The recent decision of the ECOWAS Court in the case of “Nancy Doe VS. The Republic of Liberia” is a victory for justice and human rights. It says loudly that justice can be obtained in Africa; that the poor and the powerless can get justice in the court of law in the continent, and that justice is really blind. It does not see the faces of people but hears the voices of truth. The Court rules that the Republic of Liberia violated the human rights of Nancy Doe in her quest for her late husband’s money, which was put in the custody of the Liberia government. Nancy Doe, photo above, is the wife of Liberian late President Samuel K. Doe, who was brutally killed in the country civil war. The Court awarded her $18M.
The case started during the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when in 2011 Madam Doe complained to the Liberian court that the government failed to give her $4,947,830 legally owned by her late husband, President Doe. While president, he was a silent businessman with interests in several businesses, including a diamond and gold enterprise in Liberia. According to sources, the mineral company earned over $2M annually in net revenue. He deposited his money in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in Liberia. BCCI collapsed during the civil war. The National Bank of Liberia liquidated BCCI deposits and became the bank agent. The National Bank later became the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). The Liberian bank or Government made no claim of the money when it received it. Also, the government used part of the money to compensate one of its officials. But it would not allow Mrs. Doe access to the fund. In 2015, the Liberian Supreme Court ruled in her favor and awarded her $5,209,382 in addition to 6% interest plus “accrued interest starting from the date the debt was due to the time of the award”. The Sirleaf government, however, failed to comply, dragging its feet while Mrs. Doe and her family suffered. After many unsuccessful efforts, in 2016, Mrs. Doe took the matter to the ECOWAS Court. As stated, the court agreed with her complaint of human rights violation.
Sirleaf’s term as president expired in January 2018 and her successor, Soccer Star George Weah, took over the government after the 2017 Election. When President Weah came to power last year, many observers thought that he would settle the matter nationally. But he did not. Why both presidents did not settle? Will the government comply with the ECOWAS ruling? Let us start with the second question.
WILL LIBERIA COMPLY?
The Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, established the ECOWAS Court to adjudicate human rights matters brought by states, individuals, or entities within the community. Member states are signatories to the court mandates. The court ruling is binding and is final. Although not all nations obey an international order, international law and diplomacy require that nations comply with rules and orders mandated by the community which they are members of. Further and conceptually, in international relations, all nations are equal whether big or small. They do not want to be viewed lawless, non- compliant with established protocols, norms, agreements, and mandates. Nations do not want to be isolated either. Playing by the rules is good for their respective national interests. Because of these and other reasons, they tend to comply with a decision by the community. The George Weah administration is relatively new. It needs the respect, support, and cooperation of other member states. If the Weah government fails to implement an international court ruling regarding the human rights of its own citizen, foreign nations could be hesitant to do business or relate with the regime. A result could be a harder economic condition, thus leading to a crisis.
Moreover, according to ECOWAS judges who visited Liberia following the ruling, a member state that refuses to implement the court decision could be denied of judgeship position to the court and the possible denial of future assistance from ECOWAS in the event of a crisis. The judges made reference to the Liberian civil war and the role ECOWAS played. Hence, should Liberia fail to comply with the ruling, she could lose a future opportunity and assistance from the community. The judges’ visit was strategic. It appeared that the purpose was to inform the Liberian public of the importance of the court and that its verdict should be taken seriously. The judges held meetings with members of the Supreme Court, Liberian judges, students, civic organizations, the press, and other government officials.
What does the ruling mean to the struggle for justice and rights? As indicated earlier, the decision is a victory for justice. The poor in the city, village, and hamlet whose rights have been violated against can have the hope to fight on, to carry on and not to give up. Justice comes to those who are determined to the end. It means that even if your country fails to give you justice, an international court can give you justice. Madam Nancy Doe, an “uneducated” widow, who was born poor in a village in Liberia, fought the injustice of the Sirleaf government and won. She won not only in the highest court of Liberia but also in the ECOWAS Court, an international court. That speaks volume. That means that a government or administration cannot violate your human rights and go free. Whether you are poor or rich, famous or not, you can take the government to an international court for justice.
The ECOWAS Court did not see Madam Doe as the wife of an ex-president, but as a human being whose right was infringed upon by the very government that was constitutionally mandated to protect that right. The regime also disobeyed the decision of the arbiter of justice in Liberia, thereby deepening the violation and further denying and depriving the victim and her family the right to property, happiness, and a better life. Perhaps, it was the magnitude of the violation that made the court to award her over 300% more than the original claim. Certainly, that amount would make her one of the wealthy persons in Liberia, but the essence of the verdict is what really matters: she fought and has justice at last. In a talk after the court decision, she stated that she can die now or tomorrow, and she will go with a big happy smile. On the other hand, some family members do not see her victory as justice, at last, arguing that she has not received a dime from the past judgments in Liberia. They also indicated that she has not received justice for the Vomoma House hotel building owned by her husband and for the house in which Senator Varney Sherman, former chairman of Sirleaf Unity Party, resides and has not paid rent for years.
Madam Doe’s story started many years ago. Besides the problems she encountered after her husband’s death, she endured personal difficulties as a girl. Her biological father, of a Kru speaking ethnic group, abandoned her as a child. She reached out to him as a girl for love and support but was rejected. Thus, in addition to the institutional denial of educational opportunity in the Liberian rural sector, she could not also go to school in rural Grand Geded as a child because of the lack of support and the old traditional belief in the village that only the boys should go to school. She went through the daily struggle as a country girl and woman in the village. But she overcame this situation to become the mother of her country. As the first lady, the father came to her begging for forgiveness and claiming as her real father. She refused the claim. As the mother of the nation, education was important to her. Through private adult education, she learned to read and write just for self-benefit. Despites classroom education, she is wise and does not seem to react to situation immediately. A case in point was in September, 1990, on the day Doe died. As cited in a previous article, Mr. Willie Givens, Liberian Ambassador to Great Britain, called her in England to extend condolences but also requested her to return the embassy car which was assigned to her, because Doe was dead and she was no longer the first lady. She thanked him for the sympathy but told the ambassador that she would call back. She did and asked, “Ambassador Givens, who appointed you as ambassador?
“President Doe”, he answered.
Mrs. Doe responded, “But Mr. Givens if Doe appointed you and he is now dead, you are no longer ambassador and you have no presidential authority to request for the vehicle.”
“Givens was stunned to hear such intelligent response from a lady considered uneducated. He hung up the phone”. Here she knew that an ambassador is the personal representative of the president or head of state who appointed the ambassador.
Mrs. Doe as the first lady visited many countries and represented Liberia well. She was concerned about the plight of market women. Today, the Nancy Doe Market in Sinkor, Monrovia bears her name. Personally, with expected money coming, her kinsmen, friends, and others who have forgotten about her and her children would come out of the woodwork for help. That is a factor when you are rich among the poor.
Back to education; her husband Samuel Doe also did not forget about his education. As head of state, he returned to school and earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Liberia. Some classmates remarked that he was one of the best students and actively participated in class discussion. Perhaps President Doe’s personal interest in education contributed to his government success in Liberian literacy. “UN data indicated that in the 9 years of his administration, Liberian literacy rate quadrupled more than the rate under Tubman and Tolbert combined. Tubman was president for 27 years and Tolbert 9 years”.
After June, 1980, the Doe revolutionary government freed all its political prisoners and incorporated some into the civilian administration and implemented infrastructural development in the country. ‘The Doe government was an inclusive and well balanced administration’, said Sociologist Dr. Konia Kollehlon. Some credited it for giving birth to multi-party democracy in Liberia. But others said it “grew increasingly corrupt and [it became] repressive, banning political opposition and shutting down newspapers”.
WHY DID NOT PRESIDENT SIRLEAF AND WEAH SETTLE THE CASE?
Why Mrs. Doe was denied justice, and why was the case not settled in Liberia before the ECOWAS verdict? This brings us to the first question. Before we answer it, let us look at the history of the country. A review of Liberia’s past would give us the fundamental reason. Liberia, as a country, was founded by the American Colonization Society, which sent Black ex-slaves from America to Africa particularly Liberia in 1822. The former slaves ruled Liberia and oppressed native Liberians since the dependence of the country in 1847. The Congos, re-captured African slaves from the Niger-Congo Delta, another settler group, joined the Americo-Liberians in the rule of the country. The settlers considered the native majority inferior, uncivilized, and uneducated and therefore should have no rights. The aborigines were denied the citizenship of the country until 1912 and were granted the right to vote in 1946. But the 1980 revolution led by Samuel K. Doe overthrew the settler regime and instituted a new government and eventually, Doe became the first native-born president.
In 1990, however, Sirleaf and other Americo-Liberians/Congos plotted and financed the civil war, which removed Doe and paved the way for Charles Taylor and eventually Sirleaf to the presidency. Hence, this indeed gives the political reason for Sirleaf anti-Doe action depriving Nancy Doe’s right. Some analysts suggest that Sirleaf feared that Doe widow could use part of her award to destabilize the Sirleaf government. Others say that she was in competition with Mrs. Doe for President Doe’s attention during the Doe rule, but Doe passed over her for her younger sister, according to an article by Doe’s son, Samuel K. Doe, Jr. The son stated that his father and Sirleaf’s sister have a boy son, meaning that Doe’s son is Sirleaf’s nephew. Yet Sirleaf denied Mrs. Doe to Doe’s wealth. Thus, by doing so, Sirleaf also deprived her blood from having a better life.
President Weah is a native; the second president of full native-born. Like Doe, he was born poor. It was said that President Doe helped him while the icon was a local soccer player. Doe was like a father to him. Doe’s assistance to Weah continued to his early years trying out for international clubs. “I remembered Weah, he used to come to see daddy on most Saturdays”, said Doe’s oldest daughter Mammie. “He was like a family”, she added. Weah was a star player for the Mighty Barrolle soccer club, of which the president was a loyal and supportive fan. The year was 1985, Weah was 19 years old.
Unfortunately, as president, Weah did not seem to help resolve the matter nationally. It was alleged that last year his administration tried to bribe Mrs. Doe’s lawyer to leave the case or to withdraw it from ECOWAS without a committed settlement. Allegedly also, some officials wanted a share of the award for help for reduced settlement, according to a source. The source also stated that Mrs. Doe unsuccessfully tried many times for a private audience with Weah. Mrs. Doe and her lawyer refused the request and vowed to keep the case with the Court. But why did not the Weah administration settle the case knowing that the Supreme Court had ruled on the matter and since he knew President Doe personally? Some observers blamed Madam Sirleaf, arguing that she influenced him, and he was following her order because of his admiration of her. Others questioned this view, saying that even if Sirleaf made him, why about his conscience and his sense of justice as a person and mostly as a president? They maintained that the problem is Weah’s personality, that he likes his enemies and easily forgives them, but is harder on and does not forgive readily friends who mistakenly wrong him. George Solo, his former friend and ex-chairman of Weah political party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), remarked that the president is vindictive.
In the 2014 Senatorial Election for Monserrado County, Solo was forced out of his post for an accusation of arranging bribe to discourage Weah from the race for Robert Sirleaf, President Sirleaf’s son who was also a candidate. Weah won that election by a landslide, becoming senior senator of the largest county in Liberia. Solo and other former CDCians tried unsuccessfully to make peace with Weah after winning the presidency.
The view of Weah’s behaviors regarding his enemies appears to be true. For instance, in the 2005 presidential election, candidate Sirleaf camp, with her apparent knowledge and approval, engaged in a false and misleading campaign stating that Weah married Doe’s daughter, and Weah had told the people of Grand Gedeh, Doe’s birthplace, that as president he would dry their tears in avenging the death of Samuel Doe, who was killed by a Nimbanian who is considered a hero. That propaganda helped deprive Weah the presidency, as it drove votes away from him from Nimba, the second largest county in the country. Weah forgave Sirleaf for that act. He also embraced and vowed to protect her from possible prosecution for war crime in Liberia. Weah had advocated the establishment of a war crime court as a presidential candidate, but now he has turned around as head of state. The marriage propaganda was a lie. The daughter was already married and was residing in Europe with her husband. While Weah pardoned Sirleaf, he blamed Mrs. Doe for the falsehood and for not defending him. Sources say that he still holds Mrs. Doe responsible. According to a source, prior to the 2005 election, Weah and Mrs. Doe had an unfortunate encounter. While Madam Doe was residing in the US during the Taylor government and Weah was playing in Europe, she called Weah, but the conversation did not go well. Mrs. Doe was disappointed. The phone call created a relative conflict between the two.
Another example, Weah, after the 2017 Election, quickly embraced a talk show host who had consistently criticized and insulted him during the campaign, specifically during the runoff. After benefiting from Weah friendship and praising the president for about 11 months, he re-joined the opposition championing a planned June 7 protest to eventually remove Weah from power. On May 16, he returned to Liberia from the US with a hero’s welcome. A crowd of jobless youths paraded him in the streets of Monrovia shouting and chanting his name as their hero and leader, an act resembled of War Lord Charles Taylor entering Monrovia after the first civil war. That crowd called him, “Charles Taylor is our hero”; “Charles Taylor is our leader”. Taylor went to become one of the worst presidents of Liberia. He is now serving a jail sentence in Great Britain for war crime. But the Monrovian welcoming crowd, mostly males, seemed not to care of the evidence indicating that the talk show commentator had engaged in blackmailing activity, which particularly in America is criminal. Some see him as a Messiah able to solve the Liberian multiple- economic problem and everyone would be happy. Interestingly, moreover, the protest group founded by him is called the “Council of Patriots”. Charles Taylor rebel group which toppled Doe was named National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
However, the talk show host has advocated for the rights of disadvantaged Liberians and has given them a voice on his popular radio show, which he runs from his residence in the US. Meanwhile, majority of the opposition leadership is of the Congo stock, largely associates of former President Charles Taylor. They became rich and politicians by affiliation with Taylor and are referred to as TTB, The Taylor Boys.
The opposite side of the behavior discussed in the last two paragraphs is totalitarianism (Hannah Arendt, 1951), an altitude that does not compromise or negotiate with enemies or opposition. It crushes its enemies and rule by dictatorship. The Tubman regime could be an example. Interestingly, some citizens prefer the later behavior and consider the former to be weak. Many leaders, like Weah, fall in a similar situation of not knowing or knowing their real enemies, admiring and befriending them while keeping a distance from some good friends.
Specifically, in the Liberian reality, the Congo-native factor discussed earlier has some bearing on this issue. To follow this assertion and to understand this behavioral contradiction, you need to read Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, which explains that the oppressed sometimes see their existence in persons of their oppressors; that inside, some admire those who suppress and do not like them. Liberian studies guru the late J. Gus Liebenow wrote in “Liberia: The Evolution of Privilege” that some Liberian natives engage in an aristocratic embrace, acting and admiring Congos. Native lackeys believe that only Congos have the pedigrees for leadership and their footsteps should be followed. Descendants of the settlers feel that the presidency of the country is their birthright, an inheritance passed on by their forefathers. This thinking is the direct result of years of subjugation and mental slavery caused by the Congo hierarchal and promoted by the descendants.
While there are those who negatively view President Weah for possible reasons for not settling the case, there are those in the majority who view him positively. They argue that he is a kind and a good man, a man of peace who cares about Liberia and will succeed. They say that the situation with the president and Madam Doe is a misunderstanding between a son and his mother, that Weah would have settled the matter earlier had he not been busy with other pressing state issues after the election. Nevertheless, they acknowledge that the president is surrounded by some sycophants who are trying quietly to tarnish his legacy and arrest the Pro-Poor Agenda for transformation and development.
The ECOWAS ruling came at a time of extreme economic hardship in Liberia. Prices for common commodities have increased, and the exchange rate for the US dollar has gone up. It is currently 185LD to a US dollar; a cup of rice is 50LD from 40; a half bag of rice is 2500LD from 2300; a pack of peppers is 20LD from 10 or 15 depending on size; and a plastic bag of cold water is 10LD from 5. During President Sirleaf’s, the US rate was increasing regularly, though lower. Prices were high and the condition was also hard. This economic problem has been around since the Charles Taylor administration. Weah is not really to be blamed. The reality is that though Liberia is rich in natural resources and has good soil, the country produces what she does not consume and consumes what she does not produce. For instance, the prices for rubbers and iron ores, the country’s chief export commodities, have fallen on the world market. At the same time, Liberia imports most of her basic consumer goods, including rice and peppers. This has created a negative balance of payment, which results in the need for and the increase of the US dollar, as wholesale buyers of foreign goods pay in US currency.
Further, the withdrawal of the UN Mission in Liberia at the close of the Sirleaf government has also created the scarcity of the dollar in the Liberian market. The mission was spending millions of US dollars monthly in Liberia for the upkeep of the peace keeping effort. However, the opposition faults Weah for the problem, though concretely none of its leaders or any other person would have solved the problem in one year and five months in office if president. But that is politics. In reality, it would take more than three years to tangle the situation. A government document says that the Weah administration plans to engage in more consumer agriculture activities and road connectivity for increasing production. Such agenda would be in the right direction: an increased agriculture production would help improve the balance of payment, while road and bridge construction would bring production to the market place and at the same time would create public work opportunity and employment.
Regardless, economic sentiment or financial sympathy plays little role in meeting a court order. The Weah led government should implement the court ruling.
The Nancy Doe case is a story of justice. Born in the village, she and her husband suddenly became the first lady and head of state respectively. They lost that power and she became an ordinary citizen. His and her political friends abandoned her. As a human and a citizen, her right was violated by a society which historically and fundamentally believes that certain group should be denied of just right and justice; that the poor and powerless should be subjects of unfairness and should not have and enjoy a better living. Her victorious fight for justice and against vindictiveness is an inspiration. Her courage should encourage all those whose human right has been denied never to give up but to continue to fight to the end.
The ECOWAS court should be applauded for exercising justice without favor and fear. It serves as an alternative for every citizen and entity of the community for justice for violation of human rights. The Weah administration is urged and should comply with the court verdict.THE NANCY DOE STORY
DAGBAYONOH KIAH NYANFORE II