‘Lame-Duck’ Liberian President Must Avoid Missteps Haunting Predecessors’ Legacies


IT IS THE most difficult period dreaded by most presidents on the last leg at the helm of power in any democracy.

IT CAN BE PAINFUL and at times vulnerable to see leaders who commanded the power of their constituents gearing up to find their way among the ordinary folks once more. No more sirens wailing in the busy traffic; no more sycophants bowing at their feet with lofty chatters and glowing praises and no more special treatments that come along with the trappings of power.

FOR Liberia, like most third world struggling democracies, that has never been a luxury. Successions have been far too few and opportunities for a peaceful transition in limited supply.

IN OCTOBER 1871, President Edward James Roye, the first pure black leader, was deposed in the first coup d’état in Africa’s Oldest Republic. He died a mysterious death in Monrovia in early 1872. 

HISTORIANS HAVE documented a variety of reasons for his mysterious demise but the bottom line is, Roye escaped from prison and reportedly drowned while trying to escape to a British ship.

THE LATE DORIS BANKS Henries’ version suggest that the canoe in which Roye tried to make his escape capsized after which he drowned. “The English money, which he had tied around his waist – thought to be the proceeds from the 1870 Loan – was taken from his body and stolen after his body was brought ashore (Huberich). Another author writes that the weight of the money around his waist was the cause of his drowning when he was swimming to a British ship.”

IN JULY, 1971, PRESIDENT WILLIAM V.S. Tubman, died at a clinic in London following post-operative complications from prostate gland surgery at the age of 75. He was succeeded by his long-time vice president William R. Tolbert.

TOLBERT’S REIGN fell short, starting with a rice riot on April 14, 1979 and a coup d’etat a year later on April 12, 1980 that ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule.

AN UNHAPPY sector of the population felt left out of the political process and the country’s wealth, leading to the military takeover by a band of low-ranked army officers led by Samuel Kanyon Doe.

LIKE THOSE he toppled, Doe’s reign soon fell prey to the familiar trappings of power which eventually led to his downfall as rebels led by Charles Ghankay Taylor took matters in their own hands with a civil war that killed thousands, sent scores into exile and ruined infrastructures while sending the country years back in development.

THAT BRINGS US TO Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who took office following a series of transitional governments as Liberia struggled to find its way back from war to peace.

TWELVE YEARS OF PEACE amid some turbulent periods of corruption, mismanagement and governance lapses have also seen some good times. The Sirleaf-led government has helped restore Liberia’s relevant in the world and the administration has made some in roads in rebuilding some of the many infrastructures ruined during the civil war.

IN THE WANING DAYS of the Sirleaf reign, critics and skeptics are already beginning to draw negative parallels, labeling the two terms as Twelve Years a Slave in ode to the 2013 period drama depicting the life of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, who was abducted and sold into slavery.

THE PARALLELS are already beginning to eclipse some of the positive developments of the past twelve years.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, it is the many missteps already unfolding that threatens to rock the Sirleaf reign and pave the way for a somewhat rocky life after the presidency.

THIS WEEK, a FrontPageAfrica report offered a detailed report highlighting excerpts from concerns expressed by the European Union’s ambassador to Liberia, Tiina Intelmann.

THE ENVOY took aim at a new Executive Order, recently signed by the president, which plans to halve its Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ), currently reserved for artisanal fishermen, reducing it from six nautical miles to just three. This will allow industrial vessels, including trawlers, to fish much closer to the shore.

SAID THE AMBASSADOR: “The European Union was surprise to learn about this Executive Order from the press as the SFPA agreement clearly states that “Art 3.5 – The Parties shall cooperate with a view to implement a sectoral fisheries policy adopted by the Government of Liberia and to that end shall initiate a policy dialogue on the necessary reforms. They shall consult with a view to potentially adopting measures in this are” and “Art 3.8 – The Parties shall consult one another prior to adopting any decision that may affect the activities of Union vessels under this agreement. The European Union has serious concerns about the implications of the EO 84. Based on experience in other countries in other countries and beyond we have reason to believe that some of the measures introduced under Section 2 of the EO will not lead to sustainable investments, but rather to the accelerated depletion of current fish stocks resulting in reduced economic opportunities in the sector and increased food security.”

THE FISHERIES controversy is just one of many unfolding mysteries in the waning days of the Sirleaf presidency.

IN VARIOUS government ministries and agencies, reports are emerging of how officials are doing all they can to loot the country’s coffers in the last few days.

IF THIS SOUNDS familiar, a page from the last days of the Gyude Bryant interim government is a clear reminder of what can happen when officials on the way out feel they have nothing to lose.

IN FACT, some of those officials became the first casualties of the Sirleaf administration.

IN THE EARLY days of her reign, the President dismissed some finance ministry officials in a bid to curb the corruption crippling the post-war nation. “Those who are part of financial malpractices and scandals must give way for those who are prepared to do the will of the Liberian people,” Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf told employees during a surprise visit to the ministry. Sirleaf had earlier said the entire staff of the finance ministry would be sacked, but her office later issued a statement clarifying only those employees appointed by the outgoing caretaker government were relieved of their posts.

BUT LIKE HER PREDECESSORS, Sirleaf soon found that promises made on the campaign trail are often difficult to enforce. Corruption, declared public enemy number one remains today, Sirleaf’s major Achilles.

IT IS SAD that her waning days are being marred by reports of officials trying their best to take advantage of the last-minute vulnerabilities and exploit the resources of a struggling nation on the rebound from war and making a painful transition from war to peace.

TO SAY that the Sirleaf administration has not done much to contribute to the rebuilding this shattered nation would be unfair. But endemic corruption which was a key cause of the civil war remains prevalent.

AND LIKE THOSE before her, Sirleaf appears to be paving the way for a rugged post-presidency, especially if the succeeding government begins to look at some of the last-minute deals being undertaken.

IF SIRLEAF FAILS, in the last few days to take her eyes off the ball, as she has regarding the executive order that is now entangled in controversy over the fisheries sector, she may find herself staring down at the barrel of a somewhat complicate life after she leaves.

AS HAS BEEN THE CASE before, former officials, now singing the praises of the leader of the day – and feeding a load of makeshift scenarios about last-minute projects with claims of benefits to Liberia, would be the very ones duplicating Simon Peter and the betrayal of Jesus. But most importantly, a lot of these deals will become a major burden for the next government.