars. The country almost ceased to exist as a sovereign nation as it was described by the international community as "defunct" and "failed". But Ellen was having none of that; she was going to fix it, she promised.

To justify her qualification she touts herself of being a financial and economic guru. After all, she worked as Liberia's Finance Minister before going on important stints at the World Bank and Citibank where she climbed the corporate ladder quite meteorically She reminds her readers that all this was possible because of her Harvard education. Again, in her memoir she writes: 

"After completing my studies at Boulder, it was on to Cambridge. My year at Harvard was a tough but incredible experience I will never forget. Not only did I deepen my understanding of economics with challenging courses in subjects such as micro and macroeconomics, economic development, and quantitative methods, but I broadened my overall knowledge of government and governing with courses in leadership, strategic management, public policy, and data analyses...."

This is important to note. This child who was born to be great would not accept mediocrity at any level. Greatness was hers according to prophesy, and greatness she must achieve, by hook or crook. She continues her Harvard experience: "At the end of the year I was an A student in every course I was taking, save one: Econometrics...  Econometric deals with the quantitative part of economics, the part in which one does formulas and graphs and curves and all those types of things --- the part which my education had not really prepared me for, despite my time spent at Boulder. I worked as hard as I could; still, by the end of the semester I had no idea what grade I might receive. Finally I telephoned the professor and said, "Look, I am an A student in every other course. If you fail me in econometrics you know you're going to ruin my transcript!" He laughed off my brashness and, in the end, gave me a B. I'm not sure I deserved a B, but I was happy to have it. The rest of my grades were A's, and so my record at Harvard was quite good." That's how she tells the amazing story of how she became a Harvard-trained economist... Now you know.

The 2005 national presidential elections were tough. Winston Tubman, a lawyer who once worked as a Minister of Justice under a previous administration and a career diplomat at the United Nations, was a candidate. Counselor Vannie Sherman, a career corporate lawyer who never left the country for "exile" was also a contender. Charles Brumskine, another lawyer who had once been Pro Tem of the Liberian Senate was also a strong contender. George Manning Weah, a retired soccer player turned out to give EJS the toughest competition. In the end, she had done it. She had faced the most formidable group of contestants the Liberian public could throw at her and she won what many considered a "free and fair" election. She had finally become Liberia's president.

During the election campaign, during her inauguration speech, and through many speeches and appearances made before and thereafter, she promised to fix our country. As mentioned earlier, she wrote her memoir and titled it "This Child Will Be Great" in which she tooted her own horn repeatedly; modesty has never been her strongest suit. To everyone who would listen, she willingly promised to fix the country's devastated infrastructure and restore it to international stature. She was even purported to have ordered Warlord Charles Taylor to "level the executive mansion, we will rebuild it" during a BBC interview. (Since coming to power, she has not even been able to repair the mansion, much less build a new one). The international airport is in such dire need of repair, international airlines have withdrawn commitments to fly into the country, refusing to put their passengers at risk.

The point I'm hammering home here is that long before EJS became president of Liberia, she was acutely aware that the country had gone through a devastation. She knew it coming in and she promised to rebuild the country because she had the requisite qualification. Additionally, she had the compassion and the desire to do so; it was her life's dream. She accepted the bold challenge with gusto. But she has simply bluffed her way.

For the last eight years, EJS has remained at the helm of power. But she seems clueless about policy. She overpays some people and underpays the majority. The vast majority remains jobless and the infrastructure continues to crumble. No new roads, no schools, no hospitals, no new clinics, no running water, no electricity... simply put, no nothing. Corruption she promised would be the nation's Number One Enemy, unfortunately, she has embraced Corruption and it has become a new partner. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Now the Ebola Plague has uncovered her. She has been all talk and no substance. She claims to be a trained economist and financial expert. A small crisis has become her worst enemy: She has no clue how to run a country. The government has no money although it has spent billions since assuming power. It has no rainy day fund. The government is now appealing to international community once again to come to its aid. The government holds a cup in its hand begging, begging, begging. With such impressive credentials from the likes of the great Harvard University, one would expect more. What happened to all boastful talk about econometrics, governance and leadership and blah, blah, blah? The Big Elephant of Liberian politics has huffed and puffed for years. At a critical moment she has gone into labor and all she has brought forth is a mouse. That's the story the way I see it.

Is resignation a reasonable call to make at this crucial moment? You be the judge. Obviously, I do think so.

The Author: Theodore Hodge takes responsibility for all said in this article. He can be reached

B. K. Washington
Had I known back then what I now know about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, I never would have voted for her to become Freeport Manager, forget President of Liberia. But I should not blame myself too much. I took the advice of many people - like the women of Liberia, the book people, the Americans, the Nigerians, and other members of the "international community"; I read the Perspective, the Daily Observer, Front Page Africa, and other Liberian newspapers; finally I listened to those high priests and imams with "direct connection" to God and Allah. Then I decided to vote for her.

When I realized that I had been misled by all these people and had ended up voting for the worst enemy of the Liberian people to be President, believing that with that fake Harvard degree she was just the person to save, redeem, and take care of the country, it was too late! For the past nine years, she has proved to be the devil incarnate - the most corrupt, selfish, deceitful, divisive, uncaring, nepotistic, untrustworthy, vindictive, incompetent, and immoral little tyrant ever to occupy the Liberian presidency.

I really wish we Liberians could get together soon, organize ourselves, and get this evil spirit off the backs of the Liberian people at once. Waiting till the time is ripe would only allow her to finish the total destruction of Liberia begun by Charles Taylor, her protege, a few years ago.
B. K. Washington at 09:26PM, 2014/08/11.
Guawon Siasia
I will not disagree with most of what the writer wrote about EJS because I do not know her to that extent. However,One thing I will agree with is; she has been wanting to be president for a long time.

I think being a president or being in the position to make decisions for a country is a very tough job. It takes charisma and vision to lead a country successfully. People have done it so I think Liberia will one day be blessed with that one person to fix Liberia.

Remember in the '70s when Barcus Matthew, Tipoteh, Fahnbulleh, D. Kan Carlos, Nyan Taryor, Dew Meyson, Oscar Quiah and the rest of the progressives gang up on Tolbert and told the Liberian people that they had the solutions to Liberia's Problem? What happened next; Doe overthrow Tolbert and gave prominent decision making positions to most of these people. From that day on Liberia's problems have multiply and quadruple and we have never found genuine peace and stability we thought we would have had when these people were empowered.

Let's be careful and moderate with our criticism because one day may be your term and you will know the difference.
Guawon Siasia at 10:25AM, 2014/08/12.
Ted Allison

Thanks, Mr. Hodge, for such a brilliant and provocative article. I have read your articles for a long time now and remain an admirer. Thanks for calling it is you see it. You never disappoint.

After your last article on Senator Cletus Wotorson, some one named Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah challenged you to write about Ellen the way you wrote about the senator. He said you couldn't because you were been paid by Ellen. Maybe you have resigned...

The question is, does Mr. Zoedjallah have the decency and courage to comment now, and perhaps offer some apology? I think it is in place. But knowing my fellow Liberians, I doubt he will gather the courage to do so. But let him eat his words.

Again, thank you for this wonderful piece. It makes wonderful reading.
Ted Allison at 11:32AM, 2014/08/12.
Sylvester Moses
“The Elephant That Gave Birth to a Mouse: The Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf Legacy” is Mr. Theodore Hodge’s attention - grabbing title, and we are judging it from an aesthetic perspective. The question is: did the author make a case for resignation? We are told about the obvious difference between the domestic and international assessments of EJS, and followed by the same stale selective biological profile. No new insight was added to change the view, one way or the other, of detractors, and defenders.

Apparently, the problem with an otherwise well - written piece by Theodore is that it fails to fulfill the expectations of its title. We learn nothing about the president’s “legacy” according to the context in which that word is used; for example (Webster), “how someone is remembered, and what contributions they made while alive”; or, in this case, when in office. Mrs. Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf is still serving, and the jury will be out on her “legacy” when she completes her term.

It is a comedic irony that the lesson of the referenced Aesopian fable seems equally applicable to Hodge’s attempt at ushering EJS out. Thank God he is in the minority for regime change at a time our people are dying in droves from a devious virus. There are well - meaning Liberians who’re organizing and strategizing to provide some relief for the country, and a potential political predicament is the last thing they want to see in an already fragile, fraught, and frightful environment

Sylvester Moses at 08:23PM, 2014/08/12.
Dr. J W
Mr. Hodge, it is with disdain that you are digging up dirt to see this elephant as a mouse. It also seems your lenses' prescription has been diminished and you do not have the funds to get a new one, which causes you to see Ellen now as a mouse.Remember brother sometimes big things comes in little packages" meaning Ellen as a woman but having all the political weight that most leaders in Africa needs but do not have.

With the above please acknowledge that the ebola epidemic is not only tearing up Liberia alone but rather neighboring countries that has MALE presidents. Even the Great United States does not have a cure or vaccine for ebola. In case you have not been followings the news, just know that this is the first massive spread and death tolls from the Ebola virus ever. Amongst Liberia , Guinea and Sierra Leone,Liberia has the least death toll and is expecting untested serum/drugs from the U.S government to start treating doctors and nurses-all courtesy of Madam Sirleaf.

in this time of crises, let us change our anti-Sirleaf thing cap and find means and ways to contribute to the existence of our children and our children's children. Remember Ellen will one day be gone and Liberia will still be ours.Stop the damn politics and help save the state with your apolitical rhetorics.
Dr. J W at 10:10PM, 2014/08/12.
kou Gontee
Mr. Dr. J W, It is very silly, shortsighted, naive, unscientific, and unprogressive, to suggest that a nation should rally around its corrupt, vain, selfish, greedy, and incompetent President simply because of a given crises, when it is preponderantly evident beyond all reasonable doubts that the cause and perpetrator of the problem is the result of the very President being in power?!

This is why we have a constitution. And Chapter 1 of the Constitution mandates the people to ALTER/CHANGE/REMOVE whichever government in power whenever the the people believe their existence, happiness, and or safety is via the tenure or incumbency of that President or leadership threatened!
kou Gontee at 01:31AM, 2014/08/13.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a disgrace!
SRK at 08:13AM, 2014/08/13.
Ted Allison

Dr. Dr., why did you just give your initials as J.W.? If you are interested in taking shots at a public commentator on a public issue, don't you think you should give your full name so the public will know your contribution to the dialogue? Why hide behind the wall, Dr. Dr.?

Please try reading with comprehension.
Ted Allison at 01:20PM, 2014/08/13.
James Biggs
Actually... the Iron Lady that turn into a Lame Duck...
James Biggs at 08:44AM, 2014/08/14.
richard ellis
Thanks for the in depth look at this dubious and corrupt woman EJS. She has a unique proclivity towards deviousness , lies , and ineptness. This empress is buckassed nekkid.
richard ellis at 07:20PM, 2014/08/14.
James D.
It is so saddened for some people to still say this lady is doing her best when she is not.let see her from a motherly point of view. A true mother will always be there for her the case of EJS, she have shown her lack of heart,leadership. And I can say here that, liberia is more divided than ever before because of this government been run by this crook.
James D. at 02:35PM, 2014/08/16.
ROCHEFORD T. GARDINER at 06:43AM, 2014/08/17.
Herbert Brewer
Guawon Siasia writes:
"Remember in the '70s when Barcus Matthew, Tipoteh, Fahnbulleh, D. Kan Carlos, Nyan Taryor, Dew Meyson, Oscar Quiah and the rest of the progressives gang up on Tolbert and told the Liberian people that they had the solutions to Liberia's Problem? What happened next; Doe overthrow Tolbert and gave prominent decision making positions to most of these people. From that day on Liberia's problems have multiply and quadruple and we have never found genuine peace and stability we thought we would have had when these people were empowered."

This is a strange reading of Liberian history, not to mention inaccurate. Liberia's problems did not multiply "from that day on" when Doe "gave decision making positions" to the progressives. First of all, the progressives of the 70s were not a monolithic group of people or they would have all operated under one political umbrella organization. Yes they all shared a common desire to put an end to the True Whig Party dictatorship but the progressives differed greatly in their tactics, strategy, priorities and organizational membership. MOJA and PAL had serious political differences and histories between them. Many other progressive individuals operated independently of both organizations - the most famous being Albert Porte. There were even people in the Tolbert government who were sympathetic to the idea of bringing an end to the oligarchy. So it is simply erroneous to speak of the progressives as if they were homogeneous.

Secondly, there's this revisionism making the rounds that the PRC was somehow dominated by the progressives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the composition of the PRC and the Doe cabinet. People forget that TWP officials like Gabriel Tucker, Kate Bryant and Luseni Dunzo were in that first PRC cabinet. Tipoteh and Fahnbulleh were the only MOJA people in that cabinet, while Matthews and Quiah were the two PAL people in the cabinet. Even if we concede that Boley and Cheapoo were PAL sympathizers, their influence quickly waned. What little influence the progressives had was effectively over by the middle of 1981, after Weh Seyn's execution, Tipoteh's removal from the cabinet, and the subsequent rise of Harry Nayou, Alvin Jones, John Rancy and Gray D. Allison among others, who quickly eclipsed Boley and Cheapoo. The fact is the most radical ideas for political, social and economic reform advanced by the progressives were brushed aside by the military junta. The PRC began to "speak with one voice" and to reject "foreign ideologies," a euphemism for radical change. It was to be a return to business as usual. I still have a copy of Rancy's infamous Memo on Strategy, which was leaked to the London magazine West Africa and published to their great embarrassment.

But third and most importantly, the problems of Liberia did not begin in 1980. At the fall of the ancien regimefell, Liberia, after 133 years of independence, had what: a few hundred paved roads, irregular electricity only in Monrovia and the concession enclaves, some of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world, among the highest rates of illiteracy in the world, state institutions that were rotten to the core, a thoroughly corrupt political culture that permeated the entire fabric of the society - including the progressives themselves! Remember, all this in a country with one of the highest gaps between rich and poor in the world. And the worse part of it is that the validating elites of the country - the people who the Liberian masses look to for guidance - had a deeply entrenched self-contempt, totally alienated from their own people, history, and traditions. So when your start to blame the progressives, remind yourself that the progressives didn't build our dysfunctional society. If any thing, we should be thankful for those few progressive voices that have been raised over the course of our history in defense of democracy, justice and peace.

If any criticism is to be advanced against the progressives, it is that they were perhaps too naive, that they underestimated the strength and resilience of the forces arrayed against progressive change in Liberia. And if we concede that Liberia's problems have multiplied since the 1980 coup, shouldn't the blame be laid squarely at the feet of those who have held the real power? Which brings us to this important question: who are the forces that really wield the power in Liberia?

And finally, he writes: "I think Liberia will one day be blessed with that one person to fix Liberia." No Sir. Please don't have any illusions; there is no messiah out there. Liberians have to do it for themselves. Nobody but ourselves will free our minds.
Herbert Brewer at 06:00PM, 2014/08/17.
Ted Allison

Mr. Brewer, are you responding to Mr. Hodge's article? I don't see the connection to what he says and what you're responding to. Have you identified the right article you wish to address? There seems to be some confusion.
Ted Allison at 04:55PM, 2014/08/18.
Herbert Brewer
Mr Allison, specifically, I'm responding to an earlier comment to Hodge's article further up the thread by Guawon Siasia. You will notice that I begin my contribution by referencing him. Unfortunately the software used by The Perspective doesn't allow one to respond directly and exclusively to another comment in the thread. But more generally, I'm reacting to widespread misconceptions about recent Liberian history, of which Siasia's views are typical. To my mind, Siasia, in objecting to Hodge's criticism of the Sirleaf administration, is saying the blame for the problems we face today should not be laid at the feet of the current government but instead should be directed to those who came to power in 1980, especially the progressives. I disagree. The problems of today have deeper roots, which I attempted to briefly summarize. The problems did not begin with Doe. They go much further back than Doe. And the problems were certainly not caused by the progressives. Hope that clears things up.
Herbert Brewer at 10:20AM, 2014/08/21.
Teah Jardia
I must admit, you're a masterful writer and I appreciate your contribution to our nation's political history.Ellen is not only a disappointment to our country but rather a pathological liar who now been exposed to the Liberian people and the world at large. We the Liberian people are paying a dear price for selecting a bozo clown as president without a leadership foresight. She is the only president in the history of our country who is using the nation's resources for sight seeing mission at the expense of a country still bleeding in blood. Her so-called emergency of borders closing comes too later to save the lives of our people. Her modus operandi is to reward her henchmen with lucrative positions. It was a big mistake to see this walking catalog of crimes at the helm of power..a woman who openly killed innocent women and children. A woman with out social character for many years sleeping from pillow to pole without husband. Even though she pretend not to remember some of her incendiary comments however, history will remember those who plunged our nation in chaos out of sheer greed. There are patriots who are poise to join you in keeping current the gobbledygook that is consider as good public policy agenda for this quasi administration headed by a complete misfit and opportunist as this public piece without husband.
Teah Jardia at 01:20PM, 2014/08/22.
Dr. J W
Kou, from a humanly smart and conscious mind, the peace and security of a nation is usually one of the quests of its peace loving citizens. Consequently the decision of an outcast is always geared toward continuous disruption of fragile peace and ultimately the usurping of power geared towards self aggrandizement.

Ellen is not a Messiah and as a human she is destined to "err and right" once she is on Earth. Not all she does is great and heavenly but remember she has assistants and did you find out how trustworth and truthful they are to the nation-Liberia?

In view of the above, your energies and talents should actually be use to help heal the Liberia that you claimed to love rather than use you green-card status and create discord amongst the people of Liberia. Liberians are tired of war and uprising and now need a peace ambassador rather than a war monger.

Now since it seems you are successful at managing your home, family business and life, then you will do better to put in place your presidential team so as to contest the upcoming elections.

Let me know what you think and stop the profane laced comments when you are on here Woman... Let us not continuously proved that Liberians are what LIberians use to be.

Dr. J W at 08:55PM, 2014/08/25.
As the Liberian people would say, Theodore Hodge is a case in court.
KoQuay at 07:42PM, 2014/09/02.
As the Liberian people will say, Theodore Hodge is a case in court.
KoQuay at 07:44PM, 2014/09/02.

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