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Democratic pluralism, not nepotism

By Rufus D. Neufville  


The allegation of nepotism is the biggest political missile repeatedly unleashed by critics of the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Liberians at home and abroad often debate this polemical topic.

Some have written voluminous articles while others attack the regime on this issue whenever they are given a space at the podium.

Interestingly, those who continue to accuse the president of nepotism have one thing in common: they insist that nepotism is simply the employment of a family member. All arrows have been pointed at Mr. Robert Sirleaf, Chairman of the Board of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL).

The accusers reinforced their case by drawing in the limelight Mr. Charles Sirleaf, Deputy Bank Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), and Mr. Fumba Sirleaf of the National Security Agency (NSA). Prominent among the blabbermouths are Cllr. Aloysius Toe, Representative Bhufal Chambers and Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe.

The desperate attempt by these men to bring legitimacy to their mischievous alarm of nepotism prompted this intellectual intervention. It is the patriotic duty of all citizens to protect the population from lies and deliberate political chicaneries fashioned to undermine the gains made by the government.

Cllr. Aloysius Toe, Executive Director for the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD), laments in his release titled, “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nepotism: Re- emergence of Tubman’s Liberia Inc.; Tolbert’s Family enrichment games; Doe’s Cronyism; Taylor’s Liberia Limited; or Sincere Decision for Nation Building?”, that the president is nepotistic because she employed some family members in government. Representative Bhufal Chambers opined at a program marking the home going of fallen CDC lawmaker Moses Saah Tandapollie that the president has chosen to employ her children to all lucrative positions against logic and democracy.

The Maryland lawmaker who also served as Chairman of the Unity Party Legislative Caucus later sought refuge in the flagrant misinterpretation of the Executive Order number 38 as reported by the New Democrat Newspaper on July 19, 2012. The third person wrongly aiding the allegation of nepotism is the former Labor Minister in this same administration. Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe argued when he served as keynote speaker at the 63rd anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the president should sack her son Robert Sirleaf to avoid the classification of a nepotistic leader.

Contrary to their claims, my research showed that the allegation of nepotism against the president is baseless. The following paragraphs will demonstrate that their propaganda is a feeble political attack deeply rooted in the sinking sand of mischief.

Intellectuals at home and abroad will agree with me that these men and their followers are crying wolf when it is nowhere around. And though their persistent backbiting is pointless, it must be stopped because lies repeatedly told are capable of undermining the truth.

HISTORICITY OF NEPOTISM Nepotism is the English form for the Latin word nepos. It means “nephew” from which the Italian word “nipote” is also derived. Some catholic popes and bishops in the Middle Ages who were prevented from having children gave their nephews such positions of preference as were often accorded by fathers to sons. Nephews of the popes and bishops were elevated to the cardinalate often at the expense of others.

Some of the old church leaders corrupted the doctrine of chastity by positioning their nephews in strategic ranks to succeed them. Pope Callixtus III of the Borgia family is a good example. He made two of his nephews cardinals and helped one of them move to papacy, becoming Pope Alexander VI. It is a common logic that if a nephew was not available, they looked for any other blood relation to succeed them. This search for a family member to enjoy the fruit of succession is the historical contextualization of nepotism. Judging from this perspective, the president of Liberia is in no way involved in the act of nepotism.

She has not done anything to place her sons or any other relatives in direct line of succession. The three Sirleaf’s under discussion are far below the Vice President and Speaker of the republic. The second area of interest for a nepotistic leader is the political party governing the state. Cllr. Varney Sherman and the entire leadership of the party are not biologically related to the president. These party officials will play a key role in determining the next political leader come 2017 general and presidential elections.

Is it not laughable to think that Robert, Charles or Fumba would take an undemocratic ascendency to the standard bearership? LITERAL MEANING OF NEPOTISM The explicit definition as presented in the dictionary is the literal meaning of a word. Most intellectuals avoid the literal meaning of a word in major national debates such as the one at hand. It is often restrictive and limits the widest scope of logical reasoning. However, for the sake of the complexities in the debate over the allegation of nepotism in Liberia, I decided to take this path.

The Webster Dictionary defines nepotism as follows: “Undue attachment to relations; favoritism shown to members of one’s family; bestowal of patronage in consideration of relationship rather than of merit or of legal claim.” The situation in Liberia is far from the definition of nepotism as indicated above. The three sons of the president are among the very few professional Liberians still available to serve the country. Their inclusion in government is based on their competence and the ardent need to hire qualified Liberians in a society with serious brain drain.

It must be stated unequivocally that the employment of a family member is not nepotism. Nepotism only exists when such person is incompetent but survives only because of his relationship to the employer or authority. Also, the employee should have no legal claim to the job and may occasionally use such office at the disadvantage of others. It is important to mention that the tentacles of nepotism do not extend to the employment of a family member in keeping with best practice and laws. The employment of the sons of the president is necessary because our society needs their professional expertise.

There are very few Liberians more qualified than these individuals and even the writer of this article would not pretend to be one. Mr. Robert Sirleaf worked on Wall Street for more than two decades. Don’t you think we need him in our effort to improve our economy? Fumba Sirleaf worked at the National Security Agency before his mother came to power. Is it not wise to allow a man to ascend after many years of service with honor? Mr. Charles Sirleaf is an enduring Liberian banker. This son of the president remained in service to his country under the most difficult circumstances. He deserves credit for refusing to leave Liberia even when past dictators targeted his mother.

Are they now saying that the president should sack her son when the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) employed him before her administration? Or are the critics suggesting that these professional Liberians take their families to their mother for regular support? Even Barrack Obama would help provide jobs for Malia and Natasha when they grow older and join the list of American professionals. In addition to their qualification and experience, the sons of the president have legal claim to work in Liberia just like any other Liberian.

Article (18) of the 1986 constitution of Liberia supports this. It provides that all Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, and ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation… Our domestic law is strengthened by Article (23) section 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  which states that everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment,  just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Article (23) section 3 of the UDHR is an extension of this and provides for other means of social protection.

The attempt by these educated politicians to disregard known facts and unnecessarily accuse the president of nepotism is unfair. This propaganda is cheap because the world knows that this president has set up a government of inclusion. The fifteen political subdivisions and the sixteen tribes are represented. All religions and political parties are part of the government. The chiefs and elders have the latitude to fully participate in the decision making process. The president cemented this by signing into law a bill giving autonomy to the National Council of Chiefs and Elders for the first time in the history of Liberia.

The detractors could choose to disregard these pillars of pluralism. But even if they run to contemporary political philosophers, their explanations would be the same. The wise men would proffer similar interpretation for the arguments of Cllr. Toe, Rep. Chambers and Cllr. Gongloe as follows: Cllr. Aloysius Toe is simply saying that the children of any president should not be a part of nation building; Rep. Chambers is saying that the best president in the world is the one who suppresses his own children; and Cllr. Tiawon Gonloe is asking the president not to be a respecter of the Liberian constitution and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. What a shame!

Let me conclude with the real lesson the president is teaching the Liberian people. The culture of living on your parents even in your old age is unacceptable. If the children of the president must work to make a living then all Liberians should do the same. Moreover, the suspension of Charles Sirleaf for failure to declare his assets shows that her sons are not enjoying any undue favor. These facts will never be negated because some politicians are trying to mislead the public.

Once Robert, Charles and Fumba are competent and pose no threat to our republican system of government, their inclusion does not satisfy the conditions for nepotism. With this little tutorial on the true nature of nepotism, I can confidently instruct my three brothers to redirect their intellectual energy.

There are glaring realities that this government is inclusive both in form and substance. Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will leave a legacy of democratic pluralism, not nepotism.

Rufus D. Neufville is a political essayist and a former member of the Legislature. He can be reached at or +2315888777 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting  +2315888777     end_of_the_skype_highlighting.  


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