US House Committee Passes Resolution for War Crimes Tribunal In Liberia

The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee has unanimously passed a resolution supporting the full implementation of the recommendations of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

US Congress
US Congress

The disclosure was announced on Wednesday by the Resolution lead sponsor New York Republican Daniel M. Donovan Jr.

The Resolution includes the establishment of an Extra Ordinary  War Criminal Tribunal for the small West African nation which was battered by brutal back-to back civil crises in the 1990s.
The Congressional Resolution which was initially introduced on September 7, 2018 eventually gained the support of an additional seven legislative co-sponsors including four Democrats and three Republicans:
Rep. Johnson, Henry C. “Hank,” Jr. [D-GA-4]*
Rep. Fitzpatrick, Brian K. [R-PA-8]
Rep. Sherman, Brad [D-CA-30]
Rep. Smith, Christopher H. [R-NJ-4]
Rep. Bass, Karen [D-CA-37]
Rep. Cicilline, David N. [D-RI-1]
Rep. Perry, Scott [R-PA-4]

According to House Resolution 1055 (H.Res.1055) – “To affirm strong United States-Liberia ties and support for democratic principles, and call for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia.”

Upon adoption of the Resolution by the House of Representatives, it is attested to by the Clerk of the House of Representatives and published in the Congressional records.

The Resolution will galvanize local and international advocates who are demanding the establishment of a war and economic crimes court to prosecute individuals In Liberia  who are named the Final Report of the TRC for their role in the war including  economic crimes. Liberians are divided on the establishment of the court with some calling for  while others are against.

 

President George M. Weah
President George M. Weah

President George M. Weah has yet to state his official position on the calls for war and economic crimes court since his inauguration although  in the past he has announced his support for the prosecution of warlords.

Several stakeholders and international human rights and advocacy groups including the International Justice Group (IJG) were at the Capitol in Washington DC on Wednesday to support passage of the House  Committee  Resolution.

H. RES. 1055

To affirm strong United States-Liberia ties and support for democratic principles, and call for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
September 7, 2018
Mr. Donovan (for himself and Mr. Johnson of Georgia) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs

RESOLUTION
To affirm strong United States-Liberia ties and support for democratic principles, and call for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia.
Whereas today the United States is home to an estimated 80,000 people of Liberian ancestry in vibrant communities across the country, who have been instrumental in America’s efforts to build a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Liberia;
Whereas Liberia and the United States share close historical, political, and economic ties over the course of a nearly 200-year relationship;

Whereas the people and Government of the United States have a deep interest in Liberia’s democratic stability and postconflict development;

Whereas the civil war from 1991 to 2002 resulted in the death of over 200,000 people in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the displacement of over 1,000,000 persons, and the horrific cases of amputations, mass rape, and human rights abuses conducted under the leadership of Charles Taylor;

Whereas Charles Taylor was convicted through the Special Court for Sierra Leone for 11 different charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, such as rape, sexual abuse, and slavery, and violation of international law, including the use of child soldiers;

Whereas a comprehensive peace agreement was signed by the Government of Liberia, rebel groups, and political parties in 2003;

Whereas the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as established under the 2003 comprehensive peace agreement, was formally created in 2005 with a mandate “to promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation by investigating gross human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law, sexual violations, and economic crimes that occurred between January 1979 and October 2003”;

Whereas the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report in December 2008 recommending the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia and listed individuals, corporations, and institutions recommended for further investigation and prosecution, among other recommendations;
Whereas the Government of Liberia has not fully implemented the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Agreement to date, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal;

Whereas Liberia experienced its first democratic and peaceful transition of power since 1944 after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf respected constitutional term limits and George Weah defeated Vice President Joseph Boakai following a runoff during the 2017 Presidential elections;

Whereas the United States congratulated the people of Liberia on the successful conclusion of the Presidential runoff election and recognized the important role Liberia’s Supreme Court, political parties, security forces, and civil society organizations played in holding a peaceful and transparent contest; and

Whereas the United States Government and American citizens have invested in Liberia to rebuild and support democratic institutions, postconflict recovery, economic growth, improved access to education and health care, professionalization of the country’s military and civilian security forces, and efforts to foster accountability and transparency of government institutions: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) upholds its commitment to maintain and foster the enduring relationship between the people and the Governments of the United States and Liberia;

(2) urges the Government and people of Liberia to support the truth and reconciliation process through full implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal; and

(3) supports efforts by the Department of State and United States Agency for International Development to advance Liberian efforts toward national reconciliation through continued support for the rule of law, effective governance, and the robust role of civil society.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal

Commentary – Liberia: How We Forget To Vote On The Issues

Monrovia, Liberia June 20, 2018- Day after day it is becoming abundantly clear that most Liberians lack the political culture and know-how of voting on the basis of national issues presented by candidates.

A woman casts her ballot during presidential elections at a polling station in Monrovia
A woman casts her ballot during presidential elections at a polling station in Monrovia

Perhaps long-held mindset controls how Liberian voters choose their leaders on election day and only to regret soon afterwards for having chosen the wrong personalities.
On election day, voters appear oblivious about the countless vexing national problems that have been heaped on top of one another during several decades without complete solution to any by past leaders.

More often than not they begin to cry saying they chose the wrong leaders, but again fail to correct themselves during subsequent elections.

The chickens are coming home to roost.

Barely six months after populist votes brought to power a government run by the coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) which promised to bring “change for hope” , critics accuse  President George M.  Weah led- government of violating  the constitution with impunity.
The government failed to appropriate funding in the recast budget for the timely holding of by-elections following the election of Mr. Weah and Jewel H. Taylor from the Senate as President and Vice President respectively.
President Weah and his officials, after six months in office, are yet to declare their assets in violation of the code of conduct aimed to ensure transparency and accountability in government.
Despite criticisms against two loan agreements amounting nearly $1 billion for road construction, legislators swiftly sealed the pacts without sufficient scrutiny.

Lawmakers Listening To Address
Some Liberian Lawmakers At Capitol Building

The government and blind party loyalists constantly rebuke  journalists and civil society members for seeking sufficient information on the projects including  total estimated costs, credibility of givers the loans and companies the creditors choose to do the work without involving the PPCC to ensure transparency and accountability. Environmental impact studies are nowhere mentioned.

Now, the National Legislature, in clear disregard for public concerns about national issues, recently gave president Weah a “blank check” when it comes to construction of roads; a major priority.

They further passed a joint resolution authorizing the President to seek more loans from wherever to construct dozens of “critical road corridors” linking all county capitals with trunk highways. Some loyalists even tell radio talkshow hosts that the President should negotiate loans “even from the belly of the devil.”

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia

Perhaps, buoyed by this overwhelming legislative support, President Weah was tempted while inspecting roads in central Liberia to label critics of his government as  “enemies of the state”.

Though Mr. Weah often promises free speech and press freedom leading him to resubmit a draft bill seeking to decriminalise  media offences, the enemy label on critics who use the media as messengers has  created mixed feelings whether this thin-skinned legislature will pass this guarantee for freedom of expression  that is cardinal in any democratic society.
West African Journal Magazine

President Weah Applauded for Resubmission of Bill to Repeal Anti-Free Speech Laws

Washington, D.C.- June 19, 2018: As a former leader of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), who served in several capacities including Secretary General and Acting President from 1987- ‘93, I join the PUL in applauding President George Manneh Weah for the resubmission to the National Legislature, a bill seeking to repeal some sections of the Penal Law of Liberia in an effort to decriminalize free speech and create an unfettered flow of news in the media environment.

Logo of Press Union of Liberia

The passage of the bill into law by the National Legislature would be another milestone for freedom of speech and of the press in Liberia, and also, one that would further strengthen Liberia’s nascent democracy.

Over the years, laws relating to defamation, libel and sedition have been used to criminalize freedom of speech and of the press and to penalize the media and those who dared to exercise their right to free speech.

This action by President Weah, just four months following the inauguration of his government, is a very encouraging sign that the new government is building upon the democratic gains of the past administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and that Liberia is continuing on a forward course of democratic governance, peace and progress.

One of the major accomplishments of the past administration is the tolerance of dissent, which has birthed an unprecedented level of freedom in Liberia. This is manifested by the fact that in 2010, Liberia became the first country in West Africa to pass into law a Freedom of Information (FOI) act – a law that grants public access to documents or other data in the possession of a government agency or public authority, unless the information falls into a certain category that is specifically excluded from the terms of the legislation.

President George M. Weah.

This was followed by Liberia becoming a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and “insult” laws across the African Continent, and was adopted at the World Newspaper Congress held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007.

Despite these accomplishments, freedom of speech and of the press remains under threat in Liberia while the laws on libel, defamation and sedition, which are inimical to free speech, are on the books.

Having served during the first four years of the Sirleaf administration as Assistant Minister and Deputy Minister for Public Affairs, respectively, at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, tasked with the critical responsibility to manage the media and public expectations, I am grateful to God for the opportunity to help institute the necessary reforms that created the enabling environment that has brought about the gains made toward freedom of speech and of the press in Liberia.

However, I am on record for stating that the gains made toward freedom of speech and of the press in Liberia are under threat as long as there are laws on the books that criminalize these fundamental rights.

As a former leader of the PUL, I recall the many journalists and others who have suffered and sacrificed over the decades, some losing their livelihoods and their lives in the process, due to the imposition of draconian laws such as provisions of the laws on defamation, libel, and sedition, among others.

To cite a few historical examples among the many tales of repression, I specifically recall Liberia’s 1925 False Publication Act, which stipulated heavy penalties for “harmful and false” statements against the President and other government officials; I recall  legendary pamphleteer Albert Porte, who endured constant harassment and imprisonment for his advocacy for good governance; I recall in the 1950s, C. Frederick Taylor, editor of theAfrican Nationalist newspaper, who languished in prison for nearly 15 years for publishing what the establishment did not like; as well as editors Bertha Corbin and Tuan Wreh of the Independent Weekly, who, like Mr. Taylor, also served prison sentences for criminal libel of the political elite, including the President.

An American born but naturalized Liberian, Ms. Corbin was denaturalized and deported to the United States, while Mr. Wreh was severely tortured and reportedly forced to clean feces and toilets with his bare hands in prison.

Map of Liberia

I also recall that the PUL was founded in 1964 by a group of journalists to advocate for their collective interest, following the arbitrary detention of Stanton B. Peabody, then editor of the Liberian Age, for publishing an article that angered some establishment elites.

This is why I join the PUL and others in applauding President Weah for the resubmission of the bill to decriminalize free speech, and I pray that the National Legislature would undertake a speedy passage of the bill.

According to an Executive Mansion release, the bill to the National Legislature, which was resubmitted on May 31, 2018, seeks to amend Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.12 on Sedition; and 11.14 on Criminal Malevolence.

House Speaker Bhofal Chambers

In his letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Bofal Chambers, President Weah noted that Chapter 111, Article 15 of the Constitution of Liberia provides for Freedom of Speech and expression and a caveat of an abuse thereof.

Additionally, he added, Liberia is a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration, which demands that African countries abolish insult and criminal defamation laws.

The President also reminded the National Legislature of the legal instruments on press freedom Liberia established, such as the passage of the Freedom of Information Law, followed by the establishment of the Independent Information Commission.

According to President Weah, “Liberia, in anticipation of fully adhering to these legal instruments; enacted the Freedom of Information Law and established the Freedom of Information Commission. However, there appears to be challenges in the full implementation of these as Section 11.11: Criminal Libel against the President; Section 11.12: Sedition; and Section 11.14: Criminal Malevolence of the Penal Laws of Liberia tend to impede freedom of speech and expression and acts committed thereof are considered to be criminal.”

If enacted into law, the Act will be known as the Kamara Abdullai Kamara Act of Press Freedom, in honor of deceased journalist Kamara Abdullai Kamara, former President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).

I also thank President Weah for naming the proposed act in memory of Mr. Kamara. Before the end of his tenure as President of the PUL, I met Mr. Kamara, who headed a PUL delegation from Liberia at the 2017 annual convention of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. During that event, I inquired from Mr. Kamara as to what the PUL was doing to repeal anti-media laws on the books. He briefly explained to me efforts that were being made and challenges that were faced.

Late T. Nelson Williams Sr.

May I also use this opportunity to extend condolences to the bereaved family of Professor T. Nelson Williams, former President of the PUL and former Chair of the Mass Communications Department of the University of Liberia, who died in the U.S. on May 28, 2018, in his 84th year.

Professor Williams played a critical leadership role in the establishment of the UL Mass Communications Department. May we be inspired by his contributions to the cause

of press freedom and democracy in Liberia.

Gabriel I. H. Williams

Minister Counselor and Press Attaché

Embassy of Liberia

Washington DC, USA

Special Feature: Well Done, Mr. Kenneth Y. Best

There is a wise saying which goes, “Give a man his flower while he is still alive.”

Mr. Kenneth Yarkpawolo Best - Photo TLC
Mr. Kenneth Yarkpawolo Best – Photo TLC

This is why, following his retirement in February 2018 after laboring for more than 50 years as a journalist, it is my honor and privilege to pay homage to Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, a legendary journalist, fearless warrior with the pen and mentor.

A youth from an under-privileged background, I was given an opportunity out of poverty by Mr. Best,who trained and mentored me to be a professional journalist. He truly exemplifies the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Over the years, Mr. Best taught, mentored, empowered, and employed many young people, especially in Liberia, and The Gambia – where he relocated with his family in 1990 during the Liberian civil crises and founded that country’s first independent daily and first modern newspaper, The Gambian Daily Observer. His influence speaks to the conscience of the Liberian society in particular, and to humanity, in general.

D. Tweh High School in New KruTown
D. Tweh High School in New KruTown

While preparing to graduate from the D. Twe Memorial High School in New Krutown, Monrovia, in December 1982, I took a letter I had drafted to Mrs. Rachel A.B. Cox-George, then D. Twe’s Vice Principal for Administration, to proof read for me.

The draft was one of several letters of appeal I had been sending to prominent individuals in the Liberian society seeking financial aid for college enrollment.

Without financial support or a job, my prospect for college enrollment did not look promising.

As she handed me back the proofread letter, Mrs. Cox-George (May her soul rest in perfect peace), offered to sponsor me to pursue professional study in journalism at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) in Accra, Ghana. Concerned that many young people who graduate from public schools like D. Twe are often stuck in their poor communities due to lack of support and opportunities for advancement, Mrs. Cox-George said she did not want me to fall through similar cracks because I had distinguished myself to be a studious and respectful youth.

When I enrolled at D. Tweh in the 10 th grade in 1980, there were many organizations, including the Science,  Debate and the Press Clubs. I joined the Press Club and became the reporter for my class. Upon promotion to the 12th grade, I was elevated as chairman and editor-in- chief of the Press Club. In 1980, I was one of the original reporters of School Special, a popular program which aired every Saturday on national radio ELBC, during which reporters from various high schools in Monrovia and parts adjacent filed news reports from their respective schools.

Some of School Special’s notable reporters were Patrick Manjoe of Boatswain High School and my best friend, now late Gabriel Gworlekaju of Monrovia Central High, both of whom went on to successful journalism careers.

It was having closely followed my activities as a student journalist at D. Tweh that Mrs. Cox-George offered to sponsor my study at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). While gathering information about GIJ, we learned that a critical requirement for enrollment was that an applicant must have no less than six months working experience with a recognized media entity.

Daily Observer Monrovia
Daily Observer Monrovia

And this is why, after graduation, Mrs. Cox-George sent me with a note to Mr. Best, Managing Director of the Liberian Observer Corporation, the publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper. The note was a request for Mr. Best to kindly take me in as a cub reporter at the Daily Observer, one of West Africa’s leading independent dailies.

As God would have it, Mr. Best was in office when I arrived at the Daily Observer facility to deliver the note. The secretary requested me to be seated and she took the note in to him. When she came back out, I was informed that Mr. Best was waiting to see me.

I was almost a nervous wreck when ushered into Mr. Best’s office.

“Sit down young man; I heard from your principal that you want to be a journalist?” he asked.

“Yes Sir,” I responded.

“Do you know what it means to be a journalist in Africa, especially here in Liberia?”

With those two questions, Mr. Best gave me a pep talk about the importance of the role of a journalist in society. As the watchdogs of society, he said, journalists are obligated to serve the common good of society by being the voice of the voiceless, and to advocate for equal justice and good governance, among others. Nevertheless, he added that being a journalist in Africa or Liberia, for that matter ,was fraught with personal risks and dangers.

This is because freedom of speech and of the press was basically
criminalized, as journalists suffered arbitrary arrest and detention and independent media entities were banned for alleged anti-government reporting.

Following his pep talk, Mr. Best had me accompany him to the newsroom, where he introduced me to Mr. T. Maxson Teah, then News Editor of the Daily Observer.

“This young man says he wants to be a journalist. Test him and let me know whether he has a foundation for development,” Mr. Best instructed.

This is how I began my career as a journalist at the Daily Observer, which was also a training institution, where the editorial staff benefitted from regular in-service training programs to upgrade their professional skills. At the time I was brought on board, Observer staff members were undergoing a training program conducted by a lecturer from the London-based Thompson Foundation, which enjoys global recognition as a leader in journalism training.

My skills were sharpened while working under the tutelage of some of the best journalists in Liberia during that time, including now late legendary Stanton B. Peabody, Editor-in- Chief, whose imprisonment in the 1960s by the government led to journalists coming together to organize the Press Union of Liberia.
(PUL).

Daily Observer Newspaper
Daily Observer Newspaper

Others were Sub-Editor Isaac Thompson, Features Editor Joe Kappia, World News Editor Mlanju Reeves, and now late News Editor T. Max Teah, who was commonly known as T-Max.

At the conclusion of my six-month journalisim internship at the Daily Observer, after which I was expected to enroll at the GIJ, there came a major stumbling block. Ghana, then an unstable country due to successive military misrules, had been plunged into yet another bloody crisis that resulted into the closure of institutions of higher learning, including the GIJ.

The economy and living conditions in Ghana had deteriorated in those days so much so that that Ghanaian merchants and others came to Liberia to purchase basic commodities, such as toothpaste, tissue and bath soap.
But today, Ghana is one of the most democratically peaceful and prosperous countries in Africa.

By God’s grace, Mr. Best decided to retain me as a reporter at the Observer because, according to him, I had performed satisfactorily and that he saw in me the potential for growth.

Mr. Best also asked if I could go to New Kru Town and find one of my former schoolmates and colleagues of the press club, who was serious minded and dedicated to duty as I was, who would be trained and deployed in New Kru Town as a Daily Observer correspondent.
I went to New Kru Town and contacted Philip Wesseh, who graduated a year earlier as my senior. I succeeded Wesseh as editor-in- chief of the Press Club. Even though he graduated as the valedictorian of his class, Wesseh was unable to attend college and was without a job. He was also an example of the many students in public schools who are unable to transition from high school to college due to their economically disadvantaged background.

Kenneth Y. Best
Kenneth Y. Best

With the opportunity afforded to him to excel, Wesseh soon became one of the best reporters at the Daily Observer, and he was later promoted to News Editor. Today, Attorney Philip Wesseh, a graduate of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, the University of Liberia, is Managing Editor of the independent Inquirer newspaper and a university lecturer.
Mr. Best maintained a culture of hard-work at the Observer and did not have tolerance for mediocrity. He often reminded us that journalists are part of the intelligentsia of the society. He strived to ensure that the media is positioned to play its role as part of the main foundation on which rests a democratic society.

The Daily Observer was launched by Kenneth and his wife Mae Gene Best February 16, 1981, less than a year following the military take-over of the government in Liberia. In the succeeding years leading to the civil crises, the Observer suffered five closures, including one that lasted nearly two years, for alleged anti-government reporting.

There were several government imprisonments of the Observer staff, including Mr. Best and his wife; as well as several arson attacks, the last of which completely destroyed
the building housing the newspaper’s offices and facilities during the early stage of civil upheaval.

newspaper
Newspaper

During the prolonged period of the Observer’s closure in 1984, I landed a reporter job with then newly-established SunTimes newspaper, led by legendary journalist Rufus Darpoh, following his release from the notorious Belle Yallah prison, where he was incarcerated for alleged anti-government reporting.

While at SunTimes, I applied for an international journalism fellowship, through which about three to five journalists are brought to the United Nations Headquarters in New York annually for education andmentoring in international affairs and to cover the annual session of the UN General Assembly.

From the essay submissions, I became number one out of more than 380 journalists around the world competing for only four spots in 1986. I became the first Liberian to serve as a Daj Hammarskjold Scholar, one of the most prestigious awards in international journalism, since its establishment in 1961.
Upon return from the U.S., I became Secretary General of the Press Union, and during the civil war, acting President. I was the founding Managing Editor of The Inquirer newspaper in 1991, after which I fled to the United States due to death threats during the civil war and served as Staff Writer of the Sacramento Observer newspapers in Sacramento, California.

Liberia - Heart of Darkness
Liberia – The Heart of Darkness

While in California, I published the book “Liberia: The Heart of Darkness” which details accounts of Liberia’s civil war and its destabilizing effects in West Africa.
(www.google.com). Since the restoration of peace in Liberia, I have served in a couple of governmental positions, including Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, and currently a diplomat.

All this is possible because of Mr. Best’s tutorship and mentoring.

Despite the trials and tribulations, the Daily Observer celebrated its 37th anniversary February 16, 2018, becoming Liberia’s oldest surviving newspaper. At 37, the Observer has surpassed the Liberian Herald, founded in 1826, which lasted for 36 years.

It is my fervent prayer that the Lord would grant my professional father peace, fulfillment, and good health in retirement.

Thank God for Mr. and Mrs. Best!

Gabriel I.H. Williams
Gabriel I.H. Williams

By Gabriel I.H. Williams

Washington DC USA

Commentary: Peaceful Election Truly Represents a Major Milestone for Liberia’s Democracy

Tears welled up in my eyes as I read the Concession Statement delivered by Vice President Joseph N. Boakai on Friday, December 29, 2017, following his defeat by Senator George Weah in the hotly contested but peaceful presidential election in Liberia. Irrespective of whatever the outcome turned out to be, I was simply moved by a sense of pride about this major democratic milestone Liberia has accomplished.

Runoff Candidates George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai Voting December 26
Runoff Candidates George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai Voting December 26

The peaceful conclusion of what was undoubtedly a contentious electoral process marks a profound break with the recent past, where change of Liberia’s leadership was characterized by violence, bloodshed and destruction.

In his concession statement, Vice President Boakai, who is the Standard Bearer of the ruling Unity Party, said … “a while ago, I called Ambassador George Manneh Weah of the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC), to congratulate him on emerging as the winner in the presidential contest. I also availed myself to help him in any way he may find me useful to advance the good of our country.”

Vice President Boakai then called on all his supporters and well-wishers “to support peace and collectively join hands to continue to build our country, heal our wounds and serve our people with honesty, as well as a renewed dedication and commitment.” He also called on all Liberians to close ranks and work together for the betterment of Mama Liberia.

Thanks be to the Lord that we are witnessing a period in the life of Liberia where a presidential candidate would concede defeat with such grace and dignity as Ambassador Boakai did, a demonstration of his true statesmanship. I recall that I was an intern at the Daily Observer newspaper in Monrovia in my early 20s training to be a journalist when hell broke loose in 1985, following the disputed general and presidential elections. Hundreds of people were killed and there was wide-spread abuse of human rights

The unspeakable acts of brutality perpetrated during that time served as the fuel that set Liberia ablaze through nearly 15 years of bloody and devastating civil war. In his concession statement, Vice President Boakai acknowledged that the history of Liberia is characterized by episodes of fraudulent electoral processes that have engendered conflicts. He also cautioned Liberians to “remain cognizant of the extent to which elections are conflict-prone and have the potential to destroy nations, disintegrate families and undermine the sanctity of a nation.”

As Liberia went through the period of political uncertainty over the past few months, there were concerns and fear that the country might be plunged into another state of instability or armed conflict.

Poll Workers
Poll Workers

This is why it is noteworthy to proudly highlight that, despite the heated partisan rhetoric and the months of uncertainty that characterized the 2017 Presidential Election, Liberians conducted themselves peacefully.  Even though emotions were high during the election disputations, they remained patient to allow for the constitutional process and the due process of law to play out. It was heart-warming to see mothers with their babies on their back, along with other children mixing with everyone else at peaceful political rallies and parades that often took on a carnival affair.

Also across the length and breadth of Liberia, in villages, towns, and cities, people gathered in their numbers to attend political debates and forums. Those events provided them the opportunity to hear from candidates and their representatives regarding their platforms.

Photo of National Coat Of Arms of LiberiaLiberians in the Diaspora also invested their hearts and souls, resources, and time to be actively involved in the electoral process supporting various political parties and candidates. Many travelled to Liberia to be directly involved in the political process. Thank you for your support and sacrifices to help keep Liberia on a course of progress. An enhanced engagement of the Liberian Diaspora with the homeland is critical for Liberia’s rapid transformation. Through continued and sustained engagement, Liberians in the Diaspora will help create the enabling environment that would engender the transfer of knowledge, skills and resources to accelerate Liberia’s development and progress.

Through this historic election, Liberians have yet again demonstrated to the world, as they did in 2005 with the election of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia and Africa’s first democratically-elected female president, that they are a peaceful people.

One of the major accomplishments of the government of President Sirleaf is the tolerance of dissent, which has birthed an unprecedented level of freedom in Liberia. This is manifested by the fact that in 2010, Liberia became the first country in West Africa to pass a Freedom of Information (FOI) act into law. The Liberian people are beginning to see and enjoy the dividends of freedom as our nascent democracy grows from strength to strength. During the just ended general elections, an overwhelming majority of members of the National Legislature seeking re-election were defeated, while a very few who were regarded to have performed up to public expectations were re-elected.

Liberia
Liberia

Liberians are beginning to realize the power in their vote, and how they can leverage it to improve their lives. So if they give you the opportunity to serve and bring about some improvement but you are found to be an incapable custodian of the public trust, then they will show you the way out the door and let someone else take charge. It is hard time that the standard of public service in Liberia is improved to a generally acceptable and desirable level, and people charged with responsibilities are mindful of public expectation for progress.

With an increasingly vibrant and proactive civil society, buttressed by a free and economically vibrant media, Liberia’s democratic foundations can only be further strengthened. Hence, there is a need for increased support for civil society organizations and the media, so as to enable them to continue to be proactive in holding government accountable, as have been the case during the administration of Madam President.

We appreciate the positive role of all the presidential candidates who did not succeed during the 2017 presidential elections, and their supporters, who have shown by their peaceful disposition that Liberia continues on a course of peace and progress. Liberia’s democracy would be further enhanced by a strong opposition that will stay the course and continue to be constructively engaged with the government to ensure that the people’s business is done.

Ecowas Flags
ECOWAS Flags

We also thank the international community for the sustained engagement with Liberia since the end of the civil crises and the beginning of post-war reconstruction. The United Nations, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), European Union (EU), and also to mention major partners such as the United States and China, must be highly applauded for staying the course with Liberia. With continued and deepened engagement and support, as manifested by the involvement of the international community in bringing a peaceful end to the 2017 General and Presidential Elections, there is reason to be hopeful that Liberia would remain on a steady course of democracy and economic progress.

Indeed, while Liberia is faced with enormous challenges, progress has been made. Upon taking office in 2006, the Government of President Sirleaf inherited a country internationally backlisted and regarded as a failed state. Today, Liberia has continued on a path of reconstruction, and she enjoys an international status as one of the most respected countries among the comity of nations.

Considering the longstanding historical ties subsisting between Liberia and the United States, one of the notable foreign policy accomplishments of Madam President was the establishment of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue in 2013. The first of its kind with the United States since Liberia’s establishment, the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue is the institutional framework for cooperation between both countries. In this light, irrespective of who is in the Executive Mansion in Monrovia or in the White House in Washington, D.C., there is an established institutional framework by which the relationship between both countries is governed.

Flag of the US
Flag of the US

Convened every two years on a rotational basis between Washington and Monrovia, the third round of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue took place on January 10, 2017 in Washington to build on the special historical and bilateral ties between the two countries and to convene four working groups focused on:  Overcoming Challenges to Liberia’s Economy, Expanding Agriculture Production and Trade; Enhancing Liberia’s Investment and Infrastructure Climate; and Supporting Post Ebola Recovery and Health System Strengthening Efforts.

U.S. support for the rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee Hydro is an example of what is being achieved under the U.S.-Liberia Bilateral Partnership Dialogue, which also covers energy or electric power and road development, as well as human development.

Following Ambassador Boakai’s historic concession statement in Monrovia on December 29, 2017, The White House Press Secretary in Washington issued a statement congratulating the Liberian people on the successful conclusion of the presidential run-off, and President-elect Weah on his victory. The White House statement also paid homage to Vice President Boakai for his “years of honorable service to Liberia.”

Noting that the election represents a major milestone for Liberia’s democracy, the White House statement concludes: “The United States is committed to our longstanding relationship with Liberia and its people. We will continue to support the success of this historic democratic transition and the peace and prosperity of Liberia.”

Liberian Voters At Rally Town Market jpg
Liberian Voters At Rally Town Market

Whenever there is a change in national leadership, people who are affected wonder what the change means for them; how is it going to affect the security and well-being of them and their families; how is the change going to positively or negatively impact their society or country as a whole.

As we all ponder the issues of what the new democratic change means for Liberia, I thought to contribute to the ongoing public discourse regarding how we can focus on building upon the gains that have been made to accelerate the process of development. I do so not unmindful that there are those who hold a contrary opinion, which is in keeping with the spirit of democracy.

For me, I see the glass half full, considering from whence we have come as a people and a nation.

Congratulations to President-elect Weah and Vice President-elect Jewel Howard-Taylor on your historic ascendency to our nation’s highest offices.

About the Author: Gabriel I.H. Williams is the Minister Counselor for Press and Public Affairs at the Embassy of Liberia near Washington, D.C. A journalist and author, he served as Deputy Minister for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism before taking up his current diplomatic assignment in the United States.