Liberia Need Bold and Confident Leaders

By: Ezekiel Pajibo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 26, 2004

I have a confession to make. I am a news junkie and so on January 20 I went home early and got an early sleep so that I could be up around 1:00 A.M. in order to hear President George Bush State of the Union Address to the United States Congress. I am not at liberty to discuss my analysis of the speech but I can say that the language he used, his cadence, his intonation and presentation, his unequivocal demands and his assertiveness were indeed bold and confident. So I was led to wonder where are Liberia’s bold and confident leaders who can be definitive in what they believe, how they would translate those beliefs into public policy and what the anticipated positive impact would be on the general welfare of the Liberian people?

But do we need bold and confident leaders? Yes! Here is why. Our country is in a real bad shape. Our infrastructure lies in ruins, children out of school, people out of work, enclaves where people inhabit are congested and unsanitary and our desperate and immediate desire to live in a gun free society postponed. But our national leaders appear unconcerned. They continue to behave, as if this is the time to “enjoy”. Their convoys are ever increasing, wrecking havoc on public safety. Our leaders appear more concerned about to capture the ways and means to “enjoy”. The rush by our leaders to attend conferences in foreign lands and make loud public statements of how they are not allowed to be on this or that delegation is testimony to “business as usual”.

Why is it that our national leaders are not interested in establishing freedom of movement in Liberia but want that same freedom to travel to foreign countries? Let me give a few examples. A number of Assemblymen went to Cote d’Ivoire recently to obtain visas to travel to Geneva in order to attend a parliamentary gathering. They did not have invitations and were advised that without invitations they would not get a visa. They proceeded to Abidjan notwithstanding and after a few days return to Monrovia without the visa but they kept their per diems and travel related expenses. A number of another set of Assemblymen went to Abuja recently to meet with ECOWAS officials who they knew would be on holidays. They had no meeting, returned to Monrovia but kept their per diems and travel related expenses. Still yet another went to South Africa for yet another parliamentary indaba and of course the related travel benefits were obtained. Now they are complaining that they don’t have plane tickets to go to New York. Our Assemblymen need to demonstrate that their zeal to see foreign lands is matched by their actions to ensure free movement of Liberians in the country. I want to go to Sinoe for Christ sake but I don’t want to pay MODEL to see Greenville, the place of birth. Can my national leaders be bold and confident enough by establishing the requisite guarantee for me to enjoy the right to free movement in my own country?

I know that some of our new leaders have only had the opportunity to be in their new positions for about four months so they cannot be rushed. I am not trying to rush them. The point is that they are not using their time wisely and needless to say in response to the crying needs of our people.. Instead of complaining about not being included in foreign travel plans, they should be planning to visit at least those places in the country where UNMIL has been deployed. I believe this would be called confidence building visits. We need to develop hope that this peace is workable. Our national leaders must be in the forefront of this endeavour. Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant and Speaker George Dweh should jointly visit Tubmanburg, Buchanan, Zwedru and other places were UNMIL is deployed and meet with local people and assure them that the country is on the path of peace. In politics symbolism counts and perception is reality. How our public officials conduct themselves speak volumes of who they are and what they are about and represent.

By now, our national leaders should have discovered a more statesmanship (excuse the word) approach to resolve differences. The press is not the viable and constructive forum to speak about differences, which have the propensity to generate a crisis of confidence within the ranks of our national leadership. This is what has been happening in the last few weeks and has therefore taken away our attention from other pressing national issues. Of special concern is the second postponement of the practical steps that need to be taken in order to take guns away from those who are desirous of giving them up. This problem has been complicated by other factors including the political brouhaha in LURD regarding who is the bonafide leader of the organization. Speaker Dweh and Customs Commissioner, Charles Bennie have assured us that Sekou Conneh continues to be the leader. However Mrs. Aisha Conneh statement that she has better intelligence about LURD’s weaponry and their concealment than the “real leader”, has compelled the nation to pay heed. ECOWAS thankfully has recognized this unnecessary complexity in efforts to secure durable peace in Liberia and has said so publicly. This issue needs to be resolved amicably so that the nation can go about the urgent task of establishing the basis for durable and just peace.

The lack of serious debate about the Government’s Reconstruction Plan that is to be presented in New York is another telling example of a lack of interest by our national leaders in the important priorities that should animate public policy. The international community involvement in Liberia is not at all entirely altruistic. They have special interests for intervening in our country and to help us establish peace. Their interests need to be visited against Liberian interests with the view of ensuring that our national priorities are soundly elaborated and articulated. Our national leaders should be bold and confident in telling our international friends that we want peace and we want to disarm all those persons bearing arms in our country in the shortest possible time. But these statements have to be matched by concrete steps that have to be taken by our national leaders in this direction such as providing UNMIL with the actual strength of their troops, ammunition and maps of their location as well as concealment areas.

Our “dear” leaders should be bold and confident and say that our international debt is unpayable at this time and should be cancelled. But they will have to demonstrate and assure us all that our national coffers will not be raided and that our internally generated revenues will be wisely spent on social service delivery including access to education, health, clean water, clean living spaces, electricity and jobs. For example, our leaders should condemn the stealing of over $400,000 worth of latex “ready for export” in Sinoe County and bring to book the perpetrators. I am sure the workers who were traumatize during the robbery know who the robbers are. I am also sure that our national leaders know who controls Sinoe and therefore should require that faction to account for this criminal act. That is what being bold and confident entails.

Our national leaders should tell our international friends that genuine partnership entails mutual benefits. In this regard the government should negotiate with their foreign colleagues to ensure that for every one dollar spent in Liberia, fifty cents is spent on Liberian services, expertise and goods. And that while we appreciate and eagerly encourage them to assist us we, want to be the ones who determine our national development priorities. But first, our national leaders need to demonstrate that they are the embodiment of our values and aspirations. To this end, they should stop seeking incomes that they do not deserve and begin to put Liberia first. As well, our national leaders should insist that criteria for assistance to our country must reflect issues of equity, economic and social justice as well as peacebuilding and development. That is what bold and confident means in our context.

Ezekiel Pajibo is a political commentator and social critic