By a Special Correspondent
For most of the last 12 years, contradiction has characterized the difference between the way the world has viewed Liberia and its highly esteemed leader, versus the view Liberians have of their own country, government and President.
But that gap seems to be closing.
Quite a rosy picture of peace, progress and development has characterized the outside world’s impression of Liberia, courtesy of lofty speeches and glowing reports, and evidenced no doubt by equally glowing accolades, beginning with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
Surely, the international community has showered tremendous goodwill upon Liberia, pre- and post-Ebola. The last reported figure of US $16 billion represents the amount of aid this country has received over the duration of this administration.
At the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told the world body, “Liberia is YOUR success story.” Tears on cue and all, her presentation was well received.
Journalists accompanying the President to New York included the BBC’S Liberia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh, who found a few carefully selected Liberians in the Diaspora to venerate the President. Sirleaf had done her best under the circumstances, they said, citing 12 years of peace and a few newly built roads.
That view from the Diaspora was very rosy and very forgiving, as it has been over the last 12 years, but also very far from reality.
All of a sudden, in the twinkle of an eye, the cameras zoomed in on the occasion of these historic elections and the picture has dramatically changed. The brutal, glaring unforgiving truth has finally surfaced, and it is ugly.
Liberians on the ground were 12 years pregnant with silent grief, and are poised to deliver. Liberians opened their doors and lifted the carpet for the international community to see. And there was absolutely nothing Mr. Paye-Layleh could do to stop his own employers from seeing and hearing the bitter truths. A lot of assumptions had been made. Sirleaf co-Laureate Leymah Gbowee told the BBC that because the two had shared the prize, Madam Sirleaf was automatically considered a feminist. “President Sirleaf,” Gbowee said emphatically, “is a politician, whose policies were only intended to suit her own political gain.” A scathing criticism, were we to describe it.
Other Liberian activists for various societal ills also told the BBC what was really unfolding on the ground — ‘zogos’, a poor education system, a failed healthcare system, massive unemployment, and the list goes on.
Market women told the BBC the country’s economy was unbearably tight due to the ever escalating exchange rate; so much so that when they sell, they get no profits and therefore cannot afford their children’s school fees.
Journalists took a BBC reporter to one of Monrovia’s many slums — the ‘God bless you’ community. The police avoid the area, the people said, as do its elected representatives –until elections come round again, that is.
The reporter noticed something peculiar and observed that the President’s office directly overlooks the slum, yet nothing had been done.
International reporters on the ground to cover these elections are not all looking for scandals and bad news; but the glaring facts are staring them in the face as they try to reconcile the view from abroad with what they’ve faced on the ground.
In the days leading up to the elections, Liberians remained prayerfully and hopefully optimistic about their future, as all — political parties and the voting public – were committed to peace.
Police Inspector General Gregory Coleman promised Liberians “internationally acceptable” police service, although under the same breath he admitted that some officers had to be transported to their various duty stations by canoe due to impassable roads.
The ballots reportedly suffered the same transportation-related challenges and were also being delivered by canoe to some hard-to-reach areas of the country.
The Fourth Estate did its best to promote peace, even on Election Day when reports of irregularities began to surface from across the country. But by 2 p.m., reports were that not only had voters not been able to vote and returned home, but that by that hour, voting had not even begun in some precincts!
At 3 p.m., the National Elections Commission (NEC) held a press conference with international and local media, who tried in vain to get answers to the many questions raised by the poor handling of the elections.
NEC had no concrete answers to give concerning how many people were being affected by the technical problems, let alone how they planned to address the situation.
Two years ago, a United Nations (UN) official speaking to the Daily Observer on condition of anonymity following the death of petroleum law expert Michael Allison, said the international community had done it’s own investigation and was concerned that such extra-judicial killings might become the modus operandi of this administration. Almost exactly a year later, the body of Harry Greaves was found on the Monrovia coastline. He had been raising questions in a local daily about what had happened to the hundreds of millions of dollars missing from the National Oil Company’s account. He also warned this administration that they could still be prosecuted for crimes of economic sabotage after leaving office.
The UN official also confided to this publication that after the Ebola crisis, the Secretary General’s office was anxious to find out what this administration’s post-Ebola agenda was.
Madam Sirleaf reportedly told the UN that of paramount concern was her security and that of her family.
They had been expecting to hear post-Ebola support and education, the official said.
Perhaps the world powers that be have known the truth for some time, but diplomacy has prevailed. Now the truth can no longer hide and the entire world is aware.