By: Theodore T. Hodge
The saying, “Politics makes strange bed fellows”, is attributed to Charles Dudley Warner, a 19th Century essayist and novelist. But Mr. Warner would be rolling over in his grave now if he were to realize what an understatement that saying has become in contemporary times. Did he ever imagine a freshly named Nobel Prize laureate jumping under the covers with a globally known warlord? That is soon to be the case in Liberia with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former warlord and now Senator Prince Johnson.
The Nobel Peace Committee recently ignited a controversy when it untimely named President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf one of its three recipients of the 2011 Peace award while she was preparing to enter an election for a second term of office. While many Liberians hailed the decision as a good omen for the troubled country; a measure of respectability and goodwill… even my daughter called me to make the case, I was not persuaded. I wrote: “In my opinion, the decision to reward the president with such a prestigious and newsworthy prize is a deliberate attempt to influence Liberia’s internal politics. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf got an early Christmas treat…”
(For those readers who don’t know it, the prize is usually rewarded in early October, up to the 15th of the month. This year, the committee decided to rush forth and announce its recipients on Friday, the 7th; knowing quite well that Liberians were headed to the polls on Tuesday, the 11th. Well, had the committee waited to name its recipients on the following Friday, the 14th, nothing would have been lost. A skeptical mind has to wonder why the rush to name these recipients, knowing the expected chain of events?)
Now going forward, the first round of voting is history. Unsurprisingly, the president’s ticket won the most votes, but not enough to ensure a first round victory. The strongest contender, the CDC, garnered enough votes to participate in a run-off. But surprisingly, Senator Prince Johnson ran a strong campaign to end up in third place. Hailing from a politically strategic region, it was easy to see him as a spoiler, though he sees himself as a kingmaker. And a kingmaker he has become.
Before the ink dried off the first round ballots, Senator Prince Johnson appeared on BBC Radio to announce that he will support the incumbent in the next round. Many will see that as a nail in the opposition’s coffin, and yet another early Christmas gift for Madam President.
But before we crown our imperial leader… I mean before we inaugurate our president for the second term, we need to consider the ramifications of the soon-to-be-alliance of the Nobel laureate and the notorious warlord. It is no secret that Prince Johnson is widely known as the man who allegedly terrorized and killed fellow Liberians during our dark days as a nation. But he is best known for capturing, showcasing, and decapitating former President Samuel K. Doe. (Actually, the video showed him cutting off Doe’s ears) while drinking beer and playfully singing gospel songs. Anybody hearing about or witnessing this man’s atrocious activities during Liberia’s civil crises, and his taped execution of Samuel K. Doe, must come to the conclusion that he is a lunatic that deserves to spend time in prison or a mental institution. Prince Johnson may be a lunatic, but nobody can accuse him of being irrational; as a matter of fact, he is quite rational in his assessment of issues.
Ex-Warlord and now Senator Prince Johnson has been one of the president’s most bitter critics. He actually left the president’s party (Unity Party) to run as an Independent when she refused to support his senatorial bid. He has consistently opposed and criticized the president’s policies. So why is he siding with her now? Simple: The fear of prosecution. Prince Johnson is afraid that if the TRC’s recommendations were adhered to, he could find himself facing war crimes in The Hague, along with his old nemesis, Charles Taylor. The Honorable Senator does not want that to be his fate.
In his interview with the BBC, Mr. Johnson said he has chosen to throw his support to the president because she is the lesser of two evils. He said he met with both Counselor Tubman and his running mate, George Weah. He said he brought up the TRC issue and the gentlemen reiterated their position which he finds antagonistic; he has therefore decided that if he must become a fugitive of the law, he’s better off siding with another fugitive, namely the president. (There are many who see the president’s decision to ignore the TRC’s report as criminal).
And that’s how we ended up with this scenario of strange bedfellows featuring the Princess of Peace and the Prince of Wars (as they were described today by a fellow Liberian in an Internet forum). The only saving grace is Senator Johnson’s unpredictability; he is fond of changing his mind with amazing rapidity.
|Ms. Leyman Gbowee|
But for me personally, the question on my mind concerns President Sirleaf’s fellow Liberian Peace Prize recipient, Ms. Leyman Gbowee: She fought against Charles Taylor and other warlords in Liberia, including Prince Johnson; that’s her claim to fame. She has declared her support for Ellen Johnson’s candidacy. Now, is she willing to support Prince Johnson too? Does expediency top principle? Will both of Liberia’s recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize jump into bed with a brutal warlord for the sake of power? I wonder.