The Sirleaf government will soon be entering its mi-term, after two full years at the helm of the state. Much has been accomplished on the international scene. Liberia has become more visible than ever and for the first time, since President William Tubman, a Liberian president was so widely received by the “international community”. Indeed, in a continent of strong men and in a country that exported the bleakest images of the last two decades, Liberia turned a page on its past as the poster of failed statehood.
The president has managed to successfully negotiate the cancellation of much of the staggering foreign debt of the country. Goodwill from foreign friends has brought new promises of aid. As the government enters its third year in power, it can look ahead with a certain dose of confidence.
Inside Liberia, the democratic agenda that has long been illusive from the founding days of the nation seems to be taking hold. The media, as an important pillar of a pluralistic society is truly independent. The civil society has grown to play a major role in checkmating every action of the government and is far from being shy. There is cause for celebration.
Democracy, as someone once said, is not like pizza that can be home delivered. The democratic process in Liberia is an evolving reality, it is happening, even if the changes are sometimes almost imperceptible. These changes are not about the freedom “given” to the people by the government, but rather, that people have taken responsibility for their own freedom. However, such responsibility can only be acquired in an atmosphere of free choice. The government born out of the 2005 elections has chosen to nurture that atmosphere of freedom.
This week, following his claims in court that he has been tortured, the magistrate started to look for a team of doctors to examine retired Colonel Andrew Dorbor to ascertain the veracity of his assertions. John Morlu, the firebrand new Auditor General publicly attacked the government’s budget and forced the Ministry of Finance and the Budget Bureau to review their numbers. A Lebanese merchant accused of economic sabotage for allegedly creating rice shortage and ordered deported by a government agency is still walking around in Monrovia, free. Newspapers that were forced to shutdown a year ago for publishing pictures are on the streets. The inquiry into Colonel Dorbor’s claims, the continuous presence of Mr. Morlu on the job, the presence of the Lebanese merchant are all signs of changing times. They are the manifestation of freedom of speech and the evolving democratic process.
In her Christmas message, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has addressed many of the thorny issues that are still lingering on her calendar. The expansion program at the Liberia Agricultural Company (LAC) is certainly the most delicate problem issue because it potentially endangers the very essence of what President Sirleaf has wowed to do for Liberia: give the country back to its people. Her decision to take a second look at the memorandum of understanding to ensure that the majority of the people of Bassa are on board is a welcome sign of government willingness to listen. In the past, government simply bulldozed its way into people’s lands and took whatever it wanted.
Human rights abuses in our old nation were intertwined with many other social problems that find their roots in the foundation of the republic. Therefore, the creation of the Human Rights Commission will constitute an important milestone in the new Liberia. This commission will have to work in close collaboration with the Governance Commission as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The work of the Governance Commission geared towards the conception of the framework of the new Liberian state, combined with that of the TRC which will unearth the pains of the past and bring national reconciliation will culminate into ensuring the respect of human rights in the nation.
The problems facing Liberia did not start overnight. It took generations of bad governance to get the country to implode two decades ago. The temptation may be to say that it will take time and that patience is needed. However, every generation lives on its own time, sometimes grappling with the negative effects of the past but rarely worrying itself with the future. Liberians got impatient with Tolbert when he promised “higher heights” while the economy was slumping. They became even more impatient with Samuel Doe when he proclaimed “In the Cause of the People,” and finally, they could not wait to get rid of Charles Taylor with his “Dream big” slogans.
Liberians are and will be impatient with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Whatever she delivers will fall short of the expectations and those who oppose her will always clamor that she is moving too slow and that she is not living up to the nation’s expectations.
In the past two years, civil servants salaries has shut up by more than 150 percent and for the first time, since 1979, government workers are paid on time at the end of the month. The national external debt of more than $3 billion is almost totally wiped out of and this would get Liberia back into international financial circles. Displaced people have returned to their homes and refugees are finding their way back home. Peace seems to be irreversible.
The freedom and democratic process enjoyed by Liberians are still in their formative stages. The notion that government cannot do everything and therefore is not responsible for everything has yet to sink in people’s psyche. Agents of the state in many strategic areas still grapple with the fact that they can no longer act as in the past, where national coffers served as their personal bank accounts or that they could lock up innocent citizens in order to collect benefits.
Democracy manifests itself through the rule of law, accountability and the respect of human rights. Agents of state will try to trample of these rights every chance they get as it happens everywhere every day in the world. The challenge is for the citizens to have recourse to other watchdogs and institutions in the same system to stop those abuses. There have been manifestations of such instances in the past two years. Government lost many cases in court, people arrested had to be released and state agents who tried to line their pockets with public funds have been dismissed. Rather than pointing to a weakness of the judiciary, Liberians must celebrate the fact that for once in our history government does not run the courts and cannot shut down media houses with impunity.
It was 17 years ago when the war started. After all the devastation, loss of lives and destruction, Liberians are now taking for granted many things they could not even dream of just three years ago. The road ahead is certainly rocky. As freedom takes hold and Liberians start to meet the demands of daily life, they will grow impatient and will be demanding more and more from the government.
The agenda ahead is packed, from road (re)construction to strengthening the democratic process through the empowerment of the people. But sometimes, it is good to look back and appreciate the small progresses of everyday. The changes may be imperceptible to the people who live through it everyday, but changes are taking place, everyday, on small but real scales.
Liberians deserve to celebrate their new nation in the making. It may be time to walk away from the memories of the fateful Christmas of 1989 and start building a new set of memories.
© 2007 by The Perspective
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