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Making excuses for wrongdoings of government officials

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor  

There is a practice among Liberians at home and in the Diaspora to make excuses for the wrongdoings of Liberian elected officials, and to blame those who have the guts to raise concerns about the issues while elected officials violate the trust given them to serve the people.

These elected officials misuse the people’s wealth and resources with impunity, yet cheerleaders and supporters of corrupt officials will go to every length to make ridiculous excuses for their corrupt practices.

This weekend of May 25th, I was involved in a discussion in Charlotte, North Carolina about nepotism in President Sirleaf’s government. During our discussion, a Liberian lady who participated in the discussion made the following remarks: “Her son [Robert Sirleaf] is qualified; and if you (meaning me) were in her position, you would do the same.” This is a classic excuse used by many Liberians.

History has a strange way of repeating events – a case in point:  Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the late President William Richard Tolbert, Jr. In the article titled, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s Corruption Tree written by J. Yanqui Zaza, published November 18, 2009:

Joining the critics of Tolbert was Ellen Johnson Sirleaf herself. Even right now in her book, she is critical of the Tolbert family for dominating the government and private sector of the country. However, she is doing the same thing and thinks nobody knows. She is preaching a fight against corruption while she and her family and friends are swimming in it.

In a June 2, 2012 “Letter to the Editor” of the FrontPageAfrica, Lossenie B. Sheriff’ wrote:

Robert Sirleaf, the President’s favorite son is Chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia and a senior Advisor in the Executive Mansion along with President Sirleaf’s elder sister, Jennie Johnson Bernard. Robert heads the President’s inner circle of advisors, according to close sources in Monrovia. Mrs. Sirleaf appointed another son Charles Sirleaf, as Deputy Governor of the Liberian Central Bank and her deceased husband’s nephew Varney Sirleaf, Deputy Minister for Administration in the powerful Ministry of Internal Affairs in February of this year. And stepson, Fumba Sirleaf is currently Director of National Security Agency (NSA) as he was in her first term.

Estrada Bernard, (unofficial legal advisor to the President) is her brother-in-law and husband of her elder sister Jennie Johnson Bernard, and Robert Sirleaf is reputed to have veto over any senior appointment(s). Presidential brother Carney Johnson is on the board of the Mining Exploration Company (AMLIB). In 2010, another presidential brother, Ambulai Johnson was Minister of Internal Affairs during her first term, but resigned in disgrace over his failure to follow guidelines governing management and implementation of social development fund.

This is the same person who was critical of Tolbert regarding nepotism in his government?

This reminds me of a required text I read in undergraduate school in the 70s at Temple University, Philadelphia. The title of the book is: Blaming the Victim written by William Ryan. Ryan explains how and why we prefer to put the blame of poverty on the victims rather than on the inequalities of the American society.

According to Ryan, the generic formula of blaming the victim is to justify inequality by finding defects in the victims. Blaming the victim is an ideological process by which a set of ideas and concepts are systematically manipulated with unintended distortions of reality.

He stated further that blaming the victim is not a process of intentional distortion; although it does serve the class interests of those who practice it. Karl Mannheim on the other hand, described it as ‘collective unconscious,’ a state of mind rooted in a class-based interest intended to maintain the status quo. Accessed via the Internet on June 4, 2012: http://www.soc.duke.edu/~jmoody77/TheoryNotes/manheim.pdf

In Liberia, victims are those who put country first by calling “a spade, a spade” or raise concerns about corrupt practices in the country. Liberia is a country where government officials are engaged in corruption in broad daylight; and have the nerve to refer to those who advocate for fundamental change as “troublemakers” (agent provocateurs) – in a sense, blaming the victims.

Many Liberians believe today that “If it wasn’t for the ‘Troublemakers’ in Liberia, the country would have remained peaceful;” but at whose expense? This line of thinking is ill-conceived and a display of ignorance to the highest degree. A typical example of this behavior is found in Chapter 7 of Stephen Ellis’ book: The Mask of Anarchy. According to Ellis, an old man in a refugee camp was asked his opinion about politics. In response, he made the following remarks:

“Shut your mouth! I don’t want to hear anything about your politicians and their revolutions. It’s your politicians and their politics that bring us into exile today. What good have we poor illiterate people got from your big book and politics? Is it not only death and hardship?”

This expression characterizes Liberia’s political culture, and is the typical thinking among many Liberians at home and in the Diaspora. These individuals misinterpret ‘individual’s rights’ as guaranteed by the Liberian Constitution as making trouble. They view these expressions of concerns as “picking fuss” or “causing trouble” for the government.

Why, because from the very inception of the nation, the government had the people to believe that the only people who had such rights were the settlers. The majority who were the natives or those the “Love of Liberty” met in the place named Liberia were exempt from enjoying those RIGHTS. Since then, Liberians were conditioned to view rights as privilege dispensed by either the president or his/her officials.

Classic examples can be found in the Tubman Administration. For example, there are serious disagreements on the merits and demerits of the Tubman Administration, between the older and the younger generation. Most individuals from the older generation feel that during the Tubman Administration, the Liberian people were better off compared to the present. They argued that all the problems that occurred after his death could not have happened if he were president. Here is how one paramount chief saw it:

President Tubman really turned this county around. We tribesmen can now mix up with the civilized people freely and nobody is looking down on us. We can now eat at the same table, shake hands and dance with the civilized men and women. God will bless him to live long. We want you to be President until you die (Area Handbook for Liberia, p. 196).

 And he did just that and died in office after 27 years as President of Liberia.

However, the younger generation blamed Tubman for most of the problems in the country today. Some suggests that more development should have taken place during his administration. Instead, the country experienced what Robert W. Clover et al referred to as “Growth Without Development.”

During this period, Tubman was preoccupied with his own narrow objectives such as devising means to remain in power. The same is taking place today in the Sirleaf administration. President Sirleaf has now become a ‘lord’ unto herself. She runs the country on a trial and error basis. She has become infallible, and can do no wrong even if she is running the country as her own personal property.

In her first six-year term, President Sirleaf usurped the functions of both the Legislative and Judicial branches of the Liberian government. This monopoly of power is what political analysts referred to as the “Cult of the Presidency.” Like Tubman, Tolbert, Doe and Taylor, Sirleaf is using power cleverly by co-opting vulnerable Liberians who are affected by abject poverty, to join her quest to silence critics who constructively criticize her bad policies.

There is a saying that goes like this: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” This is what is happening with the Liberian people at home and abroad. She has now come up with what is referred to as ‘Vision 2030.’

One political advocate describes it in this manner:

In the midst of uncontrollable CORRUPTION in Liberia, how can one honestly discuss Vision 2030 for development? Is this a distraction from the REAL issues that are facing the Liberian people? Anyone who is really serious about development in Liberia would first bring CORRUPTION under control; however, the government refused to implement Anti-Corruption Measures.

The advocate continues:

The so-called “VISION 2030” is just another attempt to appeal to the kind hearts of our poor and helpless people to wait for the looters to continue their rampage of enriching themselves and their families using our NATURAL RESOURCES. Vision 2030 is not different from the failed National Poverty Reduction Strategy Agenda.

A young man named Robert David Garguah, Jr. too, had this to say about Vision 2030:

Vision 2030, in my view is nothing more than just another political scheme being orchestrated by our leaders to misguide the massive [masses] in Liberia, yet again. Did the Liberian people know and fully understood [understand] the platforms of those who were aspiring for political offices six years ago, or just last year? What kind of Liberia did they tell us they envisioned at the end of their terms? And based on such vision/plans, have their actions aligned accordingly thus far?

With a staggering 85% illiteracy rate, we know we should be educating our citizens and adequately preparing them for a brighter future. With corruption at the highest level in all sectors, from the top down, we know we should be fearlessly fighting it with all that we have, not just by our words, but actions; for a better Liberia for all. For a more competitive and diverse Liberia . . .  (Face Book)

A prerequisite in business and political leadership is to first have a vision of some kind. One does not occupy a position and go fishing or seeking help for the vision by which to lead. I was taken aback by the communication sent to Mr. Gaye D. Sleh, National President of ULAA, from Mr. Nathaniel T. Kwabo, Coordinator, National Core Team & Head of Secretariat National Vision 2030. The letter reads:

Mr. Gaye D. Sleh

President, Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas

Illinois, USA

Dear Mr. Sleh,

As part of the transition from conflict to peace and reconstruction, the Governance Commission and the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs – with technical support of the African Futures Institute – have sponsored an independent National Long Term Perspective Study (NLTPS) to formulate a shared national vision through a broad participatory process and the creation of a developmental framework consistent with the vision. Dubbed Vision 2030, it is an exploratory exercise based on a systemic approach expected to review and help address critical issues affecting Liberia’s development and ensure the creation of a desired or possible future for the country and its people in the next 18 to 20 years.

During the past one year, the National Core Team (NCT) – the technical body comprising Liberian experts in such diverse fields as governance, economics, land, environment and natural resources; demography and socio-anthropology – has conducted and concluded the system base study and the construction of possible scenarios on the country’s future ahead of the next phase, which is the formulation of the national vision and the development of a national strategy to implement the vision. The study has dealt with understanding the country’s past, present, critical trends, challenges and the seeds of change that provide the opportunity to change the system and place the country on a long term development trajectory.

Against the background of instability and civil war, the purpose of Vision 2030 is to place before the Liberian people an opportunity for a reflective, structured and reasoned conversation about their past, present and future. The exercise is necessitated by the country’s divided past, its challenging present, and its many possible futures. Since February 2012, a robust national conversation has ensued to draw up a national consensus on the future of the country.

Starting with five regional consultations, these public discussions have gone to the communities through the conduct of 156 district consultations. To inform and drive this robust and interactive conversation, answers to the following five critical questions have also been sought: Where do we come from as a country? Where are we now? Where may we go? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?

The Liberian Diaspora has featured prominently in our studies and the national conversation as a critical element shaping the factors that will affect the country’s future. The conversation is accordingly being extended to Liberians living in Ghana, the United States and Europe.  As the formulation of a shared national vision is a uniquely participatory endeavor, we are pleased and honoured to request the Liberian Diaspora communities in the United States to work with us to organize consultations based on the following schedule:

Philadelphia –                        June 1, 2012

Washington – Metro Area –  June 2, 2012

Atlanta –                                    June 1, 2012

Minneapolis –                         June 3, 2012

We look forward to working with ULAA on this hugely significant and historic national conversation. Please accept the assurances of my best esteem.

Very truly yours,

Nathaniel T. Kwabo

Coordinator, National Core Team & Head of Secretariat

National Vision 2030

During my 38 plus years of social advocacy in Liberia and the Diaspora, I consider the Sirleaf government the luckiest government as opposed to her predecessors. What her government has done and gotten away with is unimaginable. Had it been in the past, there would have been numerous demonstrations led by the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA).

Instead, ULAA and her chapters embraced every policy coming out of Liberia without question, the latest of which is the so-called ‘Vision 2030.’ Why now 2030 in 2012? While I believe in the practice of planning ahead, I feel it is a good practice to first address the many vexing problems at hand, such as safe drinking water, good roads, electricity, poor health services, unemployment, etc.

Presidential Visions

When William V. S. Tubman wanted to become President of Liberia, he did not go around asking the Liberian people to help him with his vision. He came up with his vision – the “Unification Policy”; William Richard Tolbert, Jr. had his, “From mat to mattresses”; President Samuel Kanyon Doe, “In The Cause Of The People,” and President Charles Ghankay Taylor, “Above all else, the people,” and “A computer in every classroom.

As I mentioned earlier, the prerequisite in business or any political leadership is to first have a vision of some kind; Tubman thru Taylor proved this claim. These individuals did not become president first and then seek help for the vision by which to lead the country.

As a people, why haven’t we learned from the lessons of history? For example, David Lamb warned us in his book titled: The Africans (1989 Edition), in which he correctly predicted Africa’s calamity:

Africa today is the story of people who won their freedom on battlefields and at negotiation tables, only to discover that their white colonial masters had been replaced by black neocolonial leaders more concerned with personal power and wealth than national consensus or development.

He continued:

Africa of the 1980s is neither a happy nor a hopeful place. The colonialists designed the scenario for disaster, and the Africans seem to be trying their best to fulfill it. Calamity waits within arms’ reach, oblivious of Africa’s potential strength. Across the whole continent, economies are collapsing, cities are deteriorating, food production is declining, and populations are growing like weed-seeds turned loose in a garden. Governments fall at the whim of illiterate sergeants and disgruntled despots, prisons are as overcrowded as the farmlands are empty, and at last count the number of refugees in Africa had reached the incredible figure of five-million – people driven from their homelands by wars, tyrants and poverty.

At least some of us in the 80s got HONESTLY involved by speaking out, protesting and demonstrating against these corrupt leaders. But today, the organization that once championed the cause of our people in the Diaspora appears to be in bed with the leaders that are “eating” and running our country as if it is their private property.   This has led some observers to believe that ULAA and its chapters get its marching orders from Monrovia.

ULAA Gets Marching Orders from Monrovia

Many political observers on Liberia believe ULAA is taking its marching orders from the Unity Party government. Even Robert David Garguah, Jr. is able to see through this political ploy. Why can’t those who considered themselves so-called political gurus and experts on Liberian affairs see what “Vision 2030” is truly is?

This reminds me of the famous quote by Frantz Fanon, in The Wretched of the Earth: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it. These are words I believe in! I do not possess the colorful vocabulary nor the rhetoric many of my contemporaries possess; but this much I can say about myself, I hold NO ALLIANCE to anyone living or dead (forgive me, my mother came very close) but the Almighty God first in my life, and then the African people of which Liberians are a part. This is the ground on which I stood yesterday, will stand today, and for the time the grace of God will allow me to remain on this earth. I plan to stand my ground to fight for the Liberian people; you can hold me to it!

Those who practice the same policies today they once condemned, suffer from what I called historical amnesia. They continue to blame people who have the guts to take on the Government of Liberia for its undemocratic practices. As for them, as long as things are going relatively well for them and their families, they are not concerned about others. They become indifferent to the plight of ordinary Liberians for fear that a constructive engagement of the Government might destroy their so-called privileged positions.

Matthew 6:19-21 admonishes us:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Corrupt practices in Liberia and the support it finds among some Liberians in the Diaspora reminds me of the Priest and the Levite in Jesus’ illustration about the man who was assaulted, robbed, and left half dead by the roadside, who, if it weren’t for the Good Samaritan would have died. We who are speaking out against these corrupt practices find ourselves emulating similar concerns for our people that the Good Samaritan displayed for the man left dead by the roadside.

We are not willing to allow the misuse of power to continue in our country. As such, the Liberian experience serves as proof that much has not changed since the days of the 13th Century Mongol Warrior, Genghis Khan, who reportedly said: “Happiness lies in conquering one’s enemies, in driving them in front of oneself, in taking their property, in savoring their despair, in outraging their wives and daughters.” Accessed via the Internet on June 4, 2012:  http://thinkexist.com/quotes/genghis_khan/

The exhibition of this naked display of greed is a complete disregard of the civil and constitutional rights of the Liberian people. It is a living example that humanity has returned to its original state of nature, where survival was based on brute strength (power) and corruption in broad daylight.

There is a need to respect authority today without which there would be anarchy and chaos.  The question however is how far the discharge of civil duty should, and obedience to the law go? Langston Hughes’ poem, “A Dream Deferred” suggests the answer.

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Liberia did experience this explosion for 14 years during its senseless “Evil War” in which everything — humans and properties – was reduced to collateral damage. What is sad about this “Evil War” is the greed for POWER, which has become a contemporary African tale of African politics that I wrote about in the poem titled, African Politics (1/13/1996):

It is one of a kind
in the whole wide world
It is like a deadly disease
Once infested; it has the tendency
to turn close friends
into bitter enemies

Compaoré and Sankara
Doe and Quiwonkpa
Taylor and Duopu
Garwolo and Supuwood
Clay and Seekie
are about a few examples.

African politics is also terminal
It feeds on ETHNICITY
for the sole purpose
of holding on to RAW POWER
To continue its exploit;
it maintains POWER
By Any Means Necessary!

Finally, the future of a people is not written down in advance, but rather is shaped by the present. God gave us free will and encouraged us to choose life in order that we may be alive. Since freedom and expression are God’s given rights, we do not have to put up with the growing greed and corrupt practices of our elected officials. We are at cross-purposes with our leadership because the Liberian government fears conflicting ideas and competing beliefs. The ideas and beliefs we advocate pose imminent threat to its interests and ability to sustain its corrupt and repressive rule. Fortunately for us, we have history on our side, because those who rule by the sword shall someday perish by it. This is a living reality!

If we are to make any remarkable progress, this practice among us in the Diaspora and at home of making RIDICULOUS excuses for the wrongdoings of our elected officials needs serious transformation. It makes one wonder whether this kind of thinking and behavior would lead to the ridicule of Jesus Christ himself if he returned today. Would Christ’s teaching and advocacy on behalf of the poor be considered wrong, divisive or tribalistic? Under the circumstances, some might even have called Him a troublemaker based on this type of thinking.

Stay tune for my 5-part series titled: “A Covenant Betrayed: Partisanization of ULAA and Its This series is partly a response to some of the questions posed by one of Liberia’s literary scholars, Professor K-Moses Nagbe in the first book of its kind about the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), Inc. The title of the book is: My Compatriot Your Compatriot: Surveying Forces and Voices That Inspired the Union of Liberian Association in the Americas.

About the Author: Siahyonkron Nyanseor is a retired Mental Health/Developmental Disability Specialist and a recently ordained Minister of the Gospel. He is a founding member of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), Inc. as well as the organization’s eleventh President and its historian. He is a founding member of ULAA’s Eminent Persons, and its current Secretary/Vice Chair. Also, Mr. Nyanseor is co-founder and treasurer of the Liberian History, Education, and Development (LIHEDE), Inc., an organization dedicated to promoting indigenous Liberian history and the advancement of human and civil rights of Liberians. He has thirty-one years of professional experience in the public and private sector providing administrative/management services in the areas of healthcare, human service delivery, and staff development.

Mr. Nyanseor is publisher of both ThePerspective.org and ThePanAfricanAgenda.org, Internet web magazines. His research and writing interests fall largely within Africa, with particular emphasis on the history, economics, politics, sociology, ethics, and theology of people of African-origin living in Africa and its Diaspora.  He is a poet, journalist, and cultural and political activist. He can be reached at: siah1947@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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