Thumbs-up to a Golden Milestone

A Repeat of October 29, 2018 EJS 80th Birth Anniversary Editorial

LIBERIA IS CURRENTLY going through a political transition, and like most normal transitions, it is not spared of the revels, angst amidst hopes, and the dissatisfaction that often come with change of guards, of policies, and of trajectories. There is hardly anything these days that does not arouse high passion and disagreement – that does not exact criticisms and further socio-political schism.

BUT SOMETHING IS happening today, October 29, 2018, that deviates from what is fast becoming a new normal for political Liberia and that is, all other things considered, worthy of the time, reflection, and approbation of the Liberian people – something that sets the tune for a new socio-political order for Liberia. It is the celebration of the 80th Natal Day of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the 23rd President of the Republic of Liberia! Clocking 80 years by itself is a grand achievement in this day and age when Liberia’s health institutions are in free fall and when there is so much to hamper the health and longevity of the aged. However, that is not the sole reason we believe the former president’s natal day celebration is worth the while of the nation. A dozen reasons rushes to mind, but we will mention only a few.

PRESIDENT SIRLEAF IS the first Liberian head of state in 84 years to relinquish power at the behest of the law, not of infirmity or coercion, since Edwin James Barclay accomplished the feat on January 3, 1944 when he ceded power to William V.S. Tubman. She is Liberia’s only living former democratically elected president. It may not be popular to say that she is the only Liberian president that did not endeavor to entrench a party hegemony against the popular will of the Liberia people. But it is a fundamental reason to make the celebration of her natal day an event of national significance. There are many other reasons too that may look trivial to the casual eye but that ring solemn.

A CLOSE EXAMINATION of her 12-year administration of the affairs of state indicates that she changed the trajectories of the Liberian political and economic dynamisms – erasing the $4bn foreign debt burden and moving the nation’s economy from dysfunctional to up-and-trotting (though haltingly) and sustaining an unfettered political opposition. In spite of the plethora of existing draconian laws shielding the presidency from criticism, the former President gave unprecedented rein to free press, free expression, and open citizens’ political dissent. She left office without political prisoners or exiles independently considered worthy of the label. Her administration signed international protocols entrenching the right to speak, dissent, and access public information. She did not only support the transition, she did everything outside the box to, against her political comfort, discourage the perpetuation of her party in power. She did it when doing so was not against the rungs of practiced democratic conventions across the globe and across democratic epochs, from Europe to the Americas. Externally, the former president brought home fame, friends, and accolades, allowing Liberia to take its place on the table of the comity of nations. We will resist the urge to give examples, for that will be belaboring an acceptable observation.

BUT WE WILL dare say that because of these achievements, Liberia will never know its former dark days of one-party state when imperial presidents reigned – appointing judges and legislators and having them serve at their will and pleasure, signing treaties, and mortgaging the nation’s resources. Because of these, a Liberian president will need all the con artifacts in hell to expend the nation’s resources without a legislative stamp of approval of a sort, without the civil society breathing over his or her shoulders. Because of these, the Legislature and the Judiciary will think twice before they mortgage their souls and powers to the Executive. Because of what she achieved during her 12-year reign, presidencies and presidential henchmen henceforth will fight and strain in altruism to be guided by the law, not by personal or political expediencies. Because of these, multiparty democracy will remain the mainstay of the Liberian political dispensation. Because of these the Liberian female will enjoy gender equality through equal education and opportunity and a raped victim will not be blamed for being raped. Because of her, because she broke the gender glasses ceiling and narrowed the gender gap, the Liberia woman will not be drawn to self-effacement, will not shrink from national leadership and responsibility.

ELLEN IS INDEED a political watershed of untold magnitude. Her legacy has necessitated and set the stage for political leaders to look forward to a happy, fulfilling, retiring life beyond the lonesome chambers of the Executive Mansion. It has set up the tune for a comradery life between current and retired presidents; it has set aside the political rat race as we know it today. Yes, it has the tune for the respect of the aged, senior citizens, and former leaders at every level of government – something that is fast diminishing in our age. And because of this, it will remove the spectre of political enemy that hangs over the prosperity of this nation and promote inter-party collaboration, something considered today a tabooed sign of political weakness.

SO, WHAT A better way to embody her legacy of bringing Liberian from the cold against all formidable odds than to join hands from the level of the government and people of Liberia to wish her a thunderous HAPPY BIRTHDAYY MADAM PRESIDENT! There is no better way to pledge to adopt, memorialize, cast in marble stones, and solidify her legacy than to join the Sirleaf Family to raise the former President’s name and fame upon the tides of history and of nation building. This is necessary not that a national celebration of her natal day might boost her ego, for she resisted memorializing herself twelve times during her administration. But that it may inspire within the Liberian people the Geist of good naturedness and the willingness to allow the law, not men of deceptive charisma or brute force, to rule.

THIS IS WHY, as we join the Sirleaf Family and friends to bid her a happy birthday and wish her long, peaceful days ahead – to give thumbs-up to the celebration of a golden milestone – we call on well-meaning Liberians to join the fervor of this day – a day we dub the day of the celebration of a golden milestone. While, for reason stated in the opening, some may consider it a controversial political move by the Weah Administration to accord the former President her flowers why she is still alive to savor the gratifying fragrance, we encourage President Weah to do the one honorable thing: grace the former president’s natal day, even if uninvited. This, too, could turn out a milestone in his policy of political and social détente. We urge representatives of civil society groups to join Liberian government to make the day a lasting imprint on transition politics.

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