By Hawa Wesseh
When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s chief body guard, Mr. Daniel Othello Warwick few days ago threatened the Liberian free press in a barefaced and no mincing words, he put on display a raw braggadocio show of ignorance, never mind the struggles the media in Liberia witnessed and the attending abuses it suffered all these years from the very same government security: beating of journalists, burning down and arbitrarily closing down media houses. These indiscretions are still fresh in the minds of journalists and the Liberian people!
By calling the Liberian media “terrorists,” Mr. Warrick went overboard in his confused state of mind by ignoring the unique role that journalists play in the Liberian society! He said further that the Liberian security apparatus, had guns and would come after the press…, with all this being considered, you would think by now Liberia’s Nobel laureate president would have done the obvious: called him aside quietly and advise him that such statements were adverse to Liberia’s growth in a new era and asked him to apologize. Or to showing leadership, she would have publicly reprimanded him, given Liberia’s history and the myriad abuses the press suffered these many years.
But no, the Liberian president in her wisdom is reveling in the moment; it has been the president moment to smile. Why? Because the press has been at her throat of late highlighting her nepotistic tendencies that saw her hired three of her sons to prominent government positions, betraying her own convictions, that past “Liberian presidents were corrupt and nepotistic!”
What’s more, the Liberian press has highlighted Sirleaf’s homophobic, gay hating speech. Even in meeting former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the president was unfazed, intimating, “we like the way we are.” Her remarks were repulsive, betraying Liberia’s unique history of stressing equality, even if liberties have been denied its citizens by past leaders. One of Sirleaf’s staunch international and foreign supporters the United States and its States Department were forced to issue a public rebuff against Africa’s first sitting woman president and Nobel laureate for those remarks, last year! Sirleaf’s actions of late have been disgraceful to the Liberian Presidency and shameful to its people, it is the same press she recently referred to as the “Noisy Minority”. Sirleaf is showing this venomous hate towards the Liberian fourth estate because it has spared no efforts in also highlighting the rampant corruption that runs ring around the Liberian political bureaucracy; she has been slow to act on these issues of national concerns, all the more, why she hates the Liberian media. Mary Broh, reports say has complained to the president who is also her close friend that the media has not been fair to her. The president is also on record by insulting Liberian press men by calling them “check book journalist.”
It is becoming evident, that the Liberian president and her corps of government officials do not take the Liberian press seriously, given Sirleaf recent posture. Isn’t it also true that recently the Liberian chief of police, assaulted a Liberian Journalist on the grounds of the supreme court, simply because his picture was taken, and the police chief’s accusations were that the “camera light flashed in my face?” Excuse me…? When the entire press corps of a nation goes to protest—on a strike, over a very troubling remark of her senior security official, in what clearly is a threat against those who labor to report the news to keep Liberian democracy in check, you would think the Harvard educated Liberian president would understand the dynamics that guaranteed press freedom and the unique role the press play in safe guarding Liberia’s infant democracy. Every sane Liberian must bow their head, at Warrick and Sirleaf for protecting him!
Liberian journalists are not “terrorists;” they are proud patriotic Liberians who want better for their country. While there is still capacity building to be done within the media as in every professional circle in the country, given that the war has damaged everything Liberian, it cannot be over emphasized that the media has helped enormously in reconstructing the country selflessly by working hard to report the news [journalist are not well paid in Liberia], and this fact must not be lost on the powers that be, and policy makers.
Warrick remarks are disgusting; they are an insult to the gains the press has made these many years through sweat and blood. And to have the Liberian president muted over these repulsive and offensive remarks by Mr. Warrick, shows in whole sum, that in Liberia’s officialdom and government circles we now hear the murmurs what top gov’t. functionaries think about the press, from these very same officials that are living on tax payer’s generosity!
Asked by the British Economist Magazine recently, what she thought about the these developments in her country she was unfazed, like her recent, “No I will not fired them,” comments, extolling nepotism and refusing to withdraw her sons’ appointment to top government posts, Sirleaf told the London based Economist, “I’M ENJOYING this benign neglect;” she says of the national press protest that is gaining international headlines. “I wish they will continue it for a long time.” Oh really? So after all, it is safe to say, Sirleaf has paid lip service to all her so-called press freedom pronouncements, and the blah blah blah that the press is free… is it safe to say Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s signing the Table Mountain Agreement was just a show and window dressing? How and why must she protect a security official in her government who threatened the Liberian media, and then in turn, unreservedly be nonchalant, when many times in the country journalists are being assaulted by the police and the security and constantly harassed frivolously in the courts and and then, so now, must we still posit today, that she is committed to press freedom? Pretty please answer, Madame President!
The press union and civic societies must petition the Executive Mansion to withdraw Mr. Warrick’s appointment. If this saga continues, the press must lobby its African and world affiliates and especially the regional media to withdraw the “Friend of the Media in Africa award” that was given to Sirleaf. For now, it must now be noted that The Table Mountain Agreement she signed must be seen as a lip service and a futile drum beating ‘showray’.
Liberians deserve better from this president! The lots of Liberian journalists have not improved under her presidency. Free speech in every society comes with responsibility and Mr. Warrick must be held responsible for the vulgar remarks he made recently with no regards and respect to the Liberian fourth estate!
The International Federation of Journalists, concerned about these developments has added its voice by criticizing Sirleaf’s chief body guard and his remarks, while calling on President Sirleaf to take action. Mr. Warwick response, that he wasn’t “threatening peaceful citizens or … journalists” cannot be bought. His statements are self explanatory.