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

Sierra Leone: Vote Counting Underway; Opposition Cries Foul

NEC_Statement

The West African nation of Sierra Leone held Presidential and Parliamentary elections on Wednesday.

Flag of Sierra Leone
Flag of Sierra Leone

The elections were largely peaceful and observed by representatives from the regional economic grouping ECOWAS, the British Commonwealth, the continental body African Union(AU) and the European Union.

In a preliminary report, ECOWAS observers in Freetown say, although the elections were generally peaceful, there were some issues which they did not think would affect the outcome such as:

  • The restriction of vehicular movement on election day frustrated some voters who wished to exercise their right to choose political leaders.
  • The heavy presence of security forces at polling stations intimidated some voters.
  • The police raid on an election collation center of the main opposition party on the suspicion of election hacking.

But the opposition have challenged the credibility of the elections.

Three major candidates are hoping to succeed President Ernest Bai Koroma who has served two five-year and is ineligible to stand again.

The candidates included the hand picked nominee of the ruling party Samura Kamara, a former military officer Julius Maada Bio and Kandeh Yumkella of the opposition.

NEC-Boss-Nfah-Alie-Conteh
NEC-Boss-Nfah-Alie-Conteh

The country’s National Elections Commission (NEC) on Thursday issued a statement on the just concluded elections and says data entry is underway and advised all parties that it is the sole body authorized to release official results.

If no candidate in the Presidential elections garners the 55% needed to win outright, a run off elections will be held between the two highest vote getters.

Counting is underway and preliminary results are due to be released by the end of the week.

By Emmanuel Abalo

African Journal Magazine

 

 

 

AU Commission To Deploy Election Observers To Sierra Leone

Addis Ababa, 5 February 2018: The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, will deploy an African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) in the Republic of Sierra Leone as the country prepares to hold General Elections on 7 March 2018.

The African Union Commision Logo
The African Union Commision Logo

A press statement issued on Monday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, copied to West African Journal Magazine and quoted the AU Commission as saying the deployment of the AUEOM will take place in two phases. The first phase will comprise of the deployment of 10 long-term election experts and will take place from 10 February to 21 March 2018.

The AU Commission says this move is to ensure that its observer mission conducts a comprehensive observation and analysis of all relevant aspects of the electoral process, the statement disclosed.

 In the second phase of the Mission, the AU Commission says the long term experts will be joined by 40 Short Term observers from the 26 February to 11 March 2018.

 The objectives of the AU Observer Mission, the continental body says are: (a) to provide an accurate and impartial reporting or assessment of the quality of 7 March General Elections, including the degree to which the conduct of the elections meets regional, continental and international standards for democratic elections; (b) to offer recommendations for improvement of future elections based on the findings; and (c) to demonstrate AU’s interest to support Sierra Leone’s elections and democratisation process to ensure that the conduct of genuine elections contributes to the consolidation of democratic governance, peace and stability.

SLPP Candidate Julius Maada Bio
SLPP Candidate Julius Maada Bio

Political campaigning is in full swing in the West African nation. Reports from the capital Freetown say the opposition Sierra Leone’s People’s Party (SLPP) over the weekend launched its platform. Its candidate, a retired military officer Julius Maada Bio told partisans during the launch that, “…So for these 2018 Elections let there be no mistake. The SLPP will not accept results of elections that are not credible and transparent and are not a true reflection of the will of the electorate…”

Meantime, the government of  Sierra Leone has announced the banning of the common and horrendous practice of Female Genital Mutiliation (FGM) until the conclusion of the Presidential and General elections on March 7 in an effort to discourage candidates from “buying votes” by paying for the cutting ceremony for families who cannot afford the price of the practice.

WHO Logo
WHO Logo

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women. Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15. FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women…”

Complications from the procedure can include, severe pain, excessive bleeding, infections, urinary issues, genital tissue swelling and sometimes death in victims.

Map of Guinea-Liberia-Sierra Leone in West Africa
Map of Guinea-Liberia-Sierra Leone in West Africa

With international outcry and campaign against the practice worldwide, over 300 communities in West Africa have declared an end to the practice. In January, the outgoing President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed an Executive Order banning FGM in the country for a year.

Activists are calling on the new Weah Administration to make the ban permanent.

Emmanuel Abalo 

West African Journal Magazine 

 

Sierra Leone: 16 Candidates To Contest Presidential Elections on March 7th

In the lead up to its fourth democratic elections, the West African country of Sierra Leone’s electoral body, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has released the provisional list of nominated candidates for the March 7th Presidential Election.

Sierra Leone National Election Commissioner Mohamed Nfah Alie Conteh
Sierra Leone National Election Commissioner Mohamed Nfah Alie Conteh

In a release signed by Chairman Mohamed Nfah Alie Conteh and issued on Monday in the capital Freetown, the NEC announced a a final list of 16 political parties cleared to contest and include:

Samura Kamara (APC),

Mohamed Kamaraimba Mansaray (ADP)

Samuel Sam-Sumana (C4C)

Alhaji Musa Tarawallie (CDP)

Mohamed C. Bah (NDA)

Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella (NGC)

Patrick John O’Dwyer (NPD),

Jonathan Patrick Sandy (NURP)

Kandeh Baba Conteh (PLP)

Charles Francis Margai (PMDC)

Beresford Victor Williams (RNIP)

Gbandi Jemba Ngobeh (RUFP)

Rtd Brigadier Julius Maada Bio (SLPP)

Mohamed Turay Sowa (UDM)

Henry saa Kubata (UNPP) and

Josephine O. Claudius-Cole (UP)

APC Candidate Dr Samura Kamara
APC Candidate Dr Samura Kamara

The two major political parties are the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) which was founded in 1951 and now led by incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma and the current opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) which was also founded during the colonial era in 1948. President Koroma is constitutionally ineligible to stand for re-election after serving 2 five-year terms since 2007.

SLPP Candidate Julius Maada Bio
SLPP Candidate Julius Maada Bio

The ruling APC’s candidate is Dr. Samura Kamara, a former foreign minister while the SLPP’s Presidential candidate is a retired military officer Mr. Julius Maada Bio. The much lesser known and smaller political parties are seeking to make strong parliamentary gains in order to establish leverage when the political horse-trading and negotiation kick in for support from the two major parties. Supporters of the ruling APC party candidate says Mr. Kamara is better suited to lead the country given his international diplomatic experience while supporters of the opposition SLPP candidate – the retired military officer say he is disciplined and best positioned to lead.

Last December, the Koroma Administration intervened to subsidize the nomination fees for elective offices of President, Members of Parliament, Mayor and Local Council. The NEC at the time announced that, ” … as a result of the intervention of the Chairman of the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) through a letter dated 5th December, 2017, to the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, His Excellency, the President has approved rthat the Government will absorb the difference in costs between the proposed revised fees outlined in the signed political parties resolution and the current fee contained in the Statutory Instrument No. 13 of 2012…”

Meantime, the US. Embassy in Sierra Leone has warned against growing election violence following a recent rampage by supporters of the ruling APC. One person was reportedly killed. According to a statement issued by the American diplomatic mission in Freetown, it said, “The U.S. Embassy is concerned about recent reports of violence and loss of life.  We extend deepest condolences to the victims and their families.  We appeal to all Sierra Leoneans to remain peaceful and respect the democratic process. While this is a time to engage in political activity, exchanges should be civil, and take place in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect…”

The statement further said,”…The U.S. Embassy urges all parties and candidates to reiterate to their constituents their commitment to a non-violent, law abiding and peaceful democratic process.”

Amnesty
Amnesty International

In adding its voice to the call for a peaceful election, Amnesty International (AI) on Friday, said, “Next month’s elections in Sierra Leone are another landmark moment, as the country recovers from the devastating Ebola outbreak, and there is no doubt that there will be vibrant rallies and passionate debate.”

Amnesty further noted that, “there is an essential role for the authorities to play in ensuring that every Sierra Leonean can participate in these elections, speaking out freely and assembling peacefully, in full safety.”

According to the NEC calendar, political campaigning starts on February 4 – March 5. There is a one day cooling off period on March 6th with no campaigning and polling date is March 7th. If no candidate wins outright, a run off poll will be conducted between March 24th – 28th between the two candidates with the highest votes.

Map of the Republic of Sierra Leone
Map of the Republic of Sierra Leone

In a separate development, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says it is suspending financing to the Sierra Leone government for its failure to meet key budget outlook and growth targets. Following a development economic performance review last September in Freetown, the IMF concluded that it is “…currently working with the government to identify appropriate corrective measures that can be taken and when.”

Sierra Leone’s electoral body says there are about 3.1 million registered voters out of a population of a little over 7 million.

By Emmanuel Abalo 

West African Journal Magazine

 

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.

White House: Statement by the Press Secretary on the Presidential Election in Liberia

Issued December 29. 3017, Washington DC – The United States congratulates the people of Liberia on the successful conclusion of the presidential runoff election, and President-elect George Weah on his victory.  This is Liberia’s first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected head of state to another in decades, and represents a major milestone for Liberia’s democracy.

Liberia Electorates
Liberian Voters

The United States commends the National Elections Commission for administering an orderly election process.  We also recognize the important role Liberia’s Supreme Court, political parties, security forces, and civil society organizations played in holding a peaceful and transparent contest, and we welcome the statements by international and domestic observer missions affirming the conduct of the election.  We also thank Vice President Joseph Boakai for his positive campaign and years of honorable service to Liberia.

The United States is deeply 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.

West African Journal Magazine

 

Liberia: National Elections Commission (NEC) Statement Following Voting

NEC chairman Jerome Korkoya’s post-voting statement, delivered minutes following the close of the 2017 runoff polls on December 26, 2017.

PRESS STATEMENT

Cllr. Jerome G. Korkoya

Chairman, National Elections Commission

26 December 2017

  1. Welcome to this press conference and update on the presidential runoff elections.
  1. I want to highlight and respond to arising issues including:
    1. Update on the election day;
    2. Incidents to report:
    3. Counting process:
    4. Official and provisional results.
  1. Voting has closed but the National Elections Commission would like to remind all stakeholders the process of counting and tabulation of results is continuing. The National Elections Commission is the only institution that has the authority to release election results and it calls on both political parties competing in the elections to refrain from declaring a result until the official results are released.
  1. So far the election process and voting in the presidential runoff election has been smooth and there are marked improvements on the 10 October 2017 election day. The systems the National Elections Commission has put in place are working.
  1. There have been no major incidents to report of a technical nature and voting was conducted in a peaceful atmosphere. The Liberian National Police were deployed across the country and the National Elections Commission would like to thank the service men and women for their support in ensuring a secure and peaceful election day.
  1. Except in very small number of Polling places, all polling places opened at 08:00 hours this morning. For example in Lofa voting precinct # 21051 the polling places opened at 09:20 hours because of late delivery. In Montserrado #. 30486 polling opened 15 minutes late because polling staff were waiting for party agents. Where there has been any delay in opening of polling places the National Elections Commission has instructed staff to account for the delay by closing polling later.
  1. Whilst nationwide polling has been smooth there are an extremely small number of incidents to report. Where incidents occurred they have been dealt with on the spot immediately following the reporting of the incident: In Zubah Town, Mother Sarah School system VP# 30126 voter was witnessed to have two ballot papers police are investigating. A polling official undermined his impartiality at a polling station in JHP Hope VP# 30025 when he posted on social media his political choice and he was immediately removed from the post and replaced. And there was an incident in a polling place 1 in Broluco school VP# 30319 that was dealt with. The National Elections Commission wishes to stress these types of incidents were extremely rare and were dealt with according to the law.
  1. The National Elections Commission also wishes to extend its deepest gratitude to polling staff including the five poll workers from Nimba and Grand Bassa that were in road traffic accidents preparing for this election day. The injured are receiving treatment and our prayers are with them.
  1. Counting of the ballot papers has now commenced and is currently being carried out nationwide. This counting will be undertaken under the full view of political party agents and international and national election observers.
  1. By tomorrow morning, 27 December 2017 at 11:00 hours the tallying of results will commence and the National Elections Commission will continue to release provisional results as they arrive. Once again the National Elections Commission would like to remind all stakeholders including the media that it alone is responsible for the announcement of election results. And only results released by the National Elections Commission should be reported as official ones.

End