By Lee H. Williams
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Liberians are scrambling to deal with the EBOLA virus but all like the article in the Foreign Policy Magazine recognized that the massive spread of the virus because of the current administration’s inability to contain it is a symptom of a much bigger problem of poor governance. Liberians and international partners agreed that the spread of the virus represents a failure in governance and presidential leadership, underpinned by uncontrolled corruption, escalating patronage that rewards sycophancy and incompetence and nepotism galore. On August 14, 2014, Foreign Policy Magazine captures the position of Liberians and international partners:
“The Ebola crisis is quickly exposing how rapidly progress can be undermined, however, when it is not grounded in a fair, inclusive social compact between governments and their citizens. It is no coincidence that, in the countries at the heart of the outbreak, large groups of people have been systematically excluded from power and decision-making at all levels for decades. This means many citizens are unwilling to believe that the government can serve their interests. The health system in Liberia is a case in point. Despite millions of dollars of investment in the decade before the Ebola outbreak, there were only 150 trained doctors in the entire country of 3.5 million people. As a result, access to services is inevitably exclusionary, lending itself to networks of corruption as patients do anything they can to receive care.
“In recent years, kleptocratic and nepotistic behavior by the ruling elites have led to long civil wars in Liberia.”
Liberians are holding discussions at multiple layers on the way forward for Liberia. They want the international community to step in and save the day. Newspapers like FrontpageAfrica has sent out an SOS calling on the international community to take over and lead the Ebola Task Force, pushing out President Sirleaf. Liberty Party’s senior Policy Advisor and self-proclaimed “friend of the President” posted on face book that the President should leave office because she is “tired” and has lost control of the Government. Key senators in the Liberian Senate led by Senator Mabutu Nyepan has called on the international community to step in and take over the Ebola Task Force headed by the President of Liberia, basically indicating that the President has, yet again, failed to perform as Chair of the Task Force.
Liberians are giving variety solutions, all loosely connected but pointing to two basic things: (1) Removal of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and (2) formation of some type of a new Government. Some are bent on forming another Interim Government of National Unity. Others do not want an interim Government, so they are willing to painfully settle for VP Boakai to continue and finish Sirleaf’s tenure. Still others don’t want VP Boakai but instead they want Speaker Tyler to rule for 90 days so that Liberians can go to elections and elect a new President, forgetting to know that U.S. and WHO medical authorities and professionals predict that the Ebola virus will last in Liberia at least 6 months, or 180 days from August 2014.
Many of the young people do not want to hear about an interim government, because of their aversion of another rule by the “same old people.” These young people are proposing a Five Year (5) TRUSTEESHIP. But those calling for a Trusteeship are divided between (1) those who want to put Liberia under U.N. like Timor Leste and (2) those who want to make Liberia like one of the U.S. territories like American Samoa, Puerto Rico and Guam. These people want America to send in a Governor like General Wesley Clarke or Colin Powell to run Liberia for five years to reorient the country and build up truly functioning institutions.
There are two main reasons given by those advocating for Trusteeship: (1) Liberian leaders have proven for 168 years that they cannot govern Liberia justly, and the next batch of politicians lining up to take after Sirleaf are as just as uncompassionate and corrupt or worse. (2) America did it for Japan and Germany and the U.N. has done it for Timor Leste, so they should do same for “poor” and “ungovernable” Liberia, a country that is by all measure a classic business school case study of “repeated wasted” opportunity. In order to pay for the Trusteeship, they proposed that America or U.N should take control of all the natural resources and use it to “build our country.”
Regardless of their differences in terms of the course of action to pursue, the majority of Liberians have agreed that:
While all of the issues raised against Sirleaf are valid and can be supported, Liberians need to coordinate and present a coherent position to the “international community” in which intervention is being sought. International community can only assist when a clear and convincing case is presented. It could take on the following:
A good starting point for building a case in Liberia against Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is to seek guidance from others who have done this kind of a thing, when a leader has neglected his or her responsibility and refused to listen to public outcry. Organizers can do for Liberia what Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson did for America, both men had to present to the world as a justification to remove the Brits from power in America. Read the entire cases below:
"Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death! "
MR. PRESIDENT: No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves, and the House? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these war-like preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies?
No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament.
Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending²if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!
They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable²and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace²but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America ,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
1986 Liberian Constitution
“All power is inherent in the people. 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 order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.”
“All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations.”
Liberia is formed on the basis of American Republican form of Government. Americans have dealt with unaccountable, unresponsive and incompetent elected officials in variety of ways including referendum (aka California Gravy Davis), and laid down constitutional provision (Richard Nixon’s America). In other countries like Argentina and Ukraine it was “people power” through mass interrupted demonstrations.
Whatever course Liberians choose to deal with the Crisis of Confidence-Crisis of Leadership it must be democratic and constitutional. Seeking national and international legal interpretation of Article 1 and 17 of the Liberian Constitution and building a Factual Case are useful starting point.
Paul Collier, a man who is admired by the Liberian Government, wrote in his book “Bottom Billon” that developing countries have mastered one aspect of democracy, which is popular elections. But governance after election is a huge challenge. President Obama has echoed similarly when he argued democracy is more than just an election. Reading Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson shows the basic conclusion that at some point one has to: “Cut your losses short, and keep your profit rolling.”