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President Sirleaf “Enduring Legacy”: A Rejoinder



By: Ralph Cherbo Geeplay

Let’s pick some bones with Ms. Shirley N. Brownell, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Communications Director and her well written op-ed, “Journey to Partnership: An Enduring Legacy for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.”

Shirley is fresh from a trip to Washington DC where she, Sirleaf and delegation called on high profile US officials recently, including outgoing Secretary of State and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Brownell returned home enthused, concerned that her boss’s legacy is being discussed early and her name thrown around: “even with five full years to go in her second and final term” critics say of Sirleaf, “it’s time for Ellen to think about her legacy, the legacy she will leave Liberia.”  Brownell adds, “Everything that this President does, or says, is examined, nay dissected, through the prism of how that action will affect her legacy,” but is this not true also Ms. Brownell?

As if there is something wrong with discussing the legacy of their president in an era when almost every modern president the world over is examined while still in office Ms. Brownell writes, “The word “legacy” gets bandied about in political circles [in Liberia], almost ad nauseam. With reference to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, comments abound…”

That’s right; but President Sirleaf’s legacy is not even being discussed enough, because largely the media is complacent if not jaded or co-opted. All the more, It is a legitimate issue Liberians ought to be talking about consistently in the press.  Sirleaf’s legacy deserves critical attention, for it makes for interesting media commentaries and political discussions for those interested in recent Liberian political history and how President Sirleaf policies will affect Liberians in the coming decades. She is Liberia’s first post war and Africa’s first female president, she has a huge mandate this she have admitted her self.

Since Liberians laws and systems are photocopied after the US, and it’s political developments often compared to the  U.S., where President Sirleaf and Director Brownell just returned, let’s see what the press is saying about Obama’s legacy even before he completed his first term and also as he begins his second: The Globe and Mail “Conservative chief justice saves Obama’s legacy with health-care ruling” this banner blares, [June 2012]! The story reads in part, “in the end, the judge Barack Obama has often portrayed as his nemesis saved him. By siding with the U.S. Supreme Court’s liberal wing to uphold the President’s signature health-care reform legislation, Chief Justice John Roberts has salvaged Mr. Obama’s legacy – at least until the fall presidential election.”

Obama’s legacy for example, becomes a valid issue because as president of the nation like Sirleaf, public policy is instituted on behalf of the citizenry. Their mandate places the president in the position as leader. Her governing strategy therefore deserves scrutiny from the electorate, because there are short and long term effects to the leadership she provides.

Here again, with the Republicans and Democrats fighting over taxes and spending cuts, Jeff Saut of Yahoo Finance writes “While this tax-and-spend showdown has offered little in the way of progress between Democrats v. Republicans, at least one Wall Street veteran is hopeful that a deal can still be reached, largely because of a third mitigating factor – Obama v. legacy.” In a piece titled “Obama’s Legacy Hopes Will Inspire a Cliff Compromise.”  The presidency is a powerful office, and in the case of Liberia, an imperial one, it has seen the abused of power by past Liberian chief executives, a prime raison d’être for the Liberian war!

Sirleaf’s legacy in the coming decades simply will not be judged for the most part on how many awards she won and foreign capitals visited and distance travelled, she was elected to perform, it comes with the job.

Domestically though, Sirleaf owes an explanation to the Liberian people every step of the way what she does and says while in office, whether it is the president denouncing gays [which is THE civil rights issue of our time] in a meeting with Tony Blair, or the president statements in defense of nepotism, which legal experts say violates article 5c of the constitution… And so yes, “The word “legacy” gets bandied about..,” and yes “even with five full years to go in her second and final term –,” her critics must not do the nation a disfavor by overlooking her legacy and the public policy statements she has made recently: whether it is the president dismissing legitimate critics as the “noisy minority,” or praising an autocrat copiously who dominated the Liberia presidency for three decades, sending all his political opponents packing while he preached a unification policy that is now seen to be non-reconciliatory.  It’s an irony, some have said, you cannot preach unification while you persecute the political leaders and the intelligentsia that speak for the people: [Porte, Fahnbulleh, Tweh, Wreh, Barclay, the Colemans etc] Even today Samuel Doe still have his worshipers too, and so do Taylor!

A single act on the part of any leader could forever change her/his legacy as it was with Richard Nixon and his mischievous political adventurism which have come to be known as Watergate. But sadly, Liberia political institutions are weak, too weak to bring to book the all powerful presidency, talk about the legislature and judiciary…

Also, it is true the president is recognized internationally and is touted in foreign capitals and in Liberia. Tolbert was also a very popular president abroad; he was the first African ever to be elected president of the World Baptist Alliance, a huge accomplishment then! William Tubman was also beloved by the West and popular abroad, principally because of him Liberia became an ally during World War ll.

What must be said, is that the recent bilateral agreement between the US and Liberia must be applauded, but there is nothing new to Liberian-American relations: bottom line, the Americans have never regarded Liberia the same way Monrovia sees Washington [probably because past Liberian leaders never took governing seriously] and the war prove the point!

It was Liberia greatest hour of need and it was Nigeria that put boots on the ground while marines stood guards at the Greystone compound, as pregnant women and children were butchered in the streets, matter of fact in 1990 the US intervened in Iraq for ‘humanitarian reasons’, but not Liberia! US polices towards Liberia has always been one of indifference and nonchalance. It was time, Sirleaf took serious efforts to raise the profile of Nigerian-Liberian relations; the US is a world power you cannot ignore them, but Nigeria must occupy and influential spot in Liberia’s foreign policy. Analysts say in a new century of African solidarity and constructive engagement and given Nigeria’s influence and strategic importance on the continent, efforts must be made to codify that profile significantly.

A lot of people forget today that it was the United States support for Samuel Doe that was also major contributing factor to the Liberian crisis, matter of fact they armed him. Liberia thumbed its fingers in the eyes of the Libyans at the behest of Washington because Col Kaddafi and the republican led Reagan administration had a ruckus, at the height of the cold war. The colonel in retaliation for Liberia’s loyalty to the US and Doe’s public statements against Tripoli trained and financed Taylor and his atrocious ‘popular people uprising,’ and when it was time to test the so-called “special relationship” that Liberians talk about so much frivolously,  the Americans declare Liberia’s war an internal affairs not until 300thousand people were slaughtered did George W. Bush ordered Charles Taylor to leave Liberia. Yes Dubya Bush, wonder why we love him in Liberia! The French and the British acted quickly in the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone their former colonial outposts when similar situations aroused, never mind the so-called close “connections spanning two centuries and the particularly close ties of the 1980s [which] led Liberians and others to expect that the United States would help when trouble came” says veteran editor Reed Kramer.

Today, Liberia in loyalty to the US under Sirleaf still leads the voice for Africom on the continent, despite a majority African view against it. Today Liberia and the Gulf of Guinea is the talk of town in Washington with almost all of Liberian oil wells being sold to the North American corporate giants; Liberia makes itself accessible still to the great United States, and so the so-called bilateral relations between Monrovia and Washington is nothing new! Let’s hope the new accord will bring the intended desired results, however.

Going forward, these policy issues and Sirleaf’s legacy must be debated profusely in the media, and here are the three yard sticks some analysts say president Sirleaf will be judged by in the coming years: Reconciliation, Good governance and the Economy. And this is not to say President Sirleaf has not done good things for the country. Her signature achievements reports say was wiping Liberian debts of the books, attracting investment and rebranding the country in the eyes of the international community, to which Ms. Brownell attest also.

It can’t be over-emphasized that “it’s time for Ellen to think about her legacy, the legacy she will leave Liberia.” This is not the 60s, 70s and 80s of a bye gone era of tyranny when dissent was stifled—free speech is a right not a privilege, even though with it comes responsibilities.

Today, a new generation have emerged out of the chaos: brunt by war and fleeced by desperate politicians over the past succeeding decades, they have come to love their country still even more, and this I assume includes Ms. Brownell as well. Public servants like Brownell, must be applauded for the passion they bring to their posts, however.

Consequently, this generation has seen too much suffering crowned in tears and blood a direct result of an imperial presidency whose abuse of power led the nation to almost three decades o f social disorder: political mayhem and war. If they hold their leaders feet to fire, all the more, it is a clarion call to action for higher pursuits and good governance in a new era when public policies and speeches meant for them must be scrutinized, and their president’s governing strategy now, must never become just a prerogative of the Executive Mansion and its principal secretaries and deputies. Let the debate continue and the pundits aroused, ready to read their president’s legacy and civic affairs, it is germane.

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