03 sep Come on Bono, support free press in Liberia!
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia and Nobel laureate, is being applauded in the West for her fight against corruption and for being a champion of independent and free media. She is celebrated by the usual suspects when it comes to weighing good and evil in Africa: Bono, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett…how little do they know about African reality. How little do they care, as long as their own image is not at stake.
That of Liberia certainly is. In a heart breaking op ed in the IHT (September 2nd 2013), Rodney Sieh, editor in chief of FrontPage Africa, a newspaper that set a new standard for journalism in Africa, complains about the gap between Liberian reality and its image abroad. Sieh was recently jailed and wrote his message from a hospital in Monrovia, where he is under armed guard, having contracted malaria in prison. Why is he behind bars? Because he has exposed corruption at the highest level in Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s government. Corruption in which the president seems to be involved herself. The offices of FrontPage Africa had already been fire bombed in 2006 and Sieh had already spent some time in prison in 2011, due to his revealing stories. Last week the paper reported on a secret deal between Liberia and Equatorial Guinea, worth $ 130 million. The government was not amused. But what landed Sieh in jail this time is a case against the Ministry of Agriculture. His reporters (mostly women) found that $ 6 million where ‘not accounted for’. This raised questions about the minister, Christopher Toe, who was silently dismissed. Toe then sued the paper for libel and asks for $ 1,5 million dollars in damages, thirty times the paper’s operating budget. The ex-minister clearly wants the paper to shut down, with the help of judges that get secretly paid by him, according to Sieh. The court is waiting for Sieh to pay the bill, which he cannot. How long will he remain in guarded detention is a question no one can answer. It is not probable that the champion of free press and fair legal courts, the president herself, will come to his rescue. It is more than clear what she has to do: she should enact judicial reforms immediately in order for these to not only serve the elite, but ordinary Liberians as well.
Hey, Bono, maybe you can give her a call? After all, it is also about your so dearly kept image…