Liberia’s lady President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has been banned from public office. Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report yesterday, concluding that Sirleaf be barred from politics.
Sirleaf is the latest darling of the aid community (Museveni and Zenawi: remember when?). Said aid community is, for the most part, stunned. Even Kristof is at a rare loss for words.
Should they be so surprised?
Sirleaf openly supported at least two rebel movements — Charles Taylor’s attempt to overthrow President Doe in 1989, and LURD’s invasion to oust Charles Taylor a decade later. The TRC is condemning these actions–not something you’d expect human rights advocates to disbelieve, let alone protest.
Of course, it’s not clear that there is a Liberian over the age of six who hasn’t supported one rebel group or another the past twenty years. If they were all banned from politics, there wouldn’t be a local left to run the place.
Not that it matters. The TRC has no teeth. I don’t know the legal details, but the idea that the Commission can bar the President from politics seems laughable. Oh, did I mention that the TRC judges (a) laughably bad at their job, and (b) have political interests themselves?
But was dear Ellen unjustly maligned? Please. The outside world paints Sirleaf as an angel and Charles Taylor as a demon. Black and white politics are easy to digest. But there are no angels or demons in politics anywhere, least of all Liberia. Ellen is not the noble cherub you think. Taylor is not the black devil you fear. The truth of the matter, as always, is more subtle.
The real pity? The TRC recommended prosecution of some of the more devilish-leaning Liberians (of which Ellen is not one). It’s hard to believe her government can push these prosecutions while denouncing and dodging the ban against Ellen (as I am sure they will). Whether political or idealistic, the TRC’s decision is dangerous and naive.
The fallout is hard to predict. Her reelection in 2011 just became more challenging. And that is scary.
All the things that Ellen promised to do, all the things that would prevent another dictator from assuming power and ethnic groups clashing again in war–from ending the imperial Presidency, to empowering the anti-corruption commission, to pushing land reform–remain undone. The country is fragile as ever, and no more safe from an autocrat or warlord than it was five or fifteen or fifty years ago.
Having failed to groom a successor or build her party beyond her own personality, she sees herself as the only hope for the country. She is correct, but only because of her own broken promises.