A renowned Liberian Economist and former defeated presidential candidate, Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh once cautioned the military junta members dubbed: People’s Redemption Council (PRC) during celebration marking its first anniversary upon removing through a coup, the entrenched over century old political hegemony-the True Whig Party (TWP) that yoked Liberia through a one-party system; that the worse crime any government can commit is to lie to its people.
It was a coup d’état unleashed on April 12, 1980 reportedly by 17 enlisted noncommissioned officers of the Executive Mansion Battalion Guard, headed by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe; which did not only overthrow the administration of Dr. William R. Tolbert and executed 13 high profile members of both the government and partisans including President Tolbert; and successfully ended the grand old party’s rulership, but also changed the political dynamics, landscape and equation, thereby paving the way for a multi-party democracy.
Being fully aware politically, that among the stickiest and burning issues that ushered in the coup were rooted in rampant corruption, upright marginalization of the aborigines from state’s power, honor and glory, violation of human rights, just to name a few; Tipoteh openly informed the PRC’s members that the people they declared to bed liberated by them will be looking up to them regarding the manner, form and style they would conduct themselves coupled with the promises that will be proffered and how well they are kept in term of realization. The ascendency on the political scene, despite the undemocratic posture of militarism, indeed marked the presence of the native-born Liberians at the helm of state power and authority.
Thereafter, the political barometer became plagued with class and power struggles resulting into the absolute aborigines’ political authority being chased away or at least confronted with a serious pause as a 14-year civil upheaval engulfed the entire country.
The came another aborigine and his henchmen on a popular note mounted the highest political seat democratically in the country and with the mantle of state’s authority at his disposal through constitutional mandate, all have believed that the Presidency of Dr. George M. Weah would mend the smashed fences; reconciled the people and country as a collective unity in harmony and peaceful co-existence; being the President for all without playing personality game and cherry-picking on the altar of selfish appeasement for those most favored, and glorifying the nepotism, cronyism, blind loyalty and the full encouragement and entertainment of sycophancy, without considering that vices of the that bled this nation profusely in the first place.
Despite Weah’s political chance to prove the skeptics very wrong that the bad old days’ menace with corruption, nepotism and cronyism topping would be placed in the passive defreeze, he soon became heavily embroiled in the scourge, with according to critics corruption is comfortably dressed in no-nonsense ‘iron suit’ and unlike his professor who in her failed fray to frighten corruption showered it with so many names including public enemy number one; cancer and vampire; he (Weah) upon boasting of his preparedness to deal with corruption and all those being fed on the spoils the woes, embarrassingly change tune and shamefully caved in under the expression that it is very hard to fight corruption in Liberia due to the enter-relationship and family connection, poor excuse and a flagrant weakness to stand up to the task.
Today, the President is trapped in the in the bad old days’ menace and completely overwhelmed with hitches to keep the state on even keel and like his predecessor, while struggling with the economy and other rapidly declining issues in the governance system, steps in Ebola that turned almost everything inside out; Weah amidst fierce difficulties lumbered on his style of bad governance, has a painful national challenge and headache called Coronavirus or COVID-19 that must be dealt without second thought.
It can be recalled that former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf pointed out that Liberia seems to be racing backward instead of forward, and for that she bears some of the blame, her critics say. In an interview with Foreign Policy in her modest office in Monrovia, the (then) 78-year-old president seemed to share some of those critics’ disappointment in her tenure. “I underestimated the low level of capacity. I also underestimated the cultural roots of corruption,” she said.
Moreover, even during the boom years there were concerns about corruption. In Sirleaf’s first term alone, more than 20 government ministers were accused of corruption by the country’s independent corruption watchdog, the General Auditing Commission, but not one of them was prosecuted. (Sirleaf claimed they couldn’t stand trial at the time because the judiciary was too weak.)
In her second term, the corruption watchdog Global Witness found that 20 of the country’s largest logging contracts had been entered into illegally (most had been marred by graft). And a succession of scandals have rocked her administration in recent years, the latest involving Varney Sherman, a lawyer who used to head the president’s political party, who is on trial for allegedly paying more than $950,000 in bribes on behalf of her client, the British extractive firm Sable Mining, in order to secure an iron ore concession.
Perhaps the president’s biggest misstep was to appoint three of her sons and one of her sisters to key government posts. The most important of those posts was at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), which was headed by her son, Robert Sirleaf, until 2013. He presided over record exploration deals with the super majors Chevron and ExxonMobil that netted more than $120 million for the government, but a cloud of suspicion settled over him when NOCAL collapsed in 2015, two years after he had departed. Nothing was ever proven, but many Liberians believe the money went into his pockets.
“Was it a mistake?” Sirleaf said of her decision to appoint Robert. “I stand by it. I take the criticism for it. I think it’s unfair, but yes, there is a thing about nepotism and we all try to respect it. I needed someone I trusted in that space and when all the audits are available they’ll realize he was judged wrongly.”
Sirleaf alluded to the hypocrisy of any American official raising questions about nepotism in the era of U.S. President Donald Trump, when his son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump both hold senior advisor roles in the While House. “I don’t hear the criticism of the U.S. Here was someone who came to work to try to make a poor country better while over there you’ve got…” she trailed off. “We’ll just leave it at that.”
But regardless of whether it’s an unfair double standard, the steady drumbeat of corruption allegations has taken a toll on the president’s popularity and left her party and her vice president, to whom she has given only lukewarm support, in a much weaker position going into this election. “I think a lot of Liberians embraced the pledge to curb graft but now look back with disappointment that the political will has just not been there to bring accused corrupt officials to book
But the biggest blows to former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s reputation were delivered by events far beyond her control. The collapse of commodity prices in 2014 reduced government revenues by 12 per cent the following year, and the subsequent Ebola outbreak did even more damage.
More than 10,000 people were infected with the virus between 2014 and 2015, and nearly 5,000 died. International companies scaled back or shut down entirely. Local companies that were unable to meet their obligations to international investors also closed their doors. The economy contracted by 0.5 per cent in 2016.
The economic downturn has proved a fertile climate for candidates peddling the kind of divisiveness that defined wartime politics in the 1990s. From behind the pulpit of his church on the outskirts of Monrovia on a Prince Y Johnson (PYJ) delivered a fiery defense of his murder of President Doe to rapturous applause.
In an interview with FOREIGN POLI CY (FP) after his congregants had trickled out, he launched a blistering attack on the freed black settlers from America who founded the country in 1821 and whose descendants have formed the ruling Americo-Liberian elite ever since. “They divide themselves,” Johnson said of Americo-Liberians.
“They live all over the country but they don’t speak one dialect in 170 years. How can you have a nation 170 years and our leaders only speak English? Is that unity? Or is it that our native languages are so inferior? We need a leader who speaks our language.”
This kind of rhetoric from politicians with ugly wartime records has roiled Liberia’s restive youth; many have promised violence if their candidate does not win. Sirleaf’s critics say the return of Taylor’s allies to the political scene is the president’s fault — a result of the widespread belief that her weakness on corruption was designed to protect her family and associates from prosecution after her presidency.
“She is resolute in using state power and resources to undermine, dismantle, and even crush democratic and integrity forces in the 2017 elections,” said Aloysius Toe, a long time democracy activist jailed by Taylor and a candidate for the legislature on presidential candidate Alexander Cummings’s ticket. “Even if it means the return of Taylor’s ghost.”
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