By heralding Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the world deceives and neglects Liberia’s poor

Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Liberian president and “winner” of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Ibrahim Prize.

The Time for Truth! Every day has been a sad day in Liberia, at least for most Liberian families or communities. In general, poverty, hardship, and uncontrollable grief define Liberia, as most people in the country are severely lacking in basic needs in the truest sense of the word.

We can attribute some of Liberia’s problems to past leaders, including Presidents William VS Tubman, William Richard Tolbert, Jr., Samuel Kanyon Doe, Sr., Amos Claudius Sawyer, and Charles Gyude Bryant, but none of these former Liberian heads of state except Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has instituted a culture of “I really don’t care” and “It is all about me.”

This “I really don’t care” and “It is all about me” culture is having profound negative consequences on Liberia and its people now, and it will continue to impose faulty tenets in the years and decades to come if Liberians do not realize an urgent need for God’s intervention. I say God’s intervention because Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as president and former president of the country, has managed to cage the entire nation, thwarted its path for progress and is derailing its consciousness for real change even as we have put in place a new administration. She understands the psychology––greed and personal aggrandizement––of the so-called Liberian political class and the haphazard civil society and religious leaders.

Madam Sirleaf wins the Nobel Peace Prize and yet Liberians are asking: how and why?

Liberia is, in a real sense, an ungovernable nation. Nothing seems to be working, and while we have a sincere young leader in the person of His Excellency George Manneh Weah whose love and patriotism for Liberia are glaring and unmatched, his leadership is faced with tangible and invincible struggles that are engineered and perverted by the culture that Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her administration put in place and left behind. Even as the new president and his team try to make some impact, we still see challenges because Madam Sirleaf is not actually retired, she only honored a mandated term limit. She continues to operate from the sidelines, dragging everything into the picture that hurts ordinary people.  Our new president knows this and he knows it well but he has opted to tread cautiously thinking Madam Sirleaf will provide some space.

The truth is former president Sirleaf will not do so; she will be active in Liberian affairs and politics until Robert Sirleaf or one of his main surrogates can obtain state power.  The former president is a strategist and an unapologetic and restless competitor who has no sympathy for her competitors, and anyone for that matter, except the few individuals who succumbed to the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s brand, or Robert Sirleaf’s appetite.  A minute after President Weah was inaugurated at the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex, Madam Sirleaf was busy on her way home from the program strategizing on undermining him in preparation for her preferred candidate to challenge him in the 2023 presidential election.  Even before Senator Weah could win the presidential election, the former president had already put in place the mechanics to suffocate his efforts, make him fail and then marshall a challenger against him later on.

All those tenured positions, the emptying of the national treasury and the ongoing attempt to regain control of the Unity Party are signals.  All things considered, the former president will not encourage serious-minded and talented Liberians around the current president because her goal is not to see President Weah succeed.  Her objective is to ensure he fails.   So, instead of focusing on reconciling and reuniting the nation as an elderly stateswoman and using her vast international contacts to reduce poverty that she couldn’t minimize when she was busy as president, our former president is going to be in the news perpetually not for the right reasons, but for reasons Liberians can no longer stomach.

Our people are dying, poverty is to the extreme and those of us who are overseas are partaking in their suffering because we are obligated to share the little we work for, and have, with them. Yet, the world or the so-called international community glorifies this woman, our former president, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. When it comes to Madam Sirleaf and her activities, our world is either drunk or blind.

Liberians now seem to have no confidence and trust in anything called the international community. A young Liberian college student told me today by phone that the so-called international community is a “mafia club” that has no relevance and meaning to Liberians. According to him, President Donald J. Trump has every reason to doubt and question the working and wisdom of the international community because its preferences are misplaced and its priorities are frequently wrong.

Anyone can disagree with President Trump, but Liberians can stomach his rhetoric on this point given that the so-called international community has operated against vulnerable Liberians in a hypocritical manner by crowning a leader under whose regime everything is controversial at best, including the fact that our fire trucks and fire department could not even put off an arson that destroyed several properties in the capital Monrovia due to the lack of equipment.

But that is beside the point. I believe this young student derived these conclusions because of what most Liberians see happening in their country where everything is negative and where families basically live on a knife-edge. Yet still, the international community continues to develop an illusion that some magic has been worked in Liberia that has changed lives. This is appalling.

Just today, Tuesday, February 20, 2018, several buildings downtown Monrovia, the Liberian capital, caught fire and burnt to ashes. Liberia does not have a functioning fire truck nor any functional equipment.  Our fire department is a mere building inhabited by firefighters who don’t get paid for months.  There are so bore that the only mission left to carry out is to play the game of ‘checkup’.

Several months ago, the same was the case with ambulances. In fact, it was even worse during the Ebola crisis when the entire nation had no ambulance and emergency, medical technicians.

Barely two weeks ago when President Weah, Liberia’s new leader, visited the country’s largest medical facility, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, physicians there reported to him that they performed serious and life-threatening surgeries with flashlights and candlelights because of the lack of electricity. And this was and is after 12 years of Madam Sirleaf’s peaceful rule as president, a period when billions of dollars flowed in the country from foreign investments and millions more from international development and relief assistance.

Here is the saddest part of the legacy and governance culture our former president left behind: there is a culture of loot and wastefulness. Officials of government treat public funds as if there is no need to account; for transparency and fiscal discipline. Imagine, in a nation where millions of  lives remain at risk daily due to poverty, where everything is a struggle, there is news reports that authorities of the country’s central bank have allegedly allotted and deposited 300,000 (Three hundred thousands) United States dollars in the personal account of the senior management and members of the board of directors for the purchase of personal vehicles.  This supposedly happened a week before President Sirleaf turned over power to President Weah.  Where on earth can this happen except Liberia?

So our new president is telling French audience on his first official western tour that he inherited a “broke country.”

Upon hearing the news that Liberian central bank’s officials can, at will, obtain such an amount to purchase private vehicles, I drove by a Donkey Donut store and later to a McDonald’s to see how young people at these business locations work their butt up to pay taxes in the United States, part of which is used to send aid to countries like Liberia. I imagine how thousands of Americans, non-Americans including Liberians and other Africans work in nursing and group homes, caring for the elderly and the sick day and night to pay taxes, part of which is used by the United States government to send development and relief aid to countries like Liberia. Yet, officials in Liberia earn three times more than the governors of most states in the United States.

Lawmakers in Liberia earn more than United States Senators and members of Congress. Our senior judges have everything paid for, including their private homes, private chefs, private maids and more.  All these things happen because our former president created a culture of insatiable greed, wastefulness, and structural corruption. Now to undo these things have become a tug of war.  Individuals who earn the fat check and live the posh lives while millions of their countrymen and women perish are fighting back, they don’t want to let go.  THIS IS THE LEGACY THAT WE ARE A PART OF.

Yes, I am her legacy!  A phrase coined by the former president’s heartless and money-sucking western public relations disciples shrugs around Monrovia among the youth, many of them young boys and girls who are victims of former President Sirleaf’s 12 years rule from everything including poor education, high unemployment and the lack of access to preventive and follow-up healthcare services.

We can disagree with William R. Tolbert, Jr., Samuel Kanyon Doe, and even the Charles Taylor that everyone loves to hate. This kind and type of greed and corruption never happened under these leaders’ watch. These former presidents, of course, were people that Madam Sirleaf fought tooth and nail, criticizing them beyond the core.

I want to make it very clear. I have nothing personal against former President Sirleaf. My only concern is fairness, which is rooted in my training from Catholic seminaries.  Fairness sparks from time to time in me and the moral lessons from one of my mentors, the exceptional man who champion my education in various Catholic seminaries, His Grace, the late Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis awaken my soul and spirit for me to say something against these kinds of ugly occurrences.  I literarily hear the compelling voice of the late archbishop, the man who, for decades, was the moral conscience of Liberia, telling me that something is fundamentally wrong and that someone needs to say something without fear or favor.

Archbishop Francis figuratively feels wounded and might be turning in his grave with this kind of useless attitude going on in Liberia. Why are some Liberians so greedy like this? When did some Liberians start using public funds at will and for no good reasons? Did our former president realize that she mortgaged the future of Liberian children unborn with this ugly culture she created and accommodated?

God has blessed our former president. She has excelled in everything––from gaining the enormous power to obtaining enormous wealth from and in a tiny country.  The tenure positions she left behind and the individuals in them feel emboldened and obligated to no one but themselves and perhaps her.  It is the time that our former president returns God’s favor by doing the right thing for Liberia and Liberians.  It is the time that our former president realizes that God exists and thus listens to the cry of his people.  It is the time our former president understands that other Liberian mothers want a good life for their kids just as she continues to seek her beloved son Robert Sirleaf’s happiness.  It is the time our former president realizes that no matter how much wealth anyone can accumulate, they cannot take it to heaven or hell when their time comes.  Tubman didn’t; Tolbert didn’t; Doe didn’t and no will.

Our people are bleeding in poverty and hardship as corruption and graft of public funds reign. With all due respect, the only person who caused this fearless culture of open and naked corruption is our former president, and the only person that can help to address this problem is her. Madam former president, please undo what you did.  Even the CEOs on Wall Street don’t purchase vehicles for $300,000 United States dollars.  But that is the purported amount that was allegedly given to each of the top executives and board members at the central bank for the purchase of vehicles a week to incoming of President Weah into office.

This is not normal and it needs to stop.  We know and hear that these people claimed that the money is a loan.  We also know one thing: it will not be paid back.  The money wasted when Dr. Mills Jones was Governor has not be paid back.  The scheme touted as the Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI) loan at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has not been paid back.  The $18 million United States dollars given to a Nigerian former soldier and non-engineer, Tony Lawal, for road construction purposes in the Bopuolu region has also gone to waste.

Finally, this is no joke, it’s serious! I urge all Liberians to take a day of fast and prayer on Friday, February 23, 2018. We need to pray for Liberia, we need to pray for our current president, H.E. George Manneh Weah so that God will give him the strength, vision, and understanding to help our nation progress. He has the drive and the will but he needs our support and prayers. He also needs our experiences, training, and skills to help him invigorate the private sector.  Lastly, we need to pray for our former president Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf so that the Holy Spirit will descend upon her with love and kindness as well as humble her for the good of Liberia and her real legacy.

We especially need to pray for our former president to develop a heart of love for Liberia and Liberians; so that she will leave Liberian politics alone and enjoy the rest of her retirement in good health and with a peace of mind. This is the only way our nation will move forward.  As long as Madam Sirleaf continues to engage and interfere in Liberian politics, nothing will change.  In fact, we will be headed for more chaos and controversy that we have never seen before.   We have criticized her and done whatever we can and could. Nothing moves her. This is why we need to ask for God’s intervention.  Beginning February 23, 2018, I will personally begin a three-day fast and prayer for God to bless our former president and help her to do the things of God rather engage in continuous political strategizing in Liberia.

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Jones Nhinson Williams

Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian philosopher (born in Pleebo, Maryland County but hailed from River Gee County) firmly educated by the Catholic Church. He is an American trained public policy, labor market information, strategic management, and workforce development professional with accomplished global experience in job creation and institutional governance.
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