The media in Liberia have been working themselves into a self-righteous frenzy after the recent emergence of “naked” video of former Footballer of the Year turned presidential candidate George Weah. The “naked” video is in fact a men’s cologne advert, and full frontal nudity is implied rather than shown; nonetheless the video, only recently rediscovered, is said to pose a serious threat to Weah’s presidential hopes (though if I were him, I’d be more worried about President Sirleaf-Johnson’s alleged links to Muammar Gaddafi).
The best response, however, is from an unnamed spokesperson in Weah’s party, the Congress for Democratic Change, who maintains that the video can only help to make Weah more popular amongst women voters. Besides, he said, the video is no grounds not to elect Weah, for it is “only constitutional deviants who should not be elected”. All other deviants welcome then…
Thanks to Shelby Grossman’s blog for the story.
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.
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.