"...perhaps a fuller and truer apology is warranted from Mrs. Sirleaf, lest we believe that this one is only for political expediency......"
The Daily Observer Newspaper reported recently in its article: "Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf "Sorry" for Taylor War Comment", that Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf offered her first public apology for what has now become, the infamous "level Monrovia and we will rebuild it" comment she made in an interview with BBC's Robin White during a 1990 Focus on Africa program about the progress of then rebel leader Charles Taylor.
I was particularly happy to hear that Mrs. Sirleaf finally apologized to the nation and its people for her role but was taken aback by the limitations of her apology and the seeming political undertones which seem to have necessitated it.
One is constrained to wonder whether Mrs. Sirleaf’s apology is sincere or one precipitated by her quest for votes in the forthcoming elections. It has been quite a number of years since Mrs. Sirleaf, Charles Taylor and the ACDL movement strategized the onslaught on the Liberian people. Why has Mrs. Sirleaf not seen it fit to apologize despite the many criticism by Liberian groups, news organs and critics and the many opportunities she had to do so?
In fact, Mrs. Sirleaf, rather than take responsible for her role in the affair, has blamed everyone else for the thoughtless and murderous actions of a few Liberians. At a forum organized by The U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP) entitled "Eye of the Hurricane: Liberia and Instability in West Africa" held on December 7, 2002, Mrs. Sirleaf, in her desperate attempt to garner support for the removal of Charles Taylor, blamed the U. S. Government for not taking an interest in Liberia due to the end of the cold war, forgetting that Taylor was the monster she helped create and could not control. She offered no apologies to the Liberian people at this forum.
As she has embarked on her presidential campaign, Mrs. Sirleaf, in her address to Liberians in Philadelphia provided that apology…note however…her instructions to Taylor to: “burn Monrovia Down, we will built it back up", was conveniently modified to – “If they burn the mansion down we will build it back up."…an attempt, it would seem, to yet disassociate herself from the havoc of misery and murders Taylor brought on the nation.
The sincerity of Mrs. Sirleaf's Philadelphia apology comes into question as one looks more closely at comments she has made in the recent past. In a interview with the “Palava Hut" published in the online COPLA website, Mrs. Sirleaf accused Liberians of misrepresenting facts: (an excerpt from that interview):
" Palava Hut: After the 1985 elections, you were held for sedition by the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) government. Reports also indicate that the government even refused you an exit visa. When you had the opportunity to leave Liberia, you traveled to the United States. While you were here in the late 1980s, it has been said that through the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), you teamed up with Dr. Amos Sawyer, Clarence Simpson, Taylor Major, Richard Tolbert, Chu Chu Horton, A. Romeo Horton, among others, to rid Liberians of Samuel Doe who was perceived as a dictator. What is your side of the story?
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: I'm sorry that people have a way of trying to misrepresent and misinterpret the facts. Yes, there was the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia that was formed here in the United States essentially as a pressure group to try to bring the Doe Government back to where we were in 1985 when we had a successfully concluded election in which the NDPL did not win. So that group did not comprise the names you just called.
Key members were people like Tom Woewiyu; yes, Amos Sawyer; yes, I was a member; Harry Greaves was, and many of us who had, in some way or the other, been a part of the 1985 electoral process. It was mainly a peaceful civilian pressure group that was going to mobilize Liberians and then mobilize friends of Liberia to again prepare for another round of political process in Liberia to challenge Samuel Doe. People have attributed all kinds of objectives to this. This was not any kind of a secret or closed group. It was open. There's nothing
wrong with that as long as they are open, above board, legal and are abiding by the rules and regulations of he country. We thought it was an effective thing."
So here, when Mrs. Sirleaf could have very much admitted to the covert operations of the ACDL and her financial support to Mr. Taylor’s rebel activity, Mrs. Sirleaf chose instead to accuse the Liberian people for misrepresenting and misinterpreting facts; alluding to Charles Taylor rebel organization as “ a peaceful civilian pressure group”. One would hope that Mrs. Sirleaf could explain her definition of ‘peaceful’ to the families of those who lost their lives through Taylor’s onslaught. She once again chose not to apologize.
In a recent exclusive Daily Observer's Interview with Mrs. Sirleaf: "Liberia Has Come Full Circle": An Exclusive Interview with Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mrs. Sirleaf was once again question about her relationship with Mr. Taylor. The question and her response is noted below:
"Daily Observer: Speaking of Mr. Taylor, a lot has been reported about the once close ties you had with the now exile former president. In fact some have suggested you instructed Mr. Taylor to burn Monrovia down and you would build it back up. Is there any truth to that story?
Mrs. Sirleaf: You know I'm just so fatigued with this Taylor propaganda that he put out during the period when we were trying our best to get the regime change, to get Doe out of the country. So the first thing is I never had any close ties to Mr. Taylor.
I think I've met Mr. Taylor only three times in my whole life. I was working with institution here (in the United States) which on the urging of Tom Woeiyu was a part of that institution, the Association of Institutional Democracy in Liberia decided to give Mr. Taylor support when he started his movement on the basis that all of our efforts were not working so we needed like the South African experience to have some kind of a military pressure on Doe for Doe to respect Democracy and human rights and so we started that support and the minute Taylor did things that we thought were leading in the wrong direction, for example our colleague Jackson Doe and Gabriel Kpolleh, those people were killed by him.
These people were close political allies of ours in the 80s. As soon as those things happened we distanced from Taylor right away and from that time I have been actively involved in mounting the campaign to make sure that Taylor did not become president that's why I went to Liberia and challenged him in the elections, of course I lost but nobody can say I had close ties to Taylor, that's just not true."
I find two things interesting about Mrs. Sirleaf response to this question. Here she acknowledges that in fact the ACDL was intended as a military operation a contradiction from her earlier interview in which she accuses Liberians of misrepresenting facts. Secondly, Mrs. Sirleaf tries to disassociate herself from Mr. Taylor by claiming "I've met Mr. Taylor only three times in my whole life".
Is this a true statement?
Perhaps to examine the validity of that statement one only has to look at Mrs. Sirleaf's own words. In an interview with the Perspective Magazine in 1999 conducted while she was attending the National Summit Conference on Africa in Washington, D.C. , published as "Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Challenges GOL and Calls on Opposition to Unite", Mrs. Sirleaf was questioned as follows:
TP: You are one of Liberia's prominent politicians who have had your share of controversy as well. How would you respond to your critics who charged that you and others helped provide both the intellectual and resource foundation that helped create Taylor and ushered in the tyranny that now prevail in Liberia today. Could you comment?
Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf: ...........As for the personal relation with Mr. Taylor, ...I have been in his company only four times in my entire lifetime - the first time in the capacity of Finance Minister when he along with other ULAA officials visited Liberia early 1980 upon the invitation of President Tolbert. The second time was when Tom brought Mr. Taylor to meet me at an Amsterdam hotel while I was transiting through Europe sometime in 1988. The third time was on the occasion of the 1990 Annual meeting of the ADB in Abidjan. ....the fourth time was in April 1998 when officials of Unity Party and I met with him and some of his Party officials to discuss possible means for working together in the national interest."
So is it only three times or four times?
As I look closely at the dates Mrs. Sirleaf had taken the time to enumerate in this response to the Perspective, I realize that if Mrs. Sirleaf had in fact met Mr. Taylor only four times and those dates were believable, then Mrs. Sirleaf could not have been at the ACDL USA meetings when Mr. Taylor organization was in the planning stages. But then Mrs. Sirleaf has admitted being at some of those early meetings.
So perhaps a fuller and truer apology is warranted from Mrs. Sirleaf, lest we believe that this one is only for political expediency.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Siakon Nagbe is a Liberian, Computer Programmer with Intellicon. He lives and works in Newport News, Virginia, U.S.A. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..