Transforming Governance: How to Transcend Growing Distrust and Divide

By Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 5, 2006


Reform, social change, or the transformation of institutions in the aftermath of conflict in Liberia has become increasingly antagonistic. One place that this has become evident in recent time is the battle between rights advocate Aloysius Toe and the Liberian government and/or presumed government surrogates, George Nubo, Theodore Hodge, and others. Another is over the report of the investigations of the shooting that occurred at the home of Mr. Christopher Massaquoi. The delay in legally prosecuting economic crimes committed by many in previous governments and interim arrangements might be showing evidence that the push toward a democratic experiment under the Sirleaf Administration is beginning to stall and the government’s promise that it will weave accountability and transparency into the fabric of its governance practices seem to be falling into doubt.

Energies are exerted by the opposing sides bringing about resistance to change. As a consequence, the conflicting sides find it really difficult to resolve their differences. Given the dichotomous nature of this approach, ethnic and other differences find ways to seep into these debates, heightening existing differences. The harder each group asserts itself, the oppositional force becomes stronger from the other side, hence a zero-sum game.

Voices that have traditionally been silenced and whose histories have often failed to be included in nation building have reached a point that they can now reject their exclusion. They now demand a seat at the table where decisions are made. Can the elites in society be willing to move over so that they can share the space with those who have for so long being voiceless? Are the elites unable to provide a space that equitably accommodates all Liberians in the attempt to rebuild from the debris of war? Release from being victims do not depend on them being empowered by their oppressors. Oppressors do not have the capacity to empower those whom they have oppressed. There is a natural tendency to think that by opening tidbits of opportunities for underserved people to be served, they are being empowered and they should glow over such situations. They are advocating for their rights and they are entitled to those rights. The tug of war between rights advocates, government officials, presumed surrogates of government officials, and other actors is one that cries out for a new way of thinking about how to build a democracy, although the suggested solutions are not novel at all.

For all Liberians to find a sense of belonging to the society that we all own, we each have to be willing to let go of our egos. Moving from dominating aesthetic to creating egalitarian norms can only happen if we define social relations in ways that allow for transparency and accountability. At any point, when one group feels alienated, their sense of belonging and source of national identity and pride feels as if it is being hijacked. The thrust toward democracy, which the Sirleaf Administration purports, it is seeking to establish cannot be accomplished in an environment which feels that the “hush hush” culture is still in existence. Such a feeling makes raw the absence of democracy, which most Liberians have become experts at identifying, given that they have spent all of their life living under dictatorial rule of one extreme or another for so long. It is easy for Liberians to look back at the many times before when certain people in the Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, and Taylor governments were being shielded from justice or certain actions of government officials were being closed to public scrutiny. Would we look back at Morris Dukuly’s tenure at the Executive Mansion as the only time during the Sirleaf Administration that a public servant did the most laudable thing – resign to not impugn the reputation of the government? Or was Dukuly a scapegoat because he lacked strong attachment to the power brokers in the Sirleaf Administration, and hence, was quickly forced to resign, when even the investigations of the incident over which he resigned had not been done? Why should the Liberian people not see the elements of the contract between LPRC and the Nigerian oil company? Why can the Liberian people not see the full report on the Massaquoi/Peal fiasco? Who stands to benefit from protecting these men? These double standards cannot be explained away by any amount of grandstanding.

Both rights advocates and government officials are having a difficult time enjoying a deeper sense of human interaction because mutual suspicion and distrust loom in their respective quarters. And the antidote to such a condition is transparency and accountability – plain and simple. If the government has nothing to hide, it must bring the glare of day to shine on all its actions and interactions. Anything less feels like the truth is being hidden and that will cause suspicion and mistrust to grow, hence the antagonist versus protagonist war continues.

I think that the grievances of the rights advocates and that of the government officials or their supposed surrogates are interconnected. Each is impacted by the onrush of a desire to change the underlying structures of tyranny that has been normative in Liberian society. But in their attempt to critique the structures of culture and power, there has been a failure to move to a point in our history where safe spaces are created for both the government and its critics to dialogue about their differences. As a result, the person or groups that are the loudest or have access to more resources to articulate its position seem to think that they have hegemonic power or the sole ears of the national populace.

The implication is that we find people posturing and scheming without realizing that they are eroding their credibility, the government being the greatest loser. Arguably, unless and until we let go of this tendency, the fragmentation along parochial lines, which keeps intensifying will continue. It is no longer a binary construction which divides Liberians into “us against them.” We no longer have an appetite for a pathway that will eventually lead Liberians to invite foreign referees to tell us how dumb we are. Liberians are a very bright people. We cannot afford to reduce ourselves, time and time again to the laughing stocks of other people. The government needs to come clear with all the information it needs to provide the Liberian public, except revealing such information will jeopardize national security. An oil contract is not enough to ruin the government’s reputation over nor is report on a shooting fracas that is giving an appearance that the President’s friends are being protected after a wrongdoing. Each of these situations has no connection to national security as far as the eye can see.

The uncertainty and fear that many Liberians feel can be reduced, even completely dissolved, if the government is willing to come clean each time questions are raised about its decisions. By doing so, it will quietly shut the mouths of its critics. But if the cloud of secrecy and preferential treatment continues to loom, its critics, however, ludicrous their claims, will find favor among the Liberian people and international partners, which would detract from efforts to transform the political landscape of our beloved country. And this is not to suggest by any means that Mr. Toe’s claims are of no validity. I think that on this issue, the need for public scrutiny is the apt request.

It is becoming clear that some of the people responsible for public relations in the Sirleaf government, have yet to comprehend and deal with the one deficiency that has haunted governance in Liberia for the life of the country – the absence of transparency and accountability. To better prepare the country for democracy to gain roots, we must depart from all practices that make citizens to feel alienated. President Sirleaf and all the former rights advocates surrounding her must reclaim the original impetus of social justice that they vowed, drove them in their pursuit of seats at the decision making table. Labor Minister Samuel Kofi Woods has taken a stand by urging the government to step forward and prosecute the criminals parading the streets of Monrovia. Where are the others within the government who have yet to speak out against the ills of the government within which they are serving? Principle matters. The young women and men today are just holding these former social justice advocates to their promises. Honor your promises and it will reap dividends in terms of public trust and support.

True, it might be too simplistic to suggest that articles that chastise rights advocates or call their actions into question are written by government surrogates. Rights advocates are not above criticisms and so is the government. However, we must support any criticism, be it against rights advocates or the government with evidence. At the same time, it is hard to ignore that a confluence of events are demonstrating the government’s reluctance to shed ample light on its policy decisions to the satisfaction of its constituencies on events that plagued the nation in the past and gnarled the underpinnings of democracy: corruption, favoritism, privilege, incompetence, and the list goes on. The prospects for peace and stability in Liberia hinge on the government’s actions, more so than that of the citizens.

The Author: Emmanuel Dolo lives in Coon Rapids, Minnesota and is the Director of Educational Equity and Integration at South Washington County Schools. He can be contacted at
© 2006 by The Perspective

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