The universal euphoria elicited by the apparent election this week by Liberia of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (pictured, below)as Africa’s first elected female president is a misplaced one. It is also the height of political naivety.
That is not to say that the Liberian electorate should instead have gone for the former football star and millionaire George Weah. If anything, that would have been an even worse outcome for the people of Liberia and Africa as a whole.
As I write this, the West African country’s electoral commission has postponed declaring Sirleaf the winner until Tuesday, by which time they say they would have investigated claims by Weah and his army of youthful supporters that the elections were rigged to ensure victory for the Harvard alumni and former World Bank economist, who was clearly the favourite of the Americans and international big business.
Be that as it may, it is difficult to see victory being handed to Weah. This is because the commission had already said Sirleaf was in the lead by 20 points during the final stages of the poll, and international observers were agreed that the vote was free and fair. And, of course, Uncle Sam does not want Weah.
I may be labelled a spoilsport for espousing these sentiments about Sirleaf, Weah and the Americans. So, let me state my case, although it is bound to be drowned in the cacophonous din of fervent cheering for Sirleaf and Liberia’s supposed New Dawn.
With the exception of a handful of committed leaders, such as Nkrumah, Lumumba and Sankara, Africa has been cursed with tyrannical, corrupt and, at best, inept leaders since the so-called decade of independence of the 1960s. From Mobutu and Bokassa to Eyadema and Liberia’s very own Samuel Doe, the continent has found itself in the stranglehold of largely Western-backed despots.
This is not your usual diatribe about Western financial and geopolitical interests being responsible for all Africa’s ills – at least up to a point. It is about the calibre of the leadership that has lorded it over African people for far too long now. And far from reversing that trend, the apparent election of Sirleaf only reinforces it. Plus ca change!
While Sirleaf’s resume may look good on paper, she is certainly not equal to the task of rebuilding that benighted country’s war-ravaged economy – the single most important task that needs to be done.
Neoconservative economic orthodoxy
With a master’s degree from Harvard and stints at Citibank, the UN and the World Bank, she looks tantalisingly like just what the doctor ordered. But, as a woman wedded to the self-same neoconservative economic orthodoxy that has laid waste to the people and blighted economies all over the region, I honestly fail to see how she can be the solution. She – and her ilk – are part of the problem that blights Liberia and Africa.
I honestly do not see Sirleaf doing an instantaneous about-turn and pushing through policies that will bring meaningful change to Liberia, for, by definition, that would entail going against all that she stands for as a disciple and ambassador of free market, Bretton Woods economic orthodoxy.
It is the economy that holds the key to unlocking the vast potential of Liberia and to heal the deep trauma of a 14-year civil war. So, any programme of reconstruction and rehabilitation must surely fail if not grounded on sound economic policies geared towards lifting Liberia’s long-suffering people out of poverty – as opposed to serving Western economic imperatives as embodied in the infamous Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the Bretton Woods institutions.
Sure, there will be initially massive injections of resources by the US, the EU and the relevant international financial and humanitarian bodies. But this false dawn, this honeymoon of sorts will come to an end before you could say, "I told you so." Then will follow privatisations to foreign interests of everything in sight, the slashing of social provision and rigid fiscal policies that will stifle growth and increase social deprivation.
The upshot will be that the war-ravaged economy – and the lives and livelihoods of the people - will be left to the vagaries of the "free market". Then what? Simple, really. This is not nuclear physics. Mr Weah’s youthful army of supporters will be out on the streets again with their burning barricades. There will be social unrest, followed by its corollary – political repression, which could just sow the seeds of another civil war.
Liberia will only be saved if a President Sirleaf rules for her people and not the neocons in the Bush White House who backing her to the hilt. But I don’t see that happening.
This is the woman who says she resigned from the previous regime because of excessive government spending; a woman who has modelled herself on that freemarketeering class warrior Margaret Thatcher – to the extent of even earning the soubriquet of "Iron Lady" after the former British premier. Moreover, throughout her professionnal and public life, not a word of dissent has been heard from her regarding the damage SAPs have done and continue to do to the region.
She will fail to deliver
The sad thing in all of this is that she will assume power as the first woman leader of an African state. Much will be expected of her but – as surely as night follows day – she will fail to deliver. I will eat my keyboard if she can rise to those expectations!
Liberia and Africa do not need presidents who effectively function as governors of states ultimately ruled by the metropolis-based Bretton Woods institutions; who administer their respective provinces along templates that allow little or no deviation or tinkering. The continent needs visionary leaders with the intellectual authority, morality of purpose and strength of will to challenge and demolish prevailing economic orthodoxies and govern in the interests of their people.
Sirleaf is definitely not where it’s at. Ditto Weah – the highschool dropout who felt he qualified to be president just because he was good at kicking an air-filled leather thing and had amassed a fortune in the process. That would have been like the British electing David Beckham prime minister. Only in Africa!