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Restoration of hope: A synopsis of the gains of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

By Rufus D. Neufville

 

Uncontainable rebellion engulfed the peaceful town of Bhutuo on the eve of Christmas 1989. That unfortunate event marked the start of a civil war that was later described as one of Africa’s most destructive upheavals. Every village and town in the fifteen political subdivisions of Liberia suffered immense infrastructural breakdown and untold human deaths and pains. Anarchists became the lords of war and systematically destroyed the cultural values of the inhabitants.

 This failed state in West Africa stood hopelessly at the mercy of vicious rebels only compare to the army of the Roman Emperor Caligula or the rulers of the German Third Reich. The civilized world issued warnings to all their citizens against traveling to a country that achieved infamy in a very short time. Civil wars are sometimes concentrated in a particular geographic area like the rebellion of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru.

In such condition, the rest of the economy functions uninterrupted in bustling urban areas. Schools, banks, residential structures, roads, bridges, ports, factories and religious institutions function normally while the war is raging in some parts of the same country.

Liberia had no safe haven! The entire 43,000 square miles was destroyed. The evil in the land was so extreme that some scholars questioned the historical role of Liberia in the formation of several peacekeeping organizations in the world.

By the end of the Liberian civil war, the United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO) West African Team had its description of the country inherited by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:

 

I.        “Liberia is staggering under an external debt of about 3.7 billion, a per capita GDP  that is estimated to have decreased from US $1269 in 1980 to US $163 in 2005;

II.        There are no functioning public utilities and the vast majority have no access to electricity, water and basic sanitation facilities, or health care. Almost all medical services are provided by international non- governmental organizations and UN agencies;

III.        Roads and bridges which are needed to open up markets, increase employment, sustain humanitarian access to rural areas and expand the overall protection environment, are in dire need of repair…

IV.        The educational system is dilapidated, with a dearth of qualified teachers and available resources to rehabilitate school buildings;

V.        Liberia has no effective functioning judicial system; Outside of the capital Monrovia, most courts have been destroyed and trial-by-ordeal is not unheard of;

VI.        During the civil war the country’s human resources suffered from “brain drain” and crisis related death…

VII.        At the end of the crisis there were 314,000 registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country.”

Despite the high level of ruination stated in the preceding paragraphs, I would concede if it is considered a gross understatement of the havoc brought upon us by absolute rulers and kleptocrats. Strictly speaking, that was the country Liberians entrusted in the hands of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to rebuild and set on the appropriate trajectory for generations unborn.

Admittedly, there were many politicians and critics who saw this administration as another failed regime. This belief was bordered on the psychology of a population suffering from the delirium tremens or after effects of the misrule of successive administrative flunkies. Others based their pessimism on the bad image of the country at that time, and the “apparent impracticability” of fast recovery process.

It has, however, become evident today that this prediction was an erroneous evaluation of the unwavering determination of the first female president on the continent of Africa. I must therefore direct my writings on the path of truth and patriotism.

The administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made tremendous progress on all fronts to rebuild our war- ravaged country and restore its image amongst the comity of nations. And given that her achievements are quite visible, I will simply present a synopsis. My reward, as you will notice, is the placement of this composition on the shelves of many libraries.

Let us begin with the maxim that a nation indebted is a nation enslaved. Immediately after taking the oath of office, the president employed her diplomatic skills in dealing with this problem. She traveled across the globe in thunderstorms and risky flights negotiating the waiver of Liberia’s debts. And after few years of strict adherence to internationally accepted norms of good governance, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cancelled a debt of four billion United States dollars ($4,000,000,000). Still not complacent, the president continued her diplomatic persuasion till the Paris Club cancelled a debt of one billion, six hundred million United States dollars ($1,600,000,000) at the bilateral level. This remarkable achievement has opened the doors of economic recovery and paved the way for the attraction of huge capital.

To simplify the importance of the debt waiver, consider this hypothetical situation where each citizen was responsible for his share of the debt: Country X inherits a debt of US $5.6 billion from forefathers who seemingly did not invest such money. The citizens of country X decide to pay the debt on a pro rata basis. If the total number of citizens is 3.5 million then each citizen will pay the amount of US $1600. If this debt is cancelled as a result of the good work of a leader, country X and all its citizens have benefited individually and collectively.

Few years before the leadership of President Sirleaf, Liberia was considered the land of chaos and regional instability. This administration has changed that image. A Liberian passport now represents the lone star of hope on the continent of Africa.  More to that, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and our sister Leymah Gbowee are now Nobel Laureates and have entered the greatest hall of fame with the likes of Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., the fourteenth Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), Barrack H. Obama, Liu Xiaobo… Should this not be appreciated by all Liberians regardless of our political and cultural diversities? These two women are international celebrities. What a pride!

The home front is also improving under this leadership. The fiscal projection (budget) has increased from $80 million in 2005 to more than $649 million in the draft fiscal budget submitted to the legislature on May 31, 2012. Least paid civil servants in Liberia have jumped from an irregular US $15.00 under former president Charles Taylor to a very regular US $100.00 under the leadership of president Sirleaf. In some cases, least paid civil servants earn US $150.00. In fact, with the reform measures adapted by the youthful finance Minister Amara Konneh, revenue will remain in an upward direction. A new Financial Management Act was introduced to strengthen the system of accounting in the public sector.

This government has attracted over US $16 billion in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Commerce Minister Miata Beysolow is also working tirelessly to promote Liberian entrepreneurs and ensure a better balance of trade. The economy is moving in a positive direction.

On the issue of free speech and other basic fundamental rights, it is wise to give the president 100%. A liberal Congregational Minister Henry W. Beecher gave this brilliant definition of free speech: “There is a tonic in the things that men do not love to hear. Free speech is to a great people what the winds are to oceans… and where free speech is stopped, miasma is bred, and death comes fast”. It is difficult to determine the things that president Sirleaf does not love to hear. She permits the most critical utterances as a right protected under Article 15 of the 1986 constitution. She has no record of witch hunting people because of their opinions on national matters. We must honor our president for promoting free speech in a country whose history is replete with killings and imprisonments. Her administration has permitted the widest degree of latitude for individual expression since the founding of Liberia in 1822. The Liberian leader has proven beyond reasonable qualm that respect for fundamental rights is the unavoidable political recipe for the growth and development of any nation.

In addition to the level of tolerance, this government has set up the process of institutionalizing the tenets of good governance and the rule of law. The improved budgetary support for the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC), the General Auditing Commission (GAC), Law Review Commission (LRC), Land Reform Commission, Good Governance Commission, the Vision 2030 (Lift Liberia Committee) et cetera is indicative of the will of this administration to promote democratic values.

Several courts are established around the country and more lawyers and judges are being trained under the judicial guidance of Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis. The establishment of the Commercial Courts, and plans to establish other special courts to fast track justice is laudable. The police and the military have not reached their full capacity but anyone would agree with me that they are far better than what the president met in 2006.

As for the educational growth of Liberia, it is better to see before you believe. Have you seen the dozens of schools built around the country? Do you know that the University of Liberia Professors are now paid better and the Fendell campus is now completed? Have you realized that public schools teachers are now competing with some private schools in terms of salaries? Yes! These things are happening because we have a leader who is an ardent proponent of academic freedom and intellectual growth. It goes without saying that the educational system is rapidly improving and the fight against the virus of illiteracy and ignorance is well underway.

The government is also aware that only a healthy nation can become prosperous. In the current fiscal budget alone, the Ministry of Health is standing over thirty nine million US dollars. Many health centers have been set up with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners. The number of health workers is low but the government continues to help the process of training and motivating health workers. In addition, the Sirleaf-led administration has completed the modern Ministry of Health complex in Congo Town. It is worth mentioning that this building is one of the best in the Mano River Union (MRU).

Electricity and water have been restored to some parts of the country. The government recently announced plans to rebuild the Mount Coffee Hydro with some contributions from foreign partners. The new plant is expected to generate more than the pre-war capacity of 64MW. Similar effort is being applied to provide water and other public utilities. I can say here with scientific precision that the international acceptability and credibility of the Liberian leader is the major reason for these consistent foreign commitments.

The rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads and bridges continue to impress Liberians. The reconstruction of the Waterside Bridge and the construction of several miles of roads in different parts of the country are good examples. Note that some of these roads and bridges have not been repaired or developed since the days of President William V.S Tubman, 1944-1971.

Contemporary history will be written by the descendants of Herodotus that our leader lifted Liberia to higher heights. She took our homeland from the ashes of economic retrogression and socio- political decadence to a land of peace and flourishing democratic values. If you retrospect on the condition of Liberia in 2006 and conduct a reality check today, you will surely realize that even this composition is far below the aggregate accomplishments of this great mother of Africa.

Indeed, hope has been restored by the 23rd president of the Republic of Liberia- Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

 

Rufus D. Neufville, a former member of the Liberian House of Representatives, is a Political Essayist. He resides in Monrovia, Liberia, and can be reached at  +231 (5) 888 777 . You can also e-mail him at neuf76@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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