- Published on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 10:28
- Written by Sam Zota, Jr.
A critic is a person who thinks he/she knows the way but can't drive the car. It is also said that it's a thousand times easier to criticize than to create. That's why critics are never problem solvers. What goes up must come down and the evil or good that a person does lives after them. These are adages that ran through my mind as I soberly reflected on the outburst of Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee on her Co-laureate and Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on Monday.
The Liberian Peace Activist and social worker, a close associate of the Liberian leader criticized the President for failing to fight graft and nepotism in her government.
Speaking on a visit to Paris for the launch of the French edition of her book 'Mighty Be Our Powers', Ms. Gbowee said: "People (Liberians) are very disappointed. We have a deficit when it comes to having a moral voice in the country."
Ms. Gbowee, who said she felt guilty for not speaking out earlier, also revealed that she was stepping down as the head of Liberia's reconciliation commission in frustration at its lack of progress.
"We worked hard for peace," she said, adding that Madam Sirleaf herself was critical of the regime of William Richard Tolbert, who was Liberia's president from 1971 to 1980.
President Sirleaf, known as “Iron Lady” is said to have been tongue and virulent censor that strangulated and brought down several Governments before hers.
Madam Sirleaf is said to have been amongst a band of opposition figures that tormented previous national leaders with incessant criticisms for political mismanagement and failures, principally policies of exclusion, patronage and nepotism. But these same policies, Gbowee said have not changed under the administration of President Sirleaf.
These failed policies and practices were believed to have been responsible for the country's underdevelopment and prolonged conflict. One of such practices is nepotism, the preference of family members and friends for major government position at the disadvantage of other equally qualified citizens.
Ms. Gbowee said former president William R. Tolbert like president Sirleaf belonged to Liberia's elite Congo Liberian social class whose members descended from freed American slaves dominated the country's political landscape. They are accused of ignoring the masses.
She said president Tolbert placed his cronies and family members in top jobs before he was toppled in a violent coup.
"What has changed?" said Ms. Gbowee. "Her sons are on the board of oil companies and one is the deputy governor of the central bank. The gap between the rich and poor is growing. You are either rich or dirt poor, there's no middle class."
The practice of nepotism under the Tolbert's administration was heavily criticized in many ways by the former long time opposition, now president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. This was even captured in her (Sirleaf's) book titled, “This Child Will Be Great”. President Tolbert's brother, Stephen A. Tolbert served as his finance minister in the government until his death on April 29, 1975, in a plane crash. A practice that Madam Sirleaf strongly opposed and was said to have been very critical against it. President Sirleaf who served as Finance Minister in the Tolbert administration was among four survivals of the coup and its aftermath.
But, Co-Nobel Laureate Gbowee in her outburst asked, “What has changed?”
Indeed, I believe that nothing has changed. It appears that Madam Sirleaf's criticisms of previous governments are catching up with her.
Currently in her (Sirleaf) administration, her son, Robert Sirleaf serves as Senior Advisor and Chairman of the Board of the National Oil Company; Charles Sirleaf, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL); Fomba Sirleaf (step son), Director of the National Security Agency. Others are Carnie Johnson, her brother, Board member of the Mining Exploration Company (AMLIB); her sister, Jennie Bernard key behind-the-scene advisor to the president among others. The president has justified that her sons and other relatives are “Overly qualified”.
I do acknowledge that the president's children and relatives are Liberians and deserve the right, like any Liberian to work anywhere in Liberia, but such practices have often produced negative consequences including diverting of public resources with impunity, weakening accountability to citizens and promoting exclusion of other deserving candidates.
In his book titled, “Liberia: Heart of Darkness” former Deputy Information Minister under this administration, Gabriel Williams said Samuel K. Doe came to power on accusation of nepotism against William Tolbert. According to Williams, even though Doe took steps to attack corruption upon taking power, 'his regime goes down as one of the worst examples of the culture of nepotism and cronyism that helped keep Liberia unproductive and backwards'. He described nepotism as one of the major ills of Liberian society. William claims that Doe and colleagues brought individuals into government because of their ethnic or social connections to those in power.” Similarly, the Sirleaf's regime is continuing with the practice on grounds that “they (her sons and relatives) are overly qualified.” Even people appointed in past regimes qualified similarly; but yet, it was criticized.
The president has termed critics of her administration as “noisy minority” while the others are considered to be “The silent majority”. A very sober reflection of the Sirleaf's regime shows no difference from past regimes, as nepotism and cronyism are still dominant practices.
Gbowee's outburst against the Sirleaf's regime should therefore not be seen as mere criticism and hatred against the government; but rather a statement that should call for sober reflection on policies that will deviate from the ills in society.
People judge you by your actions. You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hardboiled egg. Let be judged by our actions, not intentions. He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whosoever heeds correction is honored. God bless Mama Liberia.