Part of Ellen’s Legacy: Developing a Cadre of Young Professionals

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Following the 2005 elections when the mantle of the presidency was cast upon her, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf met a practically empty barrel of professionals in government. Perhaps with the exception of a few Ministries, most government agencies were staffed by mediocre personnel. Remember, the government had been run since 1997 by Charles Taylor, the least of whose worries was professionalism or governmental efficiency.

The very few well staffed Ministries the new President met included the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (LME), which for decades, since the Tubman administration, had been training geologists, mining, hydrological, surveying and other engineers. Many of them remained in the Ministry throughout the Tolbert, Doe and Taylor years. But with few other exceptions, President Sirleaf had to bring in quickly from abroad a number of qualified personnel to start her administration.

Yes, it is true that some of the highly qualified people she brought in at the onset of her administration failed her and their country. No one can blame her for that. She tried, but quickly had to let them go.

But she soon was able to recruit and send abroad many talented Liberians, who were able to gain entrance to top universities to obtain Master’s and doctorate degrees. Some of these universities included Harvard, Columbia, Duke, Carnegie Mellon in the United States, the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, Makerere in Uganda and other institutions across Africa.

In her Annual Message yesterday, the President reported on the public sector capacity initiatives which her friends had supported, allowing her administration to attract and retain “the critical mass needed to jumpstart our development in 2006 and beyond.”

These included: the Liberia Emergency Capacity Building Support Program, funded by the Soros Foundation; the Senior Executive Services (SES); the Transfer Of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN); the Scotts Family Fellowship; the Educational Pool Fund, our Legal and Economic Advisory Services, as well as other Capacity Development Programs funded by the Open Society Initiative and the Soros
Foundation; and the President’s Young Professional Program (PYP).

These initiatives, she said, “not only provided us with access to the technical expertise of expatriates; they created an avenue for young, vibrant and highly skilled Liberian professionals to come home (or stay home) and use their talents to build a nation that they could be proud of. It is upon the technical capacity of these bright young talents,” President Sirleaf said, “that we have heavily relied, in these last ten years, to develop and implement our Poverty Reduction Strategy, our Agenda for Transformation, and our 2030 National Vision.”

The President’s Young Professional Program (PYP) involved a good number of young people whose professional skills she developed by involving them in middle level areas of government where they were groomed in positions of serious responsibility. After a while they were graduated to bigger responsibilities. One example is Gyude Moore, who is now serving as Minister of Public Works.

There are many of these young professionals who are serving in other avenues of government.

We think this is a highly positive aspect of President Sirleaf’s legacy, which needs to be drawn upon by the incoming administration. What the President should do is to develop a database of this professional development that the incoming administration could tap into as it begins to form the new government.

The advantage here is that the new government will not be starting where Ellen started, but will be blessed with a cadre of young, well trained and experienced professionals that would render enormous assistance as the new administration gets started.

There will be no need to do an unfortunate Donald Trump number, changing “everything that holds a memory of” President Barrack Obama.

But with caution and due diligence, the new leadership must still do background checks on all its hires to make sure of their hard and soft skills and importantly make sure that their values pass the test of honesty, patriotism. With the President herself admitting her struggle with corruption in the country, some of the brightest minds may come with a “but”. The new leadership will be faced with the same nemeses and must not be lenient or trivialize corruption.

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