There is a sense—and a serious realistic context—in which President George Weah situated his allegorical assertion, “beat it, driver beat it.” As seen in the last years of his ascendency on the national political stage, he has conveyed his thoughts smartly morally—an instinct given only to wise ones.
Certainly, the temptation and frustration of politics searing the conscience of some people would not allow them understand a very simple and popular allegory and they would seek to trivialize and taunt it as if the President did not know or did not mean what he said. But a sober and de-politicalized mind would understand that the allegory was meant to reveal the hypocrisy—the double talks, two-facedness and double standards—prevalent and pervasive in the Liberian psyche and mentality. Nothing eloquently explains this, and there is no better way the President could have exposed the seething hypocrisy, than citing the Liberian childhood play song, “beat-it-driver-beat-it.”
Paraphrased, the President told a Church-parked audience welcoming him from the United Nations General Assembly: In days past, as young people, when we were riding on a commercial vehicle, we had the tendency of encouraging the driver to speed up, saying, ‘beat it, driver beat it’. But when the driver began to accelerate, the same commuters would turn around, shouting, ‘stop running like that, you’ll kill us!”
The calls for President Weah to run with Liberia as fast as possible may just be as necessary as passengers who want to reach their destination, not just timely but pre-timely. Who does not want to achieve a goal on time or before time? And for Liberia which is Africa’s oldest republic but has a long history of endemic poverty, high illiteracy and pervasive disease, the temptation to rush the leader take a leap is so very high.
So, some Liberians say invariably, for instance: ‘arrest corrupt people now; arrest and detain suspects or ‘people of interest’ in the L$60 billion saga; arraign war crimes suspect; crackdown on dissent and critics; remain unmerciful to ex-leaders.’ And almost each citizen of this country since the advent of President Weah has been given his own version as to how they want the Liberian government run its course. One thing they are all unanimous on is this: President Weah must move with jet-like speed to meet their varying suggestions.
The President is not conceptually disagreeing with calls for the fight against corruption. He is not disagreeing with call for the end of impunity—whether it is impunity for war crimes suspects or economic crimes suspects. He’s is not even downplaying the need to move with rigidity as the way to tackle the country’s longstanding social, economic and political nemeses.
After all, he has spread himself on the records by often reiterating the promise to fight corruption in the public. He said it during his inauguration; he said it during his maiden state of the nation address and he said it recently before he departed for the United Nations General Assembly.
True, leaders before him had made a similar promise. Most importantly, the immediate past predecessor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, put it more forcefully and militantly. But the difference is, unlike President Weah, too many Liberian presidents came to the leadership without a clear understanding and appreciation of the challenges or the cultural environment underpinning the fight against corruption. President Weah understands and appreciates the environment better.
For instance, when he alluded to the challenges facing the fight against corruption and impunity, pointing to family ties and inter-personal relationships, many mistook and misinterpreted this frank diagnosis as his reluctance and incapacity to fight the corruption menace. What the President was rather talking about is that why the passengers might be singing “beat it, driver bet it,” he is positioning himself for booby traps—the bumpy spots on the road, the sharp curves, the weather conditions, the opposite movements of other cars, and topography of the road, amongst other things.
No doubt, social factors, such as family relations and other aspects of interconnectedness, have long ambushed the effective dispensation of justice in our country, including the fight against corruption and impunity. By President Weah’s allusion to this fact is not an expression of disinterest or moral incapacity; it is rather a statement of position of strength indicating clear awareness of the booby traps and hamstrings which gives him the advantage and capacity to tailor an effective tactic to fight and win.
As a striker par excellence, he is hypersensitive to his opponents and their way of defense and attack. Any reasonable fighter and leader must know his environment and the obstacles therein. To speak of them openly as a challenge, as the President did, does not connote weakness and reluctance to surmount and win.
Moreover, before the advent of President Weah, there were rules, laws, protocols and conventions promulgated by national and international bodies as governing guides to any modern political leader. One of such is the maxim about the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. It is also about respect for the rights of people. He did not make these rules which are universally accepted to be the high standards in the governance business.
In navigating of the Liberian Ship of State, the President is not unmindful of these national and international standards, which despite their universal acceptability have the tendency to set bumps if not booby traps that slow down or bend the hands of the speed-inclined leaders from moving as fast as the magnitude of public expectation is concerned.
Some leaders who are pestered by the citizens or by their innate nature to heed “beat it, driver beat it” calls would often take the plausible option of exalting themselves to “philanthropic totalitarian” status—rulership that shows much love for people expressed in meeting their needs as fast as possible but not without evading some principles of international standards. We saw this in Libya and we saw it in The Gambia. Right now, we are seeing it developing in Tanzania where President John Pompe Magufuli’s initial people-centered austerity actions are clashing with human rights and other best practices concerns.
In other words, the clamor for high speed in the execution of government policies on, for instance, anti-corruption, anti-impunity and other affirmative actions, appears good, but it does have implications that border on human freedoms, security and civic rights concerns. For instance, a leader cannot just move in rounding up people and prosecuting them for alleged wrongs without heeding national and international laws and conventions.
When you push the leader—asking him to move with the speed of light to arrest and prosecute people for alleged wrongs; when you ask him to order for as much monies as possible from the state vaults or elsewhere with the speed of light to build superhighways and provide social services with the speed of supersonic jet, one must understand that all these processes involve diverse procedures and stakeholders that the President cannot torpedo into action.
It is only reasonable that the leader must have the free hand to be able to heed “beat-it-driver-beat” requests, meaning where the laws are relax. Otherwise, when the driver beats it so fast, the very people are bound to say, “Please stop speeding like a crazy person lest you kill us”.
President George Manneh Gbarku Gbeh Tarpeh Weah is very aware of this. By his use of the “beat-it-driver-beat” allegory, he was summoning the wisest way not only to convey his preparedness to surmount the odds ahead, but also to tell all two-tongued people that he knows their hypocrisy and double standards as he embarks on his steady march towards national transformation through the Pro-Poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity. Editor’s note: The views expressed in this articles reflects that of the author and not of the New Dawn
By Sherman C. Seequeh