Daily Observer Threatened: Is History about to Repeat Itself?

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They say that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Just recently the powers that be—or someone close to them—sent someone close to the Daily Observer to pay a visit to the newspaper’s publisher and warn him that if he did not stop being critical of the government, he (the publisher) would lose his job. The visitor added, “None of us wants to lose our job.”

What did this emissary mean by the warning? The Observer publisher is not working for the government. So will Mr. Best fire himself?

The message implied that Mr. Best should stop criticizing President Sirleaf, or else . . .

The first question that arises is: What is the purpose of media criticism?

The answer: The media serve as an “early warning system.” Their criticisms are meant to do nothing else but warn those in power to change their ways, the direction of their administration; to appeal to the powers that be to stop corruption that has plagued our country for many, many decades, leaving her, though Africa’s oldest independent republic, impoverished, destitute and backward, at the bottom of the development ladder.

“But,” the emissary reminded the Daily Observer publisher, “what Ellen is doing all other presidents have done.”

“Does that make it right?” responded the publisher, adding, “Can’t you see what this kind of leadership has done to our country and people? It has made the country the perpetual victim of the three apocalyptic horses—ignorance, poverty, disease.”

The visitor chose to have forgotten that the Daily Observer came under heavy local criticism for being the only media institution that endorsed the candidacy of Unity Party’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during the 2005 presidential runoff against the Congress for Democratic Change’s George Weah.

The publisher responded by telling his critics that he sits on nobody’s fence. There was and still is a starkly clear choice between a football superstar who had hardly done eighth grade, in contrast to another candidate, a woman, who had graduated from Harvard University and had served in senior positions in the Liberian government (Finance Minister); the World Bank (Senior Advisor); the global banking giant Citibank (Vice President for Africa); and Director General, Africa Bureau, United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In addition to all her education and vast experiences, she also had not been sitting on the fence in previous years—No! She had, to the Liberian people’s delight and gratitude, been calling a spade a spade, telling the previous five administrations where they were going or had gone wrong, and suggesting how to fix the problems.

The choice of the Liberian people in 2005 was, therefore, clear. It had to be Ellen.

So the Daily Observer said, and thankfully, so the Liberian people voted.

In addition to this runoff support, this newspaper gave President Sirleaf’s policies substantial attention and praised her efforts in accomplishing the debt relief and attracting substantial foreign investments, etc.

Alas, when things began to go wrong, especially in the agricultural sector, we became critical of her first two Agriculture Ministers, Doctors Chris Toe and Florence Chenoweth, both of whom President Sirleaf eventually had to let go. Our re-thinking continued, especially in the second term, when the President started engaging in glaring nepotism, such as appointing her son Robert Sirleaf as Chair of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), one of the most lucrative of state enterprises.

Everyone remembers or has at least heard about the Daily Observer’s uncompromising stance in the 1980s and early 1990 against the brutal, corrupt, oppressive and murderous regime of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) and its military dictator Samuel K. Doe. Everyone also remembers that we paid the price for that. They closed down the newspaper five times, imprisoned Mr. Best three times, and also his wife Mae Gene and other staff members. Worse yet, the newspaper suffered three arson attacks, the third of which destroyed the Observer office building, homestead of the C.T.H. Dennis family.

How is it now possible that the Daily Observer should be expected to remain silent on the glaring excesses of the current administration—one that like all the others since 1944, has done little to transform rich Liberia from a land of poverty and suffering into a land of prosperity. The administration has done little to empower Liberian businesspeople, and has even allowed its Judiciary to free Lebanese convicted of raping Liberian women and send them back to Lebanon on vacation!

How could the Observer have been expected to ignore the unexplainable collapse of NOCAL under the President’s son Robert’s watch? Are we now expected to play the role of hypocrite and sycophant? Should we have ignored, too, the mysterious deaths of NOCAL whistleblowers Michael Allison and Harry Greaves?

God forbid!

The Daily Observer means absolutely no harm to anyone. It is we and some others who have been vigorously resisting calls in recent years for a so-called “Interim Government,” because we know that will solve no problem, but create new, more serious ones.

We stand by this principle and urge the Liberian people to be patient and prepare themselves for and focus upon the 2017 presidential elections, when they will be able to choose their next leader. We must pray and work for peace and for peaceful and productive elections that will bring us leaders who will make a positive difference in our lives and the life of the Liberian nation.

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