Article written

  • on 03.02.2012
  • at 01:58 PM
  • by Randa Ghazy

From lifting Liberia to lifting Liberians: second term challenges for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 0

In an annual message to the National Legislature on Jan. 23, 2012, just a week after her second-term inauguration, incumbent Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf proclaimed, “In our first term we lifted Liberia; now we will lift Liberians!”

The President was alluding to the tenets of Liberia’s first post-war three-year medium term development agenda, the Lift Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), aimed at enhancing peace and security, revitalising the economy, strengthening justice and the rule of law, and restoring infrastructure and basic social services.

In asserting that Liberia had been lifted, the President was referring to key achievements in her first term, including but not limited to: renewing diplomatic ties with a number of international partners and multilateral agencies such as the United States, China, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund; refurbishing pot-holed ridden roads and constructing new ones; building hospitals and clinics, elementary, junior and secondary schools and community colleges; securing US$16 billion in concessions in iron-ore, mining, forestry, rubber, and oil palm; and devolving power to Liberia’s 15 sub-political divisions through political and fiscal decentralisation, amongst others.

Although some scholars and practitioners would argue that post-conflict reconstruction follows a ‘one-size-fits-all’ pattern of political and economic manipulation and engineering by the West, the Liberian president would certainly not agree with this assertion, having worked for the World Bank and United Nations in a previous life. Following the Lift Liberia PRS is an ambitious goal to make Liberia a middle income country by 2030, as articulated in the country’s 18-year Liberia Rising 2030 agenda, due to be crafted following nation-wide consultations beginning February 2012. Despite these lofty goals, there are a number of socio-political and economic challenges ahead in the next six-year term.

After struggling in Liberia’s 2011 elections, in which the run-off with irate opposition candidate Winston Tubman was boycotted through to the counting of the very last ballot, President Johnson Sirleaf asserted that hope had been restored to Liberian people. Despite the President’s optimism, a large section of the population, who voted for the opposition in the hopes of change, still remain disillusioned. With the opposition largely side-lined, and very few non-loyalists named to what was purported to be a government of inclusion, political reconciliation and democratic consolidation will be a tough battle ahead. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report is another thorny issue that has yet to be resolved, with an Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) established at the end of the TRC’s mandate to assess and implement its recommendations. The President vowed in her annual message to implement the ‘practical recommendations’ of the TRC, which includes palava hut discussions similar to the gacaca system employed in Rwanda. It is clear that the TRC’s recommendation of prosecution of those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during the civil war will not be a priority for the second term, though some Liberians are pushing for this agenda strongly. Nor will the recommendation of a thirty-year ban from political office of certain individuals—including the President herself—be implemented, it appears. Instead, the President has asked fellow 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee to lead a National Reconciliation Initiative, whose scope and scale have yet to be defined. And the issue of former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s pending verdict in The Hague this year has left many Liberians waiting with bated breath.

Consolidating peace and security in light of the full military drawdown of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) beginning 2012 will remain a challenge in lifting Liberians as well. In light of the recent spate of violence within Ivory Coast, and the fragile nature of the Mano River Union, which Liberia chairs, it is clear that Liberia and its neighborhood remain fragile. The Liberia National Police (LNP) and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), just fewer than 4,000 strong in total[ii], will need to be expanded in order to strengthen domestic security and protect the geographic integrity of the country. It is clear that integrity of more than the security apparatus is needed, however.

Peace-building and peace-consolidation cannot be achieved without tackling corruption, Liberia’s single most daunting challenge to date. Public officials have dragged their feet in declaring their assets and a Code of Conduct has languished in the National Legislature for over three years, prompting the President to sign an Administrative Code of Conduct by Executive Order for civil servants and political appointees within the Executive branch. Detractors have argued that the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) continues to be a toothless bulldog because of its inability to prosecute cases, leaving said cases in the hands of a Justice Ministry which has shown it is virtually incapacitated in this regard. It will be important in the next six years to devolve more power to the LACC, as too many incidences of corruption amongst public officials lowered citizen morale in the President’s first term, prompting the then Auditor General, John Morlu, to pronounce in 2007 that Johnson Sirleaf’s government was three times more corrupt that the National Transitional Government which ruled from 2003-2005. It is still unclear which benchmarks Morlu used to make such an inflammatory statement, though it still carries political purchase amongst the citizenry. With Morlu gone, Liberians wonder who will replace the media attention-grabbing, self-professed corruption watchdog, whose position is customarily appointed by the President.

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi