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Liberia’s new dawn

By Olayinka Oyegbile

I still vividly remember that as a secondary school boy some years back, the image of Liberia that was etched on my mind was that of a free country. This was reinforced by the motto of the country: “The love of freedom brought us here.”

In my history class then, we were taught that Liberia was a country that was founded on freedom and that it was the only one on the continent that was not under any form of colonial rule. This was because it was ruled by freed slaves of the Americas and the Caribbean at the termination of the heinous trade in humans.

Although this part of the history might be contested because there are those who are of the belief that the rule of the American-Liberians (as the freed slaves were called), was in itself a product of internal colonisation.

Well, this is not our concern today. What is of interest to us today is the pace that has just been set by this rather traumatised country. It is no longer news that since the brutal overthrow and murder of the late President William Tolbert by the infamous regime of the late Samuel Doe, the country had known no peace.

However, a few weeks back a glimmer of hope was thrown up with the election of a new government by the people of the country. The new president, Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is not new to the country. Apart from her sterling academic credentials and experience as a senior World Bank official, the grandma who is a former minister is coming to power at a time the country is in dire need of her kind of experience.

She has set a pace by being the first woman ever to head any kind of a modern government on the continent. The good news does not end there, she has thrust on her a very heavy mantle that she must show to the world that she’s capable of carrying.

For a very long time, the continent has been regarded as a domain of men, whether of ideas or not; they have held the mantle of power and now with this record-setting pace from Liberia, it is left for her to show the light to the other countries that women can really make a difference in the corridor of power.

It is also good to congratulate the citizens of the country for throwing this challenge to her. Right from the start and after taking a look at the credentials of all those who showed interest in the job, I’d concluded that the right candidate is Johnson-Sirleaf. Her closest rival, George Weah, by my own understanding, does not have the experience needed to bring this rich but unfortunate country back on its feet.

Before and during the elections that led to her victory, I’d found myself at various fora where the issue of who was fit to rule Liberia was discussed. Most of those who are avid soccer fans were fanatical about Weah and felt that he was fit to rule. On my own part, perhaps not being a footfall fan, I was stoutly opposed to his coming to power.

My opposition was not based on my not being a football fanatic; no, far from that. It was based on what I believe is lack of enough ‘cognate experience’, as they call it in the corporate world.

To me, Weah owes his fame to the round leather and nothing more. The core of his supporters are youths who only admire him because of his prowess on the field and not because of any other thing. My argument is that you need more than the mercurial moves of your feet on a football field to rule a nation. It is even more serious for a nation like Liberia where all forms of amenities have broken down in the last two decades or so. It is not too much to say that most of those youths who supported Weah are mostly the same ones who carried guns and thought it was fun to be child soldiers.

Now, the tasks ahead of the new president are enormous and rather than envy her, we must agree that her role is not a thing to trifle with. With her election, Johnson-Sirleaf has set a pace and she must wake up to this reality because a lot is expected of her as a pacesetter and she cannot afford to fail. As someone has rightly pointed out, her victory must not be romanticised. We agree it has broken a long held myth that the continent is only ready for men as presidents.

Africa has, with this step, set a pace for America and shown that it is ready to embrace leadership of women. The continent has for long been dominated by the male ego and it has not brought it out of the woods. This will perhaps help resolve the logjam and economic stagnation of the continent.

This is now the opportunity for all those women activists to rally round their own and make her tenure a success thereby shaming the men that they do not in any way hold the monopoly of knowledge to put the continent back to work. This grandmother is really in need of all, cooperation she can garner because the work ahead is big and challenging. She must also not discountenance the contributions of such people like Weah. It is no hidden fact that this former football star has a large following among the youths. For her to get all she needs to succeed, she needs the support of all citizens, and she must go all out to curry their support.

My suggestion to her is to face how to bring back the country from its lost glory before seeking to try Charles Taylor as some people are already suggesting. Her first duty is to unite all; Taylor’s trial should be secondary. Johnson-Sirleaf should bring back the freedom that has for decades traumatised her compatriots.