ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF: THE REAL MACHIAVELLI OF LIBERIAN POLITICS
By Kokulo L. Nyanquoi, III
Lower Margibi, Liberia
Love or hate her, we must admit that this cunning, deceptive, and heartless woman called Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been the wizard dribbler of Liberian politics since the 1970’s.
Ellen’s Treacherous Deeds During the Tolbert and Doe Regimes.
Although Tolbert was gracious enough to incorporate Ellen in his government where she served as in lots of capacities including Minister of Finance, Ellen worked underground with opposition forces and plotted Tolbert’s removal. She was the sitting Finance Minister at the time of the coup in 1980 but was not even questioned by the military junta who at the time put thirteen officials of the Tolbert government on firing squad. As compared to Ellen who was a senior cabinet minister, some of the officials shot on the pole were junior ministers.
Ellen was rewarded with the position of President of the Liberia Bank of Development and Investment (LBDI) after the coup. Ellen’s deceptive nature did not stop her from undermining the Doe government. After a brief period in the Doe government, she left the country and started actively sponsoring opposition forces. She at one point even rained insults at Doe calling him an idiot. She went to America and convinced young Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa, who was at the time pursuing studies, to return to Liberia to lead a coup d’état in Liberia in order to remove Doe and install her (Ellen) as the next President of Liberia. Quiwonkpa failed in his mission and was brutally killed. His body parts were distributed all around Monrovia.
Ellen and Charles Taylor
But Ellen’s deep quest to acquire power at all cost again led her to turn to someone else who she thought she could use – Charles Taylor, who was at the time locked up in a prison in Massachusetts for allegedly stealing US$1 million from the Doe government. Ellen used her personal connection with late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy and some others in the US system to facilitate the escape of Taylor from Plymouth prison in Massachusetts. She then became one of the chief financiers/fund-raisers for Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). During the early stages of Taylor’s rebellion, Ellen would cross the border from Cote d’Ivoire into Nimba County in order to spend time with Taylor and his band of young fighters in Nimba County.
When Taylor had advanced within few yards of the Executive Mansion but could not take over because of stiff resistance from Doe’s forces, Ellen was brave to have instructed Taylor in a BBC interview to destroy the mansion and she would rebuild it in three days. (The mansion was burnt in 2006 but because of broad-day theft on the part of Ellen, her son, Robert Sirleaf, and the late Minister of State Dr. Edward McClain, President Ellen has not been able to renovate the mansion in 12 years in spite of the huge amount of money that has been pumped into the project).
Ellen support to Taylor was premised on the assumption that Taylor would do the dirty work and invite her to take over the government. But just as Ellen is treacherous, so too is Charles Taylor. So Taylor did not live up to the deal. Therefore, Ellen was left with no other option but to actively work for the removal of Taylor from power. She gave underground support to almost all the rebel movements that fought Taylor and finally removed him from power and did not rest until Taylor found himself in a London jail on a 50-year jail term.
President Ellen and Gyude Bryant
Because all along Ellen had succeeded in pretending to the Liberian people that she was against corruption, they voted her President of Liberia in spite of her terrible record of supporting the civil war and violently removing past leaders. From the beginning, Ellen made some to believe she was really serious to deal with corruption, at one point labeling it Public Enemy No. 1. Despite strong advice from many persons in and out of her government as well as members of the international community urging her not to do so, Ellen was heartless enough to have jailed former Interim President Gyude Bryant on corruption charges.
Ellen and Her Corrupt Cartel – Robert Sirleaf, Amara Konneh et al
For the most part of her first term in office, Ellen succeeded in pretending to the Liberian people that she meant well, so they re-elected her as President in 2011. Knowing fully well that she would not need to go to the Liberian people for re-election, Ellen did not feel compelled any longer to hide her dirty ways from the Liberian people. She then began to do what even her admirers in the international community thought she would never do. She appointed her openly gay son, Robert Sirleaf, Chairman of the Board of the national oil company (NOCAL) and made one of Robert’s intimate partners, Amara Konneh, the terribly corrupt and incompetent young man with an IT background, Minister of Finance. With the exception of a few positions in the government, Robert and Amara determined who occupied government posts during Ellen’s second term. That’s how they recruited scores of incompetent and corrupt individuals and gave them big titles in government. The criteria for elevation in government, for the most part, was not whether a person was competent but whether the person had paid his night dues to Robert Sirleaf and Amara Konneh.
The corrupt and heartless duo, Robert Sirleaf and Amara Konneh, through broad-day theft and incompetence, would go on to destroy the institutions that they headed. Robert stole millions of dollars from NOCAL and by the time he could leave, that multi-million dollar company could hardly meet its basic obligations. Amara Konneh, assisted by his band of funny men, James Kollie, Sebastian Muah and others, broke down the economy and left it in a state of paralysis from which it has yet to recover. One of Robert boys, Axel Addy was made Minister of Commerce and has succeeded in crippling the commerce of the country. Meanwhile, Ellen’s sister, Janice Bernard alias Aunty Jenne was not to be left out of this despicable competition to loot from Liberia. She became the conduit through which corrupt Lebanese nationals, George Abi Jaoudi and others, would loot from the country through a host of corrupt deals.
Realizing that they had gotten themselves deeply soaked in rampant corruption and that they might have to face the day of reckoning someday, Ellen and clique began to worry about protection after they leave power. Not trusting that anyone else could protect them like they would do for themselves, Ellen and her cartel initially toyed with the idea of making either Robert or Amara succeed Ellen as President of Liberia. However, when Robert’s attempt in 2014 to enter the Senate as a stepping stone to a potential presidential run was met by massive defeat at the polls, it became clear to the Ellen cartel that Robert was for the time is not a good option. They then started to toy with the outlandish and comical notion of making Amara Konneh President. They would, however, backtrack quickly from such fantasy when all the feelers were pointing to the fact that Amara was nothing but bad news. The new plan was to make Amara the Vice Standard Bearer to one of the major presidential contenders so that through one means or another he would eventually ascend to power. Charles Brumskine was the first presidential candidate approached on this, but Brumskine threw it out of the window. Vice President Joseph Boakai also could not stomach the possibility of making Amara his running mate because he considered Amara an excess baggage.
Ellen’s Support to the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)
When it became clear that none of her two favorites were acceptable options, Ellen pinned her hopes on making one of her stooges, former Senate Protempore, Gbehzongar Findley the running mate to Joe Boakai. But when Joe Boakai did not yield to Sirleaf and selected a different running mate, Ellen was angry. When scores of activists and former officials of government whose fearlessness and principle-mindedness Ellen is not a stranger to start joining the Boakai camp, Ellen and her cartel panicked. The return to Liberia after seeking medical attention and straight on the Boakai campaign trail of Ellen old-time rival, Cllr. Varney Sherman, who Ellen had decided to prosecute on weak charges of corruption in the Global Witness saga, was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The sole intent of Ellen prosecution of Sherman was to prevent the possibility of Sherman being selected by Joe Boakai as Boakai’s as Vice Standard Bearer of the Unity Party.
Indeed that die had been cast. There and then, Ellen and her cartel had to make some quick decisions. They could not allow power to slip from their hands. The millions Ellen had pumped into making Brumskine president seemed to be yielding little impact as evidenced by polls Ellen herself sponsored. It had become clear that the Liberian people were in no mood to elect any Americo-Liberian president, so Brumskine’s presidential bid would go so far and no further. Sirleaf, therefore, decided to dash Brumskine at a critical moment when her continued support would have meant so much to his campaign. Sirleaf was faced with a stark choice.
Against her true will, she had to settle for one of the two leading indigenous candidates – Joe Boakai or George Weah. Her concern was which one of the indigenous candidates could dance to Ellen and her evil wishes. It was not quick for the Ellen cartel to arrive at the conclusion that George Weah would be the safest route to use to avoid prosecution for years of theft and, in a sense, become the true power behind the throne.
For one thing, Ellen and her cartel evaluate Weah as unsophisticated and limited and could therefore easily bend to the wishes of the cartel. Furthermore, George Weah, in his desperate attempt to become president, was prepared to agree to whatever demand Ellen was proffering, i.e., 1) turn a blind eye to whatever theft Ellen, her gay son Robert and the entire cartel had done over the past twelve years (Acarous Gray and many other CDC operatives started going on social media and other outlets saying that “unlike Boakai, George Weah would protect Ellen and her family”), 2) support Robert to be elected Senator to fill the vacant Senate seat in Montserrado that the election of George Weah president would create, 3) ensure that 35% of those appointed in a future George Weah government are nominated by Ellen and her cartel.
In order to actually put her plan into action, Ellen and Robert started to pump millions into the Weah campaign. Ellen than order many of all her surrogates to immediately migrate to CDC and left a few of them in the Unity Party to serve as spies and infiltrators.
Gbehzongar Findley would make an open declaration of membership in CDC while Robert Sirleaf, Amara Konneh, Eugene Nagbe, Sam Wlue, Medina Wesseh, James F. Kollie, Julia Duncan Cassell and scores of others were told not to take formal membership but assist the CDC campaign in multiple ways. It is reported that Robert Sirleaf and George Weah often drive around town in Rob’s tinted car enjoying themselves and planning political strategies. Eugene Nagbe became Ellen’s liaison for CDC affairs, making advance meetings with West African leaders and business people for Weah.
Amara Konneh has not only assisted CDC with millions of stolen cash but gave CDC some IT advice in setting up their “War Room” to collect and process election results after the October 10 poll. Amara went further with his support by importing into the country Malian and Guinean juju men, Vahsayo Sheriff (from Guinea) and who have been performing nightly charms and rituals over the months in order to improve CDC’s chances, just as they had been doing for Amara all along in charming Ellen in order for Amara to get his way in spite of ineptness and blatant theft.
Ellen has been quite shameless and open in her CDC support. She attempted to convince her fellow Mano River Union and ECOWAS presidents to support Weah, but all efforts in this direction have yielded limited success. When she went to the UN General Assembly, she was given cold shoulder again when she brought up the issue of support to Weah to many of the leaders she met. While at the UN she even granted a CNN interview calling for generational change and stating leadership should be turned over to younger people, a slap in the face of her 72-year old Vice President who is seeking the presidency.
Ellen was visibly angry last week when she realized that, after all her manipulations, her plan to make George Weah president in the first round did not materialize. She has now disbursed about US$3 million as initial support to George Weah for the second round.
She is even personally calling opposition leaders including Prince Johnson, Alexander Cummings, and others personally offering them cash or encouraging them to support Weah in the second round.
What is unfolding in our faces in these elections can be termed the biggest political con artistry to have taken place in Liberia over the past century. The Liberian people genuinely want change because they feel that what they have endured under Ellen’s presidency over the past six years is unbearable. Crafty Ellen knows that. So she jumps to the opposition CDC and instructs the CDC folks to continue to hammer the point that the government has failed because according to her, the only person that would suffer from such attacks is candidate Joe Boakai since Ellen is not seeking re-election. Ellen knows that the Liberian people’s concept of change is just a change of a governing party, not a change of the rottenness that makes the government fail. So she abandons UP and carries her gang of loyalists who wrecked the government to CDC.
If Ellen Sirleaf and her cartel succeed in putting their puppet George Weah in power, they will be pulling the strings in determining who gets what and when. What is about to happen to the Liberian people who have been yearning for change is like running from a house you think is haunted by a ghost only to come head on with the same ghost in the new house where you ran for rescue. Right in our very faces, Ellen is succeeding in tricking millions of Liberians who are angry that the past six years of her leadership has been bad.
So Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the devious and double-faced woman that has destroyed many of her opponents on the Liberian political stage over the past forty years, is at her best again. For selfish reasons, she has decided to fight and frustrate the presidential hopes of her Vice President who served her loyally and faithfully for twelve years. If Weah succeeds in being elected president, Ellen would have succeeded in installing a very incompetent person as President of Liberia, with all the potential risk of making the country to slip back into chaos because of incompetence and greed of the leadership. But that is exactly the kind of Liberia she wants, a Liberia where things are worse than they were when Ellen was president. Because in their desperation and pain, Liberians would be forced to look back and say “we miss Ma Ellen”.
Wow! This cunning and heartless 79-year-old-lady is a true master-manipulator, the Real Machiavelli of Liberian Politics, someone who can do any and all things, whether good, bad or ugly; someone who does not mind crushing any friend or foe just to get her selfish aims, and that of her beloved son Robert and his partner Amara, accomplished. All along she has succeeded in getting her way. Would she succeed in this time around? Let’s watch and see how the second round run-off election unfolds.