Twelve Years of Ellen
A New Era
With the days of peril ended, the sounds of war behind her, Liberia began a new day with the inauguration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on January 16, 2006. She is an accomplished Harvard educated banker/economist, one that has lived and worked in and outside of Liberia. Her previous employers include the Liberian Ministry of Finance, Citibank, the World Bank, the United Nations and the African Development bank.
The new president was not new to the government, elite class or conflict in Liberia. She grew up in Liberia’s civilized circles and had studied abroad. She was a member of the True Whig Party and worked at the Ministry of Finance during the Tolbert Administration. Her criticism of the Doe administration landed her in jail before she went into exile.
Sirleaf worked with Taylor in starting the civil war and was the International Coordinator of the NPFL rebel group; justifying the war, and made the famous claim that the rebels should level Monrovia, and she and Taylor would rebuild it. She was now given the opportunity to rebuild a nation in ruins.
Recovering from a total breakdown of all of her systems including water and sewer, transportation, electricity, schools, healthcare and other necessary facilities was a major task. One had to wonder which one was a priority and where she would begin. The newly installed president declared corruption her number one enemy.
The Sirleaf Presidency
Peace and Security
For most of Sirleaf’s presidency, UNMIL extended its mission and kept troops in Liberia to maintain peace and security. They officially turned over the security of the nation to the Liberian government in 2016, having trained police and military personnel to assume those duties. UNMIL’s mission finally ended in 2018 and its remaining peacekeepers left Liberia.
I really think we have accomplished a lot in Liberia. Things were really not great when we got here in 2003, and I think, together with the regional bodies, particularly ECOWAS, we have worked very hard to return stability to Liberia, and this is 100 percent being achieved.
Waldemar Very, UNMIL Deputy Special Representative
UNMIL helped to disarm more than 100,000 combatants, and protected millions of civilians; helped to rebuild the police, the security services and other institutions; facilitated the provision of humanitarian aid; and supported the development of national capacity to promote and protect human rights.
Amina J. Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary General
A Return to Normalcy
Sirleaf’s tenure saw the nation return to stability and some form of normalcy. There was now a functioning government and peaceful movement within the country. Liberia’s adults returned to work while children could now attend school uninterrupted by battles and uprisings. People were able to establish businesses and the constant fear of rebels and guns faded.
Debt Relief and Economic Recovery
Rallying international organizations to eliminate the nation’s huge dept that had accumulated for many years is perhaps her greatest achievement. In 2009, Liberia paid off $1.2 billion foreign debt with commercial creditors agreeing to accept three cents for each dollar. The remaining debt was finally forgiven in 2010. In total, Liberia’s accumulated debt for over a decade was about 4.6 billion US dollars. Per the IMF’s First Deputy Managing Director John Lipsky,
…it was the sustained implementation of a strong macroeconomic program and ambitious reform agenda by the government of President Johnson Sirleaf.
But Augustine Ngaufuan said the debt relief would make more resources available for Liberia to rebuild its broken roads and electricity supply system as well as expand its health care and education programs….And because of acceding to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, the HIPC initiative and instituting and implementing reforms, we’ve gained the confidence of the international community and we’ve reached the HIPC completion point meaning about $4.6 billion of our debt has been waved…
The President’s development and transformation efforts included the Lift Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), aimed at leading the country towards rapid and sustainable development throughout its borders. By 2011, development plans, laws and other ground work of the strategy had been achieved with the most outcome seen in “macroeconomic stability with low inflation, essentially balanced budgets, and major reduction of external debt” (IMF, 2012).
The PRS laid the path for the Agenda for Transformation (AfT), a five year development plan that would lay the foundation for propelling Liberia towards socio-economic development and its long term goal of middle income status by the year 2030. The AfT was the beginning of Liberia’s Vision 2030 (Liberia Rising 2030), an 18 year plan to reach that goal as a middle income nation. This would mean, that by 2030, Liberians live in enjoy a thriving economy, an accountable government, and a stable nation with growth opportunities.
These policies and measures led to economic growth on Sirleaf’s watch betwen 2006 and 2014, with the national budget increasing from 80 million US dollars in 2006 to $572 million in 2012. Similarly, there was also about a 9% increase in real GDP from 2011 to 2012, followed by an 8% increase in 2013.
Over the years, a huge portion of the national budget has been allocated towards Public Administration, especially employee compensation and benefits, greatly limiting funding for other public sectors and projects.
Moreover, the Ebola crisis and reduced cost of the nation’s main exports shocked its weak economy. In addition, the withdrawal of the United Nations peacekeepers and other relief agencies as well as reduced foreign aid also meant a decline in employment and financial revenue in the country. These factors led to a declining economy and increased inflation towards the end of Sirleaf’s term.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
As part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the civil war in 2003, Liberia established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to evaluate the causes of the war and recommend measures to prevent similar conflicts in the future.
On June 10, 2005, the TRC Act was approved and by 2008 the Commission began active work. The TRC collected 22,000 testimonies, held more than 800 hearings and made more than a hundred recommendations when its report was released on July 30, 2009.
James Harding Giahyue, FrontPage Africa
The Sirleaf administration failed to implement a majority of the TRC’s recommendations, especially one that barred her and others from holding public office for thirty years because of their participation in the war [see TRC Sanctions in the left sidebar]. In her defense, Sirleaf claimed that the Liberian people had forgiven her because they voted for her in 2005. A few months after Sirleaf left office, the UN and other local and international entities began pressuring the Weah Administration to start implementing the TRC measures.
The Ebola Crisis
The dire conditions in Liberia were revealed when the Ebola epidemic started in 2014 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. At the time, the entire nation had about one hundred doctors and inadequate health facilities. With her international connections, the president was able to appeal for aid to fight the disease. At home, she derided and fired some government officials that had fled the country during the outbreak.
Liberia was hardest hit because of its poor infrastructure and distrust of the government. At the onset of the outbreak, some thought it was a government ploy to get money from the international community. They therefore ignored advise and did not adhere to the safety measures. At the end of the outbreak in 2016, there were an estimated 11,310 deaths and 10,000 survivors.
Sirleaf’s period also had numerous small-scale development projects in many counties. With the help of the UNDP, the US and EU, the counties had operational administrative centers. There were several chief compounds, markets, bridges, and community colleges also built in the counties. However, large-scale projects like and the new RIA terminal and Ministerial Complex were unfinished when she left office. The renovated hydroelectric plant in Monrovia is unable to supply electricity to most of the city’s residents, and most of the nation’s schools lack basic amenities, supplies and qualified teachers. The roads are also in terrible conditions, making travel very difficult especially during the rainy season.
Like its predecessors, the Sirleaf administration was marred with corruption, nepotism and minimum national development. She appointed 3 of her sons to key government positions including head of the National Security Agency, chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and deputy governor of the Liberian Central Bank.
She also attributes her inaction on the Truth and Reconciliation measures to understanding Liberian culture and how things are done in the nation.
The International Impression
Western adulation, international awards, positive press and ascribed titles marked Sirleaf’s presidency and its aftermath. She is celebrated as Africa’s first female president (she is the second female head of state as Ruth Perry was the first in Africa). US President Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 right before her reelection, along with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman for their “non-violent efforts to promote peace and her struggle for women’s rights”, (Nobel, 2011). In 2013 she received the Indira Ghandi Peace Prize. About a month after she left office, Sirleaf was awarded the Ibrahim Prize in 2018.
At the end of her term, Sirleaf did not support her Vice President of twelve years and standard bearer of her Unity Party, Joseph Boikai. She instead supported soccer star George Weah. She had skipped her VP’s campaign launch, called for younger people in the government and held an event with Weah a few days before the runoff election between him and Boikai. Weah won the election and succeeded her on January 20, 2018.
Sirleaf was expelled from the Unity Party on January 13, 2018 for going against their constitution and sabotaging their chances at the presidency. She and other expelled members sued Boikai in February 2018, claiming he had orchestrated their expulsion. Prior to the hearing by the National Elections Commission, she withdrew from the complaint.
The belief in Liberia and Liberian circles abroad is that Sirleaf made a deal with Weah, that his administration would not prosecute her for corruption and nepotism during her presidency, and would not create a war crimes tribunal for atrocities caused during the civil war.
So, according to these unconfirmed rumors, George Weah and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf succesfuly agreed on a common position. The incumbent president would not support the official candidate of her own party but Weah’s candidacy, whereby the latter promised not to prosecute her for the corruption and nepotism that took place during her presidency and for which she could be held responsible. Moreover, the secret deal would also include Weah’s promise not to create a war crimes tribunal and to not re-open a public discussion on Sirleaf’s role in the start of the country’s civil war.
-Van Der Kraaij
As she left office, Liberia’s school system was still a mess, as she noted a few years prior. Most roads were not paved, making it extremely difficult to travel within the country. Most of Monrovia, let alone the nation, lacked electricity and running water. The agricultural sector is unable to sustain the nation and Liberia imports most of her food. The healthcare sector was dreadful and in many aspects, the nation was in no way close to pre-war levels.
These failures of the Sirleaf Administration also helped propel Weah to the presidency. Criticism of his lack of education were disregarded this time around, as the populace asserted that the book (educated) people had done nothing to lift the nation as a whole out of poverty for over a hundred years.
Liberia’s economy has quadrupled under Sirleaf’s watch, but the forested country remains impoverished and many have no access to reliable drinking water and electricity. Tired of the monied elite that they say Johnson Sirleaf represents, many voters see Weah as the candidate for change.
-Aaron Ross, Reuters
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