Profile of The Next President of Liberia


By Gladys K. Johnson, Esq.


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 12, 2005

The Executive Mansion
The military coup of 1980 that precipitated the demise of the True Whig Party and brought an end to minority settler rule in Liberia (a one party system that had existed for many years) also created an insatiable urge or thirst for the position of president. Today, everything that moves on two legs and is a male thinks he can become president, on the premises that “if Doe could become president, so can I.” These men or even women, in limited numbers, seem to forget that Doe and friends as well as Charles Taylor and his cohorts came to power by use of military force. And all Liberians are witnesses to the problems that rule by terror and incompetence created for their country. Liberians ought to have learned never again to tolerate any regime that would bear the least resemblance to those that had Liberians killing Liberians and murderers and incompetents ascending to power. This time around is an opportunity to elect the right person, one whose job has been cut out for him by a decade and a half of warfare and lawlessness. What is the job of the next Liberian president? It will include:
1. Uniting a divided nation
2. Restoring Liberia’s damaged international image
3. Rebuilding the infrastructure and developing the nation
4. Repatriating and resettling Liberians in exile
5. Restoring law and order
6. Creating an atmosphere to foster education and employment

And what qualifications and abilities must the next president possess if he or she will be able to accomplish the kind of onerous responsibilities and duties listed above? They will no doubt include the following:

1) A sound and a well-grounded education. A little over two decades ago, I said the same thing to the military regime. I am saying it again today to the Liberian people as well as to the aspiring presidential candidates. There is no way to circumvent this requirement. The president of Liberia in this 21st Century must have an education, good and solid, in order to meet the challenges that 17 years of nonfeasance, misfeasance, ignorance, terror and incompetence have created. The next president must not have to depend on speechwriters for the substance of his policy statements. He should not come to this very high office hoping to learn by trial and error or to take lessons to improve his English. English being the official language of Liberia, the president must be able to speak and write it with confidence and proficiency right from the start. A well-educated president will be able to hold his ground with other world leaders around conference tables or on the world stage. Liberians do not need a leader who will depend on others to put words in his mouth and thoughts in his head. As the leader, he must use his education to formulate sound programs for development and to set the nation on the right course for implementing those programs. Advisors are good but no president should rely on them to do his thinking for him. The final decisions or choices he makes should be his responsibility. Thus, any presidential candidate who is aware of his incompetence or educational inadequacies should consider dropping out of the race at once as a supreme act of patriotism. He should be wary of sycophants, whose only goal is to foster their own selfish agendas, by trying to persuade unqualified candidates to “just hang in there”. Liberians need a leader whose degree was not a gift, fake or bought, but was earned through schooling at reputable educational institutions. The list could go on and on of what a well-educated leader could do for our country.

2) In addition to education, the next president of Liberia must show proof that he can do the job for which he is vying. Following the American example, he must show proof of experience, that is, of the credentials that have prepared him to do this job effectively. In the American scenario, every job seeker is required to show that he has had training and has acquired the experience to do the job well. It should not be any different in Liberia, especially when the job is the highest position in the country – The Presidency. The importance of experience for the job of president should not be underestimated. The next president of Liberia must have the ability to interact with the international community. Liberia needs all kinds of assistance, financial, technical, etc. The new president must be someone who has had some experience in dealing with the United Nations, The World Bank, The IMF, ECOWAS, etc; someone who knows what these organizations are about; someone with clout who can blend easily with other African and world leaders; someone who can find and get help for our country; a leader who will command national as well as international respect, not a Santa Clause, a clown, or a false prince sitting on some golden throne while the city smells of stench. Liberians no longer want a regime steeped in corruption, arrogance and pageantry, with the people wallowing in poverty, starvation, darkness and terror.

3) Liberians need a leader who can unify their country. To be able to unify the people of Liberia, the new leader must set an agenda for “one people, one nation.” He must be the leader of the whole country, not the congo people’s president or the country people’s president. He must be well beyond tribal and ethnic constraints. He should be prepared to appoint a cabinet that reflects the rich diversity of Liberia’s cultural heritage – choosing ministers from the various counties, tribes and sections, but always emphasizing competence and commitment. He must not appoint unqualified people to positions just “for peace sake”. Unity will also be achieved through equitable distribution of the national revenue for development. The new president must find means of addressing the many serious grievances that have divided the nation, sweeping no wrongdoing under the rug in the name of forgiveness, especially when the wrongdoer has shown no penitence or remorse. National unity is vital to our peaceful co-existence.

4) In order to restore law and order, the new leader must himself be law abiding. He must take seriously his vows to uphold the constitution and enforce the laws of Liberia. He must never allow criminal acts to go unprosecuted out of fear or because of connections. He must steer clear of any association with persons of shady character; national or international. Fellow citizens turned criminals because of lawlessness and poor governance should no longer terrorize Liberians with impunity.

5) The next president must respect and practice the tenets of democracy. He must share governance with the other branches of government, allowing the legislature to make the laws, the judiciary to interpret the law without constraints, interference or undue executive pressure – as have often been the case in the past. A strong and independent judiciary will serve the needs of Liberia and take the nation to heights we have only dreamed of. Likewise, a legislature of competent lawmakers, left unmolested by the president, will not only make good laws for the country but will also serve the check-and-balance function demanded by the constitution, thereby prohibiting the president from becoming a dictator.

6) The president must be nationalistic and patriotic in the true sense. He must not be one of the so-called patriots who dropped missiles on Monrovia, set towns and villages ablaze, and slaughtered thousands of his fellow citizens. Liberians do not need those patriots who sold the resources of their land and used the proceeds to purchase weapons to kill them. The new patriotic leader must be kind, compassionate and protective of Liberian lives and property. He must never enter into shady agreements with foreign companies that exploit Liberian resources and lives, while lining his pockets with bribe money and leaving the Liberian people to hold the empty bag. Patriotic leaders love their country and fellow citizens; they do not tarnish the image of their country by making it a haven for international criminals. Patriotic citizens do not make friends with the enemies of their land. The new leader has to be someone who never participated in any way, shape or form in the plots that led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Liberians and the total destruction of our cities, towns, and villages; who will not inject the youths of the country, tomorrows leaders, with narcotics, arm them with assault weapons, and cut them loose upon the citizenry. Liberians need a leader who will give the youths the tools for good citizenship, which include good education and proper upbringing.

7) The next president must be a citizen of Liberia as has been the law since our country became independent. According to law, one may enjoy dual citizenship up to age 21. At age 21 he/she is supposed to make a citizenship declaration denouncing his foreign citizenship in favor of his Liberian citizenship if he decides to become a Liberian. Liberia has enough citizens to choose from. Liberians do not need a leader who will change citizenship from Liberia to another country when the going gets rough, or siphon Liberian resources to his other country as he lays hands on them. Liberia needs a leader who will pledge absolute allegiance to Liberia.

8) The next president must be God fearing. He must not be a satan or devil worshipper. The constitution of Liberia allows the free exercise of religion by the people but it prohibits the government from imposing religion on the people. There is a clear separation of church and state. The state must therefore make no laws or do any acts that prevent the people’s free exercise of their religion. No president should shut up a religious institution because of criticism or attacks on his administration. Religious institutions are supposed to speak against evil and evildoers and pray for the spiritual guidance of the leaders of their country. All citizens in a democracy, including religious leaders have the same right to free speech and the right to praise as well as criticize their leaders. Suppressing and repressing criticism is the mark of a despot or a dictator, not a president of a democracy. The new president must never jail or prosecute citizens, including religious leaders and journalists, for exercise of their constitutional right to speak freely. The next president will tread well and safely if he listens to criticism and use it as a guiding light. He must know the difference between his limited powers and the infinite power of God and act accordingly by respecting and honoring God and his fellow man.

9) Honesty is one of the qualities the Liberian president must have. Corruption in government has been in the Liberian system for a long time. But to say that all persons who ever worked in government did nothing good for Liberia, and that they all only lined their pockets with money is unfair to those who worked hard and with dedication to bring Liberia to the level it was at when the so-called “redeemers” and “freedom fighters” came on the scene. Under those “corrupt leaders” Liberians at least had running water and electricity in Monrovia, government employees took pay, hospitals were available, colleges and the university were in operation, Liberians went about their daily lives without fear of being terrorized and killed by hoodlums or government task force. Liberians remained in their own country and lived their lives in their own homes. Compare those “corrupt days” with the “uncorrupt” days of Doe and Taylor. Take your pick, fellows. But we must admit that no one group of people has a monopoly on corruption. In every group there will be good as well as bad people. There is therefore a need for Liberians to search into every candidate’s background before supporting that candidate. Liberia needs an honest, dedicated leader more now than ever before. The next president should not co-mingle his personal funds with the public funds. He has no right to dip fingers into the public coffers for his personal use. If he does, it should be grounds for immediate impeachment. To keep him in power is to reward him and encourage future recurrence of bad behavior that might become an epidemic. The president must set positive examples for others to emulate.

The next President is by no means expected to be an angel, but just the same he is not to be anywhere near the characters that have caused Liberians so much destruction, death and destitution. The ball is now in the court of the Liberian masses to elect the right person to lead them from disgrace and fear to a better life. Making the right decision at this time is vital to the survival of our nation. This time around, let us be more patriotic, if only for posterity.

About the author: Mrs. Gladys K. Johnson is a former Probate Judge