Tag Archives: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

The malign influence of Africa’s King of kings

As the last stand of Muammar Gaddafi plays out in blood and bullets across the Libyan desert, it’s worth remembering that Libya is the most African of the North African countries and the toppling of the green revolutionary regime will have far more impact in sub-Saharan Africa than either Mubarak’s or Ben Ali’s departures. This is no accident, or ethnic generalisation; Gaddafi, spurned by the Arab League for his increasingly eccentric ways, and their ability to see right through his blatant power grabs, deliberately turned his attention on Africa, trying to make Libya the head of a new African polity. The ‘United States of Africa’ is his dream; so is the African congress of chiefs and tribal leaders which in 2008 crowned Gaddafi Africa’s ‘King of kings‘.

This culminated, unsuccessfully, in the bizarre African Union summit last year in Kampala where he tried to get himself elected as AU Chairperson for the second time in a row, employing some of the techniques which have served him so well in Libya over the years. These techniques failed, with the AU electing Malawi’s Bingu Wa Mutharika instead (followed this year by Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, showing that it wasn’t Gaddafi’s politics that the AU had a problem with). Nonetheless, since the 1990s Gaddafi has exerted an increasing and often malign influence on the continent, and there are a few countries who might be affected by his departure.

Most obviously, there’s Chad; the two countries share a common border, which doesn’t prevent either of them from sending in the troops when the time is right. Gaddafi brought Idriss Deby, the Chadian president, to power in 1990 by supporting him financially and militarily, and continues to dabble. Deby has subsequently denounced Gaddafi for supporting Chadian rebels trying to overthrow him.

Gaddafi supported these particular rebels, based in Chad’s far east, because of their proximity to Sudan, and the support they were able to give to another of his interests – the rebels in Darfur, particularly the Justice and Equality Movement, whose leader Khalil Ibrahim continues, as far as I can make out, to enjoy the comforts of exile in Tripoli after being denied entry to Chad.

Most controversially, if true, are unconfirmed reports that Gaddafi was sponsoring the Unity Party of Liberian president and Western media darling Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. This news surfaced at around the same time that Sirleaf announced her intention to run for office again – within her constitutional mandate, to be sure, but in violation of a very specific campaign promise she made to serve only one term. The two leaders are also alleged to be personal friends.

This is just a sampling; there are undoubtedly more African governments and political groupings that have been enjoying Gaddafi’s largesse, and his departure may well see a subtle rearranging of Africa’s own political landscape. Unless someone else steps in to fill the void.

VERDICT: A Gaddafi-less African can only be a good thing. His departure goes forth.


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Brother Leader to sponsor Johnson-Sirleaf’s re-election? Libya-Liberia ties go 4th

An intriguing sentence in a recent Africa Confidential report on Liberia: “Unity Party insiders hope for tens of millions of dollars from Libya’s Moammar el Gadaffi.” The Unity Party is, of course, the party of incumbent president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who has recently announced she will be running for a second term. Quite why her party is waiting on tens of millions of dollars from Brother Leader Gaddafi is somewhat mystifying. A quick trawl through the depths of Google produced little of substance, except to show that Johnson-Sirleaf and Gaddafi have a close and friendly relationship, with Johnson-Sirleaf even defending Gaddafi’s crazy behaviour at last year’s African Union summit. The Libyan leader stormed out of proceedings when it became clear that his vision of a United States of Africa would not be immediately realised. According to Johnson-Sirleaf: “He didn’t walk out, he just got tired.” An excessive thirst for power will do that to you.

Still, the exact nature of the relationship between these two leaders is unclear, and potentially disturbing; any clarification would be welcomed.

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Johnson-Sirleaf goes 4th (for life?)

It has long been a theory of mine that a successful transition government must be exactly that – transitional. Take Nelson Mandela. After assuming power with the ANC, he served one term only before stepping down of his own accord. Part of his effectiveness as a leader was his ability to reach out to every group in the country, and the perception of him as above party politics. He could afford to be above party politics, because he had no long-term designs on power for himself. Crucially, he understood that the future of South Africa and the future of Nelson Mandela were two different things; and, no matter how important the world thought he was, South Africa could and would function just fine without him.

Contrast this with the Iraqi transitional government, where Iyad Allawi attempted an impossible double act: unifying the Iraqi state while maintaining his grip on power. Notwithstanding the results of the recent election, he failed at both, with devastating consequences

Liberia’s oft-lauded President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf well understood this dynamic when she came to power. ­A central pledge of her campaign was that she would serve only one four year term. It seems, however, that during the course of that first term, she began to believe her own hype. Last week, she announced she was breaking that pledge. “I know where we are today, I know where we ought to be tomorrow and I know how we will get there,” she said, adding that her decision had been prompted by her success in governing and the considerable challenges still to be surmounted. I don’t doubt her sincerity, and she is still within her constitutional mandate; but in identifying herself so closely with the success of the state she is falling into the same trap of so many presidents-for-life, from Robert Mugabe to Kim Jong-Il. This is the first step down that well-trodden path. It is also a poor reflection on her leadership that she has not groomed someone who she believes can assume her position.

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