We are compelled today to employ this immortal quote from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to explain what happened to Liberia’s culture and educational system during President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s 12 years as President of Liberia.
The quote comes from Mark Antony’s masterful oration following the assassination, by stabbing, of Julius Caesar by a man he loved so much—Brutus. Mark Antony recalled that Caesar had loved Brutus so much that most people knew Brutus as “Caesar’s angel”. That is why Mark Antony called Brutus’ deed “the most unkindest cut of all.”
There are very few people who forgot how we at the Daily Observer newspaper went out of our way, during the electoral run-off in November 2005 to attempt convincing the Liberian people that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the most suitable candidate for the presidency. To the consternation (alarm, concern, bewilderment) of most of the Liberian media, the Daily Observer was the only media house to come out endorsing Ellen for the presidency, over her football superstar opponent, George Manneh Weah.
In other words, like Caesar vis-a-vis Brutus, we heralded Ellen as an angel, whose impressive schooling (including Liberia’s College of West Africa, trainer of most Liberian leaders, and Harvard University), and vast professional experience—in government service (Liberian Finance Minister), service at the World Bank, Citibank and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)—all of these painted Ellen as a leadership angel that no one could match.
The Liberian people agreed and handed Ellen their Presidency TWICE—each a six-year term!
And what did we get out of it? Yes, she restored Liberia’s shattered international image and saw the cancellation of Liberia’s US$4 billion debt. We got some electricity restored, though many of the common people feel still totally left out; some water, too; some roads—the paved Buchanan highway, some improvements in greater Monrovia and the Lower Careysburg to Ganta paved highway; and increased women’s participation in government.
President Sirleaf also gallantly fought the Ebola pandemic that claimed the lives of over 4000.
She also, with few exceptions, lived up to her constitutional mandate to uphold freedom of speech and of the press. Though many questioned the way she did it, especially her unconscionable (immoral, horrifying) ditching of the Unity Party that had twice successfully sponsored her presidential candidacy, she also saw the peaceful transfer of power to a new administration.
But despite these accomplishments, there are very serious “cuts” that Ellen inflicted on Liberia. For starts, she left Liberia in a financial hole. President Dr. George Weah has said on many occasions that he “inherited a broke country.” Even the Central Bank of Liberia, at the close of Ellen’s presidency, became very seriously challenged.
So was the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning under Minister Amara Konneh. And what was he, a non-economic and financial man, doing there in the first place? We understand that people very close to President Sirleaf engineered the removal of Finance Minister Augustine Ngafuan to make way for Conneh—why? To allow these “engineers” to have unfettered (free, unrestricted) access to the nation’s financial resources.
We all know what happened to the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), under the watch of Ellen’s son, Robert Sirleaf. When he took over as Chairman in 2013, Clemenceau Urey, the former Chair, had left over US$30 million in NOCAL’s bank accounts. The company subsequently made more money from oil block sales. But by the time President Sirleaf, bowing to local and international pressure, removed her son from that office, NOCAL was bankrupt! A national and international outcry erupted; and President Sirleaf said she took “full responsibility” for NOCAL’s crisis. But she failed to explain how the squandered money was to be repaid—and it never was.
And what did Ellen for Agriculture? She failed to increase the budget for Agriculture, and therefore after 12 years in office, she left Liberia importing most of its food.
When she became President, Hotel Africa and the Unity Conference Center were still operational, though seriously threatened by the encroaching Atlantic. Both of these major structures and the D. Twe High School were built during the Tolbert Administration. Ellen did nothing to rescue these structures. Why? Was she determined to let die nearly everything her predecessors had done?
Look at the Executive Mansion, the Ducor Intercontinental Hotel, West Africa’s first five-star hotel, and the E.J. Roye Building, built by President W.V.S. Tubman—all in ruinous condition. The Housing Bank Building, started during the regime of President Samuel K. Doe, Ellen never touched. Meanwhile, her administration signed expensive lease agreements with private properties to house government ministries and agencies.
But on top of all of these failures, we strongly believe that destroying the National Cultural Center and leaving our educational system in shambles was Ellen’s “most unkindest cut of all.” Why? Several years ago Ellen declared that Liberia’s educational system was “in a mess,” but did nothing to clean it up. Most of the schools lack qualified teachers; nor do they have adequate furniture, including seating, supplies or laboratories or libraries. Tens of thousands of students are out of school, and the streets and our highways are crowded with boys and girls, ages five and above, and young men and women, from pre-teenage to 40, selling trivialities, including chewing gum and cotton buds.
Why is this the “most unkindest cut of all? Because our children and young people are our future. If the sector that should prepare them for that future is in shambles, their future, yea the future of our country is in shambles.
President Weah, here is your most serious challenge. We at the Daily Observer are here to help in any way we can. But first, we must tell you the blunt truth.