The newspaper, Analyst Liberia,coined the phrase “2017 Quagmire”,defines and predicts the forthcoming general and presidential elections in the year 2017 to be or will be a Quagmire – an awkward, hazardous, complex, situation; a muddled, mixed-up, messed-up predicament; a difficulty, quandary, entanglement, imbroglio – a social, economic and political quagmire.
Indeed, there appears to be a quagmire in and the about the forthcoming, democratic general elections, come 2017. We wrote a number of articles, including Periscoping 2017, suggesting, also,a messed-up, mixed-up, difficulty; a can of worms and quandary, in the light of prevailing socio-cultural, economic and political realities/condition in which Liberia and Liberians find themselves – a quagmire.
A Quagmire, socio-economic and political, is a unique, familiar feature in the political history of Liberia. It is due to, arises from and comes in many forms – Liberia’s uniquely, distinctive mixture of African and Western socio-cultural, economic and political traditions. Out of these traditions evolved/evolving the Liberian political play with a special flavor and political behavior of a cast of political characters or actors, namely, Group A,the(Analyst’s “Lineups” of)Presidential Candidates; group B,the nation’s Body Politic, the voters who will decide who the next president shall be in the year 2017;andGroup C,themightyNational Elections Commission, powerful Referee of the electoral process for the selection of the nation’s powerful, Chief Executive.
Within the Liberian political culture is found the universal vice of corruption, dishonesty, graft, greed, thievery, lies, jealousies and inordinate quest for political power and the wealth perceived to be associated with such power.
Group A, the PresidentialCandidates
Until April 12, 1980, this group was wholly-monolithic, with 100% Western traditions – bow-tied, top hat-ted, tails, “Botany 500/Brooks Brother’s American suits fashion plates; Masonic Craft; informed/educated and the Christian Religion. Because of its western education, this group monopolized political, administrative and economic power, rigidly centralized in an imperial president, dispensed from the Executive Mansionin Monrovia and written the nation’s Constitution, since 1847. The group’s competitive Political Parties, the Republican (light-skinned, African-Americans) and the True Whig (dark-skinned, African-Americans), held political power, exclusively, for 133 years, under unwritten, but duly accepted and practiced, rule of indigenous exclusion from political participation since the year 1847, the founding of the Liberian Nation.
Group B, the Nation’s Body Politic
This group is not only the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population, but also, the majority of the nation’s voting-age population. It is 100% of the indigenous, African tradition, but with mixed African, Muslim-Islamist and Christian Religions. The majority of this group is rural, village dwellers, less educated and uninformed on the dynamics of politics, especially voting rights and the use of these rights to secure community and individual benefits. Indigenous, citizens, including the increased/increasing, western-educated elites, were systematically denied participation in political affairs for 133 years until and after the 1980 event.
Now, there is irony in the Liberian politics; in that,this increasing western-educated elites, indigenous, tribal citizens have become emerged/emerging political class, but has now joined the western, political traditionalists in exploiting the unfortunate, uninformed conditionof their parents, uncles and extended relations, for personal benefits. This indigenous, emerged/emergingpolitical class form and manage their own political parties, not along traditional, conventionally-recognized and accepted lines, but along ethnic/tribal lines. The result has been, and is, that in a small country of less than 4 million and some 17 ethnic/tribal groups, there are twenty-something political parties (and counting) which, statistically, is more than one political party per each ethnic/tribal group, simply because every indigenous “politician” wants to be“standard bearer” of a political party and, eventually,president of Liberia, but, also, a statistical impossibility.
Moreover, there is our inheritedEthnic/Tribal Bigotry, the socio-cultural and political dogma ofourAfricanTraditional Society,grounded onfear, suspicion, jealousy, rivalry, discrimination/segregation, antagonism, bordering on hate, based on myths, superstitions, you-say, they-say, I think,an unfortunate traditional pattern of behavior still in our “Modern Society”. In fact, this tradition permeates, almost, every aspect of our lives – housing, schooling, courtship & marriage, employment, job security & advancement, business & related relationships and interactions. Indeed, Ethnic/tribal Bigotry, an African Racism, hasbeen developed into Ethnic Cleansing during our recent, fourteen-year tragedy that may be likened toBosnia and Herzegovina – Slobodan Milosevic, the Bosnia Serb forces and Srebrenica genocides.
Group C, the National Elections Commission (NEC)
This group, the referee and lawful manager of the electoral process that determines the most powerful executive in the land, is seen by Liberians as being manipulated and controlled by ruling or political parties in power. The recent, unusual and un-ceremonial resignation of a chairman of the Nation’s National Elections Commission and un-announced departure from the country while in the midst of several allegations of electoral fraud is a case in point.
Recently, the leader of a major political party accused thecurrent Chairmanof the National Elections Commission, Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, of being citizen of a foreign country.In fact, it has been alleged that the Cllr.Korkoya, as Chairman of the Commission, permitted several individuals who are foreign citizens to campaign as candidates for the National Legislature (some successful), an act which is patently illegal. For these and many, dubious others, it is reasonable for the Liberian people to have no confidence in Elections Commission.
The Analyst Newspaper
In the introduction to its repeated, reprint assessment of the candidates for president, the Analyst says that “the Liberian people will be exercising their franchise again (casting their ballots, come 2017), hoping that the ones who take the helm of power (win to become president) are actually the one who love the country and will put the country before self . . .” But, “the worry permeating the unsuspecting populace is whether those lining up (the candidates for president) could deliver onexpectations for marked change in the lives of the people of Liberia. In the lineup are individuals who have some charisma to pull votes and to win, but winning is not all to the people’s expectation. . .Ingrained good quality leadership is not all that is need; it must be completed with quality or charisma to win elections.”
To this we add dedication/commitment to the moral rectitude ofhonesty, truth, courage, openness, fairness, tolerance, civility, cordiality, rationalism, loyalty and patriotism to country, governed by the principles of classical, democratic practice, under law. This is not the case in our country today!!
Someof the current candidates for president have been accused of being citizens of foreign countries, have families living, permanently, in those foreign countries, and with one set of feet here, in Liberia, and the other in the foreign countries. Others, who were candidates for the National Legislature (senate) and now senators, were accused of being foreign citizens (reminder of Article 30 of the Constitution against foreign citizenship) during the last, senatorial campaign, but consciously neglected a response, one way or the other. Today, they are members of Legislature.
Candidates for President satisfied with status Quo
It is deeply troubling and extremely disappointing to know and note that none of the 2017 presidential contenders has come out, unequivocally, on decentralization, withparticular respect to the right to vote – the election of mayors, town, clan and paramount chiefs and superintendents of the provinces or counties in which an overwhelming majority of the nation’s population lives. Indeed, Suffrage – or “the right to vote”in a representative democracy, particularly, in the selection of important, public officials, is regarded NOT as a privilege, but rather, an inalienable right that inheres to adult citizens by virtue of their citizenships. It is the primary means of ensuring that governments are responsive to the governed.
However, all candidates for Presidentpremisedtheir rule, if elected,on 168 year-old, 1847assumptions – the Unitary structure of the Liberian Government. For no other reason,one would think, that any reasonable public administrator, democratic politician answerable to the citizens, would seek change in the light of doing the same thing for a century with disastrous results. Throughout 168 years,successive, political leadershipsand derivatives held on to the unitary structure, while the nation became and becomes a “failed State”. Now, we are told by the present political dispensation that “Liberia shall remain a unitary state with a system of local government and administration which shall be decentralized with the county as the principal focus of the devolution of power and authority” (Section 1.0, page 2, National Policy on Decentralization & Local Governance, January 2011).
In this connection, we provided or contrasted, below, the critical difference between the two, main, systems of government – Federal and Unitary. For, according to the Candidates for President, come2017, the Liberian nation will have to wait for another 168 years or more for change, reforms, transformation!!
Decentralization – Federal & Unitary
Both Federal and Unitary systems refer to or define “devolution”as decentralizationof power. But there are distinct, important differences and conditions, critical to successful democratic practice and results, particularly, in the light of Liberia’s turbulent past. In the Federal system, devolution-decentralization is guaranteed by written constitution, with terms and conditions binding upon the central, federal government and its regional, semi-autonomous constituents; whereas, in the Unitary system,devolution-decentralizationis non-constitutional and that the central, unitary government reserves the right to alter, re-arrange or abolish the devolved-decentralized powers without consultation and/or consent of the regional constituents, because, unlike federal system, the regional constituents lack constitutional right to exist, in the first place.
In other words or language, devolution of political poweras defined– the right to vote in theelection of Mayors, Town, Clan, and Paramount Chiefs and Superintendents, as desired and expected by the citizens – is not governed by constitution and that the Unitary, Central government, the system now prevailing in Liberia, reserves the right to change and/or abolish the devolved powers without consultation and/or consent of the regional constituents, the counties in the Republic of Liberia.
This approach, devolution-decentralization under the Unitary system, is planned, apparently, to safeguard the hold and monopolize Power – socio-cultural, economic, administrative and political – rigidly centralized and held here in the Republic of Monrovia, through and under this outdated andobsolete unitary structure of government, written and enshrined in the nation’s Constitution throughout these 168 years of nationhood.
The obsolete unitary structure has become and is theproblem of the nation’s political, socio-cultural and economic order. It is not, simply, the inordinate greed for power and wealth by a sitting, Liberian president, but that the main problem is Structural. Therefore, unless and until Liberia replaces the unitary structure with the-much more tried, tested and relatively successful system of federalism,all plans and programs envisaged for delivery, efficiently and effectively, of needed public services are doomed to failure, and that Liberia willcontinueto be anddescribed as a “failed”, rather than, a modern, functional state.
But Politicians are a unique breed of human beings who, by nature, are born to lead. They are honest and dedicated to the service of others; they are liberal, rational, progressive, knowledgeable, articulate, selfless, caring, patriotic and, most importantly, they are teachers and leaders, not followers. They are notcrooks – thieves, liars, killers, power-seekers with inordinate greed and graft for wealth perceived to be associated with political power.
It said that a government of the people, by the people, for the people and close to the people understands and appreciates their problems better and, responsively, serves and addresses them(the problems) best.
Political powerdecentralized and federalized,not de-concentration, is the desire of an overwhelming majority of the Liberian people.
With Bai M. Gbala, Sr.