The Ebola Virus and Corrupt Elections

            The United States likes to think of itself as a former colony that opposes colonization, but the truth is that the United States did colonize Liberia with freed slaves and blacks beginning in 1820.

            Liberia was run by these American transplants, known as Americo-Liberians, until 1980 when a military coup by Sergeant Samuel Doe brought civil war and indigenous Liberians to power for the first time.  Doe executed the president, the majority of his cabinet plus other government officials and party members.

            Ten years later, Doe himself was overthrown and executed by Charles Taylor, who ruled the country and fomented a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.  Negotiations took place in Accra, Ghana and in 2003 United Nations Forces entered the country ending the war. Taylor was forced into exile in Nigeria and Liberia held elections.

            On October 1, 1966, George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah, was born in the West Point section of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia (named after President Monroe.) In 1988, he signed with Monaco and played soccer with various clubs in Europe for the next fourteen years.  In 1995, he was named FIFA World Player of the Year, won the African Footballer of the Year award three times and in 2004 was named to the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players.  George Weah was an idol in Africa.

            In 2005, Weah returned to his native land to run in the presidential election.  Liberia regularly held elections that were uniformly corrupt and always resulted in victory for whatever strongman had seized power.

            His major opponent was Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  Sirleaf’s father was the first Liberian from an indigenous ethnic group to sit in the national legislature although he had been raised by an Americo-Liberian family in Monrovia.  Ellen married at 17, attended the College of West Africa from 1948 – 1955, then moved with her husband to the United States where she earned an associate degree in accounting from Madison Business College in Madison, Wisconsin.  She studied economics and public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, earning a Master of Public Administration.

            Ellen Johnson Sirleaf returned to Liberia and served in the government of William Tolbert ending up as Minister of Finance from 1979 until the Doe coup in 1980.  Tolbert was assassinated and all but four members of his cabinet were executed.  Sirleaf initially accepted the post of president of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment but fled the country in November.

            She then worked for the World Bank in Washington before moving to Nairobi to work for Citibank. She ran successfully for Senate in the 1985 elections that were widely considered fraudulent, but refused to take her seat in protest against the fraud and fled the country again.  Then, she raised money for Charles Taylor’s insurrection against Samuel Doe, but later grew disaffected. She returned to contest the 1997 presidential elections where she ran second to Charles Taylor, getting 25% of the vote, and then went into exile in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

            In 2005, Sirleaf and Weah ran for president.  In the first round, Weah and Sirleaf were the top vote getters, with Weah receiving 275,265 (28.3%) to Sirleaf’s 192,326 (19.8%).  In the second round, Weah received 327,046 (40.6%) to Sirleaf’s 478,526 (59.4%). Weah got just more than 50,000 more votes in the second round compared to Sirleaf’s additional 286,000, more than doubling her first round tally.  Weah accused Sirleaf of ballot stuffing, but Sirleaf called them “lies” and said that Weah’s supporters, “just don’t want a woman to be President in Africa.”

            Most election observers, including those from the Carter Center, the United Nations, the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States said that election was clean and transparent. Weah needed only 72 extra votes for every 100 extra votes for Sirleaf in order to win the runoff.  In the event, Sirleaf received 572 extra votes for every 100 received by Weah.  In an election where one candidate gets 3 votes for every 2 for the opponent in 47% of the electorate, it is strange indeed that the proportions are reversed to 5.7 to 1 in the other 33%.

What exactly would be the explanation for the people of Liberia to turn massively against an idol and rally to a long-time political hack?

            One of the accusations leveled against Weah during the campaign was that he didn’t have enough education to run the country.  Weah responded that those with education seem to have done a pretty poor job. 

            Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first “democratically” elected president in Africa.  US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush attended the inauguration.  The 2011 election was basically a replay of 2005, with George Weah running as Vice-President with Winston Tubman, the nephew of William Tubman, Liberia’s longest serving president, from 1944 to his death in 1971.   At least Tubman had a degree from the London School of Economics. And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a foreign dignitary at that inauguration.

            Currently, Liberia is in the grip of a serious Ebola virus epidemic.  Eighty-five percent of Liberia’s people live below the international poverty line, itself a condemnation after two centuries of American rule.  In the midst of the Ebola crisis, it turns out that the doctors and nurses at the main hospital in Monrovia haven’t been paid in two months. 

            While the world focuses on the Isis beheadings in the Middle East and while the Christian west rallies to support Israeli aggression and its retention of illegally occupied land; a far more dangerous and lethal threat is brewing in West Africa.

            Like the flu pandemic in 1918 that killed 50 million people worldwide, the most probable source of mass death in the twenty-first century is not illusory weapons of mass destruction in the hands of legitimately disgruntled radicals, but infectious diseases incubating in corrupt dictatorships supported by people for whom personal profit is the only determinant of government legitimacy.

            The stolen American election of 2000 is the proximate cause of the violence in the Middle East.  Let’s hope that the stolen Liberian elections of 2005 and 2011 will not be the cause of mass death from an Ebola epidemic.  Poverty stricken dictatorships can not implement the public health measure needed to stop a viral epidemic. Good public health comes from legitimate governments chosen democratically, not corrupt potentates who take office by force.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf