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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Fire Your Sons and End Nepotism in Liberia Now!

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A year after three women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2011 "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work," two of those women are now at loggerheads over the crass display of nepotism in their country’s government.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 74, and Leymah Gbowee, 40, joint recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize are both from Liberia, a nation still struggling to recover from a notoriously brutal 14-year civil war in which over 250,000 people lost their lives.

President Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist, was elected as the country’s president in 2005 and since then, she has embarked on the remarkable task of piecing together the smithereens of her broken nation. And today, thanks to her steady leadership, the country’s economy is growing and Liberians are more hopeful of a brighter future.

But, notwithstanding the high adulation Liberians have for President Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman president, many have become increasingly troubled by her bold-faced display of nepotism with the appointment of her sons to key positions in the country’s government. One son is the head of the national oil company, another is the deputy governor of the central bank, and a third is head of the national security agency.

And for that, Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee has openly rebuked President Sirleaf, urging her to end nepotism now. But President Sirleaf has responded by derisively dismissing her fellow Nobel Peace laureate as “too young,” and digging in her heels even further saying that she stands “very firmly” by her family.

Madam Gbowee’s call for President Sirleaf to end nepotism is an echo of the voices of many ordinary Liberians who have also been beseeching President Sirleaf to end her unabashed display of nepotism. But President Sirleaf has also derisively dismissed the growing public criticisms as “the noise in the market.”

“If I want a job done, and I know that a close relative of mine can get it done, I will put the relative there, because the results are more important to me than the noise in the market,” she told the Daily Observer, a Liberian newspaper.

But President Sirleaf’s dismissive attitude to calls for her to end nepotism is not only wrong, it is particularly troubling to Liberians because of their nation’s contemptible recent past when despots appointed their relatives to key posts in government and ruled the country as a family fiefdom.

What is more, as a young firebrand democracy activist, President Sirleaf vehemently castigated past Liberian leaders for nepotism. But today, now that she too has become a nepotistic leader, she justifies her brand of nepotism with the caveat that her sons are qualified for the positions she has given them.

Be that as it may, with Liberia’s contemptuous history of nepotism by past leaders, ordinary Liberians have been appealing to President Sirleaf to end nepotism now. They stood with her in the past when she rightly criticized past Liberian leaders for nepotism, and they still believe that as nepotism was wrong then, so is it wrong today.

In her book, This Child Will be Great, President Sirleaf wrote:

“Public opinion matters; if it is pointed, focused, and intense, it can turn things around. In this global age individuals are sometimes tempted to believe they have no power, not even collectively. This is not true. The public can make a difference if it is willing to take a position and stand up for a cause in which it believes. Against a united and committed public, even the harshest of governments cannot stand…” (pp. 131)

Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee has taken a stand by calling on President Sirleaf to end nepotism now. You too can take a stand to end nepotism in Liberia and together we can raise “the noise in the market” and use our collective power to make President Sirleaf heed our voices.

Sign this petition calling on President Sirleaf to immediately fire her sons and end nepotism now!

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