Succession Of Regimes On Trial: Sirleaf Under The Spotlight
By Ivor S. Moore
A bystander perching on the extreme end of the stage of history would not be disposed to disagree to the assertion that the regime of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is on its greatest trial especially during this second term. More so, he or she will hold that this trial has reached its apex as the recent handling of the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), the callousness of the regime to attend to the worsening plights of the Liberian people, and other issues have drawn many spectators, national and international, topeer keenly through transparent spectacles from their respective sittings in the historical court to grasp every bit of the proceeding to the end. Thus, in this Liberia, this trial, spotlighting Madam Sirleaf and her regime, which has raised so huge a concern, is in succession of several regimes on trial.
After the trials of the Colonial and Commonwealth periods which precipitated the hasty formation of the Republic of Liberia, Africa’s first independent state, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the nation’s first president after independence, encountered his greatest trial over maintaining the sovereignty and international recognition of the first African state whose primary reason for independence was attributed to the continuous infringement on its territorial laws by colonial France and Britain, evident by the Little Ben Affairs.
With little knowledge over state governance, couple with the watchful eyes of the white race as to whether the black man could govern himself on this experimental land on the West African coast, President Roberts began his travel to Europe for recognition and support towards the young nation. He had also begun discussions with local chiefs and kingdoms to enhance solidarity. One way or the other, there is much warranty in the claim that Roberts walked out of the historical court with verdict in his favor for the facts that he got recognition form Britain (which had been a threat to the nation) and other nations, built strong diplomatic ties and was able to maintain some level of cordiality with neighboring chiefs and tribes- all culminating in the preservation of Africa’s first independent nation to what it is today.
These were just the basics of eventual trials to come. As years passed on and new regimes came to light, each had its own trials as the social, political and economic conditions depicted. Thus, some were easy and impermanent, while others, boat rocking and prolonged.
Next to President Roberts, President Ross was slapped with one of the toughest trials in Liberia’s history. A black man emerging to the helm of leadership in the midst of the color question over mulato and darker skinned Liberians struggle for dominance, he, being a member of the latter class and the True Wig Party, met to his throat grave challenges. Eventually, this would lead to his mysterious death over the ill-fitted loan that today has many contradictory accounts. For him, his trial ended with his demise as would be the case of others many years later.
The course of the True Wig Party long rule, which some has come to term, oligarchic, brought forth its multiples of trials which also, can be said to have been, taking its overall into consideration, on its unique trial for existence as a party. During this time, we find an array of issues, to include the 1927 election and the Fernadipo Crisis, which nearly caused the nation to lose its sovereignty. These and many others would prompt historians and commentators alike to assert that the “oligarchy” would self-destruct as it has been predominantly the cause of the problems incurred by the nation. Thus, before the very eyes of the political gurus, the populace was beginning to view history from a clearer perspective as their consciousness of the social-political dynamic was being cultivated due to the education and assimilation of the indigenous Liberians into the governance machinery.
Still under the True Wig, the emergence of Tubman to the helm of leadership marked a special turning point in the history of the nation and the party. Aware of the recommendations of the Christy Commission, Tubman launched the Open Door and the Unification Policies, granted sovereignty to women and massively inculcated many indigenous Liberians to public positions as a means to resurrect the struggling state from its state of backwardness-or so we are taught to understand.
We see a president also faced with barrage of challenges incurred from his predecessors of True Wigans and those caused by his leadership. His long stay in power, his suppression of opposition and his establishment of PROs, amongst others, facilitated the exponential rise of the political consciousness that would share its greatest light during the tenure of his successor, Tolbert. The political scene saw the prolific pamphleteering of Albert Porte, a strange phenomenon to a people long subjected to illiteracy and little knowledge of their rights and the operations of government. As to his trial, many, especially those who experienced the celebrating moments of the President, argued that Tubman was successful in elevating the state to prosperity while others still doubt his success. However, there is much consensus that Tubman’s era greatly paved the way for the birth of the Progressive Movement and the eventual demise of the True Wig Party under Tolbert.
The advent of President William Richard Tolbert paralleled the manifestation of the consciousness of the Progressive Movement of PAL, MOJAL, and the student community, notably the Liberia National Student Union (LINSU) and Vanguard Student Unification Party (SUP) of the University of Liberia. Trialed over creating a balance between the Old Guards and the indigenous people in the midst of his promoting basic reforms such as the Rally Time, history had already reached its climax and was taking the rout of the falling action and final desolation of the regime and the True Wig Party. The Rice Riot-or Rice Demonstration- of 1979 and the Midnight March of 1980 and, arguably, Tolbert’s involvement in other international matters such as the Israel-Palestine strive, precipated the Coup De Tat that ended the regime and the “oligarchy”- to borrow the term. His killer and successor, Master Sigent Samuel Kayon Doe, justified the overthrow and persecutions on allegations of rampant corruption and nepotism, as paramount.
Doe, first military leader of Liberia, began the nation’s Second Republic with the suspension of the 1847 constitution and the accommodation into his People’s Redemption Council (PRC) key Progressive Leaders such as Tipoteh, Sawyer, Baccus and Fahnbulleh. From the start, he had laid the foundation to begin massive development; this, however, soon turned bitter with internal ranklings, death of accused traitors and innocent people, corruption and the instillation of fear among the people. His trial became greatest with Quomkpa’s failed coup, the Nimba Raid and the coming of Liberia’s first civil war by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), headed by former confidant and General Services Agency Managing Director, Charles MacArthur Gankay Taylor. His sorrowful death in the hands of Prince Johnson’s INDPL still leaves a scare on the minds of the people as does the case of his predecessor.
After several interim leaderships, Charles Taylor, backed by Nigerian dominant ECOMOG, rose to the nation’s highest seat with promises of redemption for a nation ravaged by his and others’ instigation. He soon became involved in illegal trade in diamond and timber for arms and cash to fuel his agenda of building a political hegemony in the West African terrain. He thus started to promote uprisings in neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Cost to have his cronies take power. This course took a dead end as LURD, later followed by MODEL, launched a vigorous attack against the regime. This pressure on Taylor took a different trend as the UN backed Special Court in Sierra Leone began calling for his arrest on charges of supporting the Sierra Leonean civil crisis that left many dead, amputated and the entire economic, social and political fabric of the country devastated. Today, he is languishing in a British penitentiary on a fifty-year sentence of the ICC for aiding and abetting.
We are now in the twenty-first century. Time, now, has awakened us to one of Liberia’s momentous regimes on trial. The courtroom is already crowded by spectators of both Liberians and the international community. Africa’s first female president and recipient of the world’s most prestigious accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has attracted so much spectators, arguably than her predecessors, to watch this landmark trial.
All eyes are watching to see the fate of a president who had been a major actor in the social-political activism of the 70’s and 80’s and an allege supporter over the ousting of several regimes, who had worked with several international organizations, and who has promised much for the upliftment of the country.
The international community has drawn so much attention on this trial because it has been a major force behind her ascendency, waved the nation’s debt of over four billion dollars, and given huge financial and technical supports for the upkeep of her regime only to see things turn out to be as it is.
President Sirleaf won Liberia’s post war presidential election in 2005 with a resounding proclamation of making corruption her “public enemy number one” as a catalyst to utilizing the country’s resources to promote national development the general welfare of the masses of people. She had condemned her predecessors of corrupting the country’s wealth, promoting nepotism and plunging the masses of people into abject poverty.
Her first term of office saw the dismounting of the ALF, the “downsizing and rightsizing”-to use her term- of many civil servants, the establishment of several agencies that found accommodation for her cronies from America and the entering of many concessions agreement, although only two out of sixty-eight were in compliance with our law.
President Sirleaf’s second term exposed the rottenness of her regime that had lay in hiding during the first. This scene brought to full light on the political stage her beloved son, Robert, and sister, Jenny, as members of what many has termed the “Trinitarian Hegemony.” This scene ushered in the epicenter and climax of the trial that would find expression mostly in the outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease and other surrounding issues.
The resignation of fellow Nobel Laureate, Laymah Bowee, the secret recordings of key government officials by Ellen Chockrun, and the famous Open Letter to President Sirleaf by Christopher Neyor all brought to book the state of the regime. Amidst all these, the handling of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia brightened the spotlight on this regime on trial.
In this trial, all and sundry, in early March of 2014, were shocked to know that the Government had poorly handled the first case of Ebola in Liberia and its voicing that the disease was no longer in the country. But the air became stilled and all panicked when signs of the virus spreading through Lofa and Monrovia became apparent.
Dismayingly, the disease has exposed the weakness of the country’s health ministry to contain such an emergency, thus accounting for its wide spread and death of many, including many health practitioners. The government, however, shamely put chief cause of the spread on some people’s disbelief in the existence of such a disease, in dis-acknowledgement to its failure to employ proper contact tracing and containment measures.
Thus, after many agitations and condemnations over the process, the President set up a taskforce comprising of her cronies and headed by herself, and instituted a state of emergency and curfew across the country. This even added insult to the injury the people had sustained, that under the direct watch of the President, the task force became a chopping ground for politicians. With the curfew at West Point, the world watched with sorrow the death of Shakie Kamara caused by security forces in a shootout. It also witnessed the president’s shameful appeal to the United States for intervention as Liberia was losing the war against the disease, contrary to previous claim that the government handling the matter and did not need to turn over to the international community.
With all these under the spotlight, the debate intensified with mounting calls for the president to resign as she could not handle the Ebola outbreak. In the headlines of the Chronicle, we were hit with rumors of establishment of an interim government. From the gossip malls we were informed about a purported plan to launch an overthrow against the presidency. The curfew came in the wake of this rumor, although the government said it was meant to stop the night burial of Ebola infected bodies. This and the arrival of huge US troops to Liberia under the pretext of bringing medical aid are puzzles to decipher, but, that drag the trial on.
In the midst of the ravaging monster disease, the president joined the National Legislature in the bidding of four oil blocks when it was criticized by international organizations and experts. Here was foul play in the nation’s “last extractive industry” and its hope for national recovery and development. Here is a regime that had signed several oil deals shortchanging the Liberian people of their rightful benefits. Here is a regime that preaches sustainable development but would go about giving out all the resources now to concessionaires. As opposed to advised to thoroughly revised the existing laws on the oil and gas sector before giving out any oil contracts, the nation was halted to know that the legislatures would want to pass a Four-G law as justification for its rapid sale and this would be supported by the presidency.
Still unraveling findings in this landmark trial in the historical judgment room, the recent resignation of and further testimony to the failures of the regime by former Attorney General, Justice Minister and one of closest confidants of the President, Christiana Tah, has taken every spectator by the spine with adrenaline. This is however taken aloft as the president’s request for the National Legislature to grant her certain powers to alter certain clauses as a basis to suspend certain rights of the citizens of Liberia, to include the rights against slavery and force labor (article 12), emerged before the trial.
The President of Liberia, the messiah come to save the nation from the wreckage of corruption, confessed in her 2015 state of the nation’s address that corruption, her “public enemy number one” had turned a “vampire to development.” This lamentation has raised serious debates across the Liberian panorama as all are wondering over this sheer admittance that her regime has failed to curb this peril to development. She is criticized for creating many institutions to fighting corruption but had been a key factor in creating porosity by protecting and vouching for certain individuals. She is detested for speaking in the past against nepotism, cronyism and other problems but is now rationalizing them with multiple placations.
This regime, whether it can restore to normalcy a nation and people mutilated to the bones, whether it will survive its agitated trial with the many witnesses and testimonies against it, faces a compact case that all look forward to the adjudication from the historical judgment seat when the fullness of time is come!
Our eyes shall not blink until then!
About The Author: Ivor S. Moore is a youth, human right and political activist and a young writer on social, economic and political issues. He is currently the Secretary General of the Movement for Political Justice and Advocacy in Liberia (MOPJAL), a prodemocracy youth advocacy group. He is a student of the University of Liberia and can be contacted at: +231770139026, firstname.lastname@example.org.