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Gogo Looks Good

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"Gogo" is African grandma. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is 72 years old in 2009.

Blues and jazz developed in American brothels because that was the only place Jim Crow would not lay a busy-log on that worthless wanderer Simon Cyrenean's syncopating back. Splenitentiary ingrates recently found free time to employ their tools of the devil at Gogo house:

"In February of this year President Sirleaf had testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, admitting giving Charles Taylor a financial support of USD 10,000 when he was preparing to oust sitting President Samuel Doe, in the late 1980s, but she denied any military role. Her testimony was not revealing anything which had not been publicly known before. During her presidential campaign she had said the same. Before the TRC she apologized for ‘her foolishness’ and said she withdrew her support when realizing Taylor’s ruthlessness, greed and ambitions. Numerous news agencies and newspapers published her testimony and apologies, e.g. the BBC, AllAfrica, Radio Netherlands, the Washington Post. However, the TRC justified inclusion of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s name in the list of persons recommended for public sanctions ‘because she had not shown remorse’ for her acts."

(War criminals have thus corrupted the TRC to insert a bargaining wedge, but they are lying when they say their President did not show remorse for her act which she had confessed to before there was a TRC. War lords continue to receive arms from the US even though their only cause is to coerce obstructionist help like they apparently got from the TRC there. I just received info on US arms aid today. -editor Bob)

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's Independence Day speech
blogged by Dr. Fred P.M. van der Kraaij

In case you have not yet read the July 26 speech of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which she presented during yesterday's Independence Day celebrations in Bong County, you can read the full text here. The original text is also available at the Executive Mansion site.

The reason why I have choosen to reproduce here the entire text is (1) in light of the recent turmoil about the TRC report (also see my July 9 posting, 'Controversial TRC report rocks Liberia'). In her Independence Day speech President Sirleaf for the first time commented on the TRC report. It is important to note that she did this in a prudent and responsible way; (2) In her speech she also presented the achievements of her administration (which is half-way now). Impressive as it may seem, in reality it is very modest - which though is not her fault.

The National Budget for the new Fiscal Year which was recently presented amounts to not more than US $ 1 million a day (some US $ 360 million in total, if I remember well). Furthermore, the reported amount of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) of some US $ 8 billion is important as a sign of confidence that foreign investors like Firestone and ArcelorMittal have in the country's future political stability. Yet, ArcelorMittal for instance, recently decided to freeze its investments in the West African country of Senegal and any time the same can be expected for the company's activities in Liberia (the rehabilitation of the Nimba ore mining operations), given the present global economic and financial crises and the gloomy outlook for the iron ore mining sector. Moreover, the Central Bank's national reserves are not more than US $ 50 million. In all, it is not a rosy picture for the development of the modern Liberian economy.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to get to know the full text of her speech, which reads as follows:

Special Message by
Her Excellency Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President of the Republic of Liberia
On the Occasion of the
162nd Independence Anniversary of the Republic of Liberia
Gbarnga, Bong County,
27th July 2009

Mr. Vice President & Mrs. Boakai;
Mr. Speaker and Honorable Members of the House of Representatives;
Mr. President ProTempore and Members of the Senate, Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices and Members of the Judiciary;
Mr. National Orator;
President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo; Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas;
Our Special Guests;
Former NTGL Chairman Gyude Bryant;
Ministers, Officials of Government;
Chiefs, Traditional Leaders;
Former President and Mrs. Blah & Former Speaker & Government Officials;
Doyen, Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
The SRSG, United Nations Family;
Bishops, Prelates, Members of the Clergy;
Development Partners;
Superintendent, Local Government Officials;
Political Leaders, Business Leaders, NGO Leaders, Media, Marketers, Students;
The Kind People of Bong County:


When on January 16, 2006 I spoke to the nation, I recognized that the vote for me was a vote for change. More than that, it was a vote for peace, security and stability, a vote for individual and national prosperity, a vote for healing and leadership. I expressed humility in the enormity of the challenges that lay ahead – to heal our nation’s wounds, redefine and strengthen its purpose, make democracy a living and effective experiment, promote economic growth, create jobs, revitalize our health and education facilities and services, and quicken the pace of social progress and individual prosperity in our country.
Although we still have a long way to go, we have come a long way in meeting these challenges. We have energized the programs that have trained 2000 new soldiers and renovated their facilities at the Schiefflin and Gbarnga military barracks. Our growth rate has averaged over 6 percent in the past three years. Our development agenda is formulated and in the process of implementation. We are close to the end of the program that will bring us relief from the US$4.9 billion external debt which we inherited. Our Central Bank international reserves have gone from US$5 million to US$50 million. We have removed UN sanctions on our diamonds and forestry, joined the Kimberley process, passed a new forestry law and joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative that covers both of these resources. And we anxiously await the recently enacted Land Reform Commission law to begin the process of much needed reform that will address property rights and land disputes which has the potential to further divide our people.

We have undertaken the first national census in twenty years. Enrollment in our primary schools has increased over 40 percent, the majority of whom are girls. We have renovated two of the three rural teacher training institutes and graduated the first 456 students in 20 years. The University of Liberia will move next year to its US$20 million renovated Fendall campus. The Tubman Technical College renamed Tubman University will reopen its doors in September to be followed by the Technical College in Sinje. Plans for other County colleges are well advanced in planning.

We have restored lights and water missing for over fourteen years, to the Capital and a few other cities. We have started the reconstruction of primary and neighborhood roads and the streets of our Capital city. We have attracted private investment of over US$ 8 billion in our mineral, agriculture, forestry and oil exploration potential. We have constructed or renovated more than 215 schools, 30 hospitals and clinics, several county administration buildings, court houses and security facilities throughout the country. The Telewoyan Hospital in Voinjama is now renovated and in full operation while a US$10 million renovation of the Tappita Hospital is underway. The majority of our schools throughout the country will have books with a national orientation when they open in September. For the first time in two decades, six year olds will start school knowing only an environment of peace.

We have made significant progress in settling arrears to former security forces, civil servants, foreign missions, former Legislators, regional and international organizations. We have qualified for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and obtained Threshold status under the Millennium challenge Corporation. We have strengthened the General Auditing Commission and established the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC). We have mobilized non-official flows from foundations, non-official organizations and individuals to the tune of US$15 million to support our capacity building, education and market development program. We have increased revenues from US$80 million to more than US$347 million, pensions from LD$50 to LD$1000, civil servants salaries from US$15 to US$80 with a floor of US$100 for security, teachers and health care workers.

The JFK Hospital is undertaking a program of major physical renovation and capacity building and is on an irreversible path to recovery. We have started judicial action for recovery of illegally sold government physical assets in five of our diplomatic missions. We have restored our nation’s good relationship and reputation throughout the world. In recognition of this, VIPs from 17 countries visited us and I was privileged to make 14 official visits and be honored by 4 nations and 24 institutions of higher learning. Moreover, we have restored in all citizens, particularly the young, hope in the future.

Fellow citizens, a nation rises to its potential when its people are prepared to seize the opportunity, to capture the moment, to accentuate the positive. A nation rises to its potential when its people are proud of their achievements, are prepared to extol their values, are ready to rise above self interest in demonstration of nationalism and patriotism. Such was the character of Martin Luther King when, despite the discrimination and inhumanities to which his people were subjected, saw not the nightmare of things that were but the dream of things that could be. Such was the character of Nelson Mandela when he said “the impossible remains the impossible until it is done”. Such was the character of Barack Obama who when no one believed that an African American could become President of the United States said, “Yes, we can!”

Fellow Citizens, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent three years interviewing tens of thousands of Liberians in country and amongst the Diaspora. We commend them and each and every person who participated in this process. Where the report lives up to its mission and mandate, the Liberian people have my steadfast commitment to work with all branches of government, the Independent Human Rights Commission, the religious community, civil society and the media to actualize its recommendations. This is as much as I can say to you as I am named in the report for sanction and I have been advised that it would be legally imprudent for me to give a more extensive comment on the report. Also, my comments could be misinterpreted as an attempt to influence what ever action the National Legislature might take on the report, and I do not intend to do so. I believe in the wisdom of the Liberian people and am convinced that they will make a proper judgment on the TRC’s Final Report.

Fellow citizens, as many of you know, I have dedicated my life to navigating a future for Liberia free from war and fear and grounded in individual freedom and opportunity. Sometimes, the circumstances were opaque, the distinctions between evil and good were not so clear—this is the nature of conflict and war. Like thousands of other Liberians at home and abroad who did, I have always admitted my early support for Charles Taylor to challenge the brutality of a dictatorship. It was equally clear that when the true nature of Mr. Taylor’s intentions became known, there was no more impassioned critic or strong opponent to him in a democratic process. I have talked about this openly over the past twelve years and expressed remorse to the Liberian people for my misjudgment. In turn, the Liberian people rendered their judgment. In 2005, I was elected President of the Republic of Liberia. My mandate was to return hope to the country and to make the children smile again.

During the past three years, my Administration has remained true to the faith that the Liberian people bestowed to me in that election. We have made gains toward restoring our security and our prosperity – and more importantly restoring our belief in ourselves, our potential, and our love of God and country. I know that there is much work to be done to bring the benefits of this work to all Liberians and my Administration will not rest until the gains of peace are felt by all. I strongly believe that Liberians, through their vote, have an inherent right to determine the direction of the nation, just as I believe that they each, in their own way, has the wisdom to know truth and the desire to seek reconciliation.

I will always stand as a servant of the Liberian people and will always respect their wisdom.


Posted by Dr. Fred P.M. van der Kraaij
Monday, May 4

‘This Child Will be Great’ – Some reflections

Wow. What a book! What a woman! What a life! I just finished reading Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s autobiography, ‘This Child Will be Great. Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President’ (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2009).

The book amazes, the book fascinates. The book not only tells the story of a remarkable woman, it also provides a very valuable insider’s look into the history of Liberia since 1980. I am sure that this book will become a standard work in the already long list of literature on Liberia. In my opinion, this book is a must read for everybody familar with Liberia, who loves Liberia and who believes in Liberia.

What makes me so enthousiastic about President Sirleaf’s book? What impressed me the most in her work? What shocked me most? Does her autobiography throw new light on Liberia’s contemporary history? And, aren’t there any questions left, or new questions, after reading her memoir? These are logical questions and I will try to briefly answer them.

Before doing this, I would like to draw your attention to some very interesting reviews of Sirleaf's memoir which were recently published: Shelby Grossman on her Liberia blog, Ruthie Ackerman on, another book review in the Economist, and not to forget Emmanuel's numerous postings on President Sirleaf on his blog 'Liberia and Friends Journal', Dr Abdoulaye Dukuly on The Liberian Journal, Lynn Sherr's review and interview with President Sirleaf, Carl Hartman's review for the Associated Press, to name just them. Highly recommended!

Now my questions. The first question – ‘What makes me so enthousiastic about President Sirleaf’s book?’ – is the fact that everything she describes is so recognisable. This is not to say that the book contains no news – far from that. But having lived in Liberia for a number of years in a very crucial period of this country’s history (described in Chapter 4, ‘The Tolbert Years’) – including the 1979 Rice Riot - and having witnessed the April 12 coup (Chapter 5, ‘The 1980 Coup’) many events she relates are very familiar. So are the key actors. It makes it a very easy to read book, at least for me and despite the at times horrific events she describes.

The second question is more difficult to answer ( ‘What impressed me most?’). I am equally impressed by her competence, international network, courage, tenacity. When she was Minister of Finance in President William Tolbert’s government (in the late 1970s) she had the reputation of being one of the smartest cabinet members. Her working experience has resulted in a vast network of key-actors – on the African continent as well as worldwide - former or sitting African presidents (Nyerere, Mandela, Museveni, Kagame, Obasanjo, Compaoré), Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Robert McNamara, George Soros, a.s.o.. Her vast experience in international organizations (World Bank, UN) and international business (Citibank, Equator Bank) now is a major asset of her presidency.

Equally impressive is her courage and the hardship she endured in jail (Chapter 8, ‘The Attempted Coup’and Chapter 9, ‘Escape’). She survived Doe’s prisons where thousands of Liberians perished. After the rigged 1985 elections, she refused to call Samuel Doe President, and addressed him as ‘General Doe’, which would infuriate him. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is no ‘yes-person’ ("say yes to the right people").

What also impressed me was her frank criticism of the French government, for its role in the preparation (or prevention) and aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, as well as Kofi Annan’s failing in this respect (Chapter 12, ‘UNDP and Rwanda’). Also former American President Jimmy Carter’s is being criticized for his role in the 1997 elections in Liberia (Chapter 13, ‘War Some More / 1997 Elections’). It takes courage to state this as boldly as she does, in particular because now she is President of an African country that desperately needs as many international friends as it can get - and the funds that go with it.

Then, what shocked me most (among the many shocking events described) was the physical abuse by her then husband: ‘He pulled out his gun (.....) and struck me on the head with the butt of it.’ (page 39). A large part of Chapter 2, ‘Childhood Ends’ tells the story of her marriage and what went wrong. This experience must have contributed greatly to her actual view and position on domestic violence, rape, and the empowerment of women.

Then, the next question: What is the value added of this book? Does this autobiography throw new light on Liberia’s contemporary history?
As for the first question, I am sure there are many more strong African women, but it is extremely instructive to get an in-depth view of the life of one of them who, moreover, now is 70-years old and the first elected female African President. She faces challenges and tasks which she will not be able to finish, as she admits on page 312, but that does not seem to discourage her. How many people would act the same at her age, in her place, and with her experience?

With her memoir, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made an important contribution to the writing of Liberia’s contemporary history. Her autobiography puts the spotlight on her character, childhood, professional life, political activities, hardships, achievements, all in the context of Liberia’s recent history, it is difficult to say that no one else could have done it equally impressive and interesting. Here lies a challenge for historians: to write about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the story of her life from a different, less personal point of view.

This automatically leads me to my last question. Does her memoir raise any questions which she leaves unanswered?

I think the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. But that shouldn’t surprise us. First of all, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has proved to be a smart politician, and we cannot expect her to tell all secrets she knows. After all, she has to politically survive for at least another three years, the second half of her presidential term. Moreover, if she would have presented a complete picture then we would not have had a 334 page memoir (including her Inaugural Speech as Liberia’s 23rd President) but maybe 800 or 1,000 pages.

One of the main questions which remain unanswered concerns her exact relations with former President Charles Taylor. She gives some insight in her book, where she tells about their first contacts and their subsequent meetings, her initial support for Taylor's fight to topple the government of Samuel Doe, her meeting with him in the Liberian bush in the early 1990s, and their later disagreement and dislike. What is clear from her book is that she knew Taylor and (at least in a certain period) had access to him. What explained this? Did this have anything to do with their common Americo-Liberian background or the shared tribal roots? Charles Taylor was the son of an A.L. father and a Gola mother, Sirleaf’s ancestors on her father’s side were Gola too. I do not want to play the tribal card, I am just curious.

What is crystal clear from her book, however, is that she wants Taylor in prison, condemned, she obviously does not want him to come back to Liberia, West Africa. She has no doubt about him being guilty for the atrocities committed in Liberia as well as in Sierra Leone. In this respect, today is an important day.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone resumes today, and the court’s decison will be given whether Taylor will be acquitted (see my April 14 and earlier postings on the SCSL). If the SCSL would acquit Taylor, President Sirleaf has a (big) problem. In case Taylor will not be acquitted, it cannot be ruled out that President Sirleaf will be asked to come to the SCSL in The Hague, to testify...

To end with, I have a (small) question which intrigues me. On page 268 of her memoir, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf writes: ‘On November 23, 2005, the National Elections Commission declared me the twenty-third president of Liberia.’ .
I also have stated on my website that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Liberia’s 23d president. However, there exists some confusion about the numerical ranking of Liberian Presidents. According to two eminent Liberian historians, Dr. D. Elwood Dunn and Dr. William E. Allen, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th President of Liberia.

Who is right?
Posted by Dr. Fred P.M. van der Kraaij


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