Well, in Liberia, so many interesting episodes have unfolded in the world of politics and democracy, causing the Issues Desk to pause and reflect. And this reflection has to do with the nature of the presidents Liberia and its people have had over the years, or at least in the not-too-distant past.
I have seen, heard and read about Liberian presidents. There was William V. S. Tubman whom many consider a benign dictator. There was William R. Tolbert whom many refer to as the man-cut-between-the-scissors. There was Samuel K. Doe, a man many continue to describe as the young Liberian dictator. He was a leader whom I really experienced. Then there was Charles Ghangay Taylor, a man many refer to as the Liberian dictator, while others call him the trouble maker or destabilizer. I also experienced – really experienced – this man. All these presidents, besides Tolbert whose status or nature is not too clear to me – had something in common – they were all dictators.
Tubman suppressed the free press, as well as freedom of expression. That’s not all. He was unwelcoming to opposition, suppressing opposition leaders and killing some in the process. If Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, D. Twe and David Coleman were around, they would have more to say to this.
Doe, like the grand master Tubman, also suppressed freedom of the press and of speech. He also considered opposition leaders his either-you-will-kill-me-or-I-will-kill-you enemies, causing many of them to run away from this land. Journalists and opposition politicians were arrested and incarcerated for common. Ask Dr. Amos Sawyer, Madam Sirleaf, Isaac Bantu and others.
Taylor, too, the no-nonsense dictator, according to many, was an embodiment of tyranny. He suppressed almost everything there was to suppress – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, opposition leaders, student activists, and so forth. He didn’t want any strong opposition or challenge. He, like almost all dictators, wanted to be the only rooster in the town, and he was. Mr. Prince Johnson, now Senator, could not step here. Mr. Milton Teahjay escaped. Dr. Amos Sawyer escaped. Commany Wisseh escaped. Alhaji Kromah escaped. Mr. George Boley escaped. Many renowned and uncompromising journalists escaped this land. Student leaders and activists fled this country. Almost everyone lived in constant fear and trepidation. Charles Taylor did not just threaten, he carried out his threats. Journalists, human rights lawyers, and others were arrested and ill-treated. Does anyone doubt this? Let them ask Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe or journalist Hassan Bility.
Now, there is Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. This one – I mean, this other president – is different. She is not like Tubman. She is not like Doe, and she is not like Taylor. She is just different. To be a bit repetitious, she is unlike Tubman, Doe and Taylor.
Yes, Ellen sued a newspaper, which many consider a form of intimidation. Yes, she threatened to arrest opposition leader Simeon Freeman if he ever demonstrated against corruption in the street. Yes, her government is extremely corrupt to the extent that the United States indicated in its 2010 Report that corruption permeated her government at all levels with impunity. Yes, her method of appointing individuals in her government does not enhance reconciliation. Yes, she deceived the Liberian people and the entire world when she said in 2005 that she would not seek a second term, that she would be a one-term president, when she knew that full well that she would seek a second term. Yes, she or others in her government sometimes dictate what is published in the media and how it is published. Surely, she has said and done some discouraging and disappointing things, especially when juxtaposing some of her words and deeds and what she said about and did to past administrations she didn’t like.
However, when one reflect on what journalists, opposition politicians and others experienced under Tubman, Doe and Taylor, it is easy to see that arresting and imprisoning journalists, opposition politicians or student activists is not the practice of the Ellen government. Doesn’t this differentiate her from Tubman, Doe and Taylor?
Second, almost all of those who would not be happy to live in Liberia under a president Doe or a president Taylor are living here freely and happily. Alhaji Kromah is here. George Boley used to do go-and-come until his arrest in the States. Charles Brumskine is here. George Opong Weah is here. Prince Johnson is here. Commany Wisseh is here. Dr. Sawyer is here. Teahjay is here. Tiawon Gongloe is here. The list goes on and on. No opposition politician is in jail. No journalist is in jail. No human rights activist is in jail.
Third, yes, some media institutions and journalists are pro-Ellen, while others are anti-Ellen; however, press freedom has flourished unprecedentedly under Ellen. In other words, freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Ellen government. Journalists write what they want to write, even if what they write is a complete fabrication. Media institutions broadcast or publish what they want to. The government is not all over the place threatening journalists and media institutions for publishing or broadcasting this or that.
Fourth, freedom of expression is promoted and protected under the Ellen government. All individuals and institutions say and write what they want to say and write. Some people virtually insult Ellen on the radio, on television or in the newspaper, without Ellen and her government foaming like a ferocious lion. Citizens speak freely at Hatai shops. People speak freely on called-in radio talk-shows. People say anything they wish to in their various communities and on their school campuses. I will listen to no one who tells me that Ellen is not different from Tubman, Doe and Taylor in this direction.
Fifth, in relation to the Simeon Freeman-Cynthia Wah sex case, when some officials of the Information Ministry made some negative statement about “Mr. Freeman’s zipper being down,” it is said that Mr. Freeman responded by saying that it was Ellen whose zipper was down. Ellen did nothing to Mr. Freeman. The Ellen government did nothing to Mr. Freeman. Who would have been brave to say such a thing to a president Doe or a president Taylor?
Sixth, Acarous Gray, Secretary General of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), now Representative of Montserrado County, is on record as saying if Ellen wanted a bitter Liberia, he and his group would give her a bitter Liberia. Mr. Gray was not arrested and has not been arrested for that utterance. Mr. Gray is not in prison. Could Mr. Gray have made such a statement under a president Taylor and go free? Shouldn’t Ellen be commended for this development?
Seventh, another story has it that the same Acarous Gray said that Ellen and her Unity Party (UP) would rule their people, while he (Acarous Gray) and the CDC would rule their people. Nothing happened. Can anyone imagine this happening under a president Doe or a president Taylor? When the late Roosevelt Johnson of ULIMO-J and his men barricaded a certain part of Monrovia and had it as “their” area in 1998, Taylor said, “There can be no state within a state. There will be no state within this state,” and he was finished. We all know what happened on Camp Johnson Road and other places that year. Who would consider Acarous Gray’s statement and the fact that nothing has happened and still argue that Ellen is not different from Tubman, Doe and Taylor?
There are many other things that others have either said or done, things that would cause a dictator to react ferociously unmercifully. But, under a president called Ellen, the situation is completely different.
To be continued…
Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.