Liberia: It Takes Two to Tango

opinion

Over the last few days public attention has been focused on President Weah with much of the blame for what protesters claim is poor governance of the country. President Weah is indeed carrying a heavy load. This should however not be surprising given the fact that Liberia for twenty-seven long years was governed under a virtual dictatorship by President William V.S. Tubman, the vestiges of which continue to haunt us today. He was succeeded by President William R. Tolbert who opened the political space to the point where he tolerated the formation of opposition political parties and allowed greater freedom of expression.

That period was however short-lived as his government was ousted in a coup d'etat in 1980. A ten-year period of a brutal military dictatorship ensued, which ended in his violent overthrow. Under the military dictatorship the democratic space was closed with the Legislative and Judiciary branches virtually impotent. It was the closure of the democratic space, mainly accompanied by gross abuse of human rights that led the country to a 14-year civil war.

The elections of Charles Taylor in 1997 as President raised hopes that the prolonged period of instability was over that the country was on a path of peace and prosperity. Those hopes however proved unfounded, undermined by Taylor's irresistible urge to spread his influence and dominate Liberia and the subregion. Corruption was a hallmark of his rule. Further, he had virtually cowered the opposition and sent so many of his opponents fleeing into exile. They were to later regroup and subsequently invaded the country which forced Taylor to abdicate in 2003.

With the election of Ellen Johnson as President in 2005, hopes were once again raised that prosperity was in sight. At the time, Liberia was mired in crippling debt and her efforts succeeded in having Liberia benefit from debt relief which left the plate clean. Under her rule, the democratic space was widened and, although there were several instances of attempts to stifle the media, nevertheless, the media remained defiant never mind imprisonment and other abuses against media practitioners.

Under her rule, however, the Legislature as well as the Judiciary became for the most part instruments of personal control. Inducement and bribery of legislators as well as judicial officials was common place. The ouster of House Speaker Alex Tyler, largely accomplished through financial inducement of legislators as well as the signing into law of 64 out of 66 concession agreements, are cases in point. Her manipulation and corruption of integrity institutions such as the National Elections Commission, and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission was an open secret.

Her often proclaimed mantra, "it is now time for generational change", according to political observers, was a ploy under which she sought to ensure that her successor kept the lid on corrupt practices in which she may have been involved, according to a leading former official in her government. In short, corruption and impunity was not only tolerated but encouraged as well.

It was no surprise, therefore, that prior to his ascension to the President, then presidential candidate George Weah often touted that the protection of her interests was his foremost priority. Although one of her sons has since been criminally indicted in the L$16 billion missing banknotes, she personally claimed responsibility for the mismanagement of public resources by another one of her sons, under whose watch US$50 million remained unaccounted for at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). The matter has since remained under wraps.

President Weah, having inherited all the problems she created and finding himself hard-pressed in dealing with his inherited legacy, has turned to the use of violence to stifle dissent against poor governance and runaway corruption.

The current economic downturn fueled by official corruption and to which answers have not been forthcoming, has sparked off a growing chain of street protests by citizens angered by severe economic hardships, runaway official corruption and ostentatious displays of wealth by his officials.

This newspaper is constrained to warn President Weah of more protests to come should the economic situation continue to worsen. And a violent response by state security forces similar to what was experienced during the January 6 protest will eventually prove untenable. And lest it be forgotten, there will be repercussions, even if limited in scope.

Also to be considered is the prospect of criminal charges being brought against some state officials, security or otherwise before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Lastly is the Legislature which cannot be absolved of blame in the economic downturn the country is currently experiencing.

For example even in the face of clear evidence suggesting foul play in the handling of the L$16 billion banknotes brought into the country, yet most legislators, according to sources, have signed on to a proposal to print additional banknotes when neither the L$16 billion nor the US$25 million allegedly infused into the economy have been properly accounted for.

As the old saying goes, "it takes two to tango". The Legislature cannot be absolved of blame. As representatives of the people, they have failed to live up to their fiduciary responsibilities and it would not be surprising to see them drawn into the crosshairs of adverse public opinion. And should they continue to tread along the path of least resistance to Presidential foibles, they may likely find themselves the objects of public scorn and hate.

They ought to be reminded that in the opinion of the public, it is all about themselves and their interests and definitely not the public and if they do not act to erase this image, the consequences could eventually prove dastardly because after all, IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO.

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