By Amara Quardu Mohammed Kamara
I have argued that in Sub-Sahara Africa, most demonstrations, protests, and mass citizens’ actions are deeply attributed to rant seeking, political corruption, marginalization, mismanagement, malfeasances, pronounced deprivation of wellbeing, and unequal distribution of resources on the part of the political leaderships of the continent. These several menaces have harnessed and continue to midwife civil conflicts in most parts of Africa. Here I would build a comparative analysis between Liberia and Rwanda given the conspicuous similarities of both countries’ gloomy historical past.
Like Liberia, Rwanda experienced a dreadful historic genocide that owned the lives of about 1 million Rwandans, including women and children of the Tutsi minority tribe and moderate Hutus. This happened as a result of what I have mentioned above. The Rwandan nation was completely paralyzed and failed, World Bank then referred to the country as “nonviable” the war had obliterated virtually everything, most competent bureaucrats had been killed or fled, and looters had stripped government offices down to the last piece of paper. All government institutions were looted and vandalized. When the post-conflict government of National Unity had taken charge in July 1994, the country had no running water and little electricity. The new president, Kagame, had no idea either did his colleagues have much expertise or institutional knowledge to draw on in reconsolidating the broken fabrics of the Rwandan society. Before the genocide, the country had about eight hundred judges but fewer had survived the mass slaughter. As mentioned, today, Rwanda’s case is completely different as the country has buckled its belt for governance and human capital investment; it has transitioned from hopelessness to hopefulness and is now considered as the Singapore of Africa within twenty-five years, less than what was projected for Rwanda to re-establish itself as a sovereign country and positive member of the comity of nations.
This synonymously depicts the Liberian nation. A country that was once seen as an epicenter of the fourteen years of civil conflicts from late 1989 to 2003 had embraced peace through the intervention of the then American, President George W. Bush, and other world leaders, mainly the circle of the United Nations. It is estimated that about two hundred fifty thousand people were killed during the civil conflict. Like Rwanda, the Liberian civil conflict had its historical root embedded in the class system orchestrated by the freed slaves after the rebellions in the Americas and were migrated and settled in Liberia.
The powerful elites, Congou, though a very small population, had ruled the country for almost 133 years. The natives who account for the country’s highest population had been politically and socially excluded and soon revenged against the ruling class when the opportunity for redemption availed itself. This resulted in a military coup d’état in April 1980 and resulted to Master Sgt. Samuel K. Doe and his men in arms murdering President William R. Tolbert at his Executive mansion office. This caused a prolonged period of anarchy characterized by ethnicity and plunder.
Sadly, the ringleader of the coup due to similar reasons he President Samuel K. Doe was in 1990 slaughtered by then leader of the Independent National Patriotic Front and now a member of the Liberian Senate, Sen. Prince Y. Johnson. These historical circumstances breaded the Liberian civil war, which led to massive atrocities and agony.
Following the cessation of hostilities by various parties, in 2003, the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) headed by the late Charles Gyude Bryant took charge as the country’s interim government from 2003 to 2006. This interim arrangement took the country to its first postwar democratic elections that subsequently brought the first elected female president on the continent of Africa, Mrs. Ellen J. Sirleaf. Even after the interim leadership, state capacity was limitedly weak to enhance governance and set the pace for national development. Almost every sector of the country was broken and needed to be rebuilt. Poverty and diseases had ransacked the country and its people. Liberia was considered a failed state backed by indebtedness. During the administration of the former president Mrs. Ellen J. Sirleaf, Liberia graduated from the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) from the rankings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Interestingly and despite the similar historical circumstances that beclouded the two countries, Liberia is yet to regain its full capabilities in governance, rule of law, and inclusive, sustainable development. Currently, reconciliation and political division are increasing challenges to national unity and development. Unlike Rwanda, the lessons of the civil conflict have not resonated with the country’s government and people. There are visibly vices that are considered conflict triggers: corruption, inequality, and social discrimination. Rwanda’s rebirth is accredited to the country’s progressive leadership championed by H.E President Paul Kagame, whose immaculate leadership has led his country to rapid economic and human capital development.
Can Protests and Demonstrations Hold in Rwanda?
This is hypothetical considering the progress that the country is making with the full participation of about 12 million Rwandans who have embraced peace and harmony and involved in the rebuilding efforts of their great country. There seem to be zero iotas of citizens’ actions or any act of political instability because the country has spectacularly positioned itself to achieve economic and social development of its people and onward ensure sustainable livelihoods. The reason I have not seen nor heard about demonstrations and protests in Rwanda or even attempting to coin a campaign for “Kagame Step-down” is that governance in Rwanda is participatory. The leadership ensures the country’s economic development like agricultural, employment, empowerment, job creations, regional trades, digital economy, and infrastructural development, etc. is done collectively with inclusivity being the hallmark.
Rwanda runs a private sector-driven economy through the privatization of major parastatals and public-private partnerships. To ensure rural dwellers’ involvement in economic activities, the government with supports from development partners has invested millions of dollars in the agricultural sector which ensures food security and job creations for farmers across the country. While the private sector is reducing unemployment in the youthful population, skilled and unskilled youths are being employed in Rwandan firms and industries and as well as foreign investments. Now, drawing from this economic approach, would you think that Rwandans will stand up for protests and frequent demonstrations? A strong economic framework can birth social and political stability which keeps the people actively engaged and developmental.
For Liberia, our case is totally different and highly punctuated with a question mark “?”. Those vices that orchestrated our civil conflict are empirically vivid in present-day Liberian society. They have not abated at all! We have not fully reconciled as a country, neither have we learned the lessons of the past. We have failed to win the war against political corruption, marginalization, unemployment, and systemic mismanagement of our natural endowments. These menaces have kept us dependent and undermined Liberia’s economic prosperity for decades. This aspect has given reasons for mass-based citizens’ actions in demand for transformative leadership, good governance approach, and transparency in the management of the country’s resources.
Opposition parties are, of course ensuring that the government is greatly accountable to the governed drawing on its manifestos/development framework which keeps the opposition parties reminded on checks and balances in government. In both governments (Sirleaf and Weah), there have been calls to terminate the tenures of the regimes in the names of Ellen Step-down and Weah Step-down Campaigns by citizens and politicians based on extreme poverty and lack of sustained economic development of the people.
The Sirleaf Chronicles
Former president Ellen J Sirleaf is remembered for ensuring efficient and effective performance of the ministries, departments and agencies which set governance on the pace for performance through competent, experienced and skilled administrators. Most Liberian youths in her government were given opportunities for capacity development and scholarship opportunities were afforded to many Liberian students desired for foreign education, which propelled them to contribute to nation-building efforts in both private and public sectors. As mentioned, Sirleaf ensured that Liberia graduated from the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) from the rankings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Her accomplishments are enormous, as she built roads that connected Liberia’s capital Monrovia to connecting counties. Her efforts on infrastructural development are conspicuous. According to economists, her supports to road connectivity have created externalities for rural dwellers who are involved in farming activities. Yet, her 12 years of leadership was expected to have created the country’s development framework on the foundation of radical economic development that will guarantee employment of Liberian youths who account for nearly 60% of our population considering her strong relationship with Washington and aids received from donor countries and institutions. This was not achieved and opportunities to achieve them were squandered due to classic corruption, malfeasance, rant seeking and the mismanagement of the country’s resources.
Madam Sirleaf’s policy on salaries of some heads of government was astronomically high while civil servants were working poor. Like many others, the former Maritime boss, Hon. Binyal Kesselly was alleged to have received a monthly salary of USD 25,000 amidst rampant corruption, extreme poverty, massive unemployment, declining economy, infant and maternal mortalities, extreme crime rates, and fragile healthcare delivery services across Liberia. While heads of SOEs and autonomous agencies, Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation, National Oil Company of Liberia, National Port Authority, Liberia Telecommunications Authority, and Liberia Revenue Authority amongst others allegedly received 15 to 20 USD as monthly salaries. This happened when healthcare workers were frequently on go-slow actions in demand for increment and incentives, while lecturers at the state-run University and other public colleges were similarly abandoning classes due to low budgetary allotments. At the same time, the unemployed youths were regularly seen agitating for sustained jobs and skills that will make them potential citizens. As a result of fiscal indiscipline in her government, state coffers were depleted and our resources were gang-raped and bastardized. Dating to Sirleaf’s administration, I argue that her legacy is marked by systemic controversy “some done – some na done” while I appreciate significant progress/reforms in governance and public bureaucracy, but at the average, our people were robbed of their dignity and condemned to extreme poverty!
Is Gbekugbeh Learning from his predecessor?
Well, one would not conclude President George M. Weah’s success or failure as he has gone nearly 2 years of his 6 years term. However, what seems to be vivid is the incompetence of the bureaucrats who supposedly run the day to day activities of the executive branch of government. His early approach to governance was highly unorthodox; positions were rewarded to his loyalists and partisans based on political reciprocity, not competence as it has termed to be. Nevertheless, Mr. Weah has got a spectacular history to learn from Mrs. Sirleaf. Vices that were ingrained in Sirleaf’s administration are unearthing in his government wearing reflective jackets. His government is accused of massive corruption and siphoning of the state coffers for personal initiatives with a practical example of his duplexes and the Jamaica resort property. This accusation has triggered numerous protests in demand of accountability in the case involving the 16 billion Liberian dollars that were allegedly confiscated and unaccounted, and as well calls for the Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of Liberia to provide findings on the expenditure of the 25 million dollars meant to mob up the economy. Sadly, the president has remained tightlipped on these multiple accusations, and the economic prosperity of his people remains a fantasy. This has certainly rejuvenated the campaign to oust him from the presidency through a protest designed “WEAH STEPDOWN” under the canopy of Counsel of Patriots. Conventional wisdom dictates that poverty and hunger cannot be compromised; when the people are excessively hungry, they result in demanding radical solutions to instantaneous change. This has led to forceful removal heads of governments in Africa and elsewhere.
The question of how we change the narrative remains a task to ponder. There are diverse views as to how the former can be changed, and the country’s economic development is secured. Some argue that a lack of political will on the part of our leaders has increased the existing problems, while others believe that Liberia’s problems are tied to its historical foundation and the behavioral issues “mentality of the people” towards the country remains structurally undeveloped. As for pundits and academics, they argue that the quality of leadership sets the country for progress and sustainable development. The above is true.
For instance, economic hardships are common and prevalent in weak and developing countries in Asia and sub-Sahara Africa, which are caused as a result of policy failures, implementation gaps, and state-capacity gaps. However, the latter can be solved, and the solutions are considered sustainable when applied. First, the Liberian government should consider effective and efficient political leadership will enable our leaders to be deeply committed to radical economic reforms in practical terms and advance working solutions to our existing problems. Second, the government must increase supports to public projects that will, in turn, attract investments and create avenues for employment and favorable policies that attract foreign investments and boom local economies. Third, most likely, the government is advised to invest in the agricultural sector which is the bedrock for economic growth and development. It is the ladder used by advanced and developing economies to support economic development and macroeconomic stability. Lastly, rule of law which drives citizens and investors’ confidence in the state should be uncompromised; people must have trust in the system to seek redress at all time and impartial judgment is served regardless who is involved. This will further ensure judicial independence. To end hunger and poverty as part of SDGs 1&2 developing economy like Liberia must prioritize agriculture development as a major frontier for economic development which will support human and infrastructural developments, job creation for both unskilled and skilled laborers, food security, contribution to national income, pre-requisite for raw materials and as well earn valuable foreign exchange through export of our agricultural products are major advantages of the sector.
Peace and development are intrinsically intertwined. For a lasting and reliable peace to be attained, it is significantly fundamental for the government to consider economic systems that can generate sustained economic growth, guarantee for the mass of the people’s economic prosperity and development. Depression or prolonged deprivation by itself is a conduit for social conflict and as well as routine protests and demonstrations against political leadership. This aspect was not vividly recognized by ex-Liberian president, Mrs. Ellen J. Sirleaf. Critics argue that she received impressively global recognitions and accolades, which did not translate practically to reconciliation and economic development of her country and people. Drawing from Rwanda’s experience in peace, conflict management, and prevention, it’s imperative that the current leadership of the country models its development framework as Rwanda given that both countries share similar historical experiences in terms of conflict triggers a lesson that has resonated greatly with governance in East Africa. In the aspect of the Presidency, it’s essential for the President to surround himself with a team of experts; local and international, comprising persons of diverse backgrounds: technicians, technocrats, architects, experienced administrators, legal pundits, diplomats, public policy experts, to review, analyze, evaluate and advise the president on social, economic, political, and foreign policy issues of the country. These experts will also review critically void of political maneuvering, all policy issues arising from the legislature and the judiciary, and well as ministries, departments, and agencies for the president to have an informed decision on the state of affairs. Doing this will restore public confidence and get the nation on track to progressive nation-building. WE WANT PEACE!
About the author:
Amara Quardu Mohamed Kamara is an emerging Rwanda trained Project Management and Development Specialist. He is currently pursuing his Postgraduate studies in MSc in Project Management and MA in Development Studies, a double master’s initiative. He holds a strong background in Public Relations, Communications, and Leadership. He is also a former youth and student activist in his native country, Liberia. He has experience working in both Public and Private Sectors in several functions for the past eight (8) years. He is an immediate past Executive Director of Forum for Democratic Initiatives, A pro-Democratic Organization. He can be contacted on +250738127175 WhatsApp.