By: Theodore Hodge
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has always been a media darling. She is perhaps the most well known and loved leader on the African continent. Her ascendancy to the Liberian presidency has been hailed in the Western world as the greatest thing to happen on the continent ‘since sliced bread’.
Thanks to her incredible talent of self-promotion, she has played a major role of propelling herself up that glorious ladder. She wrote a memoir and titled it “This Child Will Be Great”. According to her, upon her birth, a soothsayer took one look at her and prophesied, “This child will be great…” Her mother, as all mothers tend to do, ate it up. After all, who doesn’t want to be the bearer of a great child? Ellen Johnson was told this prophesy at an early age. It perhaps psychologically prepared her to face the world with confidence and optimism about her future. She set out to manifest her destiny; it was greatness by hook or crook. Along the way, the Western media has helped her propel toward that perceived destiny of greatness. And by all accounts, she has succeeded.
But as we all know too well, ‘what goes up must come down’. Is it possible that this once great child is falling from grace? Perhaps she will not fall and land flat on her face or buttocks, but one thing is certain: She has lost quite a bit of steam; the balloon is losing some air and faces eventual deflation. She has come down a few notches. And what’s her reaction to this new turn of events? She is now lashing out at her favorite friends, the international media. Excuse the colloquialism, but as they say in some quarters, “who would have thunk that?”
In a recent interview conducted by Katie Couric, she was asked about a Doctors Without Borders report that hinted that the Ebola crisis has reached ‘catastrophic’ levels and the quarantine policy aimed at the community of West Point has led to ‘virtual anarchy’. What was her response? She lashed out: “There is no anarchy! The international media must stop this! They are spreading false rumors! We are simply protecting the people from themselves.”
No matter her shock and dismay, one thing was clear: She was now on the hot seat. The international media, after giving her a free ride on the magic carpet for so long, has finally begun to ask some tough questions… she is not familiar with the territory. Though it saddens some of us that her tough moment has come while a catastrophic event looms in the horizon, it was fun to watch her twitch on the hot seat for a change.
Katie Couric is not the only journalist to put her on the tough spot. Foreign Policy Magazine has all but laid the blame at her feet. In one article, they left no stones unturned to come to the conclusion that the Ebola crisis is an outcome of bad policy, specifically, corruption. The New York Times has recently published an op-ed on the political fallout propagated by the crisis. Other Western media outlets are similarly laying the blame where it belongs: At her royal feet.
Maybe she will stop spending millions of dollars the nation needs on lobbying efforts. She spends tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars on giant media firms to polish and promote her image. She details how an American giant pollster, media consultant and lobbyist named Larry Gibson helped her win the campaign for president. Larry Gibson was (is) indeed a giant in the field; he is said to be an “exceptionally talented architect of numerous successful political campaigns, including Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign in the state of Maryland and three successful campaigns for Kurt Schmoke, the first black mayor of Baltimore, MD USA.” That’s according to the book, “This Child Will Be Great”.
You couldn’t get any bigger than that! Madam Sirleaf was not taking chances. She hired the best to assure her success. The irony is she hired a powerful media consultant to help her become president of the folks in West Point, New Kru Town, Gbarnga, Zwedru and Buchanana… now she bemoans the international media?
From a recent report by the UN Mission to Liberia comes this grim assessment: “The epidemic shows no sign as yet of stabilization and reduction. State authorities remain unable to respond in a significant manner and the international response remains limited.”
The report continues: “It is evident the Liberian authorities are not able to address the present state of the country. Consequently, it can be anticipated that many additional EVD (Ebola) cases will arise in the coming days.”
Isn’t that a clear indictment of the Liberian administration? Now, this doesn’t come from some hothead provocative and radical commentator, it comes from the UN. The Liberian state is essentially a UN satellite state; without the UN it would have clearly become defunct and failed. The UN has quite a stake in the successful revival of the country, so it would not be logical for it to mount a deliberate, baseless, propaganda attack against the country. We must therefore assume that the UN is calling it as it sees it: The government of Liberia is not in full control of the situation. Even worse, the government does not have the capacity to actually control the crisis effectively.
First the international media, now the UN Mission… but the most biting criticism comes from even closer quarters. Dr. Jean Jacques Muyembe, a Congolese physician who helped identify the Ebola Virus in the 1970’s is in Monrovia to advise the government on how to handle the epidemic. He said, “Putting the army and police in charge of the quarantine was the worst thing you could do…You must make the people in the quarantine zone feel that they are being helped, not oppressed. The quarantine is going to worsen the spread of Ebola.” That seems to be commonsense except to the president, her Information Minister and Defense Minister. They must be a different breed to have thought such a draconian measure of using the army with shoot-to-kill orders was even worth considering.
Amidst the media onslaught, what is the president’s reaction? Her office has announced that the president does not intend to hold any interviews any longer. Really? The country depends on international aid and charity, and the president will not grant any interviews? Isn’t this when the media darling ought to come and work her magic with the press? Wasn’t this child born to be great? Now she’s retreating into a hole in the cave because the international media is spreading false rumors against her?
One thing is certain, we haven’t seen the end to this unfolding calamitous affair. But you can bet your last dollar that this president is facing the darkest moment of her presidency. This is not her finest hour. How she survives to once more steer the wheel of state will be a great testament to her claim to greatness. The verdict is out, but perhaps not for too long. Perhaps she will survive the leadership crisis and gloat one day, “I told you I was destined to be great…” Or perhaps she will go down in infamy. I’ve already said this Ebola crisis will be her Waterloo, her Achilles heels. We shall see.
Author: Theodore Hodge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org