Paul Yeenie Harry ~ (August 23rd 2005)
"...voting for a complete novice with the hope that he will find competent people to help him run Liberia will not only mean that we are unserious, but also that we don’t value the presidency. If we know that the person is a mediocrity or an incompetent, why think about electing him, in the first place?....”
"Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment. Therefore I say: Hearken to me; I also will show my opinion." Job 32:9,10
In Part One, I indicated the nature of the series – pieces of advice to my fellow Liberians, as they prepare themselves to choose the first true post-war president. Though the presidency will be the focus in the series, the general pieces of advice go for all other positions that are vied for; hence, members of the legislature are not exempted.
In the same Part One, I also indicated the basis of the series – politicians are usually cunning, especially during the period of electioneering; hence care must be taken not to choose the wrong person. It is an open secret that some of those in the race are individuals who either supported or spearheaded the disintegration of our country, the suffering of our people, the igniting of religious and tribal rivalries, the plundering of our resources, and so forth. Besides, they have proven over the years that they are greedy, corrupt, self-centered, deceitful, nepotistic, despotic, unserious, intolerant and unpatriotic.
Still, in Part One, I stated the total number of pieces of advice to be contained in the entire series – fifteen in all – out of which I presented three in Part One. In this part, I will present only two. Are you ready? I can hear you say, “Shoot, Paul!” Okay, since that’s the understanding, here we go:
The Fourth Advice: Do not vote for an individual who is a complete novice to the structure and operations of a modern government. I strongly advise you not to vote for anyone who is not in tune with the dynamism of modern politics and diplomacy. Somebody might want to ask, “But why shouldn’t this be so?” Well, it shouldn’t be so because it is inherent with potential dangers. “Potential dangers,” protest a group of elementary students from the Modern Society Primary School, “what do you mean?”
I don’t feel like answering these little children, but at the same time, I can see that they are tenacious, pulling my “doe-ka-fleh” shirt here and there. “Okay, okay, wait a minute!” I can hear myself begging for mercy from the children, “Leave my shirt, I will answer your question.” I can hear them giggle and say, “The big man is begging us!” For me, here, being a big man doesn’t matter. In fact, listen to what three of the children are telling me, “What makes you a big man, you old gari-yorkor eater?” Hmm! This question is insulting; however, it’s true, so the best thing I can do for myself is to ignore it.
Besides, I don’t want to digress from their mean question: What do you mean when you say that electing a complete novice to the presidency is inherent with potential dangers? Here are my reasons.
First of all, such a person, when given the presidency, could surround himself with individuals of similar caliber, a situation that has the propensity not only to delay or prevent development and progress, but also to cause great harm to the country’s existence. Imagine bringing a group of mediocrities together to lead a modern society.
Voting for a complete tyro could be like choosing a blind person to lead Liberia. The Bible says in Matthew 15 verse 14 that if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. In our case, it would be a bit different, because the person would be leading an entire nation, comprising of men and women (including the informed) of diverse backgrounds and nature.
Some of you might think that this point is too simplistic, because, after all, the person will not manage the country alone; he will appoint “wise” people to rule with him. Well, you might be right, but this takes us to the second argument.
The second argument is that if the person does not surround himself with neophytes, like himself, he might decide to surround himself with “wise” people whom he believes will help him to do the work. Here, it even becomes more complicated. How sure are we that the complete novice will choose the right people? Besides, how sure are we that those whom he will choose will not manipulate him, especially so when they know that he is a complete novice?
Okay, let’s agree that the complete novice will not be manipulated by those whom he will surround himself by, that they will do the right thing for him and on his behalf. But, then, this would mean that he is only a ceremonious president, a figurehead leader sitting in the Executive Mansion and calling himself president. No way! I am sure this is not why you will be going to the polls on 11 October. You will be casting your vote because you want to elect a person whom you think understands how to lead a modern society. He must be a person who knows what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and why he is doing it.
Thirdly, we don’t want a novice because when things go the wrong way tomorrow, that person or his supporters, may begin to shift blame to the people who had surrounded him. This will be unfair to the Liberian people. We wouldn’t like to hear the saying, “He was a good person, but he was deceived by those around him.” The situation must be clear so that the leader can be held accountable appropriately and squarely.
Two contrasting cases in point have to do with Doe and Taylor. For example, I have heard most people say that Samuel Doe was a “good boy’, but the wrong people advised him. As you can see here, sympathy and scape goating have stepped into the picture. Whom do we really hold responsible in such a scenario, the leader or the advisors?
The case with Charles Taylor is clear. In direct contrast with Doe, I have heard most people say that Taylor was a hard and stubborn ruler who usually refused to take advice from those around him. In fact, in most instances, he actually advised the advisors on what to do and how to do it. This may sound histrionic, but most people believe it was the reality. The situation is clear with Taylor so, in my opinion, holding him responsible squarely for the nation’s problems, at least for the time he was in control, is much easier than it is with Doe.
Someone might want to jump and say, “Hey, Paul, wait a minute. Are you saying that the leader must be a know-all person, without any advisors?” No, that’s not my point! I am aware that neither is any man an island nor can he be an island. Every leader that I have known or read about has had advisors around to help him – it’s normal.
The point I am making is that we do not want a mediocrity or an incompetent to become president of what I will term the Fourth Republic. We want a person who has the requisite knowledge about leading a modern state, and who is also able to be in control of things. This is my bone of contention!
As mentioned supra, voting for a complete novice with the hope that he will find competent people to help him run Liberia will not only mean that we are unserious, but also that we don’t value the presidency. If we know that the person is a mediocrity or an incompetent, why think about electing him, in the first place? Is it because we think there are people around to him help? Won’t this turn the leader, who is supposed to be the torchbearer of the state, into a laughing-stock? In fact, sooner than later, it will be discovered that not only is that person not in control, but also that he is not capable of being in control. It is the “wise advisors” that will be in control. The difference will be recognized easily because, as the Koran says in Sura 35:19-20, “The blind and the seer are not equal, nor are the darkness and the light.”
Is somebody out there who’s ready to shout, “But a novice can be nurtured?” That person would be right – a tyro can be trained. But remember, we also have to think about the learning rate of the person – how long it would take for this mediocrity to be nurtured – who the tutors would be, etc. Will you agree with me that some of the main tutors for this mediocrity may even turn out to be some of the same con artists that have continuously transacted in the Liberian political business, or some of the very recycled politicians whose activities you detest?
How long will it take to nurture the mediocrity? Two years? Three years? Six years? Remember the Constitution says the president should be in office for six years. But let’s be serious here! Is this what we really want to go through – find a mediocrity or an incompetent, elect him, and use the presidency to nurture the person? I hear a student of the university of Liberia giggles and says in a simple language, “I-beg-Q-yah! No way!”
I believe you will agree with me that that’s not the purpose of the Liberian presidency! While it is true that people learn more about how to lead when they get into leadership, in my opinion, the Executive Mansion should not become the University of How to Lead Liberia, or a laboratory to experiment with the presidency. That’s why I am encouraging you, my countrymen, to vote for a person who is informed and is able to be in control.
Of course, this is just a piece of advice; you may choose to disregard it, but remember your wrong decision could hunt not only you, but also all Liberians. I beg you; don’t put us in any mess by electing a mediocrity or an incompetent!
The Fifth Advice: Do not vote for a person whose temperament is firebrand, or whose reaction to opposition leaders or the press will be nothing, but intolerance and ruthlessness. We know the story of how Tubman ruthlessly treated the opposition of his days – D. Twe, Samuel David Coleman, and so forth. We also know how he controlled the press. You better investigate well before casting your vote for a specific candidate.
Should I mention Doe, the young tyrant under whose administration Dr. Sawyer, Baccus Matthews, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the late Gabriel Kpolleh, student activists, etc., etc., were arrested and detained on bogus reasons? Was it not the same Doe who, like Tubman, was fond of organizing factitious coup d’etats, with the purpose of implicating, arresting and torturing opposition members? Was he not the one who sent armed security on the campus of the University of Liberia to beat, rape and shoot people, according to information? Was it not under his administration that the offices of the Daily Observer newspaper were burnt? During whose administration was journalist Charles Gbeyon brutally killed? Not Doe? I beg you; don’t choose the wrong person!
Maybe I shouldn’t mention Charles Taylor, should I? That ever-living tyrant whom many referred to as “the Hitler of Africa,” “the Saddam Hussein of Liberia,” etc? Was it not Taylor’s thugs who almost killed Dr. Sawyer, according to reliable information? From whose venom did Mr. Milton Teahjay escape? Where is Samuel Dokie? Was it not Taylor’s security forces that killed Dokie, according to information? Should I stop here, or go on?
I hear a group of human rights activists and journalists in Monrovia shout, “Go on, Paul!” And, without hesitation, I accept to go on. Let’s proceed!
Whose security forces arrested Mr. Henry Cooper, the Bong County Chairman of the opposition Unity Party, and later killed him in Totota, according to reliable sources? Under whose administration were human rights lawyers and activists, like Tiawon Gongloe, and journalists, like Hassan Bility, arrested, detained and mercilessly tortured? Which President closed down the Star Radio Station in 2000 and boasted, “Star Radio will not be allowed to operate, as long as I am the President?” I will stop here!
I hear a crowd of market women at the Paynesville Redlight say, “Don’t try it, Paul; continue the list!” And, with pleasure, I will.
During whose administration did Madame Noah Flomo disappear, without anyone being arrested or prosecuted? Which other president, besides Doe, sent armed men on the campus of the University of Liberia to beat students, professors, administrators, etc? Once again, I’ll ask: Should I stop here, or continue the list?
I hear a group of university students cry out, “Continue the list, comrade Paul!” I can only smile and say: on on we go!
Which former Liberian president’s son was law unto himself, killing at will without being arrested or prosecuted, at least as recent history is concerned? Which president made student activists, like Alphonso Nimely, Emmanuel Yarkpazuoh, etc. of the University of Liberia escape into exile? Should I continue, or stop here?
I hear a group of Liberians living in Fiamah say, “It’s enough, Paul!” Okay, I’ll stop! Vox populi vox Dei!
So, you see, if you vote for a person who has the tendency to exhibit firebrand temperament towards the citizens, intolerance and ruthlessness towards opposition members, human rights activists and the press, you will be making a very serious mistake, because such tendencies could cause strong resentment towards that president, a situation that could plunge Liberia into another phase of bloodletting, which I believe you don’t want.
I beg you, my compatriots, do not vote for such people! But, again, this is just a piece of advice; you may accept it, or reject it, but remember your wrong decision could hunt all of us tomorrow.
As you listen to the politicians, and observe what they do and how they do it, what they say and how they say it, while investigating their track records, reflect on this short poem:
The Men of My Land
The men of my land!
Oh! The men of my land!
When they want power,
They are like the gentle breeze,
Touching even the grass.
But when they get the power,
They're like blood-thirsty mosquitoes,
Sparing no one, not even anemia patients;
And like the scorching sun,
Pitying no one, not even the inhabitants of the Sahara.
For now, allow me to rest my pen for the next article.
About the author:
Paul Yeenie Harry is a Liberian; he lives in Poland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org