Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Ghost By ralph geeplay

                                                     The Liberian Executive Mansion

It is obvious, President Sirleaf's disdain for the Liberian presidential state house is no secret. Here, I am not alluding to her famous declaration, that she wanted Liberia's Executive Mansion levelled to the ground in the midst of war, when her predecessor, Samuel Doe refused to leave the fortified palace while ordinary Liberians were starving in the streets and torrents of bullets were raining on them.

A some what valid point that her critics have repeatedly used to critized her singuar most important talking point during the war. But the ambiguity here, is that, Sirleaf was probably right in making those statements. Reason?

Many forget today, that then, pragnant women were dying from malnutrition, and just for the sport of it, if cruelty ever had a name, their stomachs were being openly gashed by gun tooting drunken adults, and drugged teenagers at checkpoints just to know the sex of the fetus.

Children were starving to death! My own little nephew and sister died from hunger after kwashiorkor ate their feet, as the wailing eyes of their fathers and family watched helpless!

Samuel Doe refused to resigned the office of the presidency when everything around him collapsed, claiming he was the constitutionally elected president of the republic, and therefore, he was defending the constitution by holding on to power.

Samuel Doe talking about constitutionality, while his government forces, like their rebel peers were executing people on the basis of their first names? Come on..., the man who came to power by force of arms? But what did Doe know about the organic laws of the country he presided over and the respect thereof, and the protection of individual rights and liberties?

And so yes, while Sirleaf have apologized repeatedly about making those remarks, many Liberians who lived in Monrovia and around the country and caught in a rancous mess of no ending violence did not care a dime or nickle if the building was brought down, but thank God it survived!

But here my friends, I am talking about the president's recent hour long radio interview in Monrovia in which she dissed the executive seat of government. If anything, there is an indication that for the remainder of her term and if she wins re-election, Johnson Sirleaf intends to continue squeezing herself inconveniently into the foreign ministry building, shunning the traditional place of power and governance that represents the Liberian presidency. But the Mansion is dying, and slowly crumbling from dereliction. Here is an impression of an expatriate German living in the country in 2008, as Bush visited Liberia from his blog, alieninliberia:

"The open gashes in the burned out fourth floor above the entrance have been masked by painted plywood. Generous amounts of painted plywood have also been used to cover up the damages in the vertical stringers running up the back of the building. The lamps in the few areas in the Mansion that the President visited had been rewired to bypass the completely rotten main electric system of the Mansion.The garden area, where the banquet was held had undergone the most dramatic face-lift. Two weeks ago it was a barren place with grass burned to brown by the relentless sun. Thanks to quickly improvised make-shift water lines, the grass displayed a lush green during the Presidents' visit. The concrete walkways had been repainted, again without bothering about the longevity of the result."

For a president known for hosting alot of foreign dignitaries all the time, it is not common to see her cramped in her foreign ministry office hosting guests. The sad twist is, It wasn't until President George W. Bush visited two years ago, that the lady left the comfort of the foreign ministry, to show Dubya the halls of Liberian power---I am not talking about the cult of the presidency, so get over it!

That Sirleaf and Bush were seen strolling in the gardens of the Mansion was a complete surprise! The ordinary Liberian knows hardly anything about the palace. Bush was regaled in the Liberian 'Black House,' and decorated and rightly so. No American president has been that generous and forth coming in ending our civil crisis as Bush and his team of national security aides were. All politics is local, right? As if to imitate the Americans since everything Americian should be copied in Liberia, the Executive Mansion is dark, in sharp contrast, as the American presidential palace is white! The palace itself, another legacy and gift from President Tubman, who, in his pomposity and undeterred bigotry had to live in a very big house befitting the name of the man. But the so-called splendor of this big house, it seems represents everything that is wrong and right with Liberia, both in its present and past, down to it's gory and glory historically speaking. Like it, Liberians are unabashly proud and big hearted, and so mundane and sordid is their past and

The presidential palace is a facade of what once a splendid host to the presidency, as the Liberian state itself is destroyed infrastructurally, and if anything, the place must be haunted, at least Sirleaf and others think, because of the gruesome murders and barbarity perpertrated there time and again. The Liberian presidency is supposed to represent the finest of decent leadership in Africa embeded in the democratic tenets that inspired the foundation of the nation's state. But no, it is instead a case study in a legacy of defalcation and defecation. This gaunlet which runs from Tubman (humiliating and torturing his political opponets Tuah Wreh, for example at his Ashmum Street, 'Old Executive Mansion'), was heightened under the misrule of Dictator cum Presdient, His Execellency, Dr., Master Sergent, Chief Zoe, General, and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Samuel Kayon Doe!

Doe led bloody coup de tac of 1980 ,saw the gruesome murder and decapitation of William R. Tolbert jr., the most progressive of Liberian presidents and a man of admired capabilities in cold blood by the so-called People Redemption Council (PRC).

That event took place exactly thirty years ago in the Mansion. This bloody episode would set the tone of what would follow in later years, under Doe's dictatorship. There are reports, that the Executive Mansion was used as a torture chambers for his political enemies, as if they too had no say in what was happening in their own country! His feared Executive Mansion Guard Batallion, and later his Death Squads under the command of George Dweh and the notorious deceased General Charles Julu operated from the gates of the presidential Mansion.

Mister (for want of decency) Doe, operated jail cells in the Mansion, his soldiers ate human parts there and he personally gave them the go ahead for the execution of the brave Liberian journalist Charles Gbayon, of ELBC Radio on November 12, 1985.Gbayon sins were simply reporting the events as insurgent forces tried to dislodged the Dictator, 'Dr. Doe.'

Just as the PRC and the National Democratic Party (NDPL) Doe led era ended, came the 1990s and the so-called Council of State led by warring factions. Conman turned warlord, turned councilman and later president, Charles Taylor escaped assination attempt barely in the same building from his rivals. But before that, during the Amos Sawyer led Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), the notorious General Charles Julu, on one of his foolish expeditions briefly seized the presidential palace, when many thought he was in the United States. Julu disguised himself as a woman in the midst of war, took the palace and announced himself head of state, he later voluntarily relinquished the Mansion, with no base of support and his kinfolks bruised from the same revenge killings that characterized Doe rulership.

This Executive Mansion, Africa's first, this seat of the Liberian presidency, contested again and again and firecely seducing to the politicians and military men of the 80s and 90s, is now a ghost, abandoned by Sirleaf and her entourage of advisors and principal deputies! Her National Security Advisor, H. Boimah Fanhulleh is on record as detesting the oppulance of the Mansion, when he said in a city hall excahnge in the 90s that the palace should be turned into a museum or hotel, principally suited he said, since its located on a beach front and totally extravagant!

Hence, it did not help matters much, that in 2007 as Sirleaf hosted three West African Presidents in remembrance of Liberian's 159th independence celebration, fire mysteriously gutted the Mansion, completely destroying the offices of the presidency, the cabinet room and other prime stationary and edifice in the abandoned building! Sirleaf was shaken!

On an inspection tour weeks later to see the damages caused to the building, the look on her face confirmed the obvious; she would not be coming back there anytime soon! And so, it has been. Investigations into the fire incident, headed by her security advisor, lay bare the facts that the wiring in the building were obselete and the maintenance to the building was in poor state, rather, as some speculated that the fire was an assination plot, but the horros committed there are known, and her fears understandable.

No Liberian president besides Tubman and Doe officially used the building as an official residence! Tolbert slept there on and off, prefering his house in Bentol. But the Mansion, despite the abused wrought upon it and the wrong done in its name can be forgiven. It was neither a party to the abuses, it stood lone, resolute, voiceless and a proud Liberain mosaic.

Every effort must be exerted to returrn it to its former glory, for it represents the seat of the Liberian presidency! Ellen can continue living in her house as she sees fit, but the Mansion must be restored! It must be part of the reconciliation process, and just as we heal ourselves from our own self inflicted wounds, so must must we heal it and consecrate it, and welcomed it back into Liberian live.

These days when you visit the Executive Mansion webpage the picture of the Mansion is no longer there, it has been removed! When Sirleaf signed her many press releases and prseidential executive directories and proclamations, they carried the name of the Executive Mansion, instead of the foreign ministry. Yes Sirleaf, you must be told that the Mansion is an important facet of government and it is a national symbol!

Liberians must be grateful that your leadership has brought emmense recognition and pride to our body politic and our national reconstruction efforts, but you belong in the Executive Mansion, Madame President and not the foriegn ministry building. There will be important world leaders visiting the country on state visits in the future and certain functions are just suited for the Mansion. No one is asking the govt. to use funds meant for clinics, hospital and schools for it's renovation, but budgeted allocations must be made for the palace, for as doing so, is the same as reconstructing public buildings and historical landmarks in the aftermath of the war.

The Executive Mansion belongs to the Liberian people and they want to see it as a repository of what is fine about our emerging democracy in tandem with its occupants. It should represent in this new epouch an instrument of positive force and change, and that of a vibrant presidency free from the imperialist charm that characterized the office in past years! And yes, the ghost can still be a host.

view for reader comments and author response!

No comments: