The Analyst (Monrovia)

24 March 2014

Liberia: Gbowee Gets Backlash

Monrovia — Recently, the House of Representatives hosted in Monrovia a National Oil and Gas Roundtable Consultation in preparation for plenary debate on two reform bills - the Draft Petroleum Exploration & Production Act of 2013 and the New NOCAL Act of 2013. The roundtable consultation involved local and international oil experts, informed individuals, and local interest and pressure groups. The consultation supposedly went well, but not everyone thinks so. Among the disconcerted is 2011 Nobel Peace laureate, Leymah Gbowee. The peace laureate had been contending that the allowing of a particular US-based Liberian youth representative to make presentation at the consultation proves once again that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is nepotistic and that that has marred the seriousness of consultation. But, interestingly, that allegation is heaping hot coals upon her head. The Analyst, reports.

The authorities of the Liberia Petroleum Watch (LIP-WATCH) have accused 2011 Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee of indulging in segregation and of being intolerant of youth involvement in national reform dialogues.

This indulgence, the group said, has brought under extreme public scrutiny her supposed societal standing as development stakeholder and peace crusader in postwar Liberia.

The allegation and observation were contained in a LIP-WATCH March 20, 2014 protest-cum-solidarity communication to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf under the signature of its Executive Director, Mr. Adolphus B. Kawah.

Initially in its communication, LIP-WATCH complained about its and other civil society organizations' exclusion from the recent oil and gas roundtable consultation hosted by the National Legislature and then proceeded to register its disagreement with Madam Gbowee. But why?

Background

In her Open Letter to the President shortly after the House roundtable consultation nearly a fortnight ago, the 2011 Nobel Peace laureate accused the management of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) of making light of its mandate to develop the oil and gas industry of Liberia.

In her view, the NOCAL management did that by inviting the President's grandnephew, Mr. Estrada Bernard III, a South Anchorage High School student in the State of Alaska, USA, to make a presentation on the development of the National Oil and Gas Industry of Liberia.

Gbowee did not say how NOCAL's delegation selection involved the President, but she cast doubts upon organizers' claims of Bernard's extracurricular prowess and doubted that he had the requisite expertise to make presentation at the roundtable consultations.

“My concern is that the inclusion of Mr. Bernard without further clarity on his expertise undermines your stated efforts to build a transparent process to developing the oil and gas industry,” Gbowee, who is also founder and president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation-Africa, said.

She then demanded that the Sirleaf Administration distribute widely the names and biographies of all invited participants to “curb criticisms that these roundtable consultations are not taking a serious approach to the development of the oil and gas industry”.

Backlash

But LIP-WATCH said it disagreed with the approach of Leymah Gbowee and others who have written “several political papers in the name of advocacy, condemning the invitation of Mr. Estrada Jefferson Bernard, III,” on grounds of age and relationship to the First Family.

“For us, the mere fact that a young man of Liberian heritage could have been projected at the National Oil & Gas roundtable to share his reading of the Alaskan model of citizens' participation with the intention of replicating same in our laws is a step in the upward direction, as it speaks strongly to the spirit of inclusiveness particularly of young people in these national conversations,” LIP-WATCH said in the communication to the President.

LIP-WATCH, a local non-for-profit organization that focuses on building awareness with the Liberian people on the petroleum sector, told President Sirleaf that it found Gbowee's approach “very offensive”.

What disconcerted the civil society group, according to its communication to the President, is that the Nobel Peace laureate chose to “engage in the business of chastising a young man for participating and sharing with stakeholders his youthful experience of the Alaska common solutions as a way of helping to shape our laws for the better”.

The organization, which focuses on reaching out and engendering dialogues on how to maximize the prospects of the oil sector, then wondered whether it has become a crime in Liberia to grant young Liberians an opportunity to dialogue with national actors.

“What LIP-WATCH anticipates is the broadening of this intention of youth participation and involvement in these national conversations by creating more avenues where young people can be opportune like young Estrada Bernard, III, to participate in extracurricular programs in resource management, leadership, advocacy et al so that more young people can come to these national discussions with appreciable knowledge to share with other stakeholders moving forward,” the civil society group said.

It described Gbowee as a member of Liberia's ‘spur-of-the-moment advocates', who are “edgy to unleash unnecessary attacks on the Presidency”, and noted that such vain politics was unacceptable.

The group dismissed her doubting of Estrada's qualification to address a national dialogue as unwarranted and noted that such line of thought raises serious questions about Gbowee's peace and leadership credentials.

“Could the Nobel laureate by inference, be suggesting that it is wrong to have enterprising young high school students participate in discussions that border on decision making and prospect for the future?

Would Madam Gbowee say the same thing had the young presenter been a Kollie who resides and attends a high school in Minnesota? Is Estrada Bernard's only wrong that he is a Bernard and grand nephew of the President?” the civil society group said rhetorically.

The second reason for its discontentment with Gbowee, the group said, was that she chose to politicize Bernard's participation by attacking the Sirleaf Administration, rather launching a genuine inquiry about whether the young man justified his inclusion.

“Is it the office of the President that was required to vet panelists/speakers for presentation at the Oil & Gas round table for which the President is being questioned? Can Madam Gbowee and her likes show any document that validates their claim that Estrada Bernard, III, was invited as an expert? Did she authentic whether or not the FrontPage Africa story of the Speaker's absence was valid? The answers are a big NO. We would appreciate were these questions to have been authenticated before writing the letter,” LIP-WATCH said.

The group praised NOCAL director Jacquelyn Khoury for according Bernard the opportunity to participate in national dialogue on oil reform and noted that the act served as a positive step in ensuring maximum feasible benefits for the Liberian people.

“We encourage Director Khoury and others with similar thinking to push harder for programs that will expand the horizon and intellect of the school going youths of our country so as to disabuse the minds of people who hold the view that the young people are irrelevant to such national dialogues,” the group said.

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