Kindly permit me to start my presentation regarding the theme of today’s forum: “Democratic Governance and National Development in Post-war Liberia–A Lesson for Nigeria,” with the renowned quotes of three former Presidents of Liberia, Ghana and Tanzania. In the remarkable words of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia: “Africa is not poor; it is poorly managed” saying that conflicts and crises have affected the standard practices of governance and establishment of sustainable economic growth on the African continent. She recalled that: “Although some countries have recovered from civil wars, governance remains a challenge on the continent. This speech presents the highlights of the speech delivered at the Forum held at the University of Liberia Capitol Hill Campus, February 26, 2019.
In the famed words of ex-president of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings (2008), “most of our peoples have already noticed that the new system of governance on the African continent is being severely tested by the lack of good faith in certain leaders and administrations”. While the notable words of former of Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere (1998), “Africa needs to improve governance everywhere in Africa in order to enable our people to build real freedom and real development for themselves and their countries” He said: “Nation's constitution must provide methods by which the people can, without recourse to violence, control the government which emerges in accordance with it and even specify the means for its own amendment”. The comparative analysis of the statements of the three illustrious African presidents, have shown that Liberia is no exception to both internal and external factors that pose serious threat to the practice of democratic governance on the continent; but at the same time Liberia is recognized for practicing democratic governance as the pioneer and touch-bearer of democracy on the African continent evidence by the 187 elections that brought the father of Liberian nation, Joseph Jenkins Roberts to power. While to some extent, the Liberian democracy has experienced numerous interruptions, purposely due to internal and external political elements. Before continuing further, let me recognize the presence of Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, President of the University of Liberia, Vice Presidents of University of Liberia, Directors of the University of Liberia Graduate and Professional Studies Programs, Deans and Heads of Departments of the University of Liberia, Maj/Gen) Prince C. Johnson, III, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Head and Members of Delegation of the Nigeria Defense College, Student Representatives of University of Liberia, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am grateful to the University of Liberia for the honor to join distinguished professors and other individuals of high academic and professional disciplines. I graciously accepted the invitation not only because I felt that such an occasion should always be cherished. This is a cause that is so dear to my heart. I’ve been looking forward to this exceptional forum. I am therefore humbled by the opportunity to share some of my thoughts and convictions regarding the theme of today’s forum: Democratic Governance and National Development in Liberia. A Lesson for Nigeria Our presence here today bears a very great responsibility because we are representing our beloved countries, our histories, the ideals and with high demands and determination, our beloved and great institutions: The University of Liberia and the National Defense College of Nigeria. This paper consists of my reflection and convictions regarding the serious attention that is being placed currently on the practice of democratic governance in the country, as a result on the impact of government on national development. Liberia, the first independence Republic in Africa, and Second black Independence Republic in the world, has strongly committed itself to promoting democratic governance on the continent. While the concept of democracy can be traced to the ancient Greeks and precisely the city-state of Athens in the fifth century B.C, democracy in Africa can also be traced to Liberia. Before I go any further, let me recall that the First Elections that took place on the African Continent was held in Liberia, on 21 September 1847; Joseph Jenkins Roberts was elected as the first President upon Independence in 1847. Since then, Liberia has been judged by the world to be pioneer of democracy in Africa. Also Liberia is the first country in Africa for Newspaper to appear on the Newsstand or to be published. The Liberian Herald first appeared on the newsstand on February 16, 1826. Again, Liberia is the first country in Africa to allow women to vote in a democratic election, while in 2005 Liberia made history to elect a woman’s as president. Unfortunately, two separated elections in Liberia have been recorded in the pages of history. In the 1927 Election, out of 15,000 registered voters, the incumbent Charles D. B. King garnered 243,000 votes against his opponent who received 9,000 valued votes. While in the 1975 Election, President Tolbert received 100% of the valid votes. Another unfortunately incident in the nation’s democratic system took placed in the year 1870, the undemocratic removal of former President Edward J. Roye through mob action from office. Notwithstanding, the nation has undertaken several tangible interventions that have resulted to boosting national capacity and political wills to avoid potential crises to multi-party democracy in the country. However, democratic governance and national development can be achieved by instituting the right policy at the right time by the right people at the right place through the right institutions.
Summary of the Speech
My thoughts and convictions on the theme of the forum are being presented from the perspective of a power-point for the broad participation of all while a comparative analysis of the subject highlights, as concerns; the core concepts and principles of Democratic Governance and National Development in Liberia; it goes further to discuss Liberian political system and gives the overviews of the current Liberian electoral situation. Among other issues the presentation covers include the concept of democracy being practiced in Liberia and its intricacies, role of elections in the Liberian democratic society, while the significance of the rule of law and justice, human rights, and concludes with a summary of the government “pro-poor agenda”, which is a new working development tool of the Liberian government and ends with recommendations.
Brief background of Liberian political system:
For instance, Article 1 of the Liberian constitution provides that “All power is inherent in the people, while Article 3 states: Liberia is a unitary sovereign state. The article further states: The form of government is Republican with three separate coordinate branches: The Legislative, Executive and Judiciary, consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. Under our democratic governance system as relates the separation of powers and doctrine of check and balance, Legislative Power is implemented by the National Legislature as the legitimate representation of the people. The Legislature of Liberia consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives, both of which must pass on all legislations. In the present legislative period of 2019, the 54th National Legislature is composed of: 103 Members; out of these 29 Senators-(currently 28 males and 1 female, instead of 30 senators due to the recent passing of Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff); 73 Representatives (currently 9 females and 64 males), thus bringing the total males to females in the National Legislature are 93 to 10 or a ratio of ten to one. In the Liberian presidential system of government, the president functions as Head of State, Head of Government and at the same time as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL); the President is elected directly by the people every six years. Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances doctrines, cabinet ministers are nominated and appointed by the President upon the confirmation by the Senate. Presently, the cabinet consists of 24 individuals of whom Three (3) are females and twenty-one (21) males.
According to the Liberian constitution, the Judicial power is vested in a Supreme Court and such subordinate courts, while the Supreme Court comprises: One Chief Justice and four Associate Justices; currently consists of two females and three males. The Judiciary is supposed to be independent. Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution provides that: ‘All power belongs to the people and noted that they have the right to call for a constitutional referendum when their safety and happiness so require. Article (2) provides that: ‘This Constitution is the supreme and fundamental law of Liberia and its provisions shall have binding force.
The Political History of Liberia
Liberia’s political history as concerns democratic governance from the period of Independence to presence has experienced several difficulties resulting to several factors-both internal or external political maneuvering and arms twisting. The root of democracy on the African continent can be attributed to the founding Fathers of Liberia. The First Elections on the continent took place 21 September 1847 less than two months following Liberia’s independence with Joseph Jenkins Roberts elected as the first President in 1847.
The opposition political party also has it root in Liberia---the first opposition political party was established in Liberia and participated in the 1847 election. The two parties that took part in the 1847 election were the Pro Administrative Party headed by J. J. Roberts and Anti-Administrative Party headed by Thomas Buchanan; interestingly, both served as governors of the Commonwealth of Liberia. As touch-bearers of democracy in Africa, the founding fathers of Liberia were successful in building three (3) political institutions, sometime called Systems: The state….sheltered by internal and external sovereignty; rule of law (established Constitution) and democratic governance (accountability and inclusiveness). Since then, Liberia has been judged by international system and actors of the world to be practicing democracy in Africa in line with international best practice. The promise of democratic governance in a contemporary Liberia is more positive than before; even though there are still several obstacles that require practical actions to be overcome in order to enhance progress in the current Liberia’s democratic space.
What are some of these challenges?
The Liberian democracy, just like other democracies across the globe, has its own trials and interferences which include having free and fair elections in which all participants and stakeholders have confidence; leveling the playing field for political parties and other activities; toleration of opinions of both in the opposition and critical voices and public. Other areas are respectability for constitutionalism and rule of law, justice; that all elected officials be accountable to the constituency and counties; people in offices of public trust should discipline their words; extermination of all forms of corruption, leaders lead by examples and encouragement and respect for democratic values and competitions by all political actors.
Our democratic governance system should show cherish respect for a democratic system based on the rule by the poor and disadvantaged, a system of decision-making based on the principle of majority rule; a society based on equal opportunity and individual merit; a structure of rule that protects the rights of minorities and majority and a government that serves the interests of the people.
Under our democratic governance system, democracy in Liberia is practiced limited and indirect democracy with respect to constitutional values in which the citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programs for the public goods. Democracy is limited in the sense that popular participation in government is temporary and occasional, while it is indirect in that the public do not exercise power themselves, instead they merely select those who will governs on their behalf.
Kindly bear with me to briefly discuss the principles of modern democratic rule, which in a contemporary Liberia’s period are sometime called: The pillars, doctrines, or values of democratic rule. Democracy globe be measured on the basis of the principles include: citizen participation which means that citizens are part and parcel of what happens in their country, citizens are part of the decision-making process and policies formulation Start from the bottom to the top.
The principles include political equality-meaning political equality of all citizens is an essential principle of democracy, equality before the law, equality of opportunity based on individual’s capacities and people should not be denied equal opportunity because of gender, association, religion or race. While political tolerance should always be encouraged although the practices of politics believed to be the easy path to obtaining economic wealth and leadership power (Friedrich,1968). However, the Liberian society, compared to other African societies, is doing well in the area of political tolerance.
For Instance: the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of Liberia as concerns the 2017 run off presidential election shows how tolerance Liberians are; free speech and press freedom are exceptionally tolerated; if anyone in the audience wants to verify this declaration…the best option is to turn to any of the local radio “Talks Show” or go through the daily headlines and pages of newspapers in the country. I recall that the 54th National Legislature recently decriminalized speech of offensive nature and created a free media environment in Liberia (E mansion, 2019).
The Bill is credited to the Office of the President of the Republic of Liberia, His Excellency Dr. Manneh Weah. Article 15 of the Liberian constitution guarantees for freedom of speech and expression and also provides cautions regarding abuses. The provision includes freedom of speech and of the press; academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available.
Former President Johnson-Sirleaf is also credited as the Second African head of State to endorse the Table Mountain Declaration, which calls on African governments to abolish criminal defamation laws. In 2010 Liberia became the first to enact West Africa’s first Freedom of Information law and established an Independent media Commission headed currently by a student of the Kofi Annan institute of the University of Liberia. This law gives both journalists and the general public the leverage of unrestricted to access to public document, with exclusions of those border on national security.
The third principles of democracy is transparency while Leys (1967) disclosed that to be transparent means that officials both public and private allow for public scrutiny of what they do while in public office including that citizens are allowed to attend public meetings and are free to obtain vital information, holding of regular elections to ensure that bad leadership are not forced on the people and that elections are the main avenue for all citizens to exercise power to elect, or choose and reject their leaders through a secret ballot.
The situation of economic independence is also essential under the Liberian democratic governance system in that it creates the basis on which the citizens become economically potent, hold their leaders’ feet to the fire and at the same time meet the needs of their family. Candidates usually attempt to bribe registered voters either directly or indirectly, returns, in most cases these candidates are punished by the voters despite of electoral gifts. Regarding the principle of the rule of law, constitution of Liberia provides: That no one is above the law and requires that all citizens observe the law and are held accountable if they break it, due process of law requires that the law should be equally; fairly and consistently enforced; equality before the law; The law should rule and establish framework for all conduct and behavior to follow and rule of law ensures law and order and the protection of citizens as they enjoy their rights.
The issue of human right is also indispensable to democratic governance in Liberia since democracies around the world strive to protect the rights and freedoms of their citizens from abuse, to choose their leaders, right to life, the right to own property, the freedom of expression
Democracies across the world work towards multi-party system which is a set-up where there are more than two political parties contesting for power such as broaden the pool for choice of the best candidate for political office, offer alternative views to the government of the day as a result of the existence of an opposition and allow the opposition to act as a check on those in political office.
The Liberian electoral system allows voters to cast secret ballots, free of intimidation, violence and inducement; it further gives electorates the options to make their choices on the basis of alternative developmental programs (NEC, 2014). It provides for changes in government without violence while power can be transferred from one party to another by means of majority decisions; the process-service as a conduit to move forward through the will of the majority and serve as the yardsticks how democratic governance Liberia is viewed internationally. While the element of the practices of democratic values in the country includes: Government chosen by a small and democracy elections must be inclusive, elections must be conclusive and competitive while opposition parties and candidates enjoy the freedom of speech, assembly and movement.
The mass media generally constitutes an influence and effective ingredient of the world. It is due to the role of the media it is called the “Fourth Estate” since a vigorous media is an important element in a strong and healthy democracy. In Liberia, the history of journalism dated far back from the era of pioneers in 1822 when the first batch of colonial masters arrived in Liberia. The first independent newspaper to appear on the newsstand in the country was the “The Liberian Herald on February 16, 1826. Currently, there are over 60 FM radio stations operating in the country with about 46 in Monrovia and its surroundings and also there are over 60 prints in the country but majority of the newspapers are occasional due to financial constraints.
The media role in democratic governance in Liberia includes playing a critical role in improving governance; fights against bad governance and undemocratic practices include abuse of state wealth, human rights and constitutional violations; help in reducing corruption, increasing economic efficiency and stability; serves as a “mirror" of the Liberian society and shapes public opinions, among other roles played. But the media also encountering difficulties which include lack of needed financial resources and advertisements; Inadequate support and persistent delay to settle payment for advertisements; unethical and unprofessional situations; lacks of professionalism, and proper training by some journalists; sour media-government relations; failures to engage into investigative journalism and lacks the capacity to report in-depth. While lack of encouraging monthly incentive plays a major part as some journalists depend on the corrupt political bureaucrats and foreign capitalist or “token” to meet their daily needs.
Role of Liberian Women in Democratic Governance
The history of democracy in Liberia without the role of Liberian women will be incomplete. In the practices of democratic governance, women play a significant role. Any society that downplays the ability of women and continues to subscribe to outdated beliefs which denied women advancement will always be at conflict with itself. The non-violent activities of Liberian women draw international attention to the once atrocities that were being committed in the country.
It is very difficult to discuss democratic governance in Liberia will out mentioning the meaningful contributions of Liberian women towards the obtainment of democracy and listing peace. Their activities witnessed successive signing of the Accra Peace Accord and democratically elections in 2005 which was won by fearless Liberian women—Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and this struggle of Liberia women started long time since the famous role of Mother Suakoko of Bong County and other indigenous Liberian women whose history deliberately failed to remember for selfish reasons.
Overview of Liberian Electoral Situation
Since Liberia’s independence in 1847, the nation has had numerous elections but most of the elections were far from being democratized. Until the 1986 elections which result was compromised in the interest of ex-president Samuel K. Doe. However, following the end of the 14-year war and the signing of the comprehensive Accra peace Accord in 2003:The country with the helped of Liberian development partners and foreign nations has had Three Successful Presidential Elections and a number of Special and By-elections. Kindly permit me to briefly discuss circumstances surrounding these elections.
The Elections of 1870
For instance, the 1870 election ended with the undemocratic removal of former President Edward J. Roye through mob action and Roye’s tragic death. He was the first president of then governing True Whig Party (TWP) to be forced from office.
The Elections of 1871
After the forceful removal of Roye from Office, elections were planned in 1871 with former President Joseph Jenkins Roberts who and Roye have often been at loggerheads was the opposition candidate; Robert was named the victor of the election.
The Elections of 1927
The 1927 general elections in Liberia made history as the most fraudulent election ever held. With only about 15,000 registered voters, the incumbent Charles D. B. King garnered 243,000 votes against his opponent who received 9,000 valued votes (GC, 2017). The 1927 election result is recorded in the pages of the Guinness Book of Records as one of the most fraudulent elections in human history.
The Elections of 1951
The 1951 elections in the country is one of the historical democratic elections to be held in Liberia. It was during this exercise that women were allowed to vote and the indigenous people were granted right to own property and also vote. This decision, according to Governance Commission (2017), took effect through a referendum in 1946.
The Elections of 1955
The elections of 1955 were the showdown between the TWP, the Tubman group and Edwin Barclay of the newly formed Independent TWP (GC, 2017. Tubman’s response was to crack down on civil liberties; he used state resources as carrots and sticks to expand his political base and punish his detractors. Just before elections took place, there was an assassination attempt on Tubman’s life. His administration brought treason charges against the Chairman of Independent TWP Didwho Twe, forcing him to flee the country (Kieh, 2008).
The 1975 Election
Following President Tubman’s death on July 23, 1971 his successor, William Tolbert, had been Vice President for nineteen (19) of Tubman’s 27-year rule. Much of the Tubman’s regime was characterized by suppression of opposition. But the Tolbert’s regime provided the opportunity for opening up political space. (GC, 2017). But Tolbert was to get caught between two forces: the old order (old guards) of the TWP of which he was a part and which he sought to reform, on the one hand, and consortiums of youth, intellectuals, workers and others. The progressive and pro-democracy movements, especially the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) and the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) were the torchbearers of the change enhancers of multi-Party Democracy. The Tolbert’s regime was toppled on April 12, 1980 through a blooded military coup.
Another interested case of a democratic election in Liberia was the 1985 election which was marred by allegations of vote fraud and rigging. The 1985 General elections were invented as a path of the much awaited evolution from military rule to democracy (GC, 2017). The post-election era witnessed rampant abused of state’s resources and gross human rights violations. Perhaps, the violence was major causes for the Liberia’s senseless bloodbath which claimed about two hundred and fifty (250,000) thousand lives.
In an effort to return the nation to democracy, something which has not happened since 1985 general elections, ECOWAS with support from the United Nations organized a special election which was won by former president Charles Ghnkay Taylor with 75.3% valid votes (NEC, 2005). The election was also marred by allegations of voters’ intimidation while the issue of fear factor played a major part to the advantage of Mr. Taylor. He defeated former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who came second with 10% of the valid vote (NEC, 2005).
After twenty years, the Liberian nation in 2005 held an international acclaimed democratic elections with 22 Liberians vying the for the presidency. At the end of the highly contested democratic exercise, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected. She won with 59% of the vote in the run-off poll (NEC, 2005). The election result was rejected by the current ruling CDC, once an opposition political party.
he 2011 general election went into a run-off since none of the candidates obtain a threshold of 50 plus one vote. In the run-off poll, Sirleaf obtained 90 % valid vote cast against Cllr. Winston Tubman’s CDC which pull from the exercise (NEC, 2005).
Interestingly a poverty-stricken state of Liberia is noted for history making and never in the 170-year of the nation’s existence that stakes in the past presidential races had captivated deep national and global interests with observers as being experienced in the recent October 10, 2017 presidential election. The presidential race was reduced to crowd race among the main political parties, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Unity Party (UP), Liberty Party (LP), Alternative National Congress (ANC) and All Liberian Party (ALP).
Instead of maneuvering in order to undercut the other parties to win more votes, the various parties were preoccupied with pulling huge crowds in the various streets as a means of displaying their political authority over the others to prove that they have the numbers to win on the first ballot. The various streets were overwhelmed by mammoth crowds and displayed of numbers in Monrovia and other cities across the country, unfortunately, these gigantic crowds apparently driven by monetary gains or allegiance, failed to translate into actual votes on October 10 as evidenced of the official results of the presidential election released by NEC. The 2017 elections were highly challenged by 20 candidates with one female presidential candidate and six female vice presidential candidates (2017).
The total candidates were 1024 candidates registered to contest the poll; Male candidates registered 861; Female candidates registered 163; Out of 984 candidates for Representative slots; 96 were independent aspirants and; 928 political parties’ aspirants. While registered voters as concerns, out of 2,183,629 registered voters; 1,119,355 representing 51% were male;
While 1,064,274 accounts for 49%. Youth age between 18-22 accounts for 11 and; other age of 23 to 27 carried 9%; While Liberian age 18(first time voters) were 15% (NEC, 2005).
Why governance matter in post-conflict Liberia?
Governance matters in several ways: Governance plays an important role in implementing successful economic policies and sustaining inclusive growth; it provides transparency and predictability in policymaking, efficiency and equity in access to government services and resources, governance also leads to better and more efficient decisions and gives the local community confidence in its council, but improves the faith that elected members have in their own council and its decision making processes (World bank, 2008).
Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, President of the University of Liberia and the university family, I am honored so dearly for the courtesies that you have accorded me to share with you some of my thoughts concerning the practices of democratic governance and national development in the country. Many of you covered long distances and left your busy schedules. This reminds us of the significance that you all have attached to this occasion.
This is always a unique opportunity to share a few convictions and understanding of the topic as previously discussed. Finally, let me conclude with these words: We must collectively with determinations in the spirit of African solidarity and Pan Africanism to protect the democratic gains, values, and norms; and give due respect to governance processes and institutions.
About the Author: Josephus Moses Gbala-hinnih Gray is an Assistant Professor at the University of Liberia Graduate Studies Program. He is a native born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern village of Kayken Chiefdom in Barclayville, Grand Kru County. He is an author, professor, diplomat and scholar with a wealth of rich credentials including a doctorate in International Relations and Foreign Policy Studies from Paris, France. He has authored two books, published Two Graduate Theses and a 600-page Doctoral Dissertation on the theme: “Geopolitics of African Oil and Energy: China and America New Strategic Interests in Africa”. He has written extensively and published over 70 articles on variety of contemporary issues. He can be contacted at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org/ Mobile (231) 880-3302-99 or (231) 0776824437
By: Josephus Moses Gray
Assistant Professor of International Relations