Liberian women are victims of the “Queen Bee Syndrome (either me or no woman)” mainly because of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and here’s why in my open letter to her.
You were entrusted to lead an impoverished and a war-ravaged nation for 12 years but you did very little even though you received huge international support including a whopping US$16 billion foreign direct investment. Before you could even leave power, Liberia was the fourth poorest country in the World with a GDP per capita of US$882 according to data from the International Monetary Fund.
Your administration was largely characterized by corruption, nepotism, patronage, and bad governance as Liberia’s de facto Prime Minister, Robert A. Sirleaf, pillaged national coffers without any remorse.
But here is my question to you: What did you do for women when you served as president for more than a decade? Before you could exit the presidency, the United Nations Women (UN Women) released these sad but hard facts in November 2017:
1) From January to September 2017, a total of 892 sexual and gender-based violence cases were reported.
2) 506 of them were rape cases of which 475 involved children just in the period of 9 months.
3) Physical Violence against women accounted for 44% while Forced Early Marriage was at 36%.
4) FGM was as high as 50% while Domestic violence was hitting 49%.
5) 73% girls dropped out of school according to UNICEF while teenage pregnancy soared to 38% according to UNFPA.
I could go on naming or narrating such tragedies but here’s another important question for you: How many women did you empower in politics or leadership (Gender Quotas)? When you were leaving power, there was only one female presidential candidate (MacDella Cooper) out of nineteen as opposed to 2005 and 2011 when you ran for president.
2011: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of UP, Gladys Beyan of GDPL, and Manjerngie Ndebe of LRP.
2005: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of UP and Margaret Tor-Thompson of FAPL.
Let’s look at Post-Ellen era. Today, there are only 8 female Representatives out of 73 (11% female Representation) while there are 2 female Senators out of 30 (6.7% female Representation). Women representation in parliament drastically declined during and after your presidency. So, what did you really do for women then?
Millions of Liberian women (about 51% of Liberia’s population) were also hoping on you to pass into law three major bills but you failed them once more:
1) The 2016 Affirmative Action Bill which is intended to increase equitable participation and representation of women by creating 21 additional seats in parliament (15 for women, 3 for persons with disabilities, and 3 for youths).
2) The Gender Equity in Politics Bill of 2010 which is intended to ensure that no one gender has less than 30% and more than 70% on any candidate listing presented to the National Elections Commission).
3) The Political Equity Incentive Bill which is intended to create a pool fund to assist political parties that implement the 30/70 quota or benchmark.
All these bills or proposed legislations remain DEAD and they are still lingering in limbo even though you served as Africa’s first female president for 12 consecutive years. So, what did you do for Liberian women then? The fact is that what you did not do for women when you were president for 12 years cannot be done through your overnight private foundation and initiative dubbed and styled “Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Foundation” and “Amujae Initiative”.
When you were in power, you did not increase women’s visibility. You were more concerned about your own visibility as you left Liberian women abandoned. It was all about you. Your foremost philosophy was, “Either me, or no woman”. This is what C. Tavris, G. L. Staines, and T. E. Jayaratne defined or described as “The Queen Bee Syndrome” in 1973 (A syndrome where one woman goes up or becomes successful but refuses to help other women to rise).
You had the opportunity to lift up thousands of women and girls during your presidency but you did not. You even denied some of them from going up. Though you received international awards, which were mostly won through foreign lobbying and media branding, but you left Liberia as a failed and fragile State. You left most women even poorer, more vulnerable, and miserable.
Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee was right when she said, “Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf did not deliver on women’s agenda. She will only be remembered for becoming Africa’s first female president. That is all she achieved. Her government was corrupt and nepotistic.”
Liberian women rallied in 2005 to bring you (EJS) to power but you rewarded them with poverty and misery. Before coming to power, you formed MEASUAGOON to “empower rural dwellers especially women”, but it failed also. All of a sudden, Measuagon has now metamorphosed into “Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Foundation” and “Amujae Initiative”. And Pres. George Weah is braved enough to place US$1 million in our national budget to fund your “private foundation” and another US$200,000 to fund your “private initiative”.
Should Ellen’s private foundation or private initiative be funded with public money? This is like paying you (EJS) for failing Liberian women and such bad precedent violates the 2009 Public Financial Management Law and the 2014 Code of Conduct Law. This egregious act also equates to Conflict of Interest, Pay for Play, and Institutionalized Thievery.
I can vividly recall that you got US$500,000 in October 2011 from the Nobel Peace Prize and another US$5 million from the Mo Ibrahim Prize in February 2018. If you want to run your private foundation or private initiative, use your own money and not the Liberian people’s money. This is why we have been strongly opposed to the rash decision of Pres. Weah to fund his wife’s private foundation (Clar Hope Foundation) with public money since 2018.
Why is George Weah giving EJS free US$1.2 million at a critical time like this when public school teachers are on strike, civil servants remain unpaid for several months, and most public health facilities are seriously challenged due to funding constraints?
The reason is very SIMPLE with less than 22 months to the 2023 election. Pres. Weah believes that former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf can help him to steal/rig the 2023 election like it was done in 2017. Hence, the US$1.2 million largesse is intended to woo Ellen’s support against the opposition. To conclude, the repeat of 2017 (rigging of votes in Weah’s favor) would be a cause for potential crisis in 2023. The Liberian people will resist and act even more aggressively. There will be severe consequences this time around. Those who have ears, let them hear.
Activist Martin K. N. Kollie writes from exile…
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