By: Jones Nhinson Williams
Every Liberian, and indeed the entire world, probably knows that the Charles Taylor’s regime was tyrannical and Mr. Taylor behaved and acted like a tyrant. A tyrant according intellectual understanding, is someone who rules his/her country and people by himself/herself. A tyrant persecutes, imprisons and even kills anyone who stands in his/her way and his/her desire for power, wealth and authority. Tyrants are generally considered to be evil as they only care about keeping power at any cost, including destroying the life of anyone who opposes them in any form, shape and manner. Other descriptions that fit tyrants include autocrat, despot etc. Mr. Taylor, based on his actions and history in Liberia, was a tyrant. His government did things that were tyrannical in nature and by definition. This is why many brave young Liberians, activists and pressure groups, at the cost of great sacrifice, decided to remove him from power in 2003.
Taylor’s removal would not have been possible without international pressure, the goodwill of the United States and its partners, and without the compassionate leadership and outstanding commitment of former U.S. President George W. Bush to the values of universal freedom. This is also why ordinary Liberians have and will continue to remain indebted and grateful to former President George W. Bush, the only sitting U.S. president who valued Liberia during its years of civil war in which over a million people were displaced as refugees around the world, social services and institutions were destroyed, and over 250,000 people killed, including five American Catholic nuns - the missionaries whose senseless murder spurred me on to abandon my study for the Catholic priesthood to ensure that Liberia became free of tyranny and regional terrorism. For the record, I have no regret in being instrumental in removing a tyrant like Charles Taylor who killed women and children in Liberia, maimed people indiscriminately in Sierra Leone, and provided financial capacity for al Qaeda, Hezbollah and other international terrorists through blood diamond trade in West Africa.
The removal of Taylor, the tyrant, came with an irony that we least expected, and for this my soul remains restless and my conscience saddened. The irony is, we did not know that we were ushering in a season for corruption as was exemplified by the transitional government of the late Charles Gyude Bryant (former interim president of Liberia from 2003-2006) followed by a modern day dictatorship. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s regime is dictatorial and President Sirleaf behaves and acts like a dictator.
A dictatorial regime, according to intellectual interpretations, is a form of government that is characterized by the absolute rule of one person or a very small group of people who hold all political and economic power. While tyrannical regimes are generally evil in all manners, shapes and forms, dictatorships are dangerous and cruel because of the way they tend to treat their citizens. No dictator would call himself or herself a dictator. Instead, they would prefer to hide under ordinary titles such as president, emperor, great leader and similar monikers. There is a cult of personality that often surrounds a dictator, and every dictator is driven by some kind of myths - typically perpetuated by the government-controlled media - about the dictator that are designed to build him or her up in the minds of the citizens as well as in the thinking of international partners as an all-knowing great person who is the only one capable of bringing prosperity or international support and contacts to the nation. Though presidents are elected, in modern times, it is not unusual to hear about dictators being elected by their citizens, when in fact the elections are often manipulated through the starvation, control and intimidation of voters to ensure the dictator's victory. In Liberia and under the Sirleaf’s administration, Liberians are starving, manipulated, intimidated and controlled. Those who refused to be starved, manipulated, intimidated or controlled face the wrath of the power that be. This is why the Liberian press is threatened, social activists and rights’ campaigners are arbitrarily arrested and detained by a brutal law enforcement that is infested with armed robbers. This is also why we have a once so-called human rights lawyer turned attorney general who acts like a big and uncontrolled bully.
For a regime to be considered a dictatorship means that the country is run by one person without any realistic, credible checks and balances on his or her power. Dictators, by every means and understanding, do make unilateral decisions that affect their countries without having to sincerely and honestly consult any other branch of government. The reason for this is that every other branch of the government is controlled by the dictator remotely, directly or indirectly. Besides, dictators don't rise to power or stay in power for the good of their nations (though some usually claim otherwise). Dictators assume state power to benefit themselves, their families and their close political allies. A cursory review and analysis of everything we have seen since President Sirleaf came to power appear to be exactly this. After a decade in power under this administration, Liberians are worse off than they had been since 1847. The worse part to this is the mindset that our people have as a result of the sub-culture facilitated by the Sirleaf’s administration. No trust, no honesty and no patriotism in Liberia anymore. Even one time human rights lawyers are now the bullies and suppressors, and once political grassroots’ progressives are now the now economic suckers and plutocrats, enjoying the fruits of corrupt and exploitation. Everyone is in it for themselves. Ritualistic killings in Liberia today exceed the days of the Allen Yancy’s era.
A typical life under a tyrannical regime is more than hell while that of a dictatorship is near hell. In brutal dictatorships, the citizens live in servitude and in dishonest dictatorship, the citizens live in extreme poverty because their government withholds economic and social development through favoritism, nepotism, wide spread corruption, divide and rule methods, deceit, lies and cover-ups, high unemployment, bad roads, poor educational system, unlivable wages, patronage, hegemony, unexplained political assassinations and extra judicial killings, unwarranted imprisonments, and financially-supported falsehood or propaganda in the international media. Moreover, the people living in a dictatorship have no rights of free speech, actual freedom of religion, a free press or even the right to hold an opinion in opposition to the ruler. Isn’t this what is happening right now in Liberia? Citizens who, for all sincere reasons, doubt our government and political leadership based on realistic reasons and events that are occurring in the country, are arrested, intimidated, threatened, or chased out of their homes and country by a government headed by a woman, a politician, a president who too once claimed to have faced similar conditions from her predecessors: Presidents William R. Tolbert, Jr., Samuel K. Doe, Sr., and warlord Charles G. Taylor.
Looking at what we see today and knowing what we know today, many Liberians see no substantive difference between the Taylor’s regime and Sirleaf’s administration except that the Taylor regime was open and honest in what they did while the Sirleaf regime is not. Taylor’s son, Chuckie, was all things power and authority in Liberia; his cousins controlled the National Security Agency and the Forestry Development Authority, respectively. His loyalists and friends controlled all of the major areas of economic revenues while other associates made deals behind the scene. President Sirleaf has gone a bit beyond where Taylor stopped, with smartness in some areas and profound irrationality in other areas. Her sons, Robert Sirleaf is the power that be in Liberia today. One son controls the National Security Agency and another heads the nation’s central bank while other family members and loyalist are in key economically viable positions. Of course, there are those who spearhead deals and use influence behind the scenes under the patronage of the president’s big sister, Jenny Johnson-Bernard.
Knowing all of this, there are few things that are worth mentioning: No tyranny or dictatorship lasts forever. And, most dictatorships and tyrannical regimes usually have a familiar end. The most recent tyrants and dictators including Mobuto Sese Sekou of Zaire, Moammmar Khadafy of Libya, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, even our own Charles Taylor of Liberia, are clarion examples. Other mini abusers of state power who were lucky enough to subjugate their people and went scout free later on faced the wrath of God because of their sins. So, either way, a tyrant or dictator is never left of the hook. Either he or she is disgraced by the people, or punished by the true and living God. Believe it or not, it has happened and it will always happen unless a sincere repentance and change of action ensue that ensure reconciliation and goodwill. As good as former President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal was as an opposition leader and later as president, he spoiled his legacy by the alleged corruption and public theft of his own son and cronies. So instead of leaving state power as an elderly statesman in Senegal, he left power with implicit disgrace. We don’t want this for Africa’s first elected president, and I in particular don’t want this for President Sirleaf because of my daughters, who I have told and repeatedly tell that they can do anything even becoming president. Besides, I just don’t want to tell my daughters about Angie Brooks-Randolph, a Liberia diplomat who became president of the U.N. General Assembly with outstanding service. I also want to say something good about a Liberian female president too, and that should be you. For now, I can’t because all my daughters know about Liberia is Ebola, poverty, high unemployment, bad roads, ritualistic killings, poor educational and healthcare systems and a government that throws people in jail for free speech.
As things stand right now, only Eugene Nagbe, President Sirleaf’s current minister of information is the only Liberian in the world who knows that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s “legacy is written in stones.” Don’t forget Madam President, Eugene Nagbe and others once told Charles Taylor the same exact thing before. Today, some of them would deny Charles Taylor as Jesus would say: “Before the cock crows”. So please don’t listen to them, do whatever you can to be the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf we grown up knowing as children, and not one we have today as president - the one that stood for social change, collective prosperity, free speech, democracy, human rights etc., and not the one that few beneficiaries are making to cave to on the wrong side of history.
That said, it is never too late to change when one has the time, ability and opportunity to do so. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has the time, the ability and the opportunity to change from being a dictator who runs a dictatorial government in Liberia to a leader, a president that every Liberian will remember as great in their understanding and scope rather than in the understanding and liking of the president and her loyalists.
Some of us know that President Sirleaf seem to have a good heart and she paid her price for a free Liberia under past dictatorial regimes. Unfortunately, she is falling into the same category like past rulers just because she is surrounded by bad influences that might disown her or her legacy tomorrow when she shall have been out of power. We know that she can do better and we know she is a better person in many respects. Her friends should be those who see the perks in her eyes and say it instead of those who refuse to tell her the truth just because they are out for their own interests and not hers, nor the interest of our country. The sooner she let some of them go from her government the sooner she will know they did not like her but themselves. This is why her best bet is to be the leader and servant of all Liberians and not just a few. Besides, every form of advocacy in Liberia against what is wrong with government that is preached by many young Liberians today was learned from and taught by the president when she was an advocate for social and economic change. Apparently, she can’t remember why we called her “Iron Lady?” So, why are is she backtracking on what she taught many young Liberians when she was their hero?
American presidents, British, German, Canadian, Australian leaders and leaders of other democratically governed nations don’t create police states, nor do they throw critics in jails no matter what is said. All they do is to either ignore, disprove, or dispel what is said. This is what democracy is all about. If criticisms could harm, Presidents Bush, Clinton, and even Obama would have probably massacre millions of people and thrown millions more in prisons in the United States. For example, some Americans think and openly say Bush caused the 9/11 incidents, others say worse things about Bill Clinton, and for poor Obama, the level of abuse against him is unimaginable. In all these, these people show decency and tolerance not arrogance, hate and revenge. That is what we call leadership. I have no doubt President Sirleaf is capable of this legacy too.
This is the legacy that I want for my president, a woman who I love so dearly, a woman whose success I pray to see as she leaves office, a woman for whom I want Liberia to construct the first presidential library where my two young daughters will read about the prosperity of Liberians from 2006-2017 rather than reading about Ebola, suffering and deaths from preventable diseases, high unemployment, poverty, intimidation, unwarranted and false imprisonments, corruption, abuse of power, greed, favoritism, nepotism, divide and rule, manipulation, summary and false arrests, unsolved murders and more. As we move gradually into 2016, may God bless you and fill you with the wisdom and humility to make Liberia a better nation.