Leaving Our Culture and Education in Shambles: Ellen’s ‘Unkindest Cut of All’

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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.

Authors

9 COMMENTS

  1. Hey Bai Best, if George Weah “inherited a broke country.”, what country do you think Ellen inherited?? A “prosperous country”??? Puh-lease. Ellen inherited a completely BROKEN country, but left Liberia in a far far better shape than when she took over in 2005. Why shouldn’t we expect Weah to do the same for Liberia?? Shouldn’t we expect Weah to leave Liberia in a better shape than he met it? But the way things are going now, it looks like Weah will leave Liberia in a WORSE shape when he leaves office!! You think I’m wrong???

  2. Mr. Martin Scott, Daily Observer has been assailed numerous times for being partial to EJS, so the purpose here isn’t to berate her. If you had come with an open mind, you would have noticed that the pluses and minuses of the last dozen years were briefly yet evenly stated. Of course, most aides of EJS, who were appointed more for loyalty than capacity to deliver, failed her.

    On the issue of GMW, Mr. Bai Best challenges and motivates him to do better; the newspaper went further by expressing willingness in helping him. This is a response to the President’s appeal for proposals from all Liberians at home and abroad. For me, this editorial is significant; amid the condemnatory frenzy of every false step the new Administration makes, here we find the editor of Liberia’s first independent newspaper offering to assist government keep its pledge of improved services to the Liberian people: We say, Kudos!

  3. Hey Mr Moses, do you believe that Ellen left “Our Culture and Education in Shambles”?? If so, can you compare it to what she inherited??

  4. No, Mr. Scott, and if I had space enough would’ve given twenty reasons to persuasively support that response. Probably, unlike you, decades of exposure to various genres of English Literature inform me the topic-phrase is a figurative expression, therefore, reading it literally undermines appreciation of the editorial’s import. As stated before, Daily Observer did admire EJS, and, this editorial sounds like lamentation for what could have been achieved by this controversial yet remarkable Liberian Lady. Truth be told, we are all conflicted, but cares for her in so many ways; after all, she is Africa’s first female President!

  5. Well, on an emotional topic such as this, mistakes like we all… “cares” instead of ‘care’ may be forgiven, I assume.

  6. Mr. Moses, if you say that “Leaving Our Culture and Education in Shambles” is a “figurative expression”, can you translate in into plain English for me?? Please enlighten me.

  7. Mr. Scott, we and the author know that if a a vibriant cultural milieu and educational system existed, twelve years of EJS’s presidency wouldn’t have made them a mess, hence “shambles” in the context is figurative. Moreover, it was the civil war that destroyed our civilization – figuratively speaking – and that we can’t pin on her head when thousands of us embraced and participated. So by giving “shambles” in that context a literal meaning, you’re misleading non-critical readers. Hope, the explanation does it, though I doubt whether any would. Anyway, yours truly is done here, bye.

  8. Perhaps Martin you are unaware of the fact that the National Cultural Center at Kendeja was razed to make way for millionaire Bob Johnson’s hotel. Promises to relocate and rebuild were meant simply to be mere promises. Does it not strike you strange that throughout her 12 year reign Liberia never had a National Cultural dance troupe? Do you need to be reminded of the significant role the National Cultural Center played in national life especially as a repository and propagator of Liberia’s cultural heritage?

    For a leader who never failed to emphasize her Gola heritage, she had the power as President to promote if not the diversity of Liberian culture, at least her own Gola culture. Did she do that? Would you not consider that as well as the razing of the Cultural Center acts of utter contempt for Liberia’s indigenous but diverse cultural heritage? If such was not an Unkind cut, pray tell me what could it be.

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