Why Didn’t Ellen Mention Yahya Jammeh in Her Annual Message? What Is She Up to?

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It was so far the most important foreign policy move of her second term—some will argue in her entire administration.

The most important accomplishment of her first term was two-fold: first, she restored Liberia to her pre-war position as a responsible member of the comity of nations. Second, she succeeded in getting the international community to cancel Liberia’s US$4 billion debt.

There was a possible third—what National Investment Chair Richard Tolbert called the 16 billion new investments that he brought into Liberia during Ellen’s first term. Alas, that, in the minds of many Liberians, turned out to be debatable, to say the least. For since then, people have been wondering what happened to all those investments? Liberians have really not felt the impact, especially the ordinary people, who believe they are 70 percent unemployed.

In Ellen’s second term, her most significant foreign policy achievement so far had to be her leadership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as its President, and most particularly its success in driving Yahya Jammeh, the defeated fourth term presidential candidate, from Banjul, the Gambian capital.

Moreover, ECOWAS, under Ellen’s leadership, did this without shedding a drop of blood! ECOWAS’ patient, persistent and resolute diplomacy, under her leadership, prompted Jammeh’s peaceful and uncompromising departure.

ECOWAS, mark you, did this not only without bloodshed, the fear of which earlier in December and January caused tens of thousands of Gambians to flee to Senegal; but also without foreign intervention from Europe, the USA or
Asia. There was no accomplishment more important than this, for which we owe our President, Ellen, and ECOWAS, in particular Nigerian President Mohammed Buhari and former Ghanaian President John Mahama, a debt of gratitude.

So why did she not mention this foreign policy triumph in her Annual Message—one that could have won her tremendous applause?

Here we are, on the eve of our own elections, a period rife with rumors and speculations. Most outgoing Presidents are keenly interested in who their successors will be. The issues are protection of their legacies or at least their friendships.

At one point earlier on, it seemed as though her son Robert Sirleaf was being eyed for the succession. That may have been the reason for his bid for the Montserrado seat in the Senate, which he lost overwhelmingly to George Weah. Ellen, however, told people she had advised her son not to run. But that may have been what Sir Winston Churchill called a “terminological inexactitude.”

Now rumors are rife that though in her public stance she is supporting her own Vice President, Joseph Boakai, for the succession, that she is meanwhile reportedly empowering Charles Brumskine in his third presidential bid. If so, why?

Jelejuay, Ellen’s ancestral home in Bomi County, is a long way from Upper Buchanan, Brumskine’s hometown in Grand Bassa. Why is it speculated that he is about to choose Ellen’s staunch supporter Musa Bility as his running mate?

There is another interesting question: Where did Brumskine get the money to lease for his party headquarters that imposing building on Tubman Boulevard, right next to Mill Jones’ Movement for Economic Empowerment headquarters? There is speculation that the hand of a powerful politician may be there, too.

But the history of Liberian and even world politics teaches us all to be careful what we ask for. In Liberia, for example, we remember that President J. Barclay, upon retiring from the presidency in 1943, handpicked Maryland County’s W.V.S. Tubman as his successor. In so doing, he bypassed many eminent Montserrado sons, including former Interior Secretary James Francis Cooper, the wealthy rubber planter and eminent son of Monrovia. Also bypassed was the eminent Liberian statesman, Counselor Clarence Lorenzo Simpson, who by that time had held many prominent government positions, including Speaker of the House of Representatives, secretary general of the True Whig Party, Delegate to the League of Nations and Secretary of State.

President Barclay’s bypassing of these two great statesmen to choose his successor from Maryland County is extensively explained in Kenneth Y. Best’s book on Albert Porte.

Suffice it to say now that already at Tubman’s inauguration in January, 1944, Barclay knew that he had made a fatal mistake! So disenchanted was he at what happened during the inaugural ceremony that he quickly slipped through the Broad Street entrance to the Government Square, where the Centennial Pavilion now stands, and walked to his home at the corner of Broad and Randall Streets, the spot on which the Executive Pavilion stands.

A decade later, President Barclay organized the Independent True Whig Party (ITWP) to challenge Tubman for the presidency. But Tubman on June 22, 1955 staged “the plot that failed,” an aborted assassination attempt on the President, which Tubman blamed on the ITWP. Hundreds of the ITWP partisans were arrested and imprisoned, and with them all still in jail, and David Coleman and his young son John, of the ITWP, murdered at the Barclay Training Center, Tubman sailed through to victory in the elections later that year. President Edwin Barclay died later that year a disillusioned and broken man.

The bottom line to all this is: Be careful what you ask for.

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