The Virginia Speech: Betrayal of a Courted Constituency or Sheer Political Fiasco?

By: Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
Posted February 20, 2007


What message did President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf send when she embraced the renegade Virginia group and the location of their protest (converted to an ad hoc legitimate lawmaking institution) as the site of her message to the Liberian legislature? When the President identified with a group whose quest to remove Speaker Edwin Snowe, the Sirleaf appointed Supreme Court noted did not meet legal thresholds did it unleash profound cynicism and pessimism among the Liberian people? When she identified with a group of lawmakers under the leadership of Representative Kett Murray, an individual whose own reputation is beclouded by substantive allegations of the rape of a minor, what message did the President send to the young women in Liberia and women in general? Here’s a President who appealed to the sentiments of women, who had long being subordinated by a male hegemony, and rode this wave to international prominence. And now, rather than showing statesmanship, reinforced the lowly status of women, by not standing up to call for a full investigation of the allegations made against the lawmaker in whose bosom she stood.

What should be done? Every Liberian woman of conscience should capture a new spirit and vision to ask the President to explain publicly, why women and men of conscience should not consider her actions a betrayal. Women in Liberia must be different from men in this respect. For so long, men jumped on bandwagons even when it reeked of the lack of courage and conscience. The deep malaise in Liberian society today can be credited to the license that men and women provided their leaders to treat them and their causes as if they were not important. The decision by President Sirleaf to speak at the Virginia site reflects a myopic view, which impedes social progress and gives low priority to the rule of law.

I will be the first to say that Speaker Edwin Snowe is the most unqualified person to ever occupy the seat that is two heartbeats away from the presidency. It portends paralyzing fear for all of us, that a man who allegedly showed signs of dishonor with public resources and has known ties to a dictator, Charles Taylor that wreaked havoc on the Liberian people could one day become president. But as many other commentators have noted correctly, Speaker Snowe’s removal has to be done legally and democratically. Or else, as the actions of many in Monrovia have shown, Speaker Snowe is looking more like a reasonable human being when in all sense and purposes, he is definitely not. The President cannot spend her political capital on Speaker Snowe, send signals that one of her most potent constituencies (women), matter not, and expect to have more currency to spend during the latter part of her administration.

By showing implicit signs that the ruling of the Supreme Court does not matter, she is sending the message that rule of law in Liberia is a matter of perception. This is no different than the self-destructive wantonness that previous presidents showed and left them a legacy that we hope she will avoid. These tragic mistakes clearly reveal the deep disregard for the public well-being that has been part of the legacies that we are seeking to uproot.

In a country where most children, particularly girls are the preys of older men, and equally ill-equipped to complete elementary and junior high school, what an inimical message to send? Faced with this kind of action, how do we ever send a message to men who violate young girls that their crimes are serious when the President, a woman publicly allies herself with a purported child abuser? The President should be keen to note that there is an irrefutable body of evidence-based research and practice wisdom, including this author’s own corpus of works showing that child abuse is linked to high rates of adolescent pregnancy, school failure, school dropout, and delinquency – all the dismal social statistics that Liberians would like to reverse and halt. Essentially, women rights groups in Monrovia and Liberian women all over the world should ratchet up their advocacy for the President to uphold her promise that the status and stature of women will no longer be subservient to political whims.

The political career of Representative Murray is a different matter. Representative Murray will have his day in court and the President should commit herself to convincing her newfound ally, if he is, to turn himself in to the US authorities purely and solely to vindicate himself or face punishment. Representative Murray too, is a heartbeat from the Speaker position and it seems this is the position that he is vying for. Should this be the case, the honorable thing to do is to turn himself in to US authorities; flanked by journalists to refute all allegations that are made against him. When we commit crimes we must pay for them through the judicial systems. Should defenders of Representative Murray argue that these are just allegations, they might also ask why a person would have more than five aliases. In the mind of a rational person, this raises ample suspicion that something sinister is afoot.

Hence, what moral authority would the President have when she postures herself as an advocate for justice on behalf of girls and women and identify publicly with an alleged child abuser? If the President is to invigorate the good-will that the world has bestowed upon the Liberian people through her, the President’s handlers must be ready to save her from these kinds of critical missteps. It will be political suicide, if women become the President’s public critics. It will not bode well for the President, if Liberian women begin to uncover that she used her gender solely to ride the wave of the presidency only to entrench the male hegemony. Moreover, as the country plans to host a major colloquium on women leadership, it is confusing that we will be seeking to define leadership in women, while alleged perpetrators of child abuse walk the halls of public spaces, holding public offices, and the President shows absolutely no outrage and outcry against such an issue.

© 2007 by The Perspective

To Submit article for publication, go to the following URL: