|Mr. Sekou Damate Conneh|
Mr. Sekou Damate Conneh has accused the Sirleaf Administration of conducting the economic and political policies of the nation through a system of divide and rule.
Mr. Conneh is the Chairman the opposition Progressive Democratic Party of Liberia (PRODEM, one several mushroom parties formed on the eve of the 2005 general and presidential elections to fill Liberia’s political vacuum in order to pave the way for socio-political and economic recovery.
He said the President came to power promising to be president for all Liberians by designing policies and programs that would help them restore their lost pride, dignity, and social standing.
He recalled the President’s campaign slogan, “Papa na kam”, which highlighted her administration’s promise to create employment opportunities for the breadwinners of families so that the Liberian child would smile again. Incidentally, “Papa naw kam” is the Liberian lingo for “Papa now come”, a child’s hearty welcome of a father coming home with a package after a long day’s absence.
AS CONNEH SEES IT: Sirleaf’s divide-and-rule tactics
But Mr. Conneh said that it was the exact opposite of the slogan that was now obtaining in Liberia because rather than upholding that promise, President Sirleaf decided to divide and rule the Liberian people through selective appointment in government.
Whether by his allegation he was implying that appointment in government presupposes political support for the incumbency, in which case it would be unhealthy for anyone in opposition to crave, is not clear.
But the former contender in the 2005 presidential elections that brought President Sirleaf to power said the President was giving lucrative jobs to Liberians from the Diaspora, neglecting to consider those in the country who actually need those jobs.
According to the former rebel leader, the President’s promise of poverty reduction through employment suggested to many that it would be done through merit and equity across political, ethnic, class, and regional divides but that “imported” labor seemed the preoccupation of the administration.
He said this divide and rule policy was not only pitting Liberians against one another regarding who got the President’s favor and who did not, but that it was also affecting the Unity Party’s promise of a government of national unity and inclusion.
There was no way President Sirleaf would say, according to him, that she was maintaining the campaign promise of national unity through inclusion when she was consciously dividing the people and giving undue advantage to one group.
What is currently obtaining, he said, was that the President was a leader for some Liberians and not all Liberians as she promised and prayed that the electorates would take note of the disparity between the UP’s campaign slogans and promises and its leadership output.
Conneh, whose PRODEM has recently teamed up with George Weah’s CDC and a number of other smaller parties to form an electoral coalition for the 2011 elections, is not the only politician to challenge President Sirleaf’s evenhandedness in job placement in government.
Conneh’s problem with the President however appears to go beyond “selective appointment” even thought that seems to him the vexing question.
It goes back to the campaign of 2005 when the President allegedly exploited the feud in his family at the time to tear his then estranged wife, Aicha Conneh, away from his presidential bid.
Whether Aicha who, prior to the 2005 elections was living in Guinea, would have supported the presidential bid of a man with whom some say she had security and political differences had President Sirleaf not drawn her to her camp, is not clear.
But according to the former boss of the defunct rebel Liberians United for Reconstruction and Democracy (LURD) the President’s role as a candidate signaled that she would set Liberians against each other through preferential treatment for her own political ends.
Besides the obviousness that Mrs. Conneh’s decision to campaign for UP instead of PRODEM is amongst factors that possibly subtracted from Mr. Conneh’s credibility as a presidential candidate, it was not clear how the alleged preferential treatment for “imported” Liberians in job placement benefited the Sirleaf Administration.
Weird as the allegation and the supporting argument may appear, Conneh seems not to be alone in his charge, which it takes seriously as a political blunder against President Sirleaf.
Many others have toed Conneh’s line of argument that the President has largely neglected her moral and social obligation to former colleagues, administrators, 2005 contenders at all levels of government, and even former faction leaders, mainly those now in political opposition.
According to the argument, the appointment of these individuals would have given them the social security required to survive in an economy that has fallen below minimal levels and that would take years to revive.
“This would have been cardinal to the government’s program of peace and reconciliation because a hungry man is an angry man. There is no way you can reconcile and unite a nation without settling the question of what goes on the dining table at the end of the day,” said one recent commentator on Liberia’s tall unemployment problem.
The allegation may seem trivial and therefore easily dismissible, but there are fears that it may haunt the administration at the 2011 polls as the opposition seem poised to use it as evidence that the President “does not have the Liberian people at heart”.
This is to say nothing about how difficult it would be to push that line of argument above the gutters of politics.
The administration has been fighting back, but feebly, insisting that the appointment of knowledgeable and experienced Liberians from the Diaspora in limited instances was both a way of strengthening the governance institutions and reversing the brain drain the nation experienced during 14 years of war and decades of bad governance.
How long and hard that explanation is filtering down to the grassroots remains to be seen when the nation gets down to the polls a little over 13 months from now.
But observers say that should not mean that the allegation and supporting argument should not be placed in the proper perspective while the sun is still up.
What the allegation must rather be
The allegation that appointment from abroad undercuts the nation’s economic empowerment goal should not lie against the administration, analysts say; but, for a country like Liberia where illiteracy has been worsened by poverty and hopelessness, the Sirleaf Administration will do well to address its appointment policy, if what critics see as “selective and exclusive employment” is any policy at all.
“The allegation must be about how the government charts its investment policies to create or nurture Liberia’s entrepreneur class and establish equity between Liberian and foreign businesses in terms of incentives and access to loans and credit guarantees. It should not be about political appointments, which are often no guarantee for survival,” said one observer who spoke with this paper yesterday.