President Sirleaf Must Use or Call on Her Conscience
By Jones Nhinson Williams
As human beings, there are times that we forget to allow our conscience to act. This is normal but there are other times we must use or allow our conscience to play a role. At this moment, it is time for my president, our president and the president of Liberia, Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to allow her conscience to act. In the name of God, I urge you President Sirleaf to give chance to your conscience in leading Liberia because every day things are just becoming out of the ordinary in Liberia under your very watch.
Every day does not have to come as a sad day in and for Liberia; but that is the case because majority of the people are becoming poorer and poorer, and your close-knit circle of people keep doing things that raise “red flags”. The worse part is we have a class of old and rewind bunch of Liberian politicians on meaningless commissions and in “policy” positions with retired ideas and selfish motives. The national legislature is not helping either; corruption, gross incompetence and personal aggrandizement overshadow their conscience. Instead of being responsible and putting the interest of the country first, most lawmakers are only looking out for themselves, passing ridiculous exclusionary laws as if Liberia was still in the dark ages.
This is precisely why President Sirleaf has the leverage and is running Liberia like a family garage or plantation. She has no respect for both the Liberian Senate and the House simply because many among them are ignorant, corrupt and out-rightly childish, if not foolish. This is also why we have a president who goes to the international media and says Liberians are “scattered people”. For God in Heaven’s sake, this sweeping and unjustifiable categorization is the lowest level of ingratitude to a people that satisfied the President’s long-held ambitions for State power, because it condemns all Liberians as abnormal people, whether we are doing well or not.
My position today is predicated on the fact that I just read that President Sirleaf’s almighty son, Robert Allen Sirleaf, just donated Lb 1.2 million (Liberian dollars) to victims of the erosion in West Point after a western lawmaker friend called my attention to that via phone on Sunday morning. Of course, giving to charity and poor people is a good thing when it is a fair game and honest money, but in the case of Robert’s generosity more questions are raised that overshadow his kindness and “good intentions”, especially so since we cannot distinguish between what belongs to him and what belongs to the Liberian government. Is the money donated by Kuwait where Robert is a non-resident ‘special’ envoy?
If your government, President Sirleaf, is incapable of providing such funds and relief to help the victimized Liberian people, where did your son pull that money from? Is it really money from Kuwait or is it part of the Kuwaiti’s overall foreign policy agenda for Liberia? If the Kuwaiti provided the funds, Liberians need to know so that we can express our gratitude to the good people of that country instead of Robert taking credit for what belongs to the Liberian people. Also, if Robert were a private citizen or a businessman not in such lucrative foreign and domestic policies roles in addition to having an uncontrollable influence on your government, we would not have raised these issues. That, unfortunately, is not the case since he (Robert) functions as the de facto “prime minister” of your administration even though the Liberian political system has no provision for that.
Secondly, Liberians do not know the total worth of your family and the people in your government, with many of them having homes in America and Europe and fat bank accounts around the world. Thirdly, this your special son seems to be the only Liberian qualified to take lucrative public service assignments which include among others: former Chairman and eternal point-man of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), Senior Economic Adviser to the President responsible for cabinet selection and deciding every major presidential policy, Ambassador-At-Large to the European Union, Special Envoy to Algeria only when the US$2 million donated by that country for Executive Protective Services was coming through, and now Special Envoy and Ambassador Plenipotentiary to Kuwait. All these positions are in addition to his influential private investment and financial consultancy operations in Monrovia. Yet, no conflict of interest involved. That is not how things work in the western world where you attended school and worked, Madam President. No American president or British prime minister would do that. The powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel has children, too.
If the Holy Mary was Liberia’s president, even Jesus Christ would have avoided being this all-powerful and omnipresent as Robert Allen Sirleaf has come to be in a country with unlimited seasoned professionals. What is Robert’s worth? Why didn’t he ever help Liberians, especially refugees, when you were not President and had no control over national wealth? These are real, hard and legitimate questions; they are not politics because I am not a politician, and my colleagues in Liberia with whom I attended training for the Catholic priesthood will tell you my moral stance and impatience for injustice, greed and self-centeredness. That is why at great risk to my being I was able to challenge Charles Taylor, the Goliath, who drove all of you in exile and in hiding.
Moreover, how can an ambassador to Kuwait domicile in Liberia instead of being in the country of accreditation? My aging mother in River-Gee County, Liberia did not go to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, but she has the common sense to decipher that something is not right with this formula–and there are many Liberian mothers that think likewise, Madam President.
President Sirleaf, as I have always indicated to you, I am not a politician, but my background and training compels me to tell you what you are doing wrong in Liberia. Many people died not because they wanted to satisfy your personal and family agenda; they sacrificed because they love Liberia. Think about the unaccountable number of young people that sacrificed their lives to remove warlord Charles Taylor’s ruthless government from Liberia when your children, including this very Robert Allen Sirleaf, were eating ice cream in the western world. Think about the years we spent navigating the world trying to make Liberia a functioning society, including when I was invited at your offices in the Ivory Coast in 2002 and two mercenaries ordered by Taylor’s folks in Abidjan who went to assassinate me at my hotel were convinced by me as to why removing Taylor was a moral cause, and eventually they and I prayed together and they left before your Munah Wreh picked me up from the hotel to your office to meet with Harry Greaves and others in my attempt to bring all Liberian exiles and refugees together to a common cause. Also, if the kids who died removing Taylor means nothing to you then think about your former peers like Jackson F. Doe, Gabriel Kpolleh, and journalist like Charles Gbenyon among others who died fighting for a better Liberia.
Yes, as usual you might ignore these things or choose to run another round of public relations on them, but just know that people are hurting and this type of insensitivity has long-term dangerous consequences before human beings and God.
Furthermore, you are a good woman and we thought that would have made you develop some compassionate feelings for the poverty in Liberia, especially for poor Liberian children just like how the five American Catholic nuns (Sister Shirley Kolmer and others whose killings propelled me to abandon the call for the Catholic priesthood to seek Taylor’s removal) did when they stayed in Liberia caring for poor Liberian orphans in 1992 until Charles Taylor and his thugs brutally killed them.
By disposition, President Sirleaf, I am not a man of anger, but I am becoming restless because the pains we bore and the sacrifices we made to get Liberia free and for you to become “Africa first female president” as you always boost, is too high for what we continue to see. I did not abandon my quest for the Catholic priesthood to replace Charles Taylor with another unconscionable leadership. Unfortunately, this is what we see for most part of your governance. We know people can steal in government, but not with such greed and openness. Why we cannot blame you for everything, but you are the leader of the country. Take charge, or quit if you cannot lead; it is clear, easy and simple.
You and your administration have created a cast system in Liberia. Even Presidents Tubman, Tolbert, Doe and Taylor did far better than we see today. Not just me, but many international folks see and know that your government is run from the outside—cartels type operations. The knuckles, Bernards and others operate pseudo consulting firms that are wheeling and dealing, pandering and selling influence for access. Beside, how on earth can a government be so single-handily controlled and manipulated by a single powerful family and cronies such that there are duplications of titles and functionaries.
For example, you have Brother (Dr.) H. Boima Fahnbulleh as national security adviser and then you have your brother-in-law, Hon. Estrada Bernard as national security adviser and legal adviser. Who is who? Even the great United States does not have two national security advisers despite all the threats from extremist groups against Americans. I thought as smart as Brother Fahnbulleh is he would have objected, but that is not the case. The next thought is, is Brother Fahnbulleh gathering Intel to write a “tell all” book after you leave office, or is he just there for the paycheck for which he is not opposed to such ridiculous duplication of duties.
While I respect the Liberian judiciary to some extent because I personally know and respect four of the Justices at the Supreme Court, especially the Chief Justice, who I have known while studying for the Catholic priesthood, your administration has turned the Liberian judicial system, particularly the lower courts, into a terrorizing pit-house to harass Liberians’ freedom of expression under the auspices of a bogus “defamation of character” legal codes which were never prevalent under previous regimes until you took office. This is wrong, divisive and immoral, and needs to stop. Beside, it threatens our democracy, freedom of speech and of the press more than ever before.
It is also very painful to see folks that we had respect for growing up and for whom many young University of Liberia’s students died demonstrating in the 1970s and 1980s being dumb-founded to the misery, open theft, graft, and economic misrule in Liberia today. This is absolutely inexcusable, immoral, deceitful, and perhaps criminal at best.
Finally, I know a number of rewind Liberian politicians lack sound conscience and ethical balance and so they will not draw your attention to the ills in Liberia under your watch. I urge you to be the one to use your conscience President Sirleaf because Liberia is more divided, more polarized, more fragile, more condemned, more laughed at, more and more taken less seriously by the international and regional communities under your administration than any time in the country’s history. This is bad for our future, the future of the country, and for our children’s future. Know that power is not absolute and can never be monopolized, those who tried before you know that. Others can bear witness to this as well.
Here are simple steps you can put in place to make Liberians to begin regaining confidence, and that starts with Robert Allen Sirleaf either being a silent player like his decent, mature and very respected older brother Charles Sirleaf (current deputy chief of the country’s central bank) does when he wants to continue being in your government, or he can quit all government roles and remain in the private sector. Secondly, please ensure that transparency and accountability are not selective. Third, instead of being like some ruthless African regimes that wage media and public relations attacks when citizens express their dissatisfaction; your administration must listen to the Liberian people and decipher their concerns because you work for them and not the other way around. That is what democratic governance and good leaderships are all about.
In closing, your press secretary or what needs to learn and realize that responding to all citizens’ legitimate concerns just because he must talk exposes and inflames matters, and in the end it makes the Office of the President looks funny. Beside it is not a good communications’ strategy. May the good God bless and help you in leading Liberia for the better.
Written by Jones Nhinson Williams
About the author:
Williams is a Catholic educated contemporary philosopher and an American trained public policy professional. He was the moral conscience that restored Liberia to a normal functioning society in 2003 from the devastating rule of warlord Charles Taylor. Thus, leading to the return of Liberian refugees and exiled politicians such as President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, former interim president, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer among others. Since then, he has been finding solutions that will help all Liberian refugees desirous of returning home.