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Liberia at a Cross Road: Mapping the Way Forward

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This is not the work of a clairvoyant, fortune teller or soothsayer. It is the work of someone who has keenly watched happenings in Liberia over the past 25 years; someone who has taken the country’s political pulse and has always, albeit privately being right about his predictions about the course of things.

Someone, who along with others told his friends and acquaintances, in the lead up to the July 1997 elections that rebel leader Charles Taylor was the worse choice that Liberians could make; that the man would lead the country into nothing but more misery. In as much as it might seem callous to look back and point out that that prediction was right, it is worth noting that it was said.

In 2004, when the country went to elections, it was once again told the people that the candidacy of Mr. George Weah would have landed the country into nothing but trouble. Luckily, sufficient numbers of the population heeded the warning and ensured that he was not elected to office.

The evidence can be seen from the gains that have been recorded in Liberia since January 2006. The country’s infrastructure has been and is being repaired. It has regained a favorable image in the world of nations. Its people are no longer viewed as the savages that they were portrayed as from the exploits of its many warring factions during the course of the 1989 – 1997 and 1999 – 2003 civil wars.

Now Liberia stands on the threshold of finally escaping its hideous past and making the quantum leap forever forward into democracy and proper rule of law. Liberians stand at the cross roads of finally drawing the line in the sand and moving forward to leave positive historical footprints for posterity.

The major question now is what decision should the country and its population make at the most important elections in its history to ensure that this forward progress is solidified irreversibly.

Historic Nature of 2011 Elections

Though some people might disagree, the 2011 elections are the first multiparty democratic transitional elections held in Liberia’s 164+ years of existence. Before the elections of 1985 what happened under the guise of elections were shams that were limited to a small portion of the country’s population.

The 1985 elections should have led to the first multiparty transition in the nation’s history. But for the military’s decision to steal those elections, the process would have led to the nation being set on the proper path to true democracy. Judging by the evidence of the last 6 years, imagine where, in terms of development and progress, the country would have reached 26 years on, if that travesty had not occurred in 1985.

But it happened and led to the civil war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people as well as the destruction of millions of dollars’ worth of state and private resources. And because of the resulting war that started on December 24, 1989, the opportunity for the country’s first real democratic transition was lost as the elections of 1991 were never held.

Fast forward to 1997, and one would have thought that the Liberian people would have made a good decision when it came to the elections that year, but instead of putting the horrible past behind them, the people strangely overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Charles Taylor largely believing that since he was perhaps the most destructive of the warlords, and maybe because of his flamboyancy, he was best placed to resolve the country’s woes.

What the people with this mindset failed to note was that even though Mr. Taylor controlled the vast majority of the country’s resource based and wantonly exploited them for 7 years, he had not used a single penny of the funds he got from those business deals to carry out any public development project.

What were the results of the Taylor debacle? He spread war to neighboring countries; further solidifying Liberia’s pariah status; financial profligacy; hunting and killing his opponents, and eventually providing the excuse for another round of unnecessarywar. This in turn caused the country to again miss another good opportunity to carry out its elusive democratic multiparty transition. As a result, the elections of 2003 never happened!

Fast forward again; this time to 2005. Elections were held and Mrs. Ellen Sirleaf was elected. What has followed is the longest period of peace the country has experienced since 1980 where no one has been killed, exiled or jailed for having a contrary political opinion from the ruling establishment. A period where all the former warring factions people with the exception of Charles Taylor have being able to reside in the country unmolested. Even Taylor would have been able to reside in Liberia unmolested if he was not on trial in Holland.

The Stakes Moving Forward

It is easy for people to lose sight of the prize when they think that the stakes are lower. Most Liberians take the current peace for granted assuming that it just happened because people were/are tired of fighting.The careless and irresponsible manner in which people address important national issues poignantly drives home this point.

The peace that is being enjoyed in Liberia is not as aresult of people being tired of fighting. It is because no one has been given the excuse to fight. If the intimidation, killings, and other anti-democratic tendencies of the TWP, Doe and Taylor eras are repeated, the country would definitely slip into another civil war. And if that happens, Liberia would be West Africa’s version of Somalia simply because the world would have lost the appetite to continue bailing us out of our own wrongful designs.

As things stand, there are two political parties/campaigns that can lead the country quickest to another round of bloodletting. The Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and former Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia’s (INPFL) Prince Johnson are the major electoral dangers facing the Liberian state.

For Prince Johnson, it doesn’t take much to see that he is a lose canon who would resort to his war time shenanigans to ensure that he keeps order in the country. Imagine the president going around the country with weapons, holding summary trials and executing people that he deems guilty. If you can conjure that, that would be the Prince Johnson government.

Now to the CDC, most people do not notice, but their marriage with Winston Tubman is nothing but a disaster waiting to happen. Tubman is the figurehead leader whom the main CDC people, probably including his Vice Standard Bearer view as someone who’s going to be holding their presidency in trust.

Tubman would want to show to his international friends that he is his own man. As a result he would attempt to appoint people from his own circle whom he deems as qualified to do the job and not the hoard of people both in Liberia and the US, who though basically unqualified think it is their right to inherit top government jobs for the so purpose of stealing from the public coffers.

Tubman, in doing this would have the law on his side, but crucially in a political situation, especially where the leader is not consolidated, the law means nothing. It is numbers that count, and he has no following.

If the CDC powerbase fails to allow him the chance to government as he deems fit, a standoff might (could) result and Tubman might just resign from the CDC and either form his own political party or join another. The country would then be plunged in to confusion with 2 ruling parties – one with the vice president as its leader, and the other with the president!

Tubman or any other person’s marriage into the CDC would only be a successful marriage if the bride were not George Weah.

The sad thing is that Weah wants to be a political leader of Liberia, but he doesn’t know why. He probably has good intentions, but his lack of understanding of what would be required of him can lead to no better outcome than disaster.

This gentlemen, currently has an unmatched footballing legacy, but he stands to be remembered as the person who took this country over and turned it into Haiti, Somalia or Idi Amin’s Uganda.

He has no known political/ideological philosophy can never stand the heat in the figurative political kitchen. He would be forced to kill people to get respect. After that, no one would ever remember his legendary footballing skills. Historians would run commentaries comparing him with butchers like Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, Idi Amin, Jean Bokasa, Saddam Hussein, etc.

People like Tubman are clearly in the know about this, but mistakenly think that he can tame the fellow once he has presidential powers. The problem is that state organs (police and army) that used to serve as the means of compelling compliance in such situations no longer function the way they used to. He would have to consolidate himself in power before being able to do so. But the CDC people won’t give him the luxury of doing that in a short time of taking power.

Liberian people and all proponents of fundamental rights as outlined in the Liberian Constitution have to beware! The CDC represents the country’s second shortest route to a return to civil war in Liberia and the reversal of all the positive gains that have been recorded in the country over the past 8 years.

This writer clearly understands that a lot of people are going to have a problem with the assertions in this piece, but it is better to stand on the right side of history and sound the danger alarm when one sees the possibility of doom on the horizon!

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Lamii Kpargoi is on a fellowship in the United States. He currently covers the mayoral elections, and public transportation in San Diego, California for Voice of San Diego (voiceofsandiego.org). Mr. Kpargoi is the author of numerous political commentaries. He’s never shy of making his views known on serious issues. He’s also a licensed attorney-at-law in Liberia. You can reach him at Lamii.Kpargoi@voiceofsandiego.org.

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