By Jones Nhinson Williams
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
It is one thing to keep amazing people all the time. It is quite another thing to not love one’s country, disregard one’s fellow citizens and blatantly refuse to have pity for the suffering of the poor, especially when a vast number of them are women, children and the elderly. Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, prior to being president and as president, has clearly demonstrated the tenacity to amaze Liberians and the world at large by many of her personal, self-seeking and self-fulfilling engagements.
From having a perpetual desire to be the center of the world and the global media to being the apex of arranged and customized social opulence, prestige, political power and economic wealth, the Liberian leader embodies all, such that every accolade on planet earth, including the Nobel Prize, became an easy prey. From the point of view of basic human tendency, this construct is somehow normal. However, what seems ugly and in particular abnormal is the Liberian leader’s flagrant lack of love for her country, disregard for her fellow Liberians (other than her family and friends) and the manifest refusal to have some degree of pity for the suffering and hardship of poor Liberians, many of whom are innocent children, abused and neglected women and vulnerable elderly in a nation which actual poverty level various international institutions, including U.S.-based Child Fund (Poverty in Liberia | ChildFund) and the Rome-based United Nations’ World Food Programme (Operations | WFP | United Nations World Food Programme - Fighting …) find very hard to statistically quantify because of the level of disastrousness.
It would be an understatement to reiterate that President Sirleaf has not only failed as president of Liberia; the Liberian president has equally failed as a serious leader, and more so, as Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state. More importantly, the Liberian president betrayed not only Liberian women in many respects; she has created a misgiving on the competence of African women in a number of symbolic ways. In addition, she dashes the hopes and retards the future of Liberian children, especially our young girls and youth, who as a result of national leadership’s failure, greed and widespread corruption, have resulted not only to sex trade, prostitution and armed robbery, but are predictable victims of sex and human trafficking as revealed by these disturbing media captions: ‘Talk of Town’: Broad Day Prostitution Booming in Monrovia; Liberia: Nine Suspected Armed Robbers Arrested - allAfrica.com, and Liberia: Trafficked Liberian Girls From Lebanon Plead for Support ...
The truth is, the president has failed miserably but she continues to live in denial, which in itself is a problem to moving Liberia forward. Despite the goodwill of the international community and western nations to cancel Liberia’s debts while simultaneously dumping millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and capacity-building, the Sirleaf–led Unity Party government, since taking office in 2006, has borrowed millions of dollars from a number of Asian financial institutions and from some not-so-good financial intermediaries that exploit poor governance and the callousness of African rulers as a means to subjugate African nations to predatory lending/victimized borrowing practices. President Sirleaf’s leadership appears to have made Liberia a victim of this.
Since assuming office in 2006, the administration has signed shady loan agreements with several groups, including the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) in the amount of US$ 20 million, and additional loans from the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA), the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) as well as the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED). In addition, the Liberian government under President Sirleaf is said to have signed a couple of other loans such as a purported US$ 144 million loan from the Indian Exim Bank, signed on December 3, 2015, (Liberia: Letter of Intent, Memorandum of Economic and Financial ... - IMF). Accordingly, as of July 2015, a total amount of US$ 843.5 million in loans were signed since 2006.
These funds are in addition to the tax-payers’ money the United States’ government and European nations sent to Liberia in the form of humanitarian assistance and bilateral support for capacity building. Besides these borrowed funds, rogue foreign investors fueled huge investment dollars to Liberia since the Sirleaf-Boakai’s Unity Party-administration took office, and this amounts to U.S. $15 billion dollars, according to the Liberia National Investment Commission and various entities, including the country’s Ministry of Information. The United States Millennium Challenge Corporation and the United States Agency for International Development alone have spent, or wasted, a little over a billion dollars on Liberia since 2006.
Since President Sirleaf assumed office in 2006, the Chinese and Japanese governments and others have given lots of funds to support development efforts in Liberia. Like the recent Japanese funds (Liberia: Japanese Fund Squabble At Liberia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs) that were squandered by individuals in the Sirleaf’s administration, most of the international resources donated and the local revenue collected from trade, import and export, and from businesses operating in the country as well as the millions of dollars generated from mortgaging our country’s vast natural resources, especially from the sale of offshore oil blocks, are embezzled or caught up in a corruption scheme by publicly elected and appointed officials, cronies, loyalists, kinsmen and women, and special interests with connections to pay and play schemes.
When many of these loans agreements were signed, the president and her Unity Party-led administration brainwashed Liberians and outsmart the Liberian legislature that the loans were “intended to raise the standard of living of the population.... reduce time and cost for travel, improve accessibility and achieve security and safety on the road.” Yet, after twelve wasted years in power, researches and news reports coming out of Liberia tell a different and sad tale with not-so-good headlines and captions such as:
These disturbing realities failed to appeal to our president’s inner conscience. Yet, according to a recent news report (Ellen Wants Senate to Ratify US$10M Financing Agreement), the Liberian president has requested the corrupt and inept Liberian legislature to ratify and give her a clearance to borrow more money that will, in actuality, end up in the personal bank accounts or hands of government officials, cronies, loyalists, family members as well as a few Washington, D.C. and Europe-based lobbyists while ordinary Liberians suffer.
The president argues that the ‘loan’ is needed to address youth empowerment concerns Vis a Vis employment constraints. However, hindsight and basic experience suggest that this is far from the truth. Even though the president always outsmarts the Liberian legislature because of its corrupt elements, lack of vision and patriotism, she wrongly thinks and believes that she is smarter than all Liberians. To her surprise, Liberians know better than their president would think and that is one reason why every scheming, cover-up and trick the Sirleaf-Unity Party-led administration unveils or engages in are exposed in no time by the Liberian people.
The requested US$10 million dollars loan the president wants signed, especially when she has less than 15 months as president of the country, is not going to benefit Liberia and Liberians. Neither is it going to address the country’s massive unemployment, poverty and lack of innovation problems. So, instead of the president borrowing more unnecessary loans that are squandered and glaringly unaccounted for, she must focus on recouping the stolen wealth amassed by her government officials and their criminal associates. It is as simple as auditing the past and current officials of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), the Ministry of Public Works, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, and all other government ministries and autonomous agencies that are awash in widespread corruption.
And if the president is really serious and not playing games as usual, she must drastically reduce government’s expenditures, fraud and waste, starting with the high salaries of elected and appointed officials. She can eliminate ghost payroll, reduce unnecessary state-sponsored travels, and the budgetary allocations for the Office of the President, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the President Pro-temp of the Liberian senate.
Furthermore, the president cannot request for such a loan at this time because her administration has no credible policy, plan and implementation strategy to create jobs, or that can create jobs and wealth for unemployed and poor Liberians, boost small business establishment, and attract reasoned and responsible foreign investments to the country. This is precisely why the whole idea of wanting to borrow such an amount with a ballooning interest rate is not just plain wrong, but politically insane, economically unjustified and socially incriminating.
What the president and the Unity Party’s administration failed to achieve in more than 11 years cannot be achieved in less than 15 months, especially when her legacy and presidential leadership are now marred by the most organized and unheard-of corruption, waste, abuse of power, cronyism, unprofessionalism, nepotism and ineptitude never seen before.
Even if the loan is given, the president cannot make any substantive progress because the entire Unity Party’s government is corrupt, disorderly and disorganized from head to toe such that it would be near impossible to achieve anything in 15 months in a period of political electioneering and the worst corruption saga’s investigation that engulfed the Liberian House of Representatives, the Liberian senate, the Executive Branch of government, and the leadership of the governing political party (Unity Party), of which the president is the ‘first partisan’ and the sitting vice president is a presumed ‘Standard-bearer.’
These are hard facts and crushing realities that must be told because real people are not only suffering, but dying every day under her watch. Even as the president pretends otherwise, the harsh realities of life and the deplorable circumstances in Liberia persist in indescribable manners. With all of these problems, the president chose to leave the country with an infinite delegation to attend a private ’book’ signing ceremony in Washington, D.C. for her chief lobbyist and paid publicist, K. Riva Levinson of KRL International LLC. For sure, neither Madam Levinson nor KRL International LLC shoulders the president and her delegation’s expenses at the luxury Ritz Carlton hotel where a typical night stay for a single room or suite costs several thousand dollars.
How does the president of Liberia or her lobbyist, Ms. Levinson of the Washington, D.C.’s lobbying firm KRL International LLC, morally justify this logic and cost when over 500,000 children in Liberia slept hungry in the past few days; when over 100,000 young Liberian teen girls sell sex periodically to feel their unemployed parents and poverty-stricken sibling; when over 4 million Liberian citizens and residents have no access to quality healthcare, safe drinking water and electricity; when major Liberian counties, towns and villages are inaccessible due to bad or no roads; when students at various Liberian institutions of higher learning lack qualified instructors, tuition, material support and basic needs; when nurses, teachers, doctors, police, immigration and military officers in the country are underpaid and poorly equipped; when the entire country has no advanced diagnostic facility and medical laboratory; when the entire country has no public library; when more and more Liberians are leaving the country as economic migrants and refugees, and when thousands of Liberian citizens and refugees in the diaspora are afraid to return to their homeland for all of these reasons?
How do we develop Liberia and Africa when western firms and individuals seek to exploit our people through our rulers? Why wouldn’t the West face serious illegal immigration issues when some western firms and individuals are part of the problem of corruption in developing nations?
Until the president, who has shamelessly enriched a select group of her inner circle while Liberia and majority of Liberians drift farther in poverty and ridicule, realizes her administration’s failed policies did not work and are not working, the facts are and will remain the same: more Liberians will continue to remain unemployed and poor; women and children will continue to lack access to healthcare and food security; education in the country will continue to remain abysmal and substandard; and corruption, deceit and the lack of public trust will continue to remain very high. Clearly, these are not priorities for the president and the Unity Party-led administration in the first place. What seems to concern the president and the officials of the Unity Party’s regime are personal aggrandizement and self-fulfillment as shown by their corruption fellowship.
In addition to these built-up failures, Liberia is in a deep crisis constitutionally, economically, socially and politically. Moreover, there is an overriding national security undertone to Liberia’s mess, especially so when Boko Haram and other regional terror groups in Mali and Libya are exerting vast influence in the West Africa region. Even Nigeria, West Africa’s regional superpower finds it hard to dismantle Boko Haram. Mali is constantly under siege and faces serious threats from these terrorists. There have been periodic terror activities in Burkina Faso and neighboring Ivory Coast, both of which experienced terrorists’ attacks in recent months.
All of these attacks are aimed at a wacko idea to establish a caliphate which is opposed by both Liberian Christians and Muslims alike just like how the Constitutional Review Commission’s bad proposal of making Liberia a semi-theocracy is unnecessary. Quite recently a ship landed on our nation’s shores with no real accountability for those on-board (Ghost Ship Washes up on Liberian Coast with Crew Missing …). Whether the unknown folks who suddenly disappeared from the ship were ‘guardian angels’ or terrorists remains a mystery to today’s date. Isn’t this a serious challenge? The acclaimed UK’s international group, Global Witness, in their well-regarded and highly researched report “The Deceivers - Global Witness” succinctly highlight Liberia’s real challenge.
And, in spite of all of these challenges, chaos, dangers and threats, our president just does not get it. It is all ‘me, I and myself merry-go-round.’ I am giving up myself, because I have never prayed for anyone in my life as I have done for this president to succeed so that my country will be better and our people see prosperity. As Liberians pray for our president to succeed, our president refuses to unveil herself to God in service to us, the people. Rather, she elects to seek global fame why our future as a nation dims. This is why we must speak up, not because we hate her, but because we have a stake in what is Liberia - our motherland. Our destiny as a people is tied together, for good or for worse, in peace or war, in good times or in bad times, we are all Liberians.
Instead of focusing on how to address the damning report by Global Witness, the president prefers getting on the international public relationship circus with Madam K. Riva Levinson, her longtime Washington DC lobbyist, whose book “Choosing the Hero” chronicles her (Madam Sirleaf’s) path to the Liberian presidency without mentioning the death and destruction of ordinary citizens and people of faith, including five American Catholic nuns from the U.S. state of Missouri that the path to the current Liberian presidency compromised along the way by the launch of the brutal 1989 invasion of Liberia.
The role of Ms. Levinson, who earns thousands of dollars (http://www.fara.gov/annualrpts.html) from the Sirleaf’s regime while Liberian children die from malnutrition and women die from childbirth and preventable diseases, is to promote the president as long as she and her public relations firm get paid from the coffers of a nation classified as under-developed and third world. So on Tuesday night, May 31, 2016, the president’s Washington, DC’s PR team arranged, at a hefty price from Liberia’s resources, a promotional forum cum ‘book’ signing event at the Politics & Prose bookstore in DC. The event drawn some of the best news reporters and bloggers, including Linda Davidson of The Washington Post to pen a narrative that would boost President Sirleaf’s image to the West and the international community in the midst of the Global Witness’s saga. Below is an excerpts from what seems to be a paid article penned by journalist Linda Davidson and published in the Washington Post:
“Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Washington on Monday. “My coming into leadership gave women much more of their own power,” she said. (Linda Davidson/the Washington Post). Ellen Johnson Sirleaf enters the room quietly.
“Madam President, would you like to sit here?” an aide asks, motioning to a love seat in the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown suite that is serving as a makeshift office for the Liberian leader.
At 77, she still holds herself rigidly upright, head adorned with a regal swirl of fabric. She is president of Liberia, a West African nation roughly the size of Tennessee, and one of the few madam presidents the world has ever seen. Elected to the office a decade ago as the first woman to lead an African nation’s government, Sirleaf finds herself “always a bit lonely” at meetings of the continent’s leaders.
“There is not another woman that you can huddle with and plan your strategies with, and certainly you can’t do what the men do,” she says, during an interview between a flurry of Washington meetings. “You’re not going to go out and have beer together. . . . You keep saying, ‘Oh jeez, there are 30 of them, and I alone.’ ”
Her place as one of the few women to attain the presidency has given her a reach far beyond her nation’s 4.5 million citizens. In Liberia she is known as “The Iron Lady” or “Ma Ellen,” but across the globe, Sirleaf has become symbolic of the burgeoning ascendancy of African women, a legacy for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2011, along with two other female leaders.”
At the reading, a man asked Sirleaf what she would tell the next US president when “he takes office.”
“She!” shouted the bookish audience, booing his use of the male pronoun.
Naturally, Sirleaf is interested in the possibility of a woman taking the helm of the most powerful nation in the world.”
While the Davidson’s promotional article about the Liberian president is well-written, it is intriguing and full of few inaccuracies. First and foremost, President Sirleaf is not the first woman head of state in Liberia or Africa. In the mid-1990s, Madam Ruth Sando-Perry became Liberia’s and Africa’s first female head of state. Secondly, President Sirleaf was not given a Nobel Peace Prize because she truly ‘deserves’ it in the actual meaning of the word; it seems to have been given to her, we believe, because her international PR teams in D.C. and Europe did everything to ensure she got that and other accolades. If anything, President George W. Bush supposed to be the person to get the Nobel Peace Prize for Liberia because he forced warlord Taylor, a Sirleaf’s surrogate, out of power for Liberians to have peace and security, and for Liberian refugees, including Madam Sirleaf who was in exile in the Ivory Coast, and other refugees to return home. In addition, the President Sirleaf’s assertion: “My coming into leadership gave women much more of their own power” is unrealistic and questionable.
Most women and young people in Liberia strongly believe today that the biggest error Liberians have ever made was voting for Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to become president of Liberia. This is proven by the level of unpopularity the president has among Liberians of all walks of life in and out of the country. Students loathe her. Market women, young girls and rural inhabitants have their regrets. Marginalized urban and rural communities cannot stand her. Further proof is, if the president was that popular and liked in Liberia, her beloved son, Robert Sirleaf, would have won the 2014 senatorial election for Montserrado County. Unpopularity has weakened the president who likes to come across as ‘fearless,’ ‘dynamic’ and ‘strong.’
If the president views herself as a very strong and fearless ruler, she has to understand and realize that even the powerful Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, the influential Queen of Sheba and many more knew that no matter how fearless and powerful they were, the need to fear God was a necessitate. As such, instead of the president spending millions of dollars on international PR just to make her look good in the eyes of men and women, she is encouraged to fear God and love her fellow human beings, especially Liberians. At age 77 going on to 80, what fame does the president want for which she is bent on polishing a global persona when 80% (according to Child Fund) and 60% (according to the UN-WFP) of Liberians live below the poverty line?
Considering all that we know and the distrust we hold for the current corrupt Liberian legislature which has an indicted/accused speaker that sell votes and pass laws for cash, Liberians should rise and oppose any passage or approval of the so-called U.S.$10 million dollars loan agreement requested by the president. After 11 years of doom and failure, if the president is really serious about a better Liberia and jobs for Liberian youth, she needs to demonstrate to Liberians that she is not only willing to listen, but ready to put in place the relevant technical team with vast knowledge and experience in job creation, workforce development, and small business establishment’s policies.
The president can begin this process by making Liberia a business friendly nation, by reducing taxes and tariff, by halting corruption, undue cronyism, and influence peddling, etc. The first step must include ensuring that every Liberian government’s employee undergoes on-the-job customer service training, and that our international airport (The Robert International Airport) becomes modernize since it is the nation’s gateway. All that is required to modernize the airport is to chase after those who have stolen the airport revitalization project’s funds, get rid of selective and artificial contracting arrangements and hold contractors and the project team fully accountable. Doing all of these things does not and should not require borrowing any loan by the Liberian government. All it requires is a genuine leadership similar to what is being provided by Rwanda’s president comrade Paul Kagame, a true African leader.