Accusations of corruption
Last month, the Nobel prize-winning rights advocate Leymah Gbowee quit her post in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government, criticising her fellow laureate for corruption and nepotism.
Gbowee and Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first freely elected female head of state when she came to power in 2005, were named joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for their work promoting peace in Liberia.
Gbowee had been serving as head of Liberia's Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
A spokesperson said that Gbowee resigned over concerns Johnson Sirleaf had failed to root out corruption and nepotism in her government, but he declined to elaborate.
Liberia's government confirmed Gbowee's resignation and said it disagreed with her criticisms. Johnson Sirleaf has three sons in top government posts but she has denied charges of nepotism and has said ending graft is a top priority.
Liberia is one of the world's poorest and least developed countries and is seeking to fund its recovery by drawing investment in its rich natural resources, which include vast iron ore deposits and offshore oil.
Rights advocates have expressed concern, however, that many of Liberia's resource deals are marred by fraud and do not provide the state with adequate revenue.
Anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness said in September that Liberia's forestry department had given out a quarter of the nation's land to logging firms over the past two years in a flurry of shady deals.
Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was in the Netherlands recently to receive an Honorary Doctorate Degree at Tilburg University. RNW’s Africa Desk was on hand for an exclusive interview.
You are a beloved leader around the globe and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Yet, in your own country you’ve been accused of nepotism and corruption. Three of your sons have been appointed to high government positions. How do you explain this?
“We have a country that has a very low capacity. Some of our institutions – the ones that have to carry out the important reforms for the transformation of our country – simply do not have the capabilities. They also sometimes lack sufficient integrity to be able to do what is right.
“We have to place certain people close to us in positions to carry out our mandate of reform at the level of competence and honesty that is needed.
“Nepotism is putting somebody who is a relative in a position for which they don’t have the qualifications, integrity or competence. There are times when you have to hire relatives, even when it’s a temporary measure, to achieve your objectives.”
So you will not fire your sons? To show that you are a hero of anti-corruption?
“No, I will not. There is a mandate and there’s a job to be done. When that job and mandate is done, perhaps they’ll move on to other things.”
Government officials in Liberia sometimes earn up to 10,000 dollars a month. Is there anything you can do about that?
“We have to recruit Liberians of certain professional skills and experience to certain strategic posts. If we do not pay them well, we will not be able to recruit them. We actually pay foreigners on our technical assistance programme much more than that.
“If a Liberian is qualified and competitive and if we want to get them, we’ve got to do that. Those Liberians getting positions and getting high salaries are strong, experienced managers, recruited from corporations abroad. Their skills are desperately needed to build our country. Liberians should not criticise those who come home with the right skills to rebuild their country. We need them at home.”
How will you gain trust in Liberia?
“I have trust in Liberia. I’m not talking about the noisy minority – that’s just all part of transformation. I’m talking about a satisfied majority who I meet in rural areas and who are pleased that their lives have changed, their incomes have increased and they’re getting better services.
“We accept the criticism and the comments. We also accept the adulation and the praise. That’s part of moving ahead in a democratic society where all rights are respected and protected. Liberia is making progress and the majority of the Liberians and the international community is quite aware and recognises that.”