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Can Ellen Turn Inaugural Rhetoric into Reality?

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh

Monday, January 30, 2012

     Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made a clarion call for peace and democracy during her historic inauguration in January – the second for her this decade, and in the presence of many she also called for true reconciliation, hope, equality and opportunity for all.

     Sirleaf was right to call for peace and genuine reconciliation at a gathering where many assembled to hear not only those words, but other lofty goals coming from a president known for her uncompromising toughness and no holds barred approach to governance, which often wins her admiration and criticisms from Liberians abroad and those residing in the country.

     Even though she said those same words during the previous six years of her administration, there is ample evidence in and around the country that the Sirleaf administration failed to deliver, because it is one thing to say you are serious about ending or solving a problem; and it is another thing when nothing is done to genuinely remedied what agitated the problem in the first place. Unfortunately, President Sirleaf failed to implement the latter in her first term.

     However, if this president is sincere this time about creating jobs to put Liberians back to work, is serious about genuinely seeking peace and reconciliation, and is serious about implementing sound and effective domestic policies to improve lives; and not just talk to appeal to the inaugural crowd, her words, like the statement below certainly can make a huge difference. But can she turn her rhetoric about jobs, reconciliation and equality into reality?

     “The cleavages,” the president said,“ that led to decades of war still run deep. But so too does the longing for reconciliation – a reconciliation defined not by political bargaining or by an artificial balance of power by tribe, region, religion or ethnicity but by the equality of opportunity and a better future for all Liberians.”

     The President is right when she said Liberians are ‘longing for reconciliation,’ and wish she also made the case about jobs eloquently in the same sentence and the same way she spoke convincingly about the need for reconciliation.     

    What Liberians want from President Sirleaf now are all the above and the ability to revise the trend of poverty and unemployment by implementing bold, visionary and humane policies that put people and nation first.

     No one said it was going to be easy to completely solve a centuries old crisis that continues to undermine growth, development and prosperity in a country as bad off as Liberia is in modern times.

     Sirleaf’s inaugural speech, however, echoes the growing challenges that looms across the nation, and seems to admit that even though these nagging problems continue to look her straight in the face, there is a renewed sense of optimism that her administration will address those issues to make a difference in the lives of Liberians.

     It is a fact as the president eloquently stated that the war created division in all of Liberia. The problem is further exacerbated when men, women, and teenagers, as helpless as they are cannot find employment in a society where former and current government officials, family members of government officials, and cronies often flaunts their stolen wealth and taxpayer-funded amenities to live like kings and queens, while others cannot make it past the next day.

     That’s why it is imperative that President Sirleaf and her team work hard to at least achieve (if not all) some of the promises she made to the Liberian people in her inaugural speech on that day in January.

     The verdict out there is that something good has to happen to bring relief to those thousands of unemployed Liberians lingering in despair. And for things to change for the better, President Sirleaf, whose re-election efforts almost brought the Liberian nation closer to another civil unrest, and also left the opposition politicians bitter in defeat must find a better way – a practical way to at least create some jobs.

     Some of us read her inaugural speech or listened when President Sirleaf said: “Let us go forth from this Inauguration Day to roll up our sleeves, to make the sacrifices necessary for our continued growth and development: economic, educational, moral and spiritual. Let us resolve that our pride in our Liberian nation, and in our tradition and heritage, will be manifested in a new commitment to the democratic processes that we mark on this solemn occasion.”

   It can be said with no hesitation that the Liberian people did rolled up their sleeves and sacrificed it all during the president’s first term, and expects something in return during her second term – not freebies, of course, but something that moves them from “mat to mattress” to realize the Liberian dream.

     In a pre-inaugural column, I wrote about the need for the president to put young people to work – to keep those teenagers busy with vacation jobs or permanent jobs so as not to repeat the violence that erupted right after the 2012 presidential election.

      I am unsure whether President Sirleaf or any of her aides read my piece that suggests that she find employment for Liberia’s teenagers. Whether it was by coincidence or not I am glad she mentioned the critical issues of youth employment in her inaugural address, when she said the following.

Category: Editorial, Featured Articles

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