Thursday, 31 March 2011


Mae Azango, FPA STAFF WRITER Monrovia

Nelson Dweh sits on his neighbour’s porch out of the glare of the sun.  It is mid afternoon and the 59 year old is taking a break with his friend, David Walabo.  They are talking about their past experiences with women.  When asked whether he ever beat his wife, without hesitation the old man says, “Yes, I did it many times.”

Dweh and Walabo’s views on domestic violence are not unusual in Liberia.  Mr Dweh goes on to explain why he thinks there is nothing wrong with beating a woman.  “The women these days have a problem when you do not have a job.  The woman does not respect you and if she does not respect you, the only punishment for our women in Africa is beating,” he says.

Last year in Liberia, the number of reported cases of domestic violence were the second highest gender based violence after rape.  But the Ministry of Gender and Development along with NGOs believe the actual numbers are much higher.  The problem is, they say, women just aren’t reporting it.  Men, who are often the head of the home and also the bread winners, have traditionally had the power over women.  In our Liberian setting, men often take charge and feel they have authority in the home over their wives and children.  People turn a blind eye to what happens to some women who are beaten by their husbands or partners in the community.
Edith Kudah, the Gender coordinator for Ministry of Gender in Grand Gedeh explains what many rural women go through at the hands of their husbands. "Mostly in our rural setting, after the woman finishes the farming work and when they coming to town, the woman would have a bundle of wood on her head with a baby on her back and maybe a pregnancy, while her husband will only have his cutlass in his hand walking behind the woman,” she says.  “When they get home, she would go fetch water, make fire and put the water on to get hot for her husband to bathe.  Thereafter she starts to beat rice to prepare meal for her husband and children, while he lies in a hammock and relaxes,” says Ms Kudah as she gets more and more angry as the story goes on.  She continues,

 “It won't stop there.  When the water is hot, the woman would leave everything else and empty the water to take to the bathroom. She would also carry the soap dish while the man only walks behind her to the bathroom, and when he finishes, he leaves the bucket and soap dish in the bathroom for the woman to go for, while he only walks out to get dressed and wait for his hot meal.”  She concludes by saying, “After doing all these work, and the woman complains of being tired when her husband wants her in bed, he beats her and accuses her of having an affairs outside."  
Ms Kudah also says children learn from their parents.  The dangers of domestic violence affect the children when they grow up.  She says if a boy sees his father beating his mother, the chances are he will follow in his father's footsteps and do the same to his wife when he grows up.

On the other side of Zwedru on a hill top, students happily pour out of the Multilateral High at the end of the day.  The whole campus looks colourful as the children, wearing pink tops and maroon bottoms, make their way home.  One student, 20 year old Victor Jarbo, explains how he watched his mother get beaten by his father on a regular basis.  Although he says he will never do the same to his future wife, he admits his mother deserved the beating.  When asked why it happened, he says, “She did not cook on time, so my father beat her."  He admitted that his father would beat his mother on her back, rather than on her face where it would be seen.  The bruises were hidden under her clothes, away from the community.  "I did not feel bad when my father beat my mother because she looked for it,” he goes on to say.

The shocking thing about Victor’s comments is that he is among the next generation of Liberia.  To have young men believing it is OK to beat a woman if she doesn’t cook the dinner on time is a worry for women’s groups all over the country.

Domestic violence is a big problem in Liberia according Ashia Kamara from Action aid in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County.   She says tackling it should start from the community and county levels before going to the national level.  “It Is like in almost every home in Liberia, you would find out that either a woman or a girl is suffering from violence.  One way or another they have suffered violence in the hands of those that should be protecting them.”

But things are slowly starting to change in Liberia, according to Ms Kudah.  She says more women are starting to know their rights and are beginning to speak out for themselves.  The government of Liberia, in partnership with international partners, is spreading awareness of domestic violence throughout the country.  They have been conducting workshops and seminars to try and educate both men and women about gender equity. 

But while there are young men like Victor who think women sometimes deserve to be beaten, there are many others with much more modern views.  23 year old Augustine Dweh is in the same class as Victor, but has a completely different view on the subject of domestic violence.
"I never saw my father beat my mother,” he says.  “So I don't deem it necessary to beat my girlfriend. I would take it to be wrong if a man beats his wife"

But back on the porch with Neslon Dweh and David Walabo, the two old men continue to talk.  Mr Walabo, in his early seventies, laughs as he too admits to beating his wife. "According to our tradition, our older people believe that if you beat a woman, she will change,” he says.  “I beat my wife because she made me vexed.  She did not wake my children up early to get them ready for school on time.”  The two men giggle together, like children, as Mr Dweh goes on to say, “Let me tell you something funny.  When a husband really tortures his wife, she kills a chicken for him the next day as though he had done [something good for her]."

This is the second of a three part series on domestic violence, written by Mae Azango.  Today’s feature looked at domestic violence through the eyes of a man.  Tomorrow’s will look at domestic violence through the eyes of a woman.

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Rodney D. Sieh,
Monrovia -

When Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf sent her entire Cabinet on  Administrative leave last year, all eyes turned to the president’s son, Robert Sirleaf, who  is also a senior advisor as the brains behind the shakeup. In recent weeks, Sirleaf has been at the center of controversy, dogged by reports that he is the ‘‘de facto prime’’ Minister. Outside politics, Sirleaf has been credited for undertaking a number of development initiatives in and around Monrovia. But it is Sirleaf’s perceived influence over the president that has landed him on the dark side of critics. In this exclusive interview, the third son of the incumbent President holds no punches as he takes on his critics in addressing the ‘Prime Minister’ label, the perceived strained ties with Unity Party Chairman Varney Sherman and Presidential aide Medina Wesseh, a recent accident involving his security details, his now infamous run-in with lawmaker Regina Slocum Teah and a number of other issues making news in recent weeks.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Mr. Sirleaf, let’s begin with your role as Special Advisor to the President. What specifically is the function of your position?

ROBERT SIRLEAF: The office of the Senior Advisor (OSA) was set up two years ago with my own funds because I wanted to put together a great team of people to help Liberia's development. I’m passionate about a better future for this country and I wanted to play a role.  So I brought together great people, all Liberian locals, in the (OSA) to provide assistance in two main ways. First, as the title “advisor” suggests, is to offer advice to the President when we are asked, mostly on economic issues. I was lucky enough to have spent most of my working life on Wall Street and have some valuable experiences to share.     The President, or her office asks us for an opinion on a specific topic and we give a view based on the best information and/or due diligence. At times the President agrees and uses it, at times she doesn’t, which is exactly the way it should be because she’s President and I’m not. We understand and respect both roles.

The other way our office does our bit to help Liberia is to work with disadvantage or economically challenged communities who are in particular need, to make a real  impact for people and show others what can be done. Mostly, we focus on their basic needs and make a  and healthier life- like building better markets for the market women, whom are the backbone of the community, water pumps, latrines, and providing solar lighting, We also know that healthy communities need good recreational facilities for our youth, so we have built a few mini-football stadiums, We’ve gone another step by also providing scholarships from University to the elementary school level and gave micro-finance assistance to some community dwellers to establish small businesses. It’s important to us that we can give what we can back to the country in this way.  Our record speaks for itself.  There are things each and everyone one of us can do.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: There has been a lot of speculation regarding the decision by the President last year to rid her administration of some perceived corrupt officials. There is a strong belief that you were instrumental in that decision. Why do you think it was necessary?
SIRLEAF: The President is the only person who can make and take decisions about her Cabinet. It is true that we supported and respected her decision but we did not play a role.  I must admit as a Liberian, we all have a fundamental right to ask intelligent questions on the policies of government officials,  including those on corruption, but we do this respectfully with proper factual based information that’s non accusatory, nor necessarily public. Ultimately the President has the constitutional right to choose the Cabinet that is best for the country and that’s what she has done. I respect that.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How involved were you in the final negotiations for the Chevron deal. Are you satisfied with the manner in which it was finalized? Did Liberia get the best out of the deal?

SIRLEAF: You know Rodney I worked for 24 years on Wall Street, starting as a clerk, and working my way up to being a Managing Director of a major investment bank.  I was proud of the fact that the President requested my assistance on certain parts of the transaction.  I was in familiar territory. This was a team effort with many other talented people at the table. The deal was transparent and is one of the best transactions under this administration.  I was very proud to be involved and did what I could in my capacity to obtain the best deal for Liberia; which we believe we did. 

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You were recently appointed on the board of the National Oil Company of Liberia. How that going is and what can Liberians expect for hydro carbon deals going forward?

SIRLEAF: I feel honored for my preferment and wish to use this medium to thank the President for the trust reposed in me. I believe my appointment was based on competence and qualifications, and it feels good to be involved where my skills can be most useful. Of course, I’m only one of 7 persons on the board of NOCAL.  We have a very dynamic Chairperson, a smart CEO, and dedicated board members. They are very informed and vocal with their perspectives.  We always operate and are committed to make decisions as a group which is the way it should be.

The potential discovery of oil in Liberia is very exciting and presents a great opportunity for our country. But we need to set up a system that ensures this money is used properly. We need a clear and transparent system with checks and balances to ensure that every single Liberian can feel the benefit, not just the few.  This is what we are determined to make happen.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: In recent weeks a lot of opposition forces have labeled you as ‘Prime Minister’ suggesting that you are the de facto President. Does that bother you?
Anyone who thinks I am a de facto President or Prime Minister, a job that does not exist, not even on a de-facto basis, clearly has not met my mother! She is strong enough, smart enough, devoted enough to do the job, and everyone who works with her knows that.  Honestly, It does not bother me if people say such things- we live in a free country and people are even now more free to talk nonsense if they choose. But it is a shame if it distracts people from what our office does. Like a normal human, we feel troubled when people disseminate misleading, non factual based information about me or any other Liberian all in the name of politics. All I have interest in, is getting on with my job - giving advice where needed and working hard with communities and community leaders to make Liberians' lives better. But that’s life. I anticipated this from the very day I accepted to serve as senior advisor to the President and to contribute to Liberia’s development.   She and I spoke about this. It comes with the territory, and I accept that.  It will not deter us from our goals.  The more they talk, the harder we work in the communities, including the very ones they live in.  The people will ultimately judge their words against our actions!

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Now, let’s take a look at the various projects you have undertaken since you assumed the position as Special Advisor. For the benefit of our readers could you say how many projects and which areas have benefited? How many more are in the works?
Well we work with communities with real challenges, and we go into those communities and instead of telling them what they need, we ask them what would make their lives better. And they tell us – basic things - latrines, water pumps,  mini-football stadiums. And then we go to work.  The office had 79 projects in economically challenged communities in Montserrado out of which 59 had been completed on time and on budget with minor adjustments.  Some communities that we are engaged with include; Old Road, Lakpazee, Brewersville-Virginia, New Georgia,  WestPoint, Slipway, PHP, Buzzie Quarter, Sonewiene, Clara Town, Doe Community, New Kru Town, Logan Town, Jacob Town, Barnesville, Chicken Soup Factory. The OSA is also considering projects in other counties per the citizens’ requests.   And we are passionate about our work. I love this part of my job.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: The election season is well underway. Those close to you say you try to stay away from the political side of your boss and prefer to be behind the scenes. Is that possible? How much impact do you think your various projects will have on the re-election of the President?

SIRLEAF: Human by nature is a “political animal”. I am very proud of my mother’s political life and you know what? I want her to win the election.  She is my mother and I love her but she is also a great leader and has a long term vision for our country. When the time comes, like other Liberians I will “put on my political cap to go out there and canvass for the candidate (s) of my choice not only for the Presidency, but also legislative.” But right now, I’m not focusing on the election; I’m focusing on giving the President good advice and making sure we deliver the community projects, real benefits to our people.   Let me add, our projects are not undertaken with the aim of soliciting votes for my mother; but aimed to complement hers and others developmental agenda in addition, set an action oriented standard.
Will some people vote for my mother because of my work? Probably, yes. Some people in these communities will vote for my mother because of the role I have played in their communities. That’s only natural. Because this is about Liberia’s development and at the end of the day, it’s the people who will win.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: I read somewhere that you were suggesting a meeting with Prince Johnson. How is that going? Is it something you are seriously pursuing? Do you think he will be a factor in this year’s presidential race?

SIRLEAF: I have never met Senator Prince Johnson, but actually look forward to meeting him just as I will wish to meet every senior representative of the people in the Legislature. I visited the Senator’s county a few weeks ago, both to Sanniquellie and Ganta, twice and spent the night.  I was overwhelmed with the warm welcome and support received from the people of both cities.  Our office is considering projects in Nimba per the citizens’ request. And we look forward to working with the Senior Senator to this end. Every citizen that has registered and willing to vote will be a factor in this year’s elections. If we aim to do a project in Nimba, there is a need to work with the citizens and representatives of the county which Hon. Johnson is one.   And we will show him and his office such deference and respect, though the project is the focus

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: The legacy of the President is no doubt something that will be debated whether she wins or lose the presidential race. How do you think it is shaping up? Is there anything you feel should be done that hasn’t been done, that is being worked on as we speak?

SIRLEAF: I think the President has done a great job over the years. To me she is one of the best if not the best President Liberia has had. When I look at the country today I see a country that is safer, more prosperous and stable than at any time in recent memory. I see new roads, more jobs and a developing economy. The essence of elections is judge the performance of all elected officials. When she wins, it will confirm that she has performed as President. I believe the President should be given a second term to enable her do more. As she rightly stated in her State of the Nation address “her first term was about setting the foundation, building institutions and structural adjustment”.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Who do you see as the most viable opposition candidate in the current field for the presidency that should be taken seriously by the incumbent?

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Each and every alternative candidate for the Presidency ought to be taken seriously by any incumbent.  Our people will make the choice and I, as we all, should respect the will of the people.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do you think the President has weeded her administration of most of the perceived ‘rotten apples’? How does she avoid similar appointments should she win a second term?

SIRLEAF: The President has a strong Cabinet and a strong team around her. They are doing a good job and need as much support as they can get to ensure Liberia’s future development.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Which candidate would you prefer facing the president if this elections result in a second round?

SIRLEAF: I hope she wins the first round, and the Liberian people give her a solid mandate, but as I said earlier, every opposition candidate for the Presidency ought to be taken seriously by an incumbent. My focus and commitment will be giving her the necessary support to win. I wish she wins the election be it first or second round.  Liberians will choose.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How confident are you in the achievements of the president over the past five years. So you think she has done enough to win a second term?

SIRLEAF: I am very proud of her and her achievements as President. She has done great job and deserves to have a second term and I am very confident she will win.  Liberia and Liberians have come a long way since 2005.  I have faith in them, they know deep in their hearts the best choice.  Liberians are a smart people: they’ve been through a lot and know when they are on to a good thing. I don’t underestimate our citizens.  People don’t give them enough credit; they’re smarter than most people think. Trust me Rodney when I say “they know.”

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Let’s move on to a serious incident that occurred recently. Your security detail was involved in an accident which claimed the loss of live of two person. While you were not in the country at the time of the accident, several critics have suggested that you were. For the benefit of our readers could you state what actually happened and what have you done to identifiy with the victims' family?

SIRLEAF: Sure, on Monday, February 28, 2011,  my car was en route (around 11am) to the Roberts International Airport to pick me up; I was arriving on Air Nigeria from Accra, Ghana around 1:00pm.  I was not in the convoy at the time of the accident but was rather on the inbound flight from Ghana. For anyone to suggest I was in Liberia at the time of the accident is devious and ridiculous.

According to preliminary findings of the Liberian National Police (LNP), a jeep with three persons overtook a truck after the first car. The overtaking jeep did not have sufficient room, and was hit by the truck which was being overtaken, that same jeep then hit my car off the road. My vehicle then overturned with my driver and a security officer both sustaining non-life threatening injuries, thanks to the use of seat-belts. Preliminary, the jeep then hit the second car.

All persons were rushed to the hospital. One person in the jeep was pronounced dead at the ELWA Hospital according to the LNP. A second person died later that night at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center.

I was told (according to eye witnesses) the truck driver allegedly responsible for the accident attempted to flee the scene but was apprehended by officers of the Special Security Service (SSS) and turned over to the LNP. Both my driver and SSS officer assigned were hospitalized and released on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011.

When I got off the flight I was informed of the incident. I then went directly to JFK to inquire on the well being of all involved. I then reached  out to the family, personally went to their home and expressed my condolences, which was managed privately, per everyone’s’ request.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Recently you were involved in a heated exchange with representative Regina Teah over credits for one of your projects. Have you guys patched things up since?

SIRLEAF: I wish that incident had never occurred.  We’ve completed 3 latrines in Doe Community, we’re two weeks from completing a market which will  have a water pump, and  latrine stationed with it.  We are 80% done with the completion of the their football pitch. The footpath between Doe Community and Clara Town via Jonas Island is 100% completed and in great use for the people.  They don’t have to walk in water anymore. We installed some solar lights, and additional ones are order for them.  We visit Doe Community every week.  I can say I haven’t been happier then to see all this done for the people. We have a few other surprises for them.  All in all we’re happy to be welcomed there. We were just there this past Saturday, and as usual, all the little kids are always saying to me; “Hello Mr. Ellen.”  I’m not sure how the President feels about that. 

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Finally, what is your relationship with people around the inner circle? Some have complaint that you and Varney Sherman, for example do not get along. Also Medina Wesseh, the former Director General of the Cabinet. Are there any truths to this or just people talking? 

SIRLEAF: Remember I’m her third son.  I’m also around to take care of my mother, as anyone else would take care of their mother Look; I’m not focused on personal politics and relationships. I’m focused on my job. As it happens, I have a very good relationship with Counselor Sherman - we talk and I respect his thoughts, I hold him in high esteem I also have lots of friends outside of the Unity Party - my relationship with people is not and will not be based on political party affiliation, they’re my friends, and they make me laugh, so I like them. And they attend BYC Football games, and that really makes me happy.


THE UNDERDOG: Can Nathaniel Barnes Turn His Diplomatic Fortunes into Political gold in his Quest for the Presidency.

Rodney D. Sieh,
Monrovia -

The air-cool office in Washington, D.C. is long gone. Nowadays, Nathaniel Barnes is rolling up his sleeves even dropping the coat suits and ties. On a recent visit to Gbarnga, Bong County, the former Ambassador accredited to the United Nations and the United States of America came down to earth on his second quest for the Liberian presidency.

Months after his forced resignation as Ambassador to the U.S. and from the confines of the ruling party post, Barnes is embarking on his second sojourn into the rugged jungle of post-war Liberia politics, trumpeting himself as the new ''breed of leadership''.

For now, no one is giving Barnes a shot at winning and for obvious reasons. In 2005, Barnes, running on the ticket of the Liberia Destiny Party, placed 12th out of 22 candidates, receiving 1.0% of the vote. He endorsed Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the second round against George Weah and was rewarded with an appointment as Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Barnes, a finance minister under Charles Taylor from 1999-2001, was later appointed as Ambassador to the United States of America, succeeding Ambassador Charles Minor.

'Not deterred by that'This time around, Barnes is giving himself an outside chance but is familiar to the realities the incumbent power. ''Any one going up against an incumbent, especially in Africa should consider himself an underdog. But we are certainly not deterred by that,'' he tells a visitor during a recent chat at his party's headquarters located in Congotown.

Barnes believes that much has changed since 2005 and feels even better prepared and more experienced than before. ''You can rest assured that the voter of 2011 is certainly not the same voter of 2005. They have six years of experience in addition to an enlightened awareness of the dynamics upon which they will make sound decisions. Given this fact, I believe that this is a whole new "ballgame" and how one performed in 2005 may not be a significant factor unless he has been stagnant and completely ineffective over the last six years. I believe that my chances are very good even as an underdog. Just ask one Mr. Barack Obama about being an underdog.''

Quest for national appealBarnes, under-pressure to declare his allegiance to the ruling party, stood his ground and some say, the decision cost him his high-profile ambassadorial post. Now on his second quest for the presidency, Barnes is slowly reestablishing his political guise in hopes of turning the tide from 2005. That begins with making himself prominence in the counties.

Besides his quest for national appeal, Barnes also faces herculean tasks in his homeland Maryland County, also home to Ambassador Winston Tubman, one of his opponents in this year's race. Complicating things for Barnes is the departure of Senator Nathaniel Williams from the LDP. Williams, is the party's only representative in the Senate. A few years ago, Williams bested the ruling party's Conmany Wesseh for the seat vacated in the aftermath of the death of Senator Isaac Johnson.

Barnes' task in this year's race is to establish himself as a national figure. His recent stop in Gbarnga, Bong County drew hundreds but many remain unconvinced that Barnes can pull it off. Bong, recently anointed as the new vote-rich county outside Montserrado is already salivating to become the potential county likely to crown the next president with thousands of votes up for grabs. The recent alliance of Liberty Party's Charles Walker Brumskine with the popular Franklin Siakor and the speculated alliance of Dew Mayson and the popular former First Lady Jewel Howard Taylor has made Bong the most sought-after county in this year's race, a title previously held by Nimba.

During the recent voter registration exercise Bong secured 93,149 registered voters opposed to Nimba's 90,046 registered voters, making the county, at least for now, the second largest populated county anticipating an elaborate and eventful campaign when NEC officially declares same a few months away.

According to the NEC data, Montserrado County retained the highest number of registered voters with almost 190,000 voters followed by Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Margibi, Grand Bassa and Bomi Counties respectively. They constitute between the first to the seventh highest populated counties as far as the voting population is concerned. Grand Kru County retained the lowest registered voters with Maryland and Sinoe Counties lying at the bottom as per the preliminary result.

So with a lot of votes up for grabs in Bong, Barnes is hoping to cash in. In the provincial city, Barnes had gone purposely to dedicate his party local office but the atmosphere became colorful when thousands of Bong County citizens swelled the main entrance to the city to pledge support for his intent to contest the Liberian Presidency.

Some said they see him as a unique replacement of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whom they claimed has not fully lived up to the many campaign promises. Among those in the crowd was Ester D. Wenna, a cement dealer with offices located on the Gbarnga Broad Street who told a visitor that President Sirleaf has done well in laying the foundation but it was time for her to leave the stage for another person to continue. Asked who could that person be; Ms. Wenna, an outspoken lady said, “I see Nat Barnes as the one who possesses the necessary pedigree to lead our country.”

In recent weeks, several politicians have stormed Gbarnga in hopes of leaving an impression on the mind of voters although the NEC has warned candidates against pre-election campaigning.

For Wenna: “Many politicians have visited Gbarnga and speak of their interest in the Presidency of Liberia. Regrettably none has been able to convince me. I am moved by what is transpiring here today and I certainly have no doubt that Mr. Barnes is the most suitable candidate for the job.” Ms. Wenna said following a short statement delivered by Ambassador Barnes at the dedication of his party's local office.

Barnes told a visitor upon arrival at Gbarnga's Iron Gate that he was not really surprise by the turnout. ''This is a manifestation of a long time engagement with the people of Bong County,'' he said. “It will hold, it will hold, it will hold. You like it, you not like it, it will hold.”

Feeling abandoned in David TaBarnes' LDP is now a handful of political parties with local headquarters in the voting stronghold. In the town of David Ta, located in Jorquelleh District, Jorquelleh Clan, considered a disadvantaged community with some 5,000 registered voters, residents expressed disappointment that over the past eight decades no aspirant, including President Sirleaf, has ever visited them. “We feel abandoned here. We always vote for people but they don't care about our plight,” says Ma Weetah, a sixty-nine year-old lady, speaking through an interpreter.
Residents in David Ta were particularly keen to consider themselves forgotten. The town lies just across the famous Jor River, which Joequelleh District is named after. A visitor to the area and others had to be ferried to get across due to the lack of a bridge linking the area.
Peter Kanmue, the Youth Leader of the David Ta community lamented that residents of the area have been abandoned for years in terms of the provision of educational and medical services.

Kanmue says a few of them are opportune to cross the river and get to school. “Many of my friends do not have the opportunity to get there. We really need people to assist us in building a bridge.”

David Ta was burnt down on two occasions during the civil war. Currently there is no clinic, safe-drinking water, road among others. The residents presented a list of projects to Ambassador Barnes and pleaded with him for assistance.

Playing on the concerns of the town, Barnes, says being in the area has given him the opportunity to see the harsh conditions under which residents were living. ''We cannot promise here that we can solve all of your problems but we can offer some assistance.”

A 'gentleman of passion'While in the area, the LDP leader provided 50 bags of cement as an initial contribution for the erection of a school building for kids. He also pledged specified number materials for the construction of roads to connect David Ta to other major communities. Barnes also visited a women project site in the Chief Compound Community in Gbarnga where he made some contribution.

The community leader, Mr. Henry N. Wennie expressed gratitude to Mr. Barnes for taking off time to identify with the plight of people within his community. Mr. Wennie is the Zonal Head for the 19 communities in Gbarnga, Bong County. While he did not openly declare support for the LDP Leader, Wennie believes people like Ambassador Barnes must be given the chance to lead.  “He is a gentleman of passion and these are the kind of people needed to lead our country.” He indicated.

Don't accept status quoDuring his tour of the various communities, Ambassador Barnes carried the same message. Unlike others who waste their precious time to castigate the incumbent, the former Finance Minister holds a different notion.  He is convinced that the incumbent has done well and that people must acknowledge this. He praised the regime of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for taking Liberia thus far but warned Liberians not to accept the status quo.
“We must admit that this woman has done so well but it is time she gives way to a new breed of leadership who will push the dreams and aspirations of the Liberian people forward in a positive direction.” Barnes told thousands of youth who gathered in Suakoko District to receive him last week. “Enough is enough.” He said, noting that it is about time for Liberians to take their destiny in their own hands.

'No one person has monopoly'The question of jobs, he observed remains a major factor confronting general progress in Liberia. In spite of the many concession agreements that have been ratified, Ambassador said it was regrettable to see thousands of youth languish without employment. “We must work together to change the status quo if our condition as a nation and people must change.” He said.

With Gbarnga now behind him, Barnes says his focus is now on winning the presidency as he keeps his options open. In recent weeks, speculations have heightened that Barnes has been in talks with football legend George Weah with some suggesting that Barnes had agreed to run number two to Weah. It is a speculation Barnes says he is aware of but says he simply wants to be part of the leadership of the future and if that means him becoming president, so be it. Says Barnes: “Mr. Weah and I have met but we have not spoken anything formal about partnering Barnes-Weah or Weah-Barnes. I haven’t seen the opposition plan nor Mr. Weah’s plan but we are prepared to engage whoever is willing to discuss on our plan for the future of Liberia.”
For the foreseeable future Barnes says he believes that no one person has the monopoly on effective leadership and it takes a team effort. For that he says he is prepared to be a part of any effective team on the condition that that team has a workable, sustainable plan for Liberia.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You have just completed a tour of Bong County. Do you think you can be a factor in this year's presidential race?

BARNES:  Absolutely! I am convinced that we will be a significant factor this time around. We have had the last six years to exhibit to the voters and the Liberian people in general that we possess requisite leadership skills to take Liberia into the new era of true growth and development. We have also clearly shown that we can deliver for the Liberian people.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What would a Nat Barnes presidency do to impact the lives of Liberians?

BARNES: The Liberian people need to be empowered economically, socially and politically. We firmly believe that our plan for Liberia which is built around three basic pillars -HEAL, FEED and GROW will do this. Under the Heal pillar, I believe that our country is still deeply divided and must reconcile in order to effectively move forward. Our Heal pillar has specific solutions incorporating our young people. The Feed pillar addresses the issue of food security and agriculture self sufficiency. My plan is focused on putting thousands to work as we attain sustainable food security, an imperative for our national survival. Under the Grow pillar lies education, healthcare, infrastructure and governance. My plan will also effectively address the dire need for Liberians to take their destiny in their hands through ownership and leadership.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What shortcomings do u see in the current government, your former employer?

BARNES:  We view the current government as the true Transitional Government of Liberia. This is by no means a shortcoming. This transitional government has built a foundation comprising of peace and stability; the establishment of important institutional frameworks (i.e. The Land Reform Commission); the formulation and implementation of macroeconomic initiatives etc. As we come to the end of this transitional era, we must now shift gears and move into true growth and development which require a different leadership team, management style, vision, energy level, skills sets and focus. I believe that should we continue with the incumbent government, we will continue in this transition mode. It's time for the NEW BREED

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Is it true that Senator Williams has jumped ship to Dew Mayson?

BARNES: Ask Senator Williams.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do you consider yourself an underdog in the presidential race?

BARNES: Any one going up against an incumbent, especially in Africa should consider himself an underdog. But we are certainly not deterred by that. Much has changed since 2005! I believe that I am personally even better prepared and more experienced than before and just as importantly, you can rest assured that the voter of 2011 is certainly not the same voter of 2005. They have six years of experience in addition to an enlightened awareness of the dynamics upon which they will make sound decisions. Given this fact, I believe that this is a whole new "ball game" and how one performed in 2005 may not be a significant factor unless he has been stagnant and completely ineffective over the last six years. I believe that my chances are very good even as an underdog. Just ask one Mr. Barack Obama about being an underdog.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How do you rate your chances? You received one percent in 2005. How do you turn the tide this time around?

BARNES: As far as I am concerned I left this government proud of the valuable services I rendered and confident of the significant positive impact I made for my country and it's people. I will serve Liberia till the day I die. And I pray that the Liberian people will find it in their best judgment to allow me to serve them as their President. 



Opposition Liberty Party leader Charles Brumkskine tells Colombia University forum in America ruling party government has failed to reprimand police officers involved in last week’s violence which led to the arrest and detention of several students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System.

New York-The political leader of the opposition Liberty Party, Charles Walker Brumskine has told an international gathering that the ruling Unity Party government has failed to reprimand police officers involved in last week’s violence which led to the arrest and detention of several students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System.

Addressing the Africa Forum at Colombia University last week, the opposition leader lamented that the UP government has taken no action against any of the offending police officers, but instead the students are nurturing their injuries without redress. Said Brumskine: ‘‘Some of them have been imprisoned, pending prosecution by the government.  All of this is happening because the students dare to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of expression in post-conflict Liberia.’’

Brumskine’s comments come in the aftermath of a statement by police director Marc Amblard in the aftermath of the violence that twenty three students arrested as a result of the melee would be responsible for properties damaged during the incident.

The March 22, 2011 protest was staged by pupils of the Monrovia Consolidated School System but it was students from two schools in particular, G.W. Gibson and William V.S. Tubman who bore the brunt of the assaults from police.

In Solidarity with teachers
Amblard said while he regretted the incident, under the constitution, protesters are required to obtain permits before engaging in public demonstration. Since the incident, a tripartite agreement was reached between the ministry of education, the ministry of finance and the MCSS Teachers Association to settle back wages of teachers. The students were protesting in solidarity with their teachers.

Addressing the gathering at Colombia, Brumskine said government security forces brutalized defenseless school children for staging a peaceful demonstration in support of their teachers, who had not received their salaries for several months. ‘‘Teachers had abandoned classes in protest of the nonpayment of their salaries by the government,’’ Brumskine lamented.

Brumskine also took the government to task over the issue of corruption as he suggested the administration was intolerant to opposing views on the matter. Brumskine said at least one presidential candidate, Simeon Freeman of the Movement for Progress Change has been summoned by the police to explain why he had called for public demonstration against the rampant corruption in government that is today consuming the very fabric of the Liberian society. ‘‘The economic ascent of Liberia and the rest of Africa certainly lies in the development of strong and vibrant democratic institutions!’’ the Liberty Party leader averred.
Brumskine further noted that the most important lesson Liberia and the rest of Africa may learn from the changes of the 1950s and 1960s is that the solution to the country’s problems lie in deep, comprehensive changes in the mindset of African leaders and not in superficial changes to prevailing systems. ‘‘The earlier example was one of colonialism: we changed the players and pretended to have changed the system, but we failed to change the mindset. So, half-a-century later some of the worst legacies of the colonial era persist.’’

Consider system of governance
The opposition party leader also noted that African nations would all do well to consider that the system of governance and management that has kept the continent underdeveloped is like Hydra, the many-headed monster in Greek mythology. ‘‘Cutting off one of his heads resulted in two new ones growing back. So, the mounting international pressure against undemocratic governance worldwide must not be allowed to give rise to new and different kinds of “Strong Men” or “Strong Women,” he said.

Continued Brumskine: ‘‘The new “Strong Men” might not have to destroy institutions by guns, but through such menace as unbridle corruption that deprives others of basic rights, and makes even the appearance of democratic institutions a sham. The Herculean task of cauterizing the neck of our Hydra, before its new heads have a chance to grow, requires a partnership of openness, evenhandedness, and vigilance among the people, their governments, civil society, and the international community.’’

Unfortunately, Brumskine told the gathering that the transition to political independence of African states did not necessarily overthrow this paradigm. Instead, the opposition party leader said, its continuing existence underlies poor governance, the bane of Africa.
Said Brumskine: ‘‘Quite a number of African nations continue the policy of the colonial masters, in that participation in the affairs of their nations is not extended to average citizens.  Instead, states created “Strong Men”—that is, men and women who, by virtue of holding public offices, rose above the law. Actually, these are men and women too weak to comply with the rule of law.  The system of governance that most African countries adopted has not supported the development of institutions that would sustain democracy and economic growth.  Just as the colonial masters had abhorred democratization by virtually outlawing participatory decision-making, and favoring one ethnic group over the rest, generations of African leaders have been committed to the politics of division.’’ 

Place of dishonour
Today, Brumskine lamented that poor governance continues to stymie Africa’s economic ascent. But said he believes strongly that the failure of leadership in Africa deserves the place of dishonor. 

The opposition leader also alluded to ongoing winds of change and protest movement s in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya as signs that things are changing for the better. ‘‘This year, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have been rocked by an upsurge in popular demand for democratic reform and regime change.  In Tunisia and Egypt, the uprisings succeeded in removing from power their “Strong Men.”  In Libya, a deadly and violent conflict has unfolded without a clear indication of how it will end.  In West Africa, a political stalemate in Cote d’Ivoire is rapidly degenerating into a vicious contest for power.  One would have thought that Africa had gone past these electoral situations by now. First, one has to fight to get elected, when running against an incumbent. Then, one has to fight some more to occupy the office, even after gaining the mandate of the people.  Not to make light the desperate situation of the Ivorian people, one cannot help but note that there always seems to be another twist or turn in the road to the presidency, and no respite for non-incumbent presidential aspirants in Africa. ‘’
The 8th African Economic Forum at Columbia University took place from March 25-26, 2011 and brought together over 400 participants. The forum has grown to be the largest Africa-focused event at Colombia and seeks to highlight opportunities and challenges through stimulating discussion, insights and strategies for a prosperous Africa. This year, the theme is Roaring Giant: Africa’s Economic Ascent.

Besides Brumskine, a number of other distinguished keynote speakers  were in attendance including Danny Jordaan, CEO of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee, J. Kofi Bucknor, Managing Partner of Kingdom Zephyr Africa Management, Dr. Shatayanan Devarajan, Chief Economist – Africa Region at the World Bank and Fola Adeola, co-founder of Guaranty Trust Bank.

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