Liberia is really a joke, and in view of the high degree of irrationality therein, it seems there is no adult in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-led Unity Party Liberian government, and here is why.
My 9-year old daughter asked me recently: “Daddy, why was your country’s president honored last week by all its ambassadors from countries around the world?” I had no reasonable and honest answer to provide. Then she proceeded again: “Daddy, why did your country’s ambassadors had to go on national radio to boost about how well paid and how well they are taken care of by the Sirleaf’s administration when poverty is excessive in your country?” I also had no reasonable and honest answer.
These questions came from a child who, at age 6 going on to 7, convinced her classmates in the United States to raise money to support Ebola eradication and victims in Liberia, a place she proudly sees as her heritage. Yet, the grown-ups in the Sirleaf’s administration lack the basic judgment that my minor child has and so they can display and openly voice out how wealthy and care for they are in the midst of misery.
Was President Sirleaf honored by her ambassadors because she leads a nation where rape remains one of the most frequently reported crimes since 2006, according to the Liberia's Ministry of Gender and Development, and the incidence of sexual violence against women is among the highest in the world?
Was the president honored because she failed a nation where, according to United States Agency International Development (USAID), food insecurity is widespread, with every fifth household considered food insecure, mainly affecting poor rural households with informal livelihoods? The highest rates of food insecurity in the country are found in Bomi (55 percent), Grand Kru (46 percent), and River Cess (45 percent) counties etc.
Was the president also honored simply because she leads a nation where 64 percent of its citizens live below the poverty line, of whom more than 1.3 million are in extreme poverty (UN World Food Programme, 2013-2017), where the infant mortality rate is 69.19 percent (UNDP, 2014), and where the real unemployment rate has been estimated at 85 percent (CIA World Factsheet – 2003-2009) when the country’s population was just 3.5 million (prior to the nation’s refugee self-repatriation) when corruption was, at least, curtailed but now is about 93 percent among a population of 4.5 million (an increase of 1.5 million people) and when corruption is in the roof?
Or, is our president obsessed with honors and accolades, even after winning an uncertain Nobel Peace Prize and numerous other debatable awards from every corner where money speaks and global public relations lacks moral lenses?
After more than 12 years of relative peace and sustained global development and humanitarian support, Liberia remains so sad and miserable (with poor educational system, deplorable healthcare, massive unemployment and hunger) to the point that we, as a people and nation, have no basic respect outside of the sub region. And yet, our so-called Liberian ambassadors around the world left their various postings, on tax payers’ money, to travel to Monrovia for a self-seeking and self-absorbed ceremony to honor our president. No wonder why current U.S. president Donald J. Trump has proposed reduction in international assistance to countries such as ours.
Instead of undertaking their normal eye-service fellowship with President Sirleaf, some of the Liberian diplomats elected to broadcast on national radio how well-paid they are and how well they are taken care of by President Sirleaf and her failed Unity Party-led administration. Perhaps, the president is honored and showered with gifts for wilfully neglecting poor and abused Liberian school-age girls and traumatized boys to instead feed fat-cat do-nothing diplomats.
Despite the many wrongs in the country, some of us have tried very hard to like and respect our president and accommodate the failed Unity Party-led administration, but to see the president and her entire leadership condone unsound boosting about financial and material gains from her praise-singing diplomats and officials is plainly unfair to every poor Liberian child and struggling mothers in a nation led supposedly by Africa’s first woman ‘democratically’ elected head of state.
The real question is, why did the president subjugate thousands of unemployed Liberian youth and hungry kids to her diplomats’ groundless boosting about how well-paid they are? This is not only mind-blowing, it is reckless to the core. Equally, this surely leaves one to wonder as to what kind of presidency or historical perspective does the president wishes to leave behind?
Given the recent episode, we can assert that it is one thing not to listen to humanity; it is quite another thing not to listen to God. From the look of things, even God, it seems, has given up on the current Liberian administration because its principals and bedfellows have no fear of God, and this is what makes things even worse. Let us pray that God may bless their souls now and on judgment day.
It does not require classical moralists to determine that no morally acclimated national administration will listen to any group of pretentious diplomats to stain their aura while kids die from hunger and the lack of preventive health care. Only in Liberia where there are no public libraries, good roads, schools, equipped health facilities and more is this possible.
For the record, Liberia has been in transitional recession since 2008 when the open season for public theft, cronyism, nepotism, insatiable greed, autocracy and oligarchy began. Consequently, the country is still ranked 207 among 208 nations in the world, merely followed by long-standing dictator Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Inflation is now 8.5 percent (IMF 2017) and gross domestic expenditure on research and development (R & D) is zero or non-existent (IMF 2017).
Also, due to widespread corruption, bogus contracts and fake development projects, public debt –general government gross debt as a percent of GDP rose from 27.5 percent in 2013 to 46.2 percent in 2017 (IMF 2017). This is largely facilitated by greed and corruption, especially as the administration is, probably, soon to exit the scene of national leadership. The country’s largest companies’ index is zero (Forbes Global 2000 – 2017). Government bond rating is also zero (Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s). Yet, our ambassadors, many of whom are severely unproductive, abandoned their posts to honor our president.
Considering the stated blurred and dismal atmosphere in Liberia, our ambassadors whose main success is to sleep, eat ice cream and drive around with chauffeurs in fancy cars in foreign nations have nothing to do but to also boost about their government-provided care and luxury at the expense poor Liberian women and children. The regrettable nature of the entire honoring ceremony was the fact that not a single ambassador could state how his or her service has led to the establishment of factories, or any knowledge-based economic entities in any parts of Liberia.
These and many reasons are why some of us are now beginning to understand why Liberia is sick and why our leaders are emboldened as charged villains in various corrupt acts, fraud, sycophancy and failure. In addition, the Unity Party-led administration is careless because we seem to have many injudicious Liberians who are beholden to blind support and baseless loyalty. Our ambassadors are classic example.
For the sake of arguments, even if these diplomats are well-paid and care for as they claimed, is that something they need to boost about in a nation where the average family lives on less than US$1.00 dollar a day, where the largest employer is the nepotistic and corrupt Unity Party-led administration that is filled with money-stealing and money laundering plutocrats? Is this something they need to say when young Liberian mothers are dying from childbirth due to poor healthcare or the lack of health facilities, when youth and women are scrambling to be employed, when seniors and the disabled lack care, when nurses, doctors, police officers, fire service workers, teachers and other civil servants who earn below universal minimum wages have not taken pay for the past several months? Isn’t this crazy?
But with all the craziness going on inside Liberia today, we still see some Liberians and paid foreign nationals (posing as intellectuals) on various social media and in Liberian forums defending many of our imprudent elected and appointed officials / diplomats that we called leaders. My mother used to say “it is better to be uneducated and illiterate then to be half-educated, or to be an educated fool and literate.” Anyone who provides any defense for the current idiocy in Liberia needs serious clinical evaluation.
However, there seems to be many half - educated and educated wits on social media and in Liberia posing as honest Liberians and defenders of what is wrong. This is exactly why I reasoned with my old lady's philosophy.
How do we move forward as a decent and prosperous nation when dishonesty, untruths and self-aggrandizement make some of our citizens and paid foreign nationals vulnerable to the status quo? Why will anybody in their right mind defend the indefensible when nothing in Liberia seems admirable since the Unity Party-led administration took power? From 2006 to now, we have had people that had no savings accounts some five to ten years ago, or that had worked as attendants and non-essential professionals while in the diaspora becoming millionaires overnight without accountability. We have seen and condoned classic perfidy, greed, heartless and reckless corruption and nepotism at every level in our government, even as we tried to keep the peace and reduce the criticisms.
Yet, while some level-headed individuals are trying hard to unveil the wrong in our nation by pointing us in the right direction, we still have some Liberians and paid foreign nationals applauding the psychosis in the country. No wonder we are a laughing hoard around the world. Even our neighbors, mainly Ghanaians, Sierra Leonean and Ivoirians, think we have a terrible educational system and a deficit in political and economic morality.
And the proof is, many of our government officials depend on Ghana for all things reasonable. Besides, I tend to believe my Ghanaian friends when they provide such an argument because if the mentality of some Liberians who, even though, have terrible living conditions, still defend the scallywags in our nation.
The reality is nobody finds pleasure blaming or criticizing President Sirleaf. On the other hand, the president has created a blockade to alternative and reasonable ideas and goodwill. The fact is, this is not about criticizing the president, or attacking her person or character. It is about speaking the truth and outlining the struggles of the Liberian people who have been neglected over and again. We expected our president to change her surrounding and listen to opposing views, recommendations and ideas from the outside, or the other side after ten years of failure. But over a period of twelve years, she has repeatedly and perhaps deliberately failed to do so and so she finds her entire administration in a bubble, filled with and surrounded by a small number of people who only care about themselves and their families.
Moreover, it clearly appears that the president finds pleasure in being surrounded by the same more people that make her administration and "efforts" to fail time and again. In addition, the president’s failure to be humbled, and her inability to forgive and accommodating of diverse views is also a serious factor.
No one person can be right all the time. Even Jesus Christ once acknowledged that some of his disciples were wrong. Jesus Christ also not only forgive his opponents or enemies, he prayed for and fed them. Our president needs to have a forgiven heart; she needs to learn to work with people who disagree with her as well as those who choose to remain honest and true to their values and principles. All of us cannot be liars, sycophants and praise-singers, because if we all do, Liberia will be more than Sodom and Gomorrah.
Unfortunately, it is late for President Sirleaf and the Unity Party-led administration to impact anything in Liberia with just nine months remaining in her reign. The best she and the Unity Party-led administration can do now is to leave Liberia in peace by ensuring that we have a free and fair democratic presidential and parliamentary elections, and a smooth and honest transition process from her failed Unity Party-led government to a new and promising incoming elected administration. She can also add some elements of national reconciliation and openness to alternative views as well as eliminate the politically motivated prosecutions of perceived enemies.
In the equation of Liberia, what the president also fails to understand is that, behind her back, the same group of political loyalists and economic beneficiaries say how marginalized they are by the presidency and the president's family. So what should we believe or do? Is the president going to wait until the same people around her begin to pen offensive books about her and the failed Unity Party-led administration before she understands that these people have no real loyalty to her nor to Liberia? Has she seen the wave of political defections from the Unity Party and her failed administration? Doesn’t she realizes that if her administration and the Unity Party’s policies were good and successful, there wouldn’t have been any defection and excuses by higher level officials in her government?
I am not a lawyer. By western standards, I am a globally known public policy, job creation and workforce development professional, and a strong refugee and strategic governance advocate. But I know that in law, there is something called "standing." One has to have "standing" in the court of law in order to have a reasonable case. That said, many of us point out the ills in Liberia and the debauched practices by the Unity Party-led government because we have what lawyers called "standing" to do so.
We are all Liberians and we have relatives and fellow citizens who are impacted by the bad leadership and excessive corruption in our nation. If our fellow Liberians and relatives have jobs or can afford to send their kids to good public schools, have access to preventable healthcare etc., I and many other fortunate Liberians will not have to worry about hearing news of hardship from them back home. Moreover, most Liberian clearly want to return home from exile and refugee camps just like the president and her administration’s economic beneficiaries did some twelve years ago. On the other hand, when we hear bad news from our people about how terrible things are, it affects us in many compelling ways.
In spite of all these, some of us have repeatedly tried very hard to assist the Unity Party-led administration and the president in particular, but they have closed every door to good ideas because such ideas would defeat corruption and all the unscrupulous practices therein.
As head of an entire state’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States, for example, I am regarded as an accomplished labor market professional with expertise on job creation policies and workforce development. In view of these expertise and love for our people and nation, we have proposed to the Liberian president policies and a program proposal to create one million jobs in five years. They killed that idea. As a form of creating shovel-ready jobs and promoting tourism, we also proposed the establishment of a presidential center for all Liberian presidents, including the sitting president. They killed that too. These are just few of the many good ideas we have advanced not because we want jobs, but because we want our people to have employment and improved living standards.
Prior, we also proposed digitalizing the criminal justice system and ensuring that our judiciary is technology-based without any cost to the Liberian government. They killed that idea as well.
Then we proposed the establishment of a Liberia national correctional enterprises that will turn our central and other prisons into industrial complex where inmates become productive citizens. That too was killed.
In fact, when we proposed the idea of web-basing the criminal justice system and gave the concept paper to the appropriate authority, they bypassed and double-crossed us by sending the documents to the US Embassy in Monrovia, asking for money. The US Embassy, in turn, sent the proposal to USAID in DC for contract bidding.
So, instead of a Liberian firm that came up with the concept getting the contract, a foreign company will, instead, get the contract and funds, and the project may never be seen.
This is the kind of leadership we have got, and yet when we point out what is wrong then we are seen as antagonists, opposition and politicians.
Some of us didn't grow up wanting to be a politician or to criticize government. I studied to become a Catholic priest and that was my passion and commitment. But when people who opposed past administrations and even orchestrated the destruction of our nation and the deaths of our people, just because they wanted state power, are doing the direct opposite or even worse than past administrations and officials have done, some of us are morally compelled to say something. The Unity Party-led administration under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has taken Liberia on a path far worse than any Liberian administration in history, and this is so because the president, our president, has repeatedly failed to provide a just, reasonable, honest, moral and constructive leadership.
As a proponent of liberation theology and an admirer of the late Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and my great mentor and academic sponsor, the late Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis, my conscience is to speak truth to power and to challenge such power if need be, even if it means I die doing so.
President Ellen Johnson -Sirleaf and her Unity Party-led administration have not only failed Liberia; they have betrayed and used the Liberian people in a very terrible way. Twelve years is more than enough to rebuild and heal a nation. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who has no degree from any university in Africa nonetheless Harvard, did it in a country where the worse genocide and civil conflict ever occurred. So, there is no excuse to be given in the case of Liberia after more than twelve years of peaceful rule. In fact, Kagame is regarded as one of the best and the most developmentally progressive and innovative presidents in Africa.
In six unbroken years, we have tried to make our president see reason, to the point that we have received criticisms from people that vehemently believe in our moral leadership, but this president refuses to listen. Therefore, the gloves are off in ways that we will speak up.
Are we going to die or be killed like Harry Grieves for speaking up? If that be the case so should it be. But our moral education from the Catholic priestly vocation requires that we stand up to the ongoing wrong against our nation and people and we must do so now.
I abandoned my vocation to the priesthood to stand up to Charles Taylor (with whom I shared nephews and nieces) when Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and many of the Unity Party-led economic beneficiaries in Liberia were refugees. Today, because of that moral authority and the true courage some of us displayed, Mrs. Sirleaf can boost of being Africa's and Liberia's first woman president.
We cannot continue on a wrong path when Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana and other neighboring states are making immense progress. The replica notion that we are always trying as a nation, even after 12 years of failed leadership and the subjugation of our people, must come to an end.
It is time Liberia became economically self-sufficient, socially cohesive, and politically moral!
About the Author: J. Nhinson Williams is a Liberian citizen and an accomplished professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org