By Theodore Hodge
|President Sirleaf and Dr. Sawyer|
The country Liberia has been engulfed in one crisis or another for the better part of four decades now. We have been on a precarious journey as a people. Lately, we have been under the impression that a light at the end of the tunnel was appearing in the distance. Optimists have told us that the light signified salvation, or deliverance; perhaps freedom is a better word to apply in secular semantics. We have been told that things were turning for the better and a brighter day was on the horizon. The cynics have been doubtful. Lately, we've been forced to face a stark reality: That light in the distance, we've just realized, comes from a freight train. It is headed our way. We are in its course. We face a possible head-on collision, unless we wake up immediately from our slumber and think fast. As they say in America, we must 'think outside the box'.
The current drama unveiling itself in the midst of our homeland is one of epic proportions. The leading lady in this drama is President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, commonly referred to as the "Iron Lady". The only thing iron about this lady is her heart. You may have heard the expression "heart of stone"... Our president's heart is one of iron. She feels no compassion and no empathy for the less fortunate, which is the majority of our people. But her iron heart may be rusting now. Her empire is on the brink of collapse; it is crumbling and may come tumbling down in due course. The mystery is how the end will come. Great dramas do encompass elements of suspense; this one is no exception.
In recent times, since the outbreak of the national tragedy known as Ebola, I have written to describe our president in unflattering terms. She is a fraudster, a pretender wearing fancy costumes and a giant mask, a wealth-seeking capitalist, a plutocrat, and a fumbling captain at the helm of a ship running off course... Yes, the ship is about to sink or run ashore and the captain is perhaps intoxicated or drunk at the helm.
I use the word 'drunk' here figuratively. But its literal meaning is applicable here as well. On one of the famous or infamous tapes recorded and revealed by Ellen Corkrum, a Liberian senator (Clarice Jah of Margibi County) tells how on a trip with the president, the Iron Lady drowned one drink after another until she was practically wasted at the end of the trip. The senator tells how the president refused a drink and pushed it aside because it was watered down and diluted. Imagine drinking Vodka straight and chasing it with beer... that is the unfortunate story told by a senator about a president. That is what Liberia has come to. This is no fiction; this is the reality of Liberia. As the old saying goes, we've gone from the frying pan into the fire.
But in all fairness, the great Iron Lady, even with a heart of stone, could not carry on the show by herself. Every big show requires an ensemble, or what is also referred to as a supporting cast. The supporting cast is too huge to be individually named; after all this is a great production, a production for the ages. But let's recognize a few outstanding members of the cast. We need to know these people because they are important in the unfolding story of Liberia. We need to be true to history.
First there is Professor Amos Sawyer. Oh, what a disappointment this one is. In his book, "The Emergence of Autocracy in Liberia: Tragedy and Challenge" Dr. Sawyer writes passionately about Liberia. He sounds convincing until one holds him up to his rhetoric, then one realizes he is also one of those fraudsters hiding behind a mask. Below is an excerpt from the book:
"... One must perceive the personalization of authority by President Tubman for what it was, namely, a failure to build institutions that operate according to rules of law... The celebration of graft and corruption as a national virtue distort the national ethos..."
Oh, truer words have never been spoken. But true as they were then, they are truer even today. Aren't graft and corruption still an ever-present blow to the national ethos? Sawyer, a college professor at the time of Tubman's death, became a political fire-brand during the Tolbert regime, using the university as his base to express populist (perhaps radical) political thought. He became a star professor. He made quite an impression on young minds, including myself, although I was not at the university. You know subsequent chapters of his life to be escaped here for the sake of brevity.
In 2014, a publication named "Think Africa Press" carried a striking story it titled, “Who Audits the Auditors: Scandal at the Heart of the African Peer Review Mechanism". The article paints a bleak picture of corruption in the institution, at the heart of the story stands President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, her finance Minister, Amara Konneh, and Dr. Amos Sawyer who is now a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons of that institution. The article is linked here:
Is this not the same Sawyer who made a living criticizing past presidents? Isn’t this the same Sawyer who became a hit by exposing the weakness of the True Whig Party, and perhaps most responsible for sending President Tolbert to an early grave? Today, he is chairman of the Governance Commission and a dancing partner of our Masquerader-in-Chief. The dance goes on, same tone, but Sawyer plays a major role now. His sense of critical analysis has taken a back seat to the desire to obtain personal wealth. Same dance, same tone, different dancers.
Dr. H. B. Fahnbulleh
Now enters Dr. Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. In his book, Across The Landscape, there is a chapter titled, "Africa's Redemption Lies in Popular Democracy" I quote him in (An Interview in the Observer, Lagos, July 1, 1991):
Q. It is on record that you were once a member of the late Samuel Doe's government. What would you say led to your departure from that government?
A. A number of things. The emerging corruption which was wide spread after the coup and the callous trampling on the rights of the people a few years after the coup. In 1983, I protested at the way Doe was handling the affairs of the country. He was making secret moves to resume ties with Israel contrary to what was agreed by the OAU. I told him at the time that this was wrong. I felt there and then that the hopes and aspirations of our people were being dashed for Doe's personal interest. Under this condition, I found it difficult to continue in the government."
But where is that gentleman, that strong soldier in defense of the masses that spoke such words? Has corruption gone away? Are the rights of the people not being trampled upon anymore? Are the affairs of the country now being handled any differently? Are the hopes and aspirations of the people not being dashed for the president's personal interests? If so, why doesn't he find it difficult to serve now? It is indeed sad to see a champion of the people's rights reduced to this. Boima has been promoted to a position of Super Incompetence way outside his expertise. He is now happy to play the role of a supporting cast member. He has become a dancing partner, risking being reduced to obscurity, just another jester of the queen’s court. The campaign for social justice has lost a great champion.
Rumors has it that he’s in London, while Ebola ravishes the homeland. Is this not a National Security Issue? What does he think about the idea of using the military to fight an epidemic? Where is Boima Fahnbulleh?
There are other dancers including the Finance Minister, Amara Konneh and the Foreign Minister, Augustine Ngafuan. They are young lads whose inexperience speaks volumes. Yet they hold very high and important positions without the benefit of requisite professional track record. Does the president not know that there are countless Liberians more knowledgeable and more competent than the group of loyalists she surrounds herself with? These two are so green with inexperience, they might not even qualify for the dance with the grand old dame, but at least they hold her long gowns, or lappa, while she dances the nights away, sometimes sober, sometimes inebriated, according to the record. Again, for the sake of brevity, we shall not go into their record to reveal their levels of inefficiency; they are not worth the trouble.
Iron Lady Listens to Mary Broh
And then there is Mary Broh, the woman who administers civil justice by whipping the poor and unfortunate. She has gained a high reputation for maintaining law and order, although her methods are quite questionable. But because Liberia has become such a miserable and mediocre excuse for a nation state, she is hailed as an effective manager. She carries the whip and she has the president's backing. Not even the legislature can touch her. Maybe she has another opportunity to uplift her stature and popularity. A curfew has been declared in Monrovia and the army has been given direct orders to shoot and kill civilians. The country has been reduced to lower depths one would have thought impossible, but with such a supporting cast, perhaps the worst is yet to come.
The Iron Lady claims to have studied leadership and governance at Harvard University. Does she not realize that Monrovia is a city growing out of its usefulness as a city because of explosive population growth and dilapidated infrastructure? Did it ever occur to her that perhaps somebody with a degree in city planning and administration would be needed? Did she ever interview Liberians around the world to locate someone with the necessary expertise and experience? How does giving Mary Broh a horn, a bull-whip and a work crew with wheel barrows solve the problems the residents face?
Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh
Then there is Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh. No, he's not an active member of the official circle, but he plays a key part, anyway. It's like a great actor in a movie. He doesn't have to deliver great lines or play a great role, all he has to do is make an appearance in a scene. It was the late great Dr. Martin Luther King who said, "In the end, we will remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." And so it is with Dr. Tipoteh. The silence from him is deafening.
We all recall that Dr. Tipoteh was one of those who vowed to seek freedom and justice for the downtrodden. He saw and pointed out everything wrong with the Tolbert administration. But strangely, he seemingly compromised his moral standards when he joined the 'gravy train' to work with Master Sergeant Doe's military junta. Strange that anyone who found the ways of the Tolbert administration so repugnant and repulsive would go to work for a military junta without any complaints.
Well, as the old saying goes, "You can fool some of the people all the time; you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." It didn't take too long for the people to realize that indeed he wasn't the great freedom fighter fighting in the interest of the poor and heavy-burdened. He was only concerned about personal ambition. All that movement of justice for the people nonsense was a ploy to buy recognition and popularity.
Since the demise of President Tubman and the eventual overthrow of President Tolbert, Dr. Tipoteh has kept his eye on one prize, the presidency. Each round brings him failure, but he's under the illusion that it is his destiny --- that destiny will continue to elude him because he has not been honest with himself. His ultimate legacy will be: The man who fought for the presidency.
Sadly, there are those who still believe he has fought the good fight. After all, he was a teacher and teachers have a way of embedding onto the minds of impressionable youth certain ideas or images it is difficult or impossible to erase. He shall, therefore, always remain a good memory to his faithful students, but to the rest of us he shall remain less glorified. In fact, he will remain vilified. To rage all that hell and then turn silent and complacent in subsequent administrations is an abomination.
The Tolbert regime, with all its faults, was a paradise compared to those that followed, including the present one. How does one explain the deafening silence emanating from Dr. Tipoteh? Only one way: He was never an advocate for the poor; he never fought for freedom and justice. He was a man full of ambition, chasing one dream: the presidency.
The list here is not complete. It is too long to exhaust here. You know the rest, perhaps better than I'll ever know. But you get the drift. I shall leave you as you ponder what's on my mind now. The same may be on yours too. It is in solidarity that I write, hoping that I shall become a small part of that medium through which the thoughts of many are channeled. It is a tall order, but right now I'm too sad to stop; I'm too energized to grow tired or weary. I shall fight on because I don't want to grow old and tell my grandkids the story of my time. They might ask, "But grandpa, what did you do? Where did you stand on the issues of your day?" I simply want to show them what I think now, what I write now. That's my contribution. That's where I stand.
Here is a sad poem by Robert Long to help summarize the feelings for my country, our beloved country.
My Country Has Lost I
by Robert Long
Seem to glaze over
As tears fill them
A sadness grips my soul
And I can't see the pain
As it wells from within
Has lost its way
Destroying all that was built
To benefit from
No one want or seems to care
For it wasn't earned
In the hopes
That it would be taken care of
By responsible people
What a joke
No one is taught
To take care of the things
That was prepared for them
Schools don't teach
The things that shaped us
That it doesn't matter
Parents are lost
Running in circles
For a corrupt society
Has warped the minds of the youth
And has left them by the way
And pass away to time
My heart breaks
For I know
They know better
It can be repaired
That which is wrong
They but dare
Our society is a wreck
For the sake of money
But what will they do
When it's gone
Then it will be to late
Seem to glaze over
As sadness grips my soul
Has lost its way