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Liberia in a democratic transition

Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia staff

Liberia’s transition, what it means to every Liberian 

Liberia has not had a democratic transition of power from one elected president to the next in the last 74 years. But how Liberians feel about the transition is an important issue to talk about. The recent election which saw Peace Ambassador George Manneh Weah emerge victorious as the 24th president of the republic marks the end of an era of political uncertainty. The peace ambassador is a position appointed by the president, the work of the ambassador is to ensure that peace is established and maintained throughout the country. Many Liberians living today never had the opportunity to witness the ceremony until now. The transition has brought to an end a period when presidents would rather die in office or be killed or somewhat forced to leave office than be voted out. These instances often destabilized Liberians in many ways but the transition has closed the gap in the country’s democracy. Liberians are happy, not only because of the peaceful transition, but also because power is being transferred to one of the indigenous groups who is overwhelmingly favored by the people. Many Liberians see the peaceful transition as the beginning of the change Liberia needs. Generally, the feeling is great among Liberians, after 14 years of civil conflicts which saw over half a million persons lose their lives; Liberians began to forget the terrible experiences after outgoing president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led the country peacefully for a successive two terms (12 years). This joy that has filled Liberians and the restoration of peace is now cemented by the democratic transition that has not been witnessed in many years.

Why people voted the way they did

It is commonly said in Liberia that politics is interest; this means, people vote into power persons they believe would give them some personal advantages or favors. This philosophy speaks volumes and points to the way many persons would vote in elections. Leaders should be selfless and work for the common good of the people they lead, they should listen to the people’s voices and act accordingly, but in the minds of many Liberians, this is not the case with the majority of persons in leadership. The majority leaders are selfish and greedy, they work and enact laws in their own interest; they endeavor to enrich themselves at the detriment of the common people. During elections, they make many good promises, but when they gain power, many of them fail to deliver on those promises. This has made many Liberians lose their voting appetites in these elections; they say it is a waste of time to stand in long queues to vote for people who would not even commit themselves to their own promises. Then many of those who vote would only do it on the basis of their personal interest. Yet, others vote based on values the aspirants bring to the table.

Another factor that influenced the way people voted in the recent elections is the issue of the groups of people living in Liberia. There are two groups of people living in Liberia; they are the Congo and the Indigenous. The Congo people are the free slaves, who after their emancipation, came and settled in Liberia while the Indigenous people are the natives who were already on the land when the free slaves arrived.

Group of political party supporters celebrate at a political campaign rally

It is not encouraged to talk about the groups of people living in Liberia because people say it is divisive, but it remains true that these two groups exist in Liberia. Despite the national unification policy which unites both groups as one people, many indigenous people still feel marginalized. History reveals that since the foundation of the State, the Congo people have been dominant in the governance structure of the State. The indigenous people have only managed to produce a President once, the late Samuel Doe, and it was in fact done through the ballot of the gun (a military takeover of power). Many years back, the indigenous people were not permitted to work in Parliament and to attend certain schools including the State run university. Though all those policies have changed with the indigenous people now working in strategic positions in government and now having the privilege to attend any school of their choice, many indigenous people think it is time they be given the chance to lead at the level of the presidency.

Why many Liberians think George Weah is the right choice at this time

  1. President Weah is a peaceful person – when Liberians were at war with each other, he played a significant role in the mitigation of peace among the warring factions.
  2. His love for country – It is widely believed that George Weah had won the presidential election in 2005 but was cheated on the basis of his low education. Something many Liberians believed would have spiked fresh violence and plunge the country into another civil unrest, but he chose to let it go for the sake of peace.
  3. He grew up as a poor boy with his mother in one of Liberia’s worst talked about community, West Point; it was only his soccer career that brought him to prominence. Having had this experience, he understands and feels exactly the suffering of the average Liberians.
  4. He is indigenous and is favored overwhelmingly by Liberians.
  5. A lot of people believe the past generations have failed the nation and therefore opted for generational change and believed this change is in the presidency of Ambassador George Manneh Weah. Others sought to avoid a one party State system and allow democracy to reign.
Liberian citizens stand in queues to cast their votes on Election Day

 

Despite being a master degree holder, his education has come under serious criticism with many who believe he bought his degree rather than merit it. His speeches often come with many errors even if they are written. His critics think he is not a presidential material and that his success in the football arena cannot be transmitted into the presidency given his poor performance education-wise. However, these things didn’t matter to his supporters, they voted him president overwhelmingly. Were you to talk to the average Liberian, they would speak of how disappointed they have been with many past leaders. Some groups say, “The highly educated leaders have failed the State” during the campaign period they chanted a slogan “you know book, you don’t know book we will vote for you.” This means whether or not their candidate was educated they would vote him. They chanted this slogan referring to Ambassador George Manneh Weah in total disregard of what his critics think of him. To further cement the slogan, Ambassador Weah, in one of his campaign speeches, said “if education, in itself, was developing this country, Liberia would have been a developed country by this time giving the many natural resources it has” however, he said this to mean that education is important, but what is needed most is the love for one’s country and the passion to develop it. President Weah supporters believe he is not highly educated but has the passion to develop the country and make every Liberian live a befitting live.

 What do Liberians expect from a George Weah Presidency?

The expectations are high; with the current state of economy affairs, where the exchange rate has rocketed so high with LRD 135 to 1 USD, thus leading to the increase in the price of every commodity on the market; people expect that the new government will bring relief in the soonest possible time. As the name of George weah lead political party depicts “Coalitions for Democratic Change” now the ruling party, many Liberians eagerly await the change he has talked about since becoming a politician. High amongst the peoples’ expectations are the issues of raging war on corruption, jobs creation and the reduction of prices on commodities.

Conclusion

The elections have come and gone, and all that happened throughout the process should be forgotten as Liberians are one people with common destiny; therefore, they need to put aside all political and individual differences and unite as one people for the common good of the State. During the struggle for power, people tend to say and do all sorts of things in an attempt to win the confidence of the people thereby hurting others in the process. At the end of a democratic process, the winner in the competition becomes the leader of the people in general despite all differences. Liberians, it is now time to rally around the leaders and to give all the support we can, so that the country can be a better place for all Liberians.

 Front photo:Citizens gather to show support for their presidential candidate during a political campaign rally (c) DFP Liberia