Liberia: A Pair of Dirty Hands

President George M. Weah on Inauguration

It's been several decades since a Liberian President entered office with a cleaned pair of hands, for instance, before President Samuel K. Doe took office in 1980, he had dirtied his hands by his role in the death of President William R. Tolbert, and early on in his Presidency, the young Head of State (Doe) went on to get his hands even dirtier with the extra-judicial execution of the thirteen deposed government officials on the shore-ways of Monrovia waters on November 22nd, 1980.

Then Charles Taylor came along, and although he marketed himself as the liberator of the people, Mr. Taylor's hands were already very dirty when he took office in 1997, the crimes committed under Taylor's watch, as well as the execution of a sitting President by a break-away faction of his military junta, and the many direct orders given by the merciless Liberian President to summarily incarcerate and execute opposition figures are well documented.

And, when Madam Sirleaf came along in 2005, despite her colorful rhetoric and beautiful promises to make corruption 'Public enemy number one', Mrs. Sirleaf was relentless in intimidating and marginalizing opposition leaders and famous voices of dissent, further, Madam Sirleaf's role in planning the formative stages of the bloody civil war that went on to destroy over 100,000 lives and the social fabrics of the Liberian society meant that her pair of hands were already dirty for several decades when she took office.

So, now we have President George Weah, who for many years was a Liberian sporting hero, and who is perhaps the first Liberian President to walk into office with a clean pair of hands in the last four decades or so.

The tricky preposition for the current President is that in order to keep his hands clean for the next three years, he must first remember that in the Liberian context, there are so many factors that could get a leader's hands dirty very quickly, as good a man as President Weah was before his ascendancy to power, he could quickly become a target for criticism both at home and abroad if he loses focus and develop dictatorial tendencies, become corrupt, nepotistic and self-centered like some before him.

Thus, we urge the new President to remember to remain patriotic, transparent and selfless, most importantly, the President must respect human rights and the rule of laws, ensure that prison conditions meet the minimum standard required under international law to protect the dignity of those incarcerated, tolerate the voices of dissent in accordance with the constitution, etc.

We the people, will applaud the government for undertaking various developmental projects and generally maintaining Liberia's fragile peace and tranquility, but in the instances where something doesn't seem right, including the allegation of missing monies, nepotism, rampant corruption, and violence against peaceful protestors, who have gathered in public spaces to express their dissent about the state of the nation, we will speak out loudly and clearly.

In this constitutional republic, the government is supposed to be of the people, for the people, and by the people, this means that the government has a constitutional and statutory obligation to act in a manner that puts the interest of its people first.

But as I have stated earlier, many Liberian leaders in recent decades have entered office having already committed major acts of corruption or other human rights crimes including their roles in the civil conflict that devastated the nation two decades ago, but this current President, who came to power after serving Liberia's interest abroad in the sporting arena, has an opportunity to serve well and be remembered as the one who entered office with a clean pair of hands and did right by the Liberian people.

Our hope therefore is that he (President Weah), will listen to the concerns of his people and respect what democracy demands, and understand the words of Thomas Jefferson, that when the government fears the people, then there is Democracy, but when the people fear the government, then there is tyranny.

Torbor Tee Wonakay

Executive Director/FOHRD

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