LIBERIA: Ellen’s Legacy Questioned – As Corruption Lingers

With impeccable academic credentials from Harvard including a grandiose and unpretending political showmanship, Ellen, the “Iron Lady” has failed to salvage the Liberian populace from the jangling chords of misery and economic malaise.

The diminutive young Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf just returning from the US after completing her studies shot her way into the Liberian public service with an appointment as Assistant Minister of Finance in the then President William Richard Tolbert’s government in 1972.

At Finance, Johnson-Sirleaf attracted much attention with a “bombshell” speech to the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC) claiming that the country’s public corporations were harming the Liberian economy by hoarding or repatriating profits overseas. In 1973, she resigned the position after getting into some disagreements over spending.

After six years stint overseas, Madam Johnson-Sirleaf was appointed Minister of Finance in 1979 by President Tolbert but her tenure was short-lived as the president was overthrown in 1980 by Samuel Kanyon Doe who represented the Krahn ethnic group. President Johnson-Sirleaf went into exile in Kenya and the US where she worked in the international banking community.

In 1985, she returned to Liberia and ran for a seat in the Liberian Senate but since she spoke against the Doe regime, she was sentenced to ten (10) years in prison. She served a partial sentence and was subsequently released amid huge pressure from the international community before moving back to Washington to work for Citibank as well as the World Bank.

After supporting Charles Taylor’s bloody rebellion against Doe in 1990, Johnson-Sirleaf ran unsuccessfully against Taylor in a special election, “proportional representation” held under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1997. Taylor subsequently charged her with treason.

In 2005, after campaigning for the removal of President Taylor, Johnson-Sirleaf took over as leader of the Unity Party. That same year, promising Liberians economic development and an end to corruption and the civil war that she helped to wage, she was finally elected to the Liberian presidency and inaugurated on January 16, 2006.

Despite Taylor’s huge number of loyalists coupled with the influence he commanded in the Liberian society, President Johnson-Sirleaf submitted an official request to Nigeria where he was seeking refuge, to extradite him in 2006.

When she took office Liberians were hopeful to see what the first female president on the continent was bringing on the table to take the country on the forward march to socio-economic and political development. Handing over Taylor to the international community for prosecution was victory for Johnson-Sirleaf who had made numerous contributions to the war efforts of the now convicted former Liberian president.

In order to supplant her influence in government with the tacit desire of amassing wealth overnight archetypical to past administrations she had criticized, President Johnson-Sirleaf appointed her controversial son, Robert Alvin Sirleaf as Senior Adviser in her office and also as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). While at NOCAL, Mr. Sirleaf secretly negotiated many major oil contracts that have only benefitted the Sirleaf’s family while Liberians still try to grapple with the nuances of President Johnson-Sirleaf’s nepotistic tendencies.

Although, Robert is no longer in government after forced to resign from his two jobs at NOCAL and the Executive Mansion under immense pressure from Liberians, he is believed to be directing the course of things behind the scene while his mother pulls the strings. Recently, he was designated by his mother as a special envoy to negotiate the Kuwait oil deal between Liberia and that Middle Eastern nation.

The Liberian leader’s other three sons; Charles Sirleaf is Deputy Governor at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL); Fombah Sirleaf is Director at the National Security Agency (NSA) while James Sirleaf who once worked in a private commercial bank is now being spoon fed on the largesse President Johnson-Sirleaf is conspicuously scraping from the resources of the country.  

The Liberian leader is alleged to have received millions of dollars from kickbacks from many oil companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil among many others, currently operating in Liberia. Also, the Western Cluster bid which she torpedoed in favor of Elenilto, now sold out to Sesa Goa of India are all by-products of her corruption mania increasingly nibbling at the fabric of a nation once considered a compelling destination for other African leaders running away from persecution in their countries.

According to a recent US State Department report on Liberia under Ellen’s stewardship, showcased among many things, issues of bad governance, corruption, access to justice and human rights abuses as alarmingly prevalent in the country. Also, in its 2013 human rights report, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry described human rights abuses as pervasive in Liberia. Noteworthy in the report, were that human rights abuses were tied predominantly to the lack of justice, judicial inefficiency and corruption and others. In the health sector, the report indicated, “Hospitals and medical facilities in Liberia are very poorly equipped and are incapable of providing many services. Emergency services comparable to those in the US or Europe are non-existent, and the blood supply is unreliable and unsafe for human transfusion. For serious medical problems, US citizens in Liberia should consider traveling to South Africa for treatment. Medicines are scarce, often beyond expiration dates, and generally unavailable in most areas”, the report slammed the Liberian health sector.

The report further highlights excesses in a broad spectrum of Liberia’s governance structure ranging from corruption, political patronage and family ties, lack of political will in the much-heralded corruption fight, weak enforcement, regulatory, and rule of law institutions, strong executive power and most importantly, lack of checks and balances, which underscore the Liberian leader’s incessant complicity in many of the corrupt activities inundating this administration.

In recent times, it was reported in two major media outlets that President Johnson-Sirleaf is alleged to be currently operating a cabal in concert with the Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), T. Nelson Williams that is secretly involved in bankrolling the construction of a multi-billion dollar art mega oil refinery for Liberia, preferably in the port city of Buchanan and she is said to be demanding a kickback of nearly four hundred million dollars from the Chinese company that have preferred over an American company for the refinery project.  

Political analysts speaking to this paper noted that the Liberian leader only came on the Liberian political scene to enrich herself and members of her family but not to address the nagging economic problems this nation and its people have been suffering from for a very long time.

They also maintained that with the high level of corruption in this government coupled with the insensitiveness of its leader to the plight of the Liberian masses, the possibility for President Johnson-Sirleaf to leave a legacy in the annals of Liberian history is a complete mirage.

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