By: James Thomas-Queh
Preesident Barrack Obama
Imagine 3000 service men of the British Royal Navy arriving in Freetown to assist in the fight against the Ebola virus, I am certain the President and people of Sierra Leone would have given them an arousing welcome. And if the French had thought it necessary to do the same for Guinea, undoubtedly they would have also received the same grateful reception from the people of Guinea.
But look, we begged like a repentant child, almost kneeled down to the feet of President Obama; and yet when this man of heart immediately mobilized up to almost one billion dollars to airlift 3000 troops to Liberia to save us from the Ebola plaque, we are suddenly trembling in fear and rumouring that the United States has come only to overthrow our dysfunctional, inept and corrupt government. And what a pure nonsense, especially when the Liberian government is surviving on the financial lifeline and full security umbrella of the international community.
Notwithstanding, despite the absolute absurdity of this rumour, the United States ambassador to Liberia, Madam Deborah Malac, found it necessary to quickly silence the rumour mongers and strongly reiterate the sole purpose of the US military presence in Liberia – combat the Ebola epidemic, period (see: www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/politic/3191).
Now, our leadership having begged so pitifully for this help, anyone would have thought that the government’s information spokesmen would have been the first to vigorously castigate such a rumour and the rumour mongers. Instead, we were being informed on the exchange of communications, visits and bickering between the Executive and Legislature as to who may have pocketed the larger portion of the first Ebola $5 million, and the negotiations on the next allotment.
I believe the silence of the government on this sinister rumour is an indication of the delicate position of the United States – our real good Samaritan - to solve an unusual crisis affecting a traditional partner, Liberia. Because it is in the middle of what should have been a mere national health crisis, but has turned out to be the greatest embarrassment, clearly exposing the deep rift between a corrupt and incompetent government on the one hand, and an extremely disenchanted population on the other. And much so that a people and their government who should have been singing, dancing and blowing the country horns together in the streets to receive the American GI’s, are simply rumour mongering on the eventual overthrow of the government.
And frankly, isn’t such a rumour worrisome enough to merit a real in-depth soul-searching at the highest level or for any conscientious Liberian? Well, knowing the importance and impact of rumours, I find it necessary to scrutinize this one for a better understanding and comprehension. And it is with the fervent hope that this could help bring some sanity into our exasperation for a true deliverance.
Gossips have been running this government from day one. And for a reason. I was told that where you find plenty of women, gossips abound always. And do not ask me why. What is certain, gossips among the officials (both the women and men) have become the greatest fashion as a means of proving one’s importance, and not on the performance or deliverables. And luckily, a gossip is cheaper and less dangerous than a rumour.
Thus is this fundamental question: Why are we now going from gossips to rumour mongering – a more serious and dangerous phenomenon?
First, let me say that this current rumour is the second most serious one since this administration. If my memory is correct ( and if not, I beg for mercy), some time long before the Ebola, and during one of the President’s long stay abroad, it was rumoured in Monrovia that the Liberian leader was either seriously sick or dead. This malicious rumour was so persistent that immediately upon her arrival back to the country, the Liberian leader remarked jokingly and to the laughter of her courtiers, that she was very well and alive. And that rumour was put to rest. However, I do not think it did bother the President neither the government as to the reason why anyone would circulate false rumour on the death of the President. And of course there were definite reasons for such a rumour, but we will leave that to another occasion.
What is certain, though, is that rumours crop up during serious crisis periods – that is, where the people are weary and uncertain on their future, lack of reliable information, no confidence in their leadership and government, etc. Thus to ease their anxiety and search for answers, the people propagate rumours – and the more a rumour is big and logical, the quicker it spreads, gets attention and produces answers. And where a rumour is not quickly disowned, then it may have the propensity to produce unfavourable consequences. For example, it was the failure of President Tolbert to disavow a rumour that precipitated the April 12, 1980 military coup d’état. The rumour - that there was a secret plan to execute the progressives imprisoned at the time (G. Baccus Matthews et al) of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL).
So good then, that the current rumour has been quickly expedited to oblivion by the American Ambassador. Or else, it certainly had the propensity to create suspicion between a friendly nation that came to save our people, and a government that has no clue whatsoever on how to handle the crisis. And of course the issue has been put to rest, but I believe it is important to examine its probable origins and the logic that may have given it its false credence.
First and foremost on my mind is the government circle. These folks know within their right senses that the United States does not need 3000 troops and almost one billion dollars to overthrow a poor, corrupt and powerless government. But they have been surprised by the rapid response of President Obama, and the strong military force despatched to Liberia to combat the Ebola virus. Yes, these officials were expecting the cash and a troupe of NGOs to do the job, while they continue cruising around in their corruption and opulence.
But now it is a different ball-game; these official folks are frightened and scared to the bones, with all sort of questions roaming through their heads and giving them sleepless nights. Will they be able to continue the “as usual” culture while the American soldiers - with their tax payers’ money and the health risk to themselves - combat the Ebola? With UNMIL on the one hand, and now 3000 US troops on the other, has the government any authority left? Knowing President Obama’s zero tolerance for corruption and bad governance, for how long will his military condone our official crooked deals? With the reduction in the UNMIL forces already being felt, what will be the impact at the sudden departure of the US troops when their mission shall have been accomplished, and etc, etc?
These are the kind of pertinent, unanswered questions that spin the heads of our government officials and got them almost into a state of schizophrenia. Thus is this rumour – a sort of vision – of an enemy sent to overthrow the government. In fact, I believe the propagation of this rumour is not only intended for solace and in search of answers, but may be an anticipation of what some of them even see as a real deliverance of them from a regime where risk has definitely become higher than the fabulous financial gains.
For the great majority of the masses, their participation into the propagation of this rumour is understandable. Having strongly welcome the American presence in their hearts, the rumour may be sending this message to the GI’s: “Please, please, please don’t go”, or if you have to depart after the accomplishment of your mission, “Please, please, please carry this government with you into retirement.” Or else, they continue, “We poor people will all die behind here from frustration, despair and starvation.”
This is the cry of an entire nation in pain and dying slowly, and being led by a “don’t care”, incompetent and corrupt government. And how can anyone blame the people.
We, the Liberian Diaspora, have been the most frustrated for all the unimaginable reasons – from working 24 hours around clock to support relatives back home endlessly, to paying our mortgages for life. But more, we are the most active political species; we have made and broken every government since President Tolbert. And bad luck as usual, this current government has full our mouths again and out-smart us all until the Ebola virus brought a glorious opportunity. So we quickly threw around the interim idea, falsified the names of some respected politicians onto it for legitimacy – but the attempt crumbled miserably.
Then a second chance came immediately, when our President begged for help, and President Obama responded with 3000 GI’s. “Finally that was it”, we begun to tell our stranded relatives back home that the GI’s were there not only to rid Liberia of the Ebola, but also of our government; and all our troubles would soon be over. And we assured them also that it was not a rumour, but a real fact, because some of us have direct contacts at the White House. So here we are, incredible as it may sound, we built a false hope in a desperate people, and the rumour spread like a wildfire.
You know, one good side too of Liberians is that it does take much to give us hope and optimism. So for a while we had been overly excited thinking that the United States had something good in the pipeline for our country even before the Ebola epidemic. First, Tom Woewiyou was jailed in the United States for reasons largely documented in the media. Not long after that two senior government officials were refused entry into the United States, and for reason yet unknown.
Well, such actions had already sent fear through the spines of some state officials; and the question on the minds of many since has been: “Who is next or what is next?” Certainly, Ebola was the least expected.
Amb Deborah Malac
Additionally, we have in memory that the United States does not mobilize 3000 GI’s and one billion dollars only to prop up or pat on the back a dictator, autocrat or some corrupt imperial president. Former President Charles Taylor is our living example – though he abdicated the throne only on a warning from President George W. Bush jr, and the few marines guarding the US Embassy in Monrovia.
But today the situation is completely different; it is an international health emergency and a “democratic government” (without political detainees, but only ‘economic prisoners’ and the conscience-objectors), and not a people being annihilated or oppressed by a sanguinary dictator. Furthermore, it was our President who begged for help, and the US President extended a hand of friendship to an historical partner. And these were all the important details ignored in our desperation for change and yet another salvation.
In conclusion, I thank you again Ambassador Malac, the government and people of the United States for always being there to assist us overcome our troubles. Forgive our extreme pettiness; we are a totally confused people. Just imagine, again, our shameless government has threatened to prosecute a poor compatriot who took himself to the United States with the Ebola and probably on his dying bed. And all that official anger is only about our own self-interest – that the incident could provoke the Americans to prohibit us from travelling to their country. Well, even if the United States or Europe were to close their doors on us, I guess that may help us to think twice, and see Liberia as the only home we have. It may also cut down on corruption and hasten a genuine national development.
And let me ask my compatriots this last question: How many of us have not forged a document in our lifetime – birth certificate, passport, name, signature, age, nationality, etc – only to escape from our perpetual national miseries?
So I beg, Madam Ambassador, please save Liberia and have mercy on another of our hapless Ebola victim –Thomas Eric Duncan.
As for the rest, we shall leave it to God – the ultimate solution.