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Ellen-Sirleaf: Bye to Fish Market (2)

By News Express on 22/01/2018

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•Out-going Liberian President, Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf
•Out-going Liberian President, Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf

Those who packaged Harvard trained technocrat, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 78 for the presidency in Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent country and nudged her candidacy for the enviable Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, may strenuously be pushing her for the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Prize for Leadership in Africa. But will they be justified? queries TONY IYARE, in this concluding discourse of her unbroken 12-year tenure.

As they dust her apparently intimidating credentials to angle for the Mo Ibrahim Prize, the boots of her avowed campaigners may be heavily laced with bile. Their cudgels also must be wielded through the arsenals of cynics who think she’s not deserving of the award.    

Expectedly, the out-going Liberian President, Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf will elicit accolades in stabilising the hitherto broken down country tucked in the labyrinth of gloom, death, disease and despair. Her deft brinkmanship has infused order to a war torn country virtually walking on its head and where AK-47 was cheaper than bread.

She’s restored decrepit infrastructure during her 12-year rule and embarked on the building of new ones across the country. She’s also thrust Liberia from her pariah status to international acceptance, making the country swell on donor funds. Her sagacity to muster massive resources not only saw the cancelling of the country’s debt but a bloating annual budget from a paltry $80 million in 2006 to close to $1 billion now.

After the initial poor handling of the Ebola epidemic which ravaged the country  in 2014, blamed on little premium on healthcare, leading many investors to flee, she later rose to the occasion, garnering lots of financial and material support. President Barack Obama deployed 4000 American troops, to build 18 Ebola treatment units in Liberia as parts of bold efforts to end the scourge which was also prevalent in the neighbouring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Sirleaf’s highly moving letter which started with “Dear World” pricked the conscience of many. The fight against Ebola “requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help-whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise”. “It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves”, she wrote in the emotion laden letter.

The support came in torrents for Liberia whose 3000 qualified doctors at the inception of the civil war in the late 80s had depleted to just three dozen by the end of hostilities in 2003. The United Nations separately mobilised donations to a $1 billion Ebola Trust Fund muted as a flexible source of back up money to combat the disease.

But the Sirleaf administration, largely enmeshed in charges of nepotism became prostrate on corruption, which she treated with kid gloves as senior officials of her government oiled their pockets. She virtually looked away as these officials funnel public resources including funds to private accounts.

Her former Justice Minister, Christiana Tar pointedly accused Sirleaf, a former World Bank staff of blocking a corruption investigation into the Liberian National Security Agency headed by one of her sons, Fumbah Sirleaf.

Her embrace of a neo-liberal socio-economic policy which castrated government funding on welfare programmes held little for the Liberian people majority of who live less than two dollars a day. Rising unemployment and grinding poverty stoke the people’s growing frustration.

Grimaced looks of the largely poverty stricken people, particularly women who played significant role not only in ending the conflict but also ensuring her emergence as President, is commonplace.

Sirleaf, a Harvard trained technocrat who worked with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was accused of paying scant attention to genuinely improving the living conditions of her people at home. This occasioned the dithering on the Ebola epidemic which killed many Liberians in 2014.

“She spends all her time pleasing the West and not enough building things at home”, reels Elizabeth Dickinson, a journalist who was quoted in an article by Max Fisher in The Atlantic. Titled “Did Nobel Committee Award Liberia’s Sirleaf to Help Her Win Re-election?”, the article written on October7th, 2011 also quoted Chris Blattman, professor at Yale University who says, “I can’t shake the feeling that she spent more time getting feted internationally, and running a US book tour, than on the big issues at home”  

Liberia and its people are suffering from historical cum socio-economic haemorrhage for which Sirleaf and her backers cannot be extricated.

Apart from the prevailing euro-centric conception of its history weaved around the work of the American Colonisation Society, which has conspired to wrack the gains of its indigenous population, the economic bedrock fashioned under the Government and Economic Management Assistance Programme (GEMAP) and foisted on Liberia by those who contrive her election, has virtually reined in a policy that further demonise its people.

Perhaps more tragic is the largely gullible African media that still parrots the euro-centric narration about Liberia in most of its reports.

In spite of strident attempt to obfuscate her role from the skirmishes that engulfed Liberia, only a thin line separates Sirleaf, a renowned critic of her predecessors, William Tolbert and Samuel Doe from the different militia lords who rendered the country into shreds during the 15-year civil strife.

Though she confirmed her donation of $10,000 to the Charles Taylor led National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) at its formative stage but said in what amounted to some cock and bull story that her perception of the militia group was different at the time. Little wonder the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009 recommended banning her and 50 others for 30 years for abetting the militia groups that threw the country into turmoil.

Were those recommendations implemented, it would have long driven a nail into her political coffin as she would not have been eligible to contest for a second term in 2011. But Sirleaf and her international backers who also stage managed her Nobel Prize for Peace along with fellow compatriot, Leyman Roberta Gbowee, a social worker and Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni democracy activist,plotted to ensure that the TRCs recommendations were implemented only in the breach.

Although the Nobel committee deny any link between the second term berth and the award but is it not curious that the award came four days to the 2011 election? That’s why Matt Jones, a Monrovia based American venture capitalist tweeted that “Sirleaf’s Nobel feeds hugely into the conspiracy that her 2005 election and 2011 re-election are determined by foreign governments”.   

Is it not also intriguing that the same international community that was virulent in making sure former President, Charles Taylor get axed at the International Criminal Court at The Hague suddenly went dumb about pressing for the TRCs recommendations to be enforced on Sirleaf.

TRC’s Information Officer, James Kpargoi told VOA that “In the minds of the Truth Commission this time around we thought that those who financed the conflict, although they did not participate in the command and control of the factions, also bear the responsibility for the atrocities that were committed”.

However, it may be throwing specks on the Mo Ibrahim Foundation if Sirleaf eventually wins the prize and threads on the same pedestal with the continent’s shining stars like President Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique, President Festus Gontebanye Mogae of Botswana, President Pedro De Verona Rodriques of Cape Verde and President Hinkepunye Pohamba of Namibia who were winners in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014 respectively.

Or with former South African president, Nelson Mandela who was also made Honorary Laureate in 2007 in recognition of his extraordinary leadership qualities and achievements.   

If after an in-depth review, the Prize Committee now led by Salim Ahmed Salim, former Secretary General, Organisation of African Unity (OAU) did not select a winner in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 because of the need to protect the integrity of the award, why should they be bulldozed to offer the prize to an undeserving Sirleaf in 2017?  

“The Prize is intended to highlight and celebrate truly exceptional leadership, which is uncommon by its very definition. After careful consideration, the committee has decided not to award the Prize in 2016”, a statement by Salim reads.      

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation was initiated in 2006 with one focus: “The critical importance of governance and leadership for Africa”. “It is our belief that governance and leadership lie at the heart of any tangible and shared improvement in the quality of African citizens”, it says.

The foundation “Recognises and celebrates African executive leaders who, under challenging circumstances, have developed their countries and strengthened democracy and human rights for the shared benefit of their people, paving the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity”.

It “highlights exceptional role models for the continent”. It “ensures that the African continent continues to benefit from the experience and wisdom of exceptional leaders once they have left national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent”. It is also “an award and a standard for excellence in leadership in Africa, and not a ‘first prize’, there is not necessarily a Laureate every year”. The recipient gets $5million spread over 10 years and a further $200,000 per year for life thereafter.   

If anything, Sirleaf’s recent expulsion along with four other officials by Liberia’s ruling Unity Party may have not only foreclosed her role as a major power broker in her country but revealed her eclectic character that can diminish the image of the award.

She was accused of meddling and fixing the presidential election in which its candidate, Vice President Joseph Boakai suffered a bruising defeat, leaving the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate, George Weah, a former world footballer of the year to clinch victory.  

Although she’s refuted charges of “inappropriate private meetings with election magistrates” before the October 10 vote, this has been perceived with some grain of salt.  “The behaviour of the expelled persons...constitutes sabotage and undermined the existence of the party”, said the statement announcing the decision of the party’s executive committee on Saturday, January 13, 2018.  

It is no longer news that Sirleaf had a not too chummy relationship with Vice President, Joseph Boakai. Though they both shared the platform of the Unity Party, Sirleaf abandoned her deputy in the cold when it mattered most. She neither campaigned nor sold his candidacy.

It is strange that haven served as President for a 12 year term and also becoming a senator on the same party platform, ditching that same platform to discreetly push the candidacy of the opposition may imply that Sirleaf may be an opportunistic woman with a propensity to be “here and there”. It means she can hardly be trusted and therefore unfit for the Mo Ibrahim Prize.

Some believe Sirleaf was harangued by the need to undertake restitution to mitigate the charge of a “stolen presidency” which dogged her rule. They contend that the election of 2005 was fixed for her at the expense of Weah who emerged tops in the first ballot and was cheated out of the run off.

The thought of haven a semi illiterate footballer govern the country at that time may have informed the conspiracy to plot victory for the more educated and urbane Sirleaf. She therefore saw the 2017 presidential election as pay-back time for Weah.

The image of former Liberian strongman, Charles Taylor who’s serving 50-year jail term for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone still looms large on the political calculus despite his incarceration. Sirleaf is seen as striking some unholy alliance with her predecessor to wean victory for Weah, whose running mate, Jewel Howard Taylor is former wife of the war lord.

Howard Taylor who is presently serving as senator under the platform of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) makes no bone about the umbilical cord of both platforms, “The CDC was created out of the NPP and so the alliance with the CDC is a natural alliance”, she says.

So is it not really disappointing that despite her pretensions and grand standing, Sirleaf was part of some insidious network to oil Taylor’s interests and watch his back? As we wish her bye to her abode in Fish Market, Sinkor in Monrovia, we’ll always remember her role as man Friday to the country’s infamous war lord.

Source News Express

Posted 22/01/2018 1:21:35 PM


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