The President’s Challenge in the Next Thousand Days

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Sam Jackson, one of the nation’s leading economic and political thinkers, in his Op-ed piece in yesterday’s Daily Observer, has laid out the stark challenges facing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia approaches its next transition period in 2017.  That is when Liberians are scheduled to go to the polls to elect a new President.

In his brilliant piece, Mr. Jackson presented the President with two stark choices: first, “Governing as a lame duck and biding her time would be disastrous with unfathomable social consequences.”  Second, Mr. Jackson postulated (suggested): “The President must govern as though she is running for reelection.  Too much is riding on her leadership and we’ve lost too much time to Ebola and political inertia (inactivity, sluggishness).  She must turn around the negative narrative that her administration has failed.  The President needs one memorable legacy project or two that will silence her critics and make her relevant in the blunt choices for 2017.”

Mr. Jackson then gave this warning:  “If the President fails to be fully engaged in development over the next two years and gets distracted by politics as usual, Liberia runs the risk of falling back into conflict.”

Every Liberian should read Mr. Jackson’s analytical thesis on the way forward in Liberia.  It requires the gripping and decisive attention of not the President only, but all of us—those close to her; those far from her; those for her and those against her; and even those who characteristically sit on the fence. 

Each of us is called to reflect soberly on what Jackson is saying and do EVERYTHING in our power to get the President to listen actively and follow his dispassionate and erudite advice.  In doing so, she would not only save her legacy, but far more important, save her country. IT MUST NOT BE SAID THAT AFTER ELLEN, AFRICA’S FIRST ELECTED FEMALE PRESIDENT, LIBERIA SLID BACK INTO CONFLICT.

That would be tragic.  It would amount to the squandering of the immense resources God has given us; and to blatant ingratitude in the face of the outpouring of help we have received from the international community.

What then, must Ellen do to cause Liberians to say, “She played well her part and left Liberia better than she met it?” 

Her remaining time is not too short to make a big difference in one of the fundamental problems Mr. Jackson touched on: the abject poverty in which Liberians continue to live, while a tiny minority is prospering.  To deal decisively with this problem, the President must seriously tackle agriculture, the sector in which a majority of Liberians work and subsist.  She must empower our farmers with training, tools, extension services, money and access to markets.  She must find the people who can make this happen with the same passion and boldness with which she garnered support to stamp out Ebola.

Secondly, Ellen must rear within herself that same level of passion and “not on my watch” sternness to crush corruption in her government.  This will permit the resources of the country to flow  freely into the areas they are most needed—education, health,  empowering Liberians in business and reaching out to the teeming masses on the streets—men, women and children—helping them to attain hope and a brighter future.

Here, the President should engage her Education people, including MVTC and the Booker Washington Institute and find ways to teach these street people trades that will give them marketable skills.

The President must undergo serious self examination and STRIVE to use power prudently, so that she will be remembered as a leader who was evenhanded, fair, forthright and just.  Her political base, Unity Party, is currently in disarray, and she must do everything to fix it.  Why disarray?  She is said to have personally intervened to support particular candidates against the popular will.  Also, in the mind of the public, she is perceived to be feuding with the party’s Chairman, Counselor Varney Sherman.  That could sound a death knell to party unity.  How, then, will she be remembered as a partisan who benefitted so richly from this party—two terms as President?

If we can get the hydro, paved roads to Harper, Vahun and Cape Mount, mini hydros and running water throughout the country, these, too, would enrich her legacy. 

Nothing, however, would be able to replace the spiritual foundation of her leadership—Ellen’s soul (character) as a leader.  That, more than anything else, could smooth the transition, and determine how she will be remembered.

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