By Jones Nhinson Williams
Every Liberian, and indeed the 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 country and people by himself.
A tyrant persecutes, imprisons and even kills anyone who stands in his way and his desire for power, wealth and authority. Tyrants are generally considered to be evil as they only care about keeping power at any cost, including the Lives 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. This is why many 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 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, and has a so-called 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 of everything we have seen since President Sirleaf came to power is exactly this. After a decade in power, 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 culture facilitated by the Sirleaf’s administration. No trust, no honesty and no patriotism in Liberia anymore. 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, widespread corruption, divide and rule methods, deceit, lies and cover-ups, high unemployment, bad roads, poor educational system, unbelievable 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 son, 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, such as 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 face the wrath of God because of their sins. So, either way, a tyrant or dictator is never left of the hook. 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.
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 from2006-2017 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.
About the Author:
Jones Nhinson Williams is a Catholic educated philosopher and an American trained public policy professional. He was instrumental in restoring Liberia from factional conflicts and corruptible wars to a normal functioning society and democratic governance. In addition, he provided the framework for the country’s2003 -2005 national disarmament process pro bono. Since 2003, he has been aiding African immigrants around the world and working toward solutions that would enable all Liberian refugees throughout Africa and in the west to return home. He has served as head of the Jewish Family Services International Refugee Program; has worked at a policy and management level in labor economics’ programs and workforce development institutions, and is an international advocate against forced migration, and on refugee flow, food insecurity, and the philosophy of governance. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org