THE HICCUPS OF REBUILDING: IS THE JOHNSON-SIRLEAF ADMINISTRATION
UP TO THE TASK?
By Jeremiah J. Kringar Harris
The shallow foundation and inequities of the Liberian political system, though evident to many Liberians for quite some time, were brazenly exposed to the world when Samuel Doe staged the military coup of 1980. It is now apparent that the motives of Doe and his cohorts were predicated more on their zeal for political aggrandizement, than the eradication of rampant corruption as they exclaimed in a most stentorious fashion. The situation was further exacerbated when the Political Soldiers of Fortune who surrounded Samuel Doe, misled him into embracing the politics of ethnicity. This eventually plunged the country into a civil war, so brutal that it reduced the Liberian nation to a scarecrow of its former self. The process of recovery and reconfiguration from this serious reversal in the historical sequence of our once great nation has only now begun. Lest a lapse in our national memory takes us down a pathway fraught with a false sense of security, we must remember the need for reconciliation in the wake of the polarization which now besets our nation. Unless our political leaders take heed of the nagging mistakes of our recent past, we risk revisiting an era that has the potential to completely disembowel the nation and lead to its eventual demise as a body politic. Given the stakes involved, we cannot let this happen!
In recent months, we have held national elections of undoubtedly enviable transparency, and elected a President, Africa’s first female leader. Now that the difficult task of national reconfiguration has been in progress for little more then six months, the pundits and the skeptics have begun to ponder whether the President and her administration are up to the task of restoring our nation to its former pre-eminence. A sixth sense tells me that, although it is too early to arrive at an accurate conclusion as to what the government is capable of, there are unfolding events that if left unaddressed could determine the success or failure of the government as it implements its agenda.
The President began her term by assembling a coterie of highly competent technocrats to man her economic team. All of these technocrats, specifically in the ministries of Finance, Planning, Commerce and Land, Mines and Energy, have been employees of International Organizations and have consequently been exposed to differing models of economic problems and solutions that plague most developing nations. This is an excellent beginning for an administration that must create and bring economic viability to the nation. However, the fate of this administration will be mostly determined on the battlefield of the nation’s political landscape. The Government must look at its evolving economic and social strategy through a political spectrum or risk massive discontent in the society. Case in point; recently, the government decided to downsize an admittedly bloated Civil Service. This, I should grant, is sound economic policy. But the question that comes to my mind is, how do you reconcile 85% unemployment in Liberia with an immediate massive lay-off of Civil Servants thus adding to the misery of the people? Is this sound politics? From all indications, it would appear that it isn’t and the Government must proceed with caution. You cannot successfully rebuild a nation after a polarizing war in the absence of compassion. An attempt to travel this route would be a formula for disaster.
Case in point 2: Just quite recently, The Director of Police, whose credentials indicate that she is capable of holding the position that she was appointed to, chose to announce her intention of arresting anyone, male or female, who wears a veil in public, under the guise of fighting terrorism. The number one Law Enforcement official in the Government is the Minister of Justice. Next to the Minister of Justice is the Director of Public who is number 2. In order to enforce the law effectively and fairly, a Law Enforcement Officer must know the law. Enshrined in the constitution of our nation are stipulations that guarantee religious freedom for all faiths. Some sects of Islam require that women wear veils in public. Their right to do so is guaranteed by our constitution, a fact that the Director of Police, the number 2 Law Enforcement Executive of the land should be aware of. Her recent pronouncements constrain one to conclude that she is ignorant of the law. Is it possible to enforce the law when you do not understand it? Does this not betray the competence of any Law Enforcement Official who displays gross ignorance of the law and the constitution? If this holds true, should that Official remain in office? I think not.
The nation is still deeply polarized. As such, there
must be reconciliation nurtured with compassion if we
must move forward. No matter how talented and brilliant
the team that leads any government in a situation similar
to what prevails in Liberia today, there would be serious
difficulties in the absence of reconciliation and inclusion,
especially so in light of the gaping hole in the fabric
of the nation’s unity. The President has thus
far done a commendable job under extraordinarily difficult
circumstances. Nevertheless, her Political Team needs
to be strengthened because it must bear the brunt of
the burden of articulating the government’s agenda.
This is the Achilles Heel of the administration and
will be the determinant of its ability to cope with
the rigors of rebuilding and reconfiguration. Specific
attention must paid to reforming and embellishing the
offices of the Executive Mansion Chief of Staff, the
Ministry of Information because the battle for the public’s
mind should be an inherent aspect of the government’s
strategy for promoting its agenda, and the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, an Agency with great potential for
bringing much needed foreign aid to Liberia. These Agencies
are crucial and strategic to the articulation of the
Government’s political and global agenda. The
Government must not lose the political battle, because
this would minimize the chances that it could be successful
in the articulation of its overall agenda. Given their
high expectations that the Government will live up to
its word, the people would be the ultimate victims of
its failure. To prevent this, we must all pool our energies.
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