Liberia: Cycle of Corruption and Blame Games

The author, Tee Wonokay, Executive Director / FOHRD

The stories of nepotism and economic crimes in Liberia go back many generations, but for the purpose of this piece, I will focus on the recent decades of institutional corruption and economic crimes that have prevented the Liberian nation from achieving its best potentials.

By Tee Wonokay, Executive Director / FOHRD, [email protected]

The Liberian scenario reminds me of the line from the song ‘Mike and the Mechanics’ that says “Every generation blames the ones before.”

Do not forget, that when Samuel Doe and other military officers executed President William R. Tolbert on April 12, 1980, they blamed corruption and decades of Americo-Liberian stranglehold on the nation’s political system.

After the death of Tolbert, Doe took office and promised to be a good leader for all Liberians, and to provide an opportunity for every hard-working Liberian to prosper and live peacefully in a society that provides freedom and justice for all. But within a few years, the young head of state developed dictatorial tendencies and began crushing the voices of dissent.

Fast forward to December 1989 when Charles Taylor launched a military invasion, accusing President Doe of corruption and blaming him for the nation’s problems, as you all remember, that conflict caused so much destruction and set the country back many years. Anyways, Mr. Taylor became President following an election in 2007, but again, rather than diligently working to solve the nation’s problems, Mr. Taylor operated a crime infested administration and either humiliated or executed those who questioned his authoritarian rulership, blaming opposition leaders for the country’s economic collapse.

Eventually, Taylor’s problems compounded and he was forced to leave under indictment by the international criminal tribunal, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came along following an election in 2005. Considering everything that had happened in Liberia’s recent history, the hopes were high for Madam Sirleaf to turn the corner and steer the country in the right direction. I must admit that the Ellen administration did some good things in terms of advancing women’s rights, etc.

But, rather than apologizing for the areas where it fell short and doubling its efforts to succeed, the government of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf later became corrupt and arrogant, blaming the previous administrations and opposition leaders for Liberia’s economic downtown, cracking down on protesters with a militaristic approach that created pictorials reminiscent of the Taylor years.

In its final years, President Sirleaf’s administration repeatedly refused to acknowledge the suffering of Liberians, and ignored its promises to deliver transparency and fight corruption as “public enemy number one.”

Despite given countless opportunities to honor those deferred promises, the Ellen administration demonstrated no honest desire to dispense justice and equality for all. It continued the display of nepotistic tendencies and disregard for democratic norms by doing the following:

1) Appointing the President’s unqualified adult-children into some of the highest profile offices in the nation 

2) Disproportionately using force at the headquarters of the then opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) compound in 2006 as an attempt to silence the voices of dissent. Shots were fired on demonstrators for chanting anti-government slogans by state security personnel. Lots of citizens were hurt during that stampede, but the government never addressed that situation or took accountability.

3) The administration’s clandestine association with Russian firm Gazprom and the lack of accountability by the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) in that deal etc.

For reasons mentioned above, the Foundation for Human Rights Defense remains appalled by the Oslo Nobel Committee’s decision to award President Sirleaf the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. While Madam Sirleaf clearly deserves some credit for women’s rights advancement, her overall body of work was overshadowed by rampant corruption, nepotism, and crimes against the Liberian people for her role in the 1989 invasion by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) amongst others.

Once again, at the end of one corrupt administration, the resilient people of Liberia always carry the hope that the incoming administration will lead them in a new direction and restore their dreams, but time and time again, the people have ended up with each new administration being deaf eared to the country’s economic turmoil and blaming the administration before it. For instance, even though the Liberian people have gotten somewhat used to public officials enriching themselves with tax payers’ dollars for decades, what we are seeing in this current (Weah) administration is a whole new level of corruption and self-enrichment at tax payers’ expense. I will reserve further judgement and see if this administration will take action to deliver justice and equality to all of its people.