The more things change, the more they look the same . Liberia’s new President Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf seems to have borrowed the script from SierraLeone’s much-villified President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. First of all, the fundamental similarity between both leaders stands out like a sore thumb.
Before both of them ascended to the highest offices in their lands, President Kabbah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had a distinguished stint with international jobs. Kabbah excelled himself at the United Nations while Sirleaf made name for herself and her country at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund ( IMF ). The briliant showing of both of them in the international arena instilled the belief in their countrymen and women that they were the right choices at the time for the leadership of their respective countries. While in Kabbah’s case, that notion has been proved wrong , it is yet to be seen whether Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will live up to her massive billing.
However , whether by coincidence or design, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has started following the footsteps of President Kabbah. After a rather contentious and disputed elections in Sierra Leone , which Kabbah won in controversial fashion in 1996, the incoming President went ahead and appointed the Elections Chief , Mr. James Jonah, into his government as the Minister of Finance. The appointment was largely condemned by the opposition parties and independent newspapers which considered Jonah’s appointment as a payoff for helping the President win the elections.
As if men ( and women ) do not learn from history , Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has repeated Kabbah’s mistake in Liberia. Sirleaf has appointed to her government the woman who presided over the last Presidential Elections that saw ugly protests from the opposition Congress For Democratic Change ( CDC ), and a temporary standoff in the nation. The controversial Elections Boss has been appointed Minister of Justice for Liberia , which has been swiftly condemned by the CDC . The Assistant Secretary General of the party, Mr. Acarous Gray, has decribed the appointment thus : The nomination of Frances Morris is a reward for her role in depriving the majority of the Liberian people of their legitimate victory during the Presidential Elections “ .
That was not all. President Kabbah appointed a Nigerian General as head of the Sierra Leone army and Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf has done the same. A Nigerian General is now chief of the Liberian army.
Now , Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has pulled off another classic Tejan Kabbahism by launching a lawsuit against a private citizen for writing an allegedly defamatory article against her . While Kabbah sued the Editor of FOR DI PEOPLE , Paul Kamara , for calling him a true convict following his ban from public office by the Beoku-Betts Commission in 1968 , Sirleaf is suing former Charles Taylor Spokesman, Tom Woewiyou , for writing an article and linking her to subversive activities during the Liberian war.
Liberians contacted by this newspaper have described the lawsuit as the first major blunder the new Liberian President has made. At a time when she should have been trying to unite her country by preaching the ideals of tolerance, forgiveness and freedom of expression, here is Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf displaying what could be construed as disregard for freedom of speech and vindictiveness.
The article written by Woewiyou was purely an opinion piece and it did not tarnish Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf’s name. People who know the true and real Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf continue to trust her deeply for her principles and love for her nation and they know the truth that by supporting Charles Taylor at the initial stage of the Liberian war, she was fighting a patriotic battle to help remove from power a blood-thirsty dictator who was making life a hell on earth for Liberians and foreign residents alike. Who , apart from the dictator’s sycophants, did not join the Charles Taylor incursion or support it ? Almost all the country’s intellectuals and private citizens supported Charles Taylor initially.
The true test of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s character came when Taylor deviated from the revolution, and started killing innocent people based on their tribes , and also needlessly destroying the country’s infrastructure and siphoning millions of dollars from illegal trade in Liberia’s natural resources. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf stopped supporting Taylor and became one of his most pronounced critics. Ellen, therefore, did not engage in subversive activities and most people who know her appreciate that fact. She should have simply ignored Woewiyou’s article , since indeed it did not even impact on her chances of winning the elections.
By launching such a lawsuit, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has provided fuel for her critics to charge that she will not tolerate freedom of Speech and Press Freedom during her reign. It is the same attitude in Liberia’s former dictators Samuel Doe and Taylor which turned Sirleaf into their bitterest critics. Why is she doing the same now ? She is showing that with time she will be another Doe or Taylor. And that indeed is a brutal blow and setback for a President whom the whole world is looking up to as the salvation for Liberia.
We call on Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf to immediately withdraw the lawsuit and return Pa . Kabbah’s obnoxious script, for it is not the panacea for Liberia’s problems.