Liberia’s former exiles dominate new Cabinet

Liberian politicians who fled into exile as a bitter war raged in the West African country are set to dominate the country’s first post-war Cabinet, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s appointments have shown.

Liberia’s Cabinet is made up of 23 ministries, for 19 of which the head of state nominates candidates, who are subject to approval by an opposition-dominated Parliament. Appointments to four other ministries are the prerogative of the president.

Of the 19 ministers Johnson-Sirleaf has already named, only six lived in Liberia before last year’s watershed elections that ushered in her new government. The rest of the nominees had been resident in the United States for years as the war raged back home.

Only one former opposition leader has been nominated in spite of Johnson-Sirleaf’s pledge that she would work with her foes to rebuild war-battered Liberia.

”This is the beginning of a new Liberia,” Johnson-Sirleaf declared in her inaugural speech on January 16. ”I will form a government comprised of technocrats and people of experience to make this new Liberia a better one.

”I call on those who were defeated to join the boat so we can together build a better Liberia for our people.”

But two weeks later, Johnson-Sirleaf told journalists that she did not promise any ministerial posts to the opposition. ”The positions that will be given to the opposition are the positions suitable to their competence,” she said.

Apart from the education ministry given to Joseph Korto, the leader of a party that supported Johnson-Sirleaf during the run-off after he had performed dismally during the first round of polls, the opposition appears to have not been recognised in the first post-war Cabinet.

A leading opposition group, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) of soccer legend George Weah, who faced Johnson-Sirleaf in the poll run-off, said it was not surprised by her choice of Cabinet nominees.

”All these people being nominated have one way or the other contributed to the fraudulent victory of Johnson-Sirleaf,” Acarus Gray, spokesperson of the CDC, said.

”This is not a matter of someone being a technocrat or not. She owes these people and she has to fulfil,” charged Gray after Johnson-Sirleaf named Frances Johnson Morris, the former head of the national election commission that oversaw last year’s polls, as Justice Minister.

There are mixed feelings among ordinary Liberians about her selection criteria, with some arguing that politicians from the diaspora have been out of touch with the reality in Liberia and may not adapt easily.

”They may be good technocrats, but the best experience can only be obtained when you are in touch with the system here,” said a Liberian university professor who declined to be named.

”These people have been away for so long that it will take some time for them to get used to the Liberian system,” added the academic.

But Johnson-Sirleaf’s supporters think she should be given a chance.

”I am confused by the entire process because these people, only the president knows them,” said Alfred Welengar, a member of Johnson-Sirleaf’s Unity Party. ”But the president knows what she is doing. I think we have to give her the benefit of the doubt.”

”The Old Ma promised to bring us a new Liberia. I think these are some of things she was referring to; let’s give them the chance to perform,” Bobby Nyumah, a street vendor, said.

Parliament has approved many of the key nominees to posts — including finance, foreign affairs and education — that Johnson-Sirleaf has put forward over the past five weeks. — Sapa-AFP

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