The Late renown Irish Playwright (George Bernard Shaw) once wrote, “Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.”
Shaw’s view on democratic governance rings true in many of the world’s democracies today; perhaps comprehensively. But it echoes particularly in a rather poignant way in so-called African Democracies.
I have written here (Ideafart.com) on a plethora of different subject matters, all of which have some-what been political in nature, and this column shall not deviate in any dissimilar fashion in content from my past posts.
But in the interest of full-disclosure, it would behoove me to inform my readers that the subject matter impending discussion here is personal (I have family members in the Country), which is seldom the case with most of my writings.
The subject in question here is (Ebola) and Liberia. Ebola a very contagious and debilitating disease which is wreaking havoc in western Africa. Particularly, in the Nations of Sierra-Lone, Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria, and especially Liberia (the Nation of my Birth), a Nation whose difficulties I aim to provide much-needed perspective on.
When I first read news reports of Ebola in Guinea, I thought to myself (The International Community ought to be sending armies of doctors to Guinea to contain this outbreak; because if they think- for one second this is just a West-African Problem, they would be in for a rude awakening).
I now wish that my mere temporary moment of clairvoyance-like premonition was indeed a falsity. But sadly, Ebola is raging through Liberia like wildfire. The country has the most cases of Ebola infections and rising.
According to the Liberian Ministry of Health, the total suspected cases of Ebola Stands at 512, with total cases at 847, and cumulative confirmed, probable and suspected cases are at 1,771 cases. (Seaklon, Timothy. “Liberia: Confirmed Ebola Cases Swell to 412. Http://allafrica.com/stories/201409041539.html. Web).
Apart from the incredible interruption Ebola is causing in the Lives of the Liberian People, the shortage of food, Government imposed curfews, and the continuously alarming news of new Ebola cases, the Liberian People are eager to know why their government responded so abysmally to this crisis.
Folks are wondering why was the country so grossly ill-equipped to deal with such a crisis (in particular, the current Government headed by Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf).
Many Liberians are asking, but the Liberians who are asking these sort of questions are those of the optimistic kind. When instead the question should be, what crisis are they equipped to handle, if any?
These people seem to have had faith in the Government, even-though no Liberian Government has every truly deserved such a vote of confidence.
For many Liberians, Ebola has brought Government incompetence out of the shadows for all to see, particularly the International Community.
But for those of us relatively knowledgeable of the Country’s history, incompetence in the Liberian Government isn’t a shadow nor has it ever been in it. Rather, incompetence is a proverbial image, and one doesn’t have to look far to spot it.
Consequentially; the current administration under Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is taking considerable heat, particularly from the opposition and Liberian Press for her slow response to the crisis.
The situation has deteriorated so much so that there are confirmed reports suggesting that aid workers were being attacked and many of the health-workers in the Country who are on the front lines risking their lives to contain this disease haven’t been paid.
Some as long as five months; even-though funds were allocated for such a purpose by the International Community, says Samaritan Purse Vice President of Programs and Government Relations, Ken Isaacs at a congressional hearing on the Ebola Crisis.
Ken Isaacs, from all indications a well-meaning man. One may even describe his organization as altruistic and benevolent due to their endeavors in Liberia.
And there he was surrounded by Bureaucrats, advocates and the Press alike- trying to educated and warn Congress of the severity of the situation that awaits the Liberian people if the help they need isn’t provided soon.
He appropriately painted a dark and gloomy picture of the Situation in Liberia, which he claimed was exacerbated by gross Governmental inadequacies and the prolificacy of ignorance aided by people (Prominent Doctors) who should know better.
Listening to this man (Ken Isaacs) forecast ominous things about Liberia, I couldn’t help but imagine; here is this stranger predicting impending disaster for a Country whose population have lived through catastrophes, one after another for the last thirty years.
The Liberian People have been hardened by their experiences; they have lived through civil unrest, starvation, disease outbreaks, you name it………….
One may be inclined to say that the Liberian People have sunk to the abyss time and time again in reference to their resilience. But for those of us with first hand knowledge, that’s a slightly inaccurate statement, it’s much worse.
Liberia dwells in the abyss and have resided there now for more than a generation. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Critics seems to multiply every day the more ominous the Ebola situation gets in the Country.
She is the head of government and ultimately she is responsible for her government’s response. But the chorus of criticisms against Ellen’s government predates Ebola, the advent of Ebola just added Jet-Fuel to the fire.
Criticism in a Democracy is a healthy thing, especially when it is from a place of love for one’s Country. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. one said, “There can be no disappointment where there isn’t love.” The Liberian People are disappointed in their Country and their leaders, particularly when they see their younger neighbors (Ghana, Ivory-Coast) surpassing them on every economic and infrastructural metric.
But we ought to take heed and not succumb to our frustrations by grasping on to a bandwagon of simplistic views as it relates to Ellen’s Government. One must view the situation in its totality analytically in order to fully appreciate the Conundrum Ellen has had to endure as President for a decade or so now.
The genesis of a lot of the criticism levied at Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stamps from what the Liberia People view as (The Lack of Progress) since she took office in 2004. Particularly, as it pertains to infrastructural development, which the Country is in dire need of after (2 decades) of civil-unrest, amongst other things.
Civil-Unrest, which left the Country’s already limited infrastructure in extreme disrepair. But it’s perhaps prudent before I continue any further to note what state the country was in when Ellen took office for one to truly appreciate how far out Liberia has to claw its way.
The very irony of this whole situation is, the very Critics who are now unrelentingly lambasting the fecklessness of Ellen’s Leadership, in-fact owe there now unprecedented freedom of Speech to the very Lady (Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) whose character some might say, they are attempting to besmirch.
Where were these fervent critics when Charles Taylor was president? I suppose one can imagine why they were mute. People had a way of disappearing in broad day-light during Taylor’s administration, critics in particular.
The condition Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf found the country in would be on the (top 2) worst nightmares of any Incumbent President. A situation so unique and comprehensively devastating that it would take an act of God for any one President to significantly make a dent.
When Ellen took office, she inherited dysfunctional institutions. The country’s Ministries were in disarray. Infrastructure destroyed to catastrophic levels. And even more salient, the country suffers from Low-Capacity. A condition that continues to plague Liberia, and it is a contributing factor to the Nation’s inept response to the Ebola Crisis.
Liberia suffers from the phenomenon called Brain-Drain. Most of the Countries best and brightest fled the country during the Civil-War.
Many have built new lives in their adopted home lands and perhaps would need serious convincing and or enticements to trade stability and in some instances (Modern Conveniences) to move back to a country riffed with dysfunction.
On Ellen’s first day in office, Liberia’s national budget was 10% of the national budget in 1989 ($80-million). An unbelievably embarrassing and infinitesimal sum. In comparison, Ramsey County in St. Paul MN, has more than $80-million in its annual budget to cover it school district of roughly about thirty-thousand students.
Liberia’s population is 3.5 million people; I suppose one can’t begin to image the sheer depravity of a population living in such impoverish economic conditions.
As a result, the country couldn’t afford to pay its Civil-Servant, most went months without pay, thus creating a recipe for insidious corruption, which was a problem even during so-called good times (Normal-Days).
The Country owed 5 billion in debt to its creditors (IMF), an amount left over from previous administrations, while the people were left to their own devices surviving in an atmosphere of chaos and destitution.
Wide spread illiteracy which has always been a problem in Liberia, like cancer was allowed to metastasize to malignant levels during the periods of unrest.
The school system was flooded with unqualified teachers; the Nation’s two Major Universities were overcrowded to the Zenith. Community Colleges were non-existent. In essence, the Nation’s Education System like everything else was in shambles.
I could go on but this column would turn into thesis-like length by the time I conclude. But Ellen knew the conditions and that’s what she signed up for, so people have every right to demand better, though I wish they did with perspective.
Since Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been in office, with the help of the IMF she has wipe Liberia’s credit clean and made the Country credit worthy again.
Liberia is categorized by many investors as a volatile country, a place whose future stability is riffed with uncertainty. Any little disturbance and investors might watch their capital blow up into smithereens.
And if there is one term investors are universally cautious of, that term is (uncertainty). Uncertainty; especially in a country whose institutions and rule of law are dubious at best.
And yet against these sort of odds, under Ellen’s Administration, Liberia has seen double-digit growth, a phenomenon not witnessed since the early (1980s).
Liberia’s National Budget rose from $80-million to over $500-million. A sum which remains unenviable by international budgetary standards, but nonetheless a step in the right direction- though One still cannot run a country effectively faced with such limited means.
The Civil-Servants salaries comes from this budget (if and when they are paid), governmental inefficiencies comes out of this budget, expense for the infamous Luxury Government Vehicles comes out of this budget. Hell, even the funds for corruption comes out of this budget.
In-spite of the assistance International aid provides, the Country is still running on a budget akin to Economic Atmospheric Bankruptcy. Against all these negative backdrops fore-mentioned, Ellen continued to forge ahead securing over $16-billion in Direct Foreign Investment in Liberia.
Oil has also been discovered in Liberia, giants of the industry like Chevron and Exon now have a presence in Liberia. Because of Ellen, Liberia now has Enforced Compulsory Primary Education, a mitigating measure aimed at combating widespread illiteracy.
Community colleges are being built, especially in rural areas. Educated Liberians in the Diaspora have been enticed to move back home and contribute.
Liberia’s perennial agricultural exports (Rubber and timber), forest and plantations neglected by war are now been revived and replenished.
Ellen’s record on corruption still leaves a lot to be desired, but her efforts are hindered by Lack of Capacity, which hinders implementation as well as the overwhelmingly pervasive nature of the beast.
A good percentage of this infamous (Corruption) in Liberia hails from the Liberian Legislature (The Senate & The House of Representatives).
They have an important role in running the country; these people hold the country’s purse-strings. Furthermore, the genesis of a lot of this Noise (criticisms) against Ellen’s administration origins can be traced back to the Legislature. But such is the nature of Politics no matter where you go, it’s not for the squeamish and never has been.
Due to the fact that the Liberian People are accustomed to a dominant Executive-Branch, they forget that the constitution of Liberia (Like the United-States) mandates co-equal branches of government. As a result, they falsely assume that Ellen can control these people, particularly in a country with multiple parties.
Unlike the United-States (Two-Parties System) where the President often has at one point or another at-least 50% of the Legislature that are off his party and are inclined to push his agendas, for the simple fact that their destiny lies with his.
Liberia is a bit different, the president does have allies in the Legislature but nowhere near 50%. And in the true spirit typical of most politicians, they like to show how relevant they are by chastising the Chief-Executive (Pres. Ellen Johnson Sierleaf).
In democracies, the Legislature/Parliament also passes budgets apart from their central role of passing laws and ratifying treaties. As a result in most democracies, the Legislature determines their own salaries and the Liberian Legislature is no different.
Except, in this case, the Liberian Legislature decided, with all the Problems i just alluded to, that they are doing such a good job, each of it members deserves 20,000-30,000 a month excluding gas and vehicular expenses in compensation for their services in a country where the per-capita income is $672.
This is actually going on in a country who economic growth have been hampered in one way or another by economic stagnation, recession, depression, perhaps since its inception subsequently, although not in any particular order.
So, the Liberian People need not view Ellen’s Presidency as a failure, for she was indeed a victim of the enormity of the task (Liberia’s Problems) in which she signed up for.
The Liberian People need to understand that they hired a fixer for President when all along the Country needed the Messiah. Unfortunately for Liberia, no one knows the day or the hour when he shall return.
In-spite of all of the criticisms, many of which are more recent in scope, Ellen shall be remembered favorably by history.
She may be seen as a courageous woman, a transformative President who tried to take Liberia from the abyss of destitution by setting up the foundations for Liberia’s future success in an increasingly globalized world.
Liberians must acknowledge this salient fact, for I fear many don’t or don’t care. The Country is plagued with incredible budgetary constraints. So what-ever grandiose infrastructural development fantasy they might have, more than likely the Country can’t afford it.
At least not with a budget slightly north of $500-million; the country needs more revenue generating sources. For instance, Hypothetically, if the government used its entire annual budget on restoring Electricity and Running Water across the Country, that amount wouldn’t even cover the real cost which would be in the Billions for a Country roughly the size of New-Jersey, give or take.
What Liberia needs is a visionary President with a plan to finance his vision and enough time for him/her to implement said vision. And that means no term limits, if that’s what’s required. I don’t trust Liberia to produce consecutive visionary presidents. So who ever this individual is, he’s going to need time, so he/she is unburdened by the idea of handing off the key to some buffoon whose going to set the Country back.
Franklin Delanor Roosevelt is arguable American’s most visionary and transformative President’s. He holds the unprecedented distinction as the only President in U.S history to serve for more than two terms. He probable would have served a fourth if nature hadn’t taken its course. Liberia needs its version of FDR, and George Weah certainly isn’t that. One first must be able to articulate his vision effectively in the common tongue (English) before any talk of his candidacy can be entertained.