Weah, COP, Ellen?
In history as in politics, men and women have come and gone. Some, who have come and gone did not live to tell their own story, while others have lived to tell their own story. One of such person living and narrating her own story is former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Since leaving power two years ago, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has rarely appeared on public radio to take part in national discourse from her own perspectives. Some of her statements, of course, have been challenged by her critics who are helping to tell some of her untold stories she might not want to tell herself.
Appearing on T-Max Jlateh’s 50-50 show last week, the former Liberian President pleaded with Liberians to stop tearing their country apart, adding, repeated troubling of peace scares away investors. Africa’s first female President did not also hesitate to refer to her critics as “boldfaced liars” while admonishing journalists to be truthful. “Everybody, be proud of Liberia, our country. I am proud to be a Liberian, and no matter what, we all can support processes, systems and ideas that can change things,” Sirleaf said during a Sky TV discussion. She said, “other people in the sub-region and elsewhere should identify us not by the amount of confusion we have among ourselves but by the ideas we translate into great actions,” the retired Liberian President intoned.
As if it were a separate topic in disguise, Madam Sirleaf who appeared on 50-50 T-Max show to discuss her initiatives as a women and national advocate and her role as former President quickly recognized the media as cardinal to peace and conflict, and hence, admonished journalists of all media houses to use the truth as their guiding principle in informing the public of happenings in the country. “The reports you give, if they are always negative, investors will not come. The few that are on the ground supporting the economy may find reasons to leave too and at the end of it all, it is the same Liberia, our beloved country that will suffer. We all feel it,” she said.
But who is actually tearing Liberia apart as stated by the former Liberian President during her appearance on the popular radio talk show with veteran Liberian Journalist T-Max is the lingering question everybody, including her critics are attempting to find answer to. As public debate heighten on who is actually tearing Liberia apart, there are those who believe that the Council of Patriotic (COP) led by popular Talk-Show host Henry Pedro Costa, President George Weah and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf are equally guilty of said crime against the State, even though the three people may have their own reasons for doing so.
President Weah and Public Perception
The public, mainly opposition and independent thinkers have struggled to comprehend the Weah led administration’s policy on governance related issues since his take over from Ellen in 2018. In the first and second quarters of his administration, Weah’s critics seemed to have noticed early missteps they termed inimical to the already fragile economy he inherited.
While discussions about the appointment/placement of “unqualified, inexperienced and incompetent” people in key government positions purely on partisan ground was intensifying, reports about the disappearance of $16 Billion Liberian dollars surfaced in the media. This news caught the world by surprise; that a leadership that has come to power on the mantra of grassroots and change will allow such amount to disappear from its banking system in a country badly in need of aid. As Liberians and the world pondered over the disappearance of the LD. $16 billion, debate of mismanagement and misappropriation of US$25 million intended for a mopping up exercise soon ensued in the public domain through the media landscape.
While the fight for accountability of the USD$25 million and LD$16 billion was on, American business magazine Forbes, which conducts studies of countries business climate ranked Liberia the first on the list of the top 10 worst destinations for doing business. Of course, with this news, investors did not have to be told that the CDC government led by George Weah was tearing Liberia apart, as this news itself was enough to point to that.
Upon taken over the Presidency, the administration of Weah initiated a loan process that was widely condemned by financial experts and oppositions. Popularly known as Eton and Ebomaf Road Financing Loan Agreements, the World Bank Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone County Director, Henry G. R. Kerali said in February 2018 that the loan agreements were not beneficial to Liberia. The two loans were expected to finance about 800 kilometer of road construction in the Southeastern part of Liberia.
In the loan negotiation process, the President admitted to public pressure that one of the loaners, Ebomaf had offered him a private jet for his personal use. The President, in defending himself against allegation that he had been bribed by Ebomaf said, he and the company’s owner had been friends since his days as footballer in Europe. Prior to the administration of President Weah, Civil Servants were being paid on time. But few months into his leadership, employees of government began experiencing delays in salaries payment; working 2-3 months without pay. So who is truly tearing Liberia apart?
Council of Patriotic (COP) and Public Perception
As a group of exuberant young and youth activists, the Council of Patriotic came into being following media report of mismanagement of resources and bad governance. Their first campaign, “Bring back our money” which came under criticism from government’s supporters was launched in September 2018. This campaign was launched to call on the international community including the United States Government to probe into news of missing of LD$16 Billion dollars under Weah’s government. During the street march, protesters were heard chanting anti-corruption songs and demanding the government to give account of the missing LD$16 billion. The COP was heavily criticized by supporters of government who termed the protest as unhealthy for the Liberian people, accusing opposition of trying to bring down their government down in its infancy.
On June 7, 2019, the group staged another well publicized protest. The group head and radio talk show host, Henry Costa was bullied by government supporter of being unreasonable and wanting to cause chaos for the county. The COP, among other things, frowned on the economic hardship and what it termed as “waste and abuse” being orchestrated by the CDC government. During this protest, the group failed to present its petition to the government representative or ECOWAS. The decision by COP not to present the petition to the government representative present and ECOWAS received barrage of criticism from regime’s supporters and some of their own sympathizers. However, the COP indicated that it had wanted to hand deliver its Position Statement to President Weah himself with the presence of ECOWAS, AU, the US and EU ambassadors. The following are list of demands put forward by the COP:
- Continuous flagrant violation of the Liberian constitution and laws including the recent unconstitutional removal of Associate Justice Kabineh Jan’eh in spite of public outcries and disapproval;
- Suppression of press freedom and rights, freedom of speech through threats against the BBC’s Jonathan Payleyleh; continual molestation and harassment of Roots FM; denial of basic rights to Isaac W. Jackson,
- Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the IMO; denial of an operational license to Punch FM; and the conversion of the Liberia Broadcasting System-owned and operated ELBC into a partisan propaganda organ;
- Construction and acquisition of scores of luxury private buildings by the president in the wake of his refusal to publicly declare and publish his assets;
- Failure to comprehensively address the issue of Liberia’s missing L$16 billion to date and the US$25 million
- yet unaccounted for and lack of effective action taken against individuals responsible and the betrayal of the public trust;
- According presidential protection and privilege by announcing a “retirement” plan for [Central Bank of Liberia Executive] Governor Nathaniel Patray and ignoring any responsibility of the Technical Economic Management Team headed by the minister of finance, Samuel Tweah, the unlawful injection of billions of over-printed Liberian banknotes without removing legacy banknotes, and also for the unlawful act carried out in the use of some US$25 million withdrawn from Liberia’s foreign reserve for a dubious mop-up exercise;
- Failure and lack of capacity to address the rising inflation and exchange rate, thus imposing unbearable hardship on the Liberian people
- Flagrant disregard for international law and national reconciliation and disinterest in addressing war and economic crimes as documented in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, and general disregard for the rule of law and good governance.
Again, we ask as to who is actually tearing Liberia apart?
Ellen and Public Perception:
Public perception about Ellen varies. There are those who credit her for being the mover of modern Liberia; while others especially critics credit her for being one of those responsible for the backwardness of Liberia. However, as both her supporters and critics live with their perceptions, Liberia and Africa first female president has on numerous occasions bragged about her failures and successes in Liberia.
One of her strong critics, Samuel Jackson took to the social media to say this about her: “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf isn’t a political genius. She knows the ignorance and lack of sophistication of the Liberian people plus the greed of our political leaders. I know for a fact all political leaders and their most vocal supporters were on the government payroll. One or two exceptions. The people will take as truth $16 billion in foreign investments. No questions asked. Or no accountability on the $10 billion dollar that came as official development assistance. If she were a political genius she wouldn’t have left Liberia the poorest and most corrupt nation on earth. She gave us 88 megawatts of electricity in refurbishing an old dam built in the 1960s for nearly 400 million dollars”.
But Ellen herself has never shy away from admitting to some of the wrongs she has committed against Liberia and Liberians. In 2009 before the gathering of Commissioners of the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Ellen as Head of State admitted that she contributed US$10,000 to the Taylor led National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) for humanitarian purposes. In a BBC interview in 1990, she urged Charles Taylor to bring down the Executive Mansion in pursue of President Doe.
Critics of Ellen accused her of deliberately refusing to implement the TRC report, which, among others, recommended reconciliation and prosecution of perpetrators who bear the greatest responsibility of the war that took away over 250,000 precious lives. At the later part of her leadership in August 2015, Ellen came under harsh criticism for taking blame for the bankruptcy of the National Oil Company (NOCAL) by her son, Robert Sirleaf. Although she took blame, her critics say she failed to punish her son for breaking down the financial vibrancy of NOCAL.
In a world record breaking democratic transition for Liberia, Ellen’s critics accused her of giving underhand support to opposition political party against the interest of the party that made her President twice. Political pundits described such support as unprecedented, especially lending it to someone who was generally deemed incapable of running the affairs of the post war country.
At the height of campaign activities in 2017, the public witnessed a joint groundbreaking ceremony of incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and opposition Presidential candidate, George Weah for a road project that her Vice President and would be successor Joseph Boakai had reportedly helped make possible through bilateral and multilateral engagements.
This move by Ellen and many other unexplained circumstances may have prompted the leadership of Unity Party under Joseph Boakai to expel the standard bearer emeritus two weeks to the expiration of her tenure. The expulsion, according to party executives was due to act unbecoming of a standard bearer emeritus. To the disbelief of many including some of her own partisans, it was inconceivable for Ellen to have invited an opposition candidate to a ceremony of a project jointly initiated by she and her Vice President who was in the race to succeed her as President.
It is from this political maneuvering, allegedly against her VP that the attribution of her being “wicked” became prevalent. Holding everything constant and knowing the rudiments of Liberian politics, critics of Ellen are of the utmost perception that her 11 hour political game created more division among Liberian intellectuals than any past leadership. Who is indeed tearing Liberia apart? Your guess is as good as mine.