Government Holds the Peace in Its Own Hands, Mr. Minister

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Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh has not made too many public statements since his appointment several months ago. So there are not many of us who know exactly where he stands on national and international issues. However, he was clearly on point when he declared earlier this week that the threat to peace in Liberia was not external, but internal.

He was absolutely right. But does he know what we mean by that?

We will go straight to the point. The peace is firmly in the government’s hands because it has to do, as always, with how government handles and utilizes the country’s resources—human, financial and policy resources.

From time immemorial this has been Liberia’s primary problem. Remember, from the very beginning, how one of the MAJOR resources—the ballot—was denied the indigenous majority? That marked both the beginning of the Republic and the problem. We have always applauded the Constitutional Convention, chaired by S. Benedict, and Joseph Jenkins Roberts, our first President, for taking the historic and herculean initiative of establishing Africa’s first independent Republic. But one of the cardinal mistakes they made was to deny the indigenous majority the ballot—and that lasted for over a century, until the 1980s.

In 1985, Samuel K. Doe, Elections Commissioner Emmet Harmon and their cohorts made the same mistake. Though the 1985 elections were historically our first truly inclusive and truly democratic,
Doe and company denied the people their franchise by massively rigging those elections. The exciting and joyous experience on Election Day, when millions of people throughout the country, for the first time, stood for hours on line to cast their ballots, soon turned into a terrible nightmare. Ballot boxes went missing and the Elections Commission overstepped the rules and procedures by selecting a special group of individuals to “count” the ballots at the Unity Conference Center. Of course, this select group did what they were appointed to do—they declared the military dictator, Samuel K. Doe, winner of the presidential elections! The real winner, Jackson F. Doe, was cheated in a dastardly way—and so were the country and all Liberians.

This misuse of this primary resource—the ballot—just as the first (1847 and subsequently) had done, led to seething undercurrents of disenchantment and tension, and ultimately to the 1980 coup and, 10 years later, to civil war.

Remember, though the ballot belonged to the people, the government confiscated it and stole each successive election. That is why the 2005 elections that brought President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to power have been billed as by far our most democratic.

But what has that led to? How are the nation’s other resources—human, natural and policy—being managed, and to whose advantage? Take the human resources. If agriculture, education and health are in shambles, then what is left for the people to survive on? Take the agricultural—our people are hungry because most of the food we eat is still imported and they have no money to buy it—and No One seems to care. Then their children have no school to attend, with students throughout the country, including those even in the capital, Monrovia, sitting on the floor. The health sector, too, is in shambles. Ebola almost wiped us out, but for the decisive intervention of foreign partners. And there are reports that much of the financial resources that were poured in for Ebola have been squandered by certain officials. Even some health workers are still crying for their pay.

Alas! There are other resources that have been and are being squandered, including the macroeconomic policies that have surrendered the country to foreign economic and financial control. The National Oil Company (NOCAL), which was swimming in money, until the President’s son, Robert Sirleaf ended his three-year tenure there as its Chairman. Today, NOCAL is broke!

What is happening to the Liberia Telecommunications Authority and all the money it has garnered from the GSM companies?

We can go down the list of Cabinet and the state enterprises, many of which have come under the cloud, following probing by the General Auditing Commission (GAC).

Herein lay the peace, Mr. Justice Minister: how are the nation’s resources being handled—in the interest of all the people, or just a few?

Make no mistake: the answer to this question will determine whether or not we are able to maintain the peace in Liberia.

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