Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Liberia: Villain or Maverick - Sen. Prince Johnson's 'Boycott' Under Spotlight

Source: allAfrica.com

Nimba County's Senior Senator Prince Y. Johnson did not attended ceremonies marking the 163rd Independence Day of Liberia held in his home county, Nimba. He actually boycotted the ceremony to avoid being trapped in a political whirlwind (political conspiracy?) planned by fellow Nimbaians. His conspicuous absence raised eyebrows in many quarters; and if recent reports are any measures, his political ambition for the presidency may be in trouble. But the question analysts are asking is, "Was the boycott a villainous act or the act of a political maverick seeking to steer the nation away from patronage politics?" The Analyst been probing just this question.

Senator Johnson has already been condemned by some Liberians, including close kin and legislative caucus colleagues, for boycotting the 2010 Independence Day celebrations, and he appeared likely to suffer a political backlash in October next year 'for the sin of not flocking with the king and mingling with the Hosanna singers'.

But there are emerging argument in the political horizon that as typical as his 'sins' may appear, the Nimba County senior senator may not be wrong after all – that he may be at the cutting edge of a new political dispensation that will steer Liberians and Liberia away from that which they hated most of past administrations: patronage politics.

Provided though, observers say, he articulates his position well, quits being a lone paranoid wolf seeing treachery in every political act and seeking revenge, and teams up with others in the opposition to keep Liberia's political train from veering off the tracks of politics based on law, peace building, tolerance, and fairness.

This, observers say, take the debate to the events of Nimba 2010 to see the flowchart between Mr. Johnson's boycott and what some see as the administration's 'missteps' or calculated attempts to turn back the clock of time knowingly or inadvertently.

Glance at the Nimba Celebrations

The Sirleaf Administration, which has adopted a rotational celebration of the nation's Natal Day, chose Nimba County for 2010.

Observers are still pondering the wisdom of the celebration rotation, but one pattern they say that is emerging is that the government is using the rotation to prioritize development initiatives, something some say brings back immediate political dividend.

But in the Nimba case, the administration encountered more than it bargained for when it realized that key leaders of the county were clawing at one another's throat in a land feud, atop many other bases for bickering in a land known recently for its militancy.

It took the extra efforts of the Executive Mansion and the dexterity of the committee President Sirleaf set up to get the disputants on board in time for the holding of the Sanniquellie celebrations.

In some cases, according to one commentator on the peace process in Nimba, the key contending issues were simply swept under the carpet to avoid jeopardizing the holding of the celebrations in the county.

Why the administration chose Nimba and why it went extra miles to create the necessary tranquility for the celebrations are questions, observers say, for which no one in the Sirleaf Administration may be willing to provide sincere answers, but they say those unanswered questions may hold political clues to why Senator Prince Johnson's so-called boycotts reverberated so fast and high.

For instance, they say, there was a correlation to be made between the huge concentration of hundreds of government and Chinese bilateral development projects in few towns in Nimba County in just one fiscal term and the President's planned bid for second term, using the county as beachhead.

They said the correlation was basic given that the President made the inspection of projects in the county the most essential aspect of the celebrations such that she took more time showing off her administration's key accomplishments in Nimba and Bong counties than she actually spent on the celebrations in Sanniquellie.

While the claims stand disputed, some insist that showcasing the administration's accomplishments in a county chosen for Natal Day celebration is the most appropriate thing to do under the circumstance since development was the key reasons for the annual celebration rotation.

But critics and keen political observers believe that is the vainest argument to make on behalf of an administration that was elected in 2005 to help Liberia part with its crooked political past where political expediency superseded law and good governance.

In their views, danger lurks from what appeared an innocent national performance of a pragmatic president. They see patronage politics rearing up its ugly head slowly but surely in a menacing way; and along with it, a political campaign kicking off well ahead of official authorization.

That is debatable also, analysts say, but 'being debatable' does not subtract from the reasonableness of the points many are straining to make.

"Rotating the July 26 Celebrations in order to arouse patriotism in the people and to include the people in the solemn act of reflect on the achievements, failures, and hopes of the nation is a good idea. But when it is tied to development prioritizing, then hindsight tells us that it is dangerous," said Anthony R. Peters of Waterside.

According to him, prioritizing development on such radical determination will subordinate service delivery according needs and citizens' entitlement to the political contest of winning the populous counties, especially in election years such as between now and October 2011.

"Once the citizens' entitlements that should come through assessed needs and budgetary allocation becomes a matter of where the administration takes the July 26 celebration, it is only large or populated counties that will benefit," he said.

Sinoh Gweh of Brewerville agreed, arguing that part of the reasons why Liberia's development was sporadic and selective was because Tubman, and Tolbert and Doe after him, chose to distribute the nation's wealth on their political terms rather than one the legal terms of the nation's development needs.

"While some counties benefited from high standard roads, thanks to caucus politics and the president's free hand to decide where and how to use the nation's wealth, access roads in other counties literally disappeared especially when one or two sons of the affected counties were deemed not supporting the president and therefore labeled potential enemies of the state," Gweh recalled.

Whether that explains why while colleges were being constructed and major services were being delivered in Nimba, Bong, and Cape Mount counties, farm-to-market roads in River Gee and Grand Kru counties being were reduced to mere footpaths Gweh could not say, but he said there were more.

He said once the government began tying a solemn national celebration to presidential achievements, it diluted the celebration's significance as a national event of solemnity, reduced it to a political show, and confused the citizens about who was delivering what and on what terms.

"This is patronage politics in which the President is seen as the annual Santa Claus delivering good tidings to the political lackeys who behaved well in the year under review. It does not show that the citizens were benefiting from their tax dollar and from the largesse of the nation's bilateral friends," he said.

Political patronage, he said, was not only dangerous in that it gave the president the leverage to use and apply the nation's wealth to his or her political advantage and to the disadvantage of opponents, but that it also made it impossible for the citizens to distinguish public projects from presidential magnanimity.

"This is why while it is clear that Tubman's failed policy of unbridled economic open door contributed to the nation's underdevelopment because it sanctioned uncontrolled capital flight, old generation Liberians continue to hail him as 'the best president Liberia has ever had'", Gweh, 60, a retired school teacher, said.

Thomas S. Brewer agreed, noting that once the citizens were unable to make the distinction between presidential magnanimity and the dividend of their own tax dollar as appropriated by their political leaders in systematic budgeting, their intelligence was compromised when it came to making wise decisions at the polls.

"But that is not the first thing to occur. It starts with county officials competing for the president's attention for July 26 celebrations by rallying support. Then they pull in the county's legislative caucus, which will commit to closing its eyes on the president's budgetary errors, over-bounds, and corruption. As the caucus works hand-in-hand with the county officials, elders, interest group and tradition leaders, the vile cycle of political intrigue is complete. The doom of the opposition is completely sealed and politics starts do wind down to central rule or call it one-party rule," Brewer said.

He said this was the foundation of the "so say one so say all politics" that produced the informal bloc voting, which in the past put people against people and led to security crackdown or systematic suppression and oppression during the days of President Tubman and beyond.

"This nation cannot allow such politics to come back while pretending that it does not see the forming patterns as the display in Nimba County and other counties before it have shown," he said.

The question that critics could not answer, however, is whether the President and those who planned Nimba 2010 consciously and knowingly decided to mix politics with a solemn national event intended to call Liberians to order and to nationalism, daring the consequences and possible political backlashes. Not even analyst and observers would proffer conjectures.

'So in the wake of this missing link answer, how should Johnson's now infamous boycott of Nimba 2010 and the political backlash that appears to follow it be construed – villainous or maverick?'

Senator Johnson: villain or maverick?'

"Villain!" shouted one Kou, who though claimed to be member of a grassroots UP women's group in Sanniquellie, preferred not to be fully identified 'so PYJ supporters in my family will not get at me'.

Kou, who claimed also to be a teacher in a local public high school, said Senator Johnson's boycott has nothing to do with anything called patronage politics because there was nothing like that during the Sanniquellie celebrations.

"He is just one of those troublemakers who always look for reasons to oppose what is in the interest of the county," she said.

She did not say why the county's senior senator would adopt such practices, knowing that it would work against the interest of the citizens, but she said Mr. Johnson and many like him were always on the other side of progress because of their "selfish political interests".

"They always want things to be about them. Once someone else is in the position of influence, they will not participate. That's why there is nothing worthwhile going on in the county but confusion and blame-shifting," she disclosed.

There was nothing President Sirleaf did or did not do in Nimba County, according to her, that justified the senator's boycott.

"Even if she did anything wrong, does that justify his abandoning his people when the attention of the nation was on them? Wouldn't he have waited for the celebrations to end and then registered his observations?" she wondered.

Kou was not alone in her dismissal of Mr. Johnson's reasons for the boycott. "I just don't understand why this one man must always reject everything," said Sayeh J. Wiah of Gray in Nimba County. "Was he the only politicians there; was he the wisest man to see the wrongs and the rights that others did not see?"

Wiah said that unless the people of Nimba did something to remove people like Prince Johnson from the political realm, Nimba would be at the receiving end of underdevelopment.

But not many see Senator Johnson's boycott from the perspectives of Kou and Wiah.

For some, Johnson was at the cutting edge of a new political dispensation that will steer Liberians and Liberia away from that which they hated most of past administrations: patronage politics.

"Prince Johnson may have been controversial on many instances in the past, but the nation needs to listen to him this time around," said Abraham A. Alliou of Paynesville.

Alliou, who said he was not politically or otherwise connected with Mr. Johnson, said his decision to boycott the Nimba celebration was a natural apolitical response to the sum total of the actions of some leaders of Nimba, the timing of President Sirleaf's project assessment, and her decision to accept a political endorsement during or around the time of the holding of a solemn national occasion.

"Senator Johnson was seeing what the rest of the nation did not see: the political violation of the nation's solemn celebration and the de facto reintroduction of patronage and caucus politics. Unless the nation acts, whole counties will soon begin petitioning President Sirleaf for second term during so-called rotational July 26 celebrations," noted Alliou, who said he did not favor a Prince Johnson presidential bid.

"I do not support the man for president; but even if a devil reports danger, you don't ignore it. President Sirleaf has no business receiving or planning to receive a political endorsement during this celebration. That, plus her extensive assessment and dedication of development projects prior to the day were illegal acts of electioneering and it was this that Mr. Johnson saw," he said.

He said where elders and the legislative caucus of the county connived to turn the celebration into a UP sideshow somebody with presidential ambition, like Senator Johnson, should not be expected to endure such betrayal of the people's trust in the name of county solidarity and so-called patriotism.

"Those who stand ready to condemn the senator must rather watch out for the reemergence of caucus politics and the political redistribution of the nation's wealth. The government must not base the nation's recovery on the President's selective delivery method, lest some counties get more than their share of the tax dollar while others settle into mass poverty for failing or refusing to fall in line," Alliou said.

Alliou wondered what else would be the point of mulitpartyism if one party, using the political feedback system of development completed the establishment of electoral cells in the counties through what UP seemed to have begun.

"What are the chances of the opposition? Nothing, absolutely. We saw that under previous administrations including even the Doe administration, which, like that of Tubman's, decided to use the birthday method to build electoral cells in the counties. Had Taylor not used force to remove Doe, it would have been difficult for the opposition to build sufficient arguments to win elections in Liberia," he said.

He said then Liberia was headed for a one-party NDPL state as it was headed for a one-party UP state unless Liberians mustered the courage to stop President Sirleaf and her lackeys in their tracks to borrow from the political chapters of Tubmanism.

Unless the President was stopped, according to him, the only difference between Tubman and Doe's use of Tubmanism would be the alternate use of mutual benefit and quiet arm-twisting rather than brute force and political banishment.

Analysts say how far Alliou's conjectures are true cannot be gauged immediately, but what they say is clear is that Prince Johnson is likely to suffer the effect of his keen foresight alone for quite a while before the nation comes to grip with the reality – if it ever will.

Views from the Law

This, they say, takes the argument to a completely new ground: the ground of law and constitution. Did Johnson violate any laws by boycotting the celebrations?

Again Alliou: "If he did not violate the constitution or any laws of Liberia requiring him to go wherever the President goes, then he is vindicated."

Analysts agreed with Alliou, noting that there was a big difference between law and expediency, which sometimes makes all the difference between patriotism and sycophancy.

Just as not everything that glitters is gold, they said, so are most things that are politically expediency are not legal and do not work for the benefit of the nation however enticing they appear.

For instance, they said, while it was proper for the all state officials to following the President wherever he or she went in the name of the nation, it was not a legal requirement for which any official should be branded 'unpatriotic or troublemaker'.

In the case of Prince Johnson, they say, he saw a breach of the law or protocol and that justified his boycott since 'above all else' must be 'the law'.

"In fact, most acts of expediency undermine the law and create political monsters out of modest presidential candidates who rode to power promising reforms and preaching equality and rule of law," says one analyst who notes that given the presidency undue attention and leverage may embolden it to usurp other functions not constitutionally assigned.

For instance, attaching development initiatives to the county, which won the presidential preference to host the annual Independence Day Celebration, was one of the advantages that the no laws assigned the President.

According to law, the Executive Branch is to plan development initiatives, attach monetary values to them through a system of verifiable budgetary appropriation, and send the budget to the National Legislature for approval and enactment into law prior to implementation.

This arrangement takes its marching orders from Article 34 (d-ii) of the Constitution of Liberia, according to research conducted by this paper.

Meanwhile observers say while blaming Prince Johnson for boycotting the July 26 Celebration may the stylish part of Liberia's bootlicking politics, it was important to examine his claims vis-à-vis President Sirleaf emerging practice of personalizing the nation's recovery program for political ends.

In that case, they say, Senator Johnson must be considered a political maverick that stands aloft of bandwagon politics, except that he erred by failing to alert the nation about what harm he thought the Nimba endorsement may do the nation's new democratic dispensation.

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Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah



Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah

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