Are Reasons for the Mo Ibrahim Award to Former President Sirleaf the Reality on Ground?


The Mo Ibrahim Award for African Leadership/Governance for 2018 has been given to former Liberian and first female African President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The former Liberian President is the fifth to receive the US$5 million prize award on the African Continent since it was established in 2007.  Other recipients have been Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique; Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana; Pedro Verona Pires, former President of Cape Verde; and Hifikipunye Pohamba, former President of Namibia.

The Mo Ibrahim Prize, according to its objective, is meant to recognize and celebrate African leaders, who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity.  It also highlights exceptional role models for the continent and ensures that Africa continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of exceptional leaders when they leave national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent.

Criteria for the Mo Ibrahim Prize dictate that one must be a former African Executive Head of State or Government, must have left office in the last three years; democratically elected, served his/her constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated exceptional leadership.

In compliance with their goals and criteria, a member of the vetting committee, speaking on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Sunday night, said President Sirleaf took over a failed state and maintained peace there for 12 years.  The committee member went further to say that the former President rebuilt a war-ravished country and led the process to reconciliation, served her terms within the confines of the Liberian Constitution and fought the Ebola virus without having to go anywhere.

But are reasons stated by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for awarding the US$5 million prize to former President Sirleaf the reality on the ground?

The President, in her final State of the Nation Address in January  2017, admitted that she had failed to reconcile Liberians following years of war.  This statement reflects her failure to implement the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Final Report.  How will Mo Ibrahim reconcile the former President’s failure to reconcile Liberians with a statement that she led a process of reconciliation?

For completing her constitutionally mandated term, Mo Ibrahim Foundation would not worry since the Liberian Constitution gives two terms to a sitting President.  The question that remains is whether or not the Mo Ibrahim Foundation cares about morality in its judgment in granting the prize to a former President.  President Sirleaf before taking over in 2006 promised to go for only one term, but prior to completing her first term; she twisted the tongue to two terms.

It was during the second term that corruption and nepotism rose to the highest peak in Liberia; with the President’s son, Robert Sirleaf, placed over one of Liberia’s most lucrative entities, the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL).  There he emptied the coffers of the company causing the country to lose tens of millions — some say hundreds of millions — of US dollars.  President Sirleaf then exited him from NOCAL, praising him for his work there but later, when the truth of NOCAL having gone bankrupt emerged, she said she took responsibility for her son’s actions and left the matter unresolved.

She again admitted in that same last State of the Nation Address that she had failed to fight corruption, as promised in her 2006 Inaugural Address.  Corruption, nepotism, and continued marginalization of Liberians in their own economy were some of the factors that led to Liberia’s 14-year civil war, and most, if not all, of what led to the war was repeated by the Sirleaf Administration. What then, is the “exceptional leadership” Mo Ibrahim will dwell on to award its prize to former President Sirleaf?

Another objective of the prize is to see a leader lifting his/her citizens out of poverty.  Here in Liberia, poverty is made manifest not only about the tens of thousands of people, especially young people between the ages of five to 25-40, roaming the street without food, proper healthcare, shelter or proper upbringing; it is also about thousands of Liberian youth without solid education, left to experience one of the worst forms of poverty, poverty of the mind.

In addition to her dismal failure to empower Liberians to control their own economy, the former President admitted that Liberian education was “in a mess,” which she did little or nothing to improve up to her departure from office.

As current reality shows, the President left the country in complete economic shambles; huge internal and external debts, a woefully depreciating local currency and a bankrupt economy, to quote her successor, President George Weah, an economy that is “broke.”

Furthermore, the peaceful transition of power as underscored by Mo Ibrahim in its criteria could be challenged.  The electoral process leading to the transition began with confusion where she compromised the Constitution and appointed an Election Commissioner with a questionable citizenship.

The entire election process was marred by fraud and irregularities, leading Counselor Charles W. Brumskine and others to challenge them in the Supreme Court.  Had Brumskine and others not taken a civil approach to challenge the results in the Supreme Court, we doubt whether there would have been a peaceful transition.

If the credit of sustaining peace should properly be attributed, it should go first to God Almighty and second, to Liberians who resolved to maintain peace and harmony.

We laud the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for this motivating award that helps some African leaders to be guided by their constitutional mandate.

We are also appreciative of the Foundation’s selection of our former President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but we believe it would have been fairer had she been awarded the prize for being the first elected female African President who broke the glass ceiling.


  1. Dear Mr. Editor, let me congratulate you for this editorial and the courage you had to write it; you tried doing this many times in our society, you are aware the response you got. The very interview that you are talking about, interviewed one member of the panel and the one who is offering it to others, they succinctly said, they were aware about some of the faults of the former president-EJS, but those faults were overcome by the many good deeds done by the former president.
    Are we not happy that one our own can be awarded this notable prize? Why a reputable news organ as the “Daily Observer” be calling to question, the awarding of this prize to Madam Sirleaf, instead of praising the warder for doing the right thing. We are aware where this Madam took this country from, even though, you were in exile,whether she failed or not, Liberia is better off now than she met it.
    Other nationals are praising her, while Liberians are tearing her apart; “the crab syndrome” just can go away, it is part of our DNA, let learnt to appreciate our own when they have done well and not dwell on the negatives always! This organ should have been praising Madam President now, and not the other way around. A member of the panel said, who is infallible? Cast the first stone, like your heralded Samuel Jackson, “notable” economist.

  2. Is writing the hard truth a wrong thing to do? Do we have to be hypocritical by pretending that the ex-president clearly deserves the accolade the Mo Ibrahin Prize has conferred on her when, in reality, we Liberians on the ground know full well that the madam is far from having been an “exceptional and transformative” leader, not to mention her dismal record on national reconciliation? Twelve years, no electricity for 97% of the population; no pipeborne water for 95% of the people; 85% youth unemployment; a messy educational system where 80-90% of high school students usually flunk públic and regional exams; terrible rural road networks; a highly corrupt and nepotistic society; a damaged economy, reflecting a country where the majority of the people are living on less than a Dollar a day, and business men and women are struggling with a runaway exchange rate between the US$ and the Liberian Dollar: and where the new government can now hardly pay salaries of it’s employees. And reconciliation, wow, just see what a deeply divided society she has left behind as a result of her manipulation of the recent electoral process!
    The Daily Observer editorial on the Mo Ibrahin Award is one of the best and most forthright editorials I have ever read in the country. Thank you Mr. Kenneth Best and God bless you for your conscientious, honest and patriotic analyses.

  3. The Liberian Media should ask the board members of this foundation how they voted and why. The Daily Observer should take the lead in this direction after writing this brilliant editorial.

  4. Mr. editor i differ with you. You are not brave enough as stated by one of the commentators who seems to blind as yourself in not seeing the marvelous gains achieved under Ellen’s administration. You are really dodging what you really intended to say. You meant to say that the former president did not deserved the award. I think you need to look around you better than you are doing now to understand the point of view from which the givers of the award are coming from. You have sat in that country for the entire period of Ellen’s presidency and have seen her regime raised Liberia from a totally failed state to a fully functioning one and yet you are in doubt of her marvelous achievements. The fact that she stated that she failed in the area of corruption does not mean she failed Liberia as a president. Fighting corruption is not the only object of the president of a country. You are a journalist and therefore your objectivity should be to the fullest and not half way. You should have gone on to name all the pluses and minuses during her entire administration and weigh them against one another, then, you come up with your conclusion.
    How can you expect one to work effectively on a farm when he or she does not have the appropriate farming tools to work with? You still have bills like, the declaration of asset, and so many others pending in the house that would have helped in the fight against corruption.
    You should pay more attention to the lapses made by the law-makers in both houses in terms of what needs to be put in place in fulfilling the desired objectives of the national development plans or agenda of mama Liberia. When they pay attention to what they need to do as lawmakers then i think we will be on the road to achieving the fight against corruption; or else any succeeding leadership will encounter failure in the fight against corruption. Let them consider their high salaries and benefits against that of the common people in relation to Liberia’s economy. When we all as Liberians show a high degree of commitment, dedication, and responsibility in our given capacities in irrespective of where we work, then Liberia will graduate or move away from the era of corruption. You yourself who has written this article, if audited, i am sure you will be found in the corruption category in your institution. Try and get rid of that attitude, then, others in your institution will follow suit and then if this positive attitude begins to spread from one institution to another across Liberia we will not have to wait as a nation on corrupt and irresponsible law makers to pass appropriate bills for Liberia to develop. We should pay keen attention to those that represent us in that dormant house of law before getting to the president of the nation because they are wholly responsible for check and balances in what goes on in government not to just sit there and talk about salary increment and better benefits and incentives

  5. In terms of development in Liberia, the Mo Ibrahim Award did not see that President
    Sirleaf left office in Liberia with 85% unemployment? What a pity! What kind of
    development in Liberia? Can you separate development from full employment?


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