Liberia’s Political Future: Can We Afford The Gamble?



By Banabas Kofa

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 16, 2004

Since the historic eruption of political violence and civil strife in 1980, Liberian political tragedies seem to never end. Every time a hope of normalcy - political stability, civility, etc., is seen within a reach, the more distant it becomes because of poor and fatal exercise of our emotions, trust, influence and uncompromising ambition of few persons to relentlessly parade the corridors of power.

Time and again we’ve seen the prospects for peaceful and civil society evaporate before our very eyes. In 1985 all hopes were that Samuel K. Doe, true to his pronouncements about his commitment to return Liberia to civilian rule, would have respected the real outcome of the elections and honor the people with their choice for leadership (clearly another Doe, Jackson F. Doe, of the Liberian Action Party). His decision was fatal. He chose to rig the elections and set the stage for an era of misrule, ethnic rivalry, bloodbath, political and mass murders and an eventual military resistance. The horrendous experience is history.

In 1996 the two most powerful members of the Liberian National Transitional Government (LNTG II), Messrs Charles G. Taylor (NPFL) and Alhaji G. V. Kromah (ULIMO-K) stubbornly decided to effect an arrest of another but smaller factional leader, the late Roosevelt Johnson (ULIMO-J) on “Good Friday.” Against popular advice, Taylor and Kromah attempted to arrest Johnson. This led to the “infamous April 6” street fighting in Monrovia. The Nation’s capital had not experienced such killings and devastation since April 12, 1979.

The Elections of 1997 were arguably an opportunity for Liberians to graduate from a protracted period of anarchy and violence; only if they had elected another candidate who was not a leader of a warring faction. To the amazement of some Liberians and the international community, Liberians (illiterates and literates alike) turned out en masse to elect Taylor and his NPP gangsters to power. We all still remember the display of ignorance and manipulation when an scores of moribund Liberians chanted in a parade: “You kill my ma; you kill my pa, I will vote for him.”

The September 18 Massacre
As if “April 6” (1996 fighting) was not a lesson, Taylor (now President of Liberia) again attempted to arrest the same Roosevelt Johnson and his men in 1998 against the choice of negotiations and mediations to resolve the conflict between the two, void of violence. Once again, Liberians witnessed another bloodbath resulting from the desperate show of ego and an over zealous anxiety to display military might and power. President Taylor again had an opportunity in 2003-2004 to avert blood shed, mass deaths and destruction with an early resignation following a successful military campaign by LURD and MODEL to remove him. But he opted to hold on until his own security and life became an issue, then just like the coward he is, he conveniently resigned at the 11th hour before his possible capture and eventual death.

These are just few of the many incidents in our history where decisions we took as a people or as leaders propelled us farther and farther away from the peace and tranquility we professedly yearn for. Every time we’re faced with crucial decision making, individuals, groups, organizations and the general populace play various roles to effectuate and legitimize the decision and the leadership; against another option of discouraging, resenting or resisting the decision and further invalidating and rendering it unpopular and illegitimate.

We, Liberians, are or will be faced with this glorious opportunity once again, come Elections 2005 or whenever they are held. Yes, the opportunity to exercise our franchise and demonstrate the power of the people to decide their destiny. The votes in the next elections would be a statement of our resolve to turn our backs away from violence, bloodletting, dictatorship, tribalism, ethnic rivalry, corruption and destruction. It should be a vote for a strong leadership that will evidently commit to reconstruction, reconciliation, economic development, democracy, social justice and fundamental freedoms. If the rules of W.V.S. Tubman, Samuel K. Doe and Charles G. Taylor were any lessons to us then we should no longer gamble the future of Liberia. Can we afford the gamble? The response is certainly NO!

These comments are in response to the continuing debate surrounding the competence, education, ability and preparedness of George Weah to be President of Liberia. Whether he is eligible to stand for election is trivial because anybody could meet the eligibility requirement.

In the commentary, “Elections 2005 Rejoinder” dated November 5, 2004 on “The Perspective,” my colleague, Mr. Yuoh, stubbornly argues (questionably) the “education” of George Weah by citing the 3rd edition of the American Heritage Dictionary – 1996. According to him, it defines an educated person as “one having an education, especially above average; showing evidence of schooling, training, or experience; having or exhibiting cultivation; to be cultured.” He therefore emphasizes, “George Weah is well cultured and has more than an above average education by any standard.”

There is no evidence that George Weah obtained any education or training beyond the 11th grade at Wells Hairston High School in Monrovia. This was his class just before he took off for Cameroon to begin his soccer exploits. Essentially, the guy is a high school dropout. Is that above average education? Bushuben Keita, in his commentary, “A Case For George Oppong Weah President Of Liberia” (“The Perspective,” November 5, 2004) suggests, “There’s some evidence that he may have done some post high school work during his professional soccer career in Europe.” This presupposes that he acquired high school education. We know the contrary. We are therefore, requesting this credible and authentic evidence of George’s high school education and post high school training. I hope the gentlemen concerned (including Weah himself) will be kind to do public service to this request.

I truly believe that George Weah to a large extent has demonstrated unflinching love and patriotisms to his country. He also placed himself on an exhaustible list of distinguished celebrities who have committed themselves to campaign for children and end to civil war and famine in the third world. However, this in no way means that George is therefore qualified to serve his country in its highest and most prestigious position as president. Is George Yuoh suggesting the only way Weah can continue to effectively campaign for the children of Liberia and the world is to become president of Liberia? His preferment as UNICEF “goodwill” ambassador was made sorely and squarely on the basis of his status as an international soccer celebrity. Education and political leadership were no consideration; or else he would not have had the title.

Interestingly, Bushuben Kieta, while making a case for George Weah, also alluded to his ignorance and lack of training in the affairs of politics. He said, “He is going to appoint a cabinet as well as surround himself with people who specialize in various aspect of government just like any president would. And he will learn. He will take speech lessons to improve his diction and vocabulary, and training in government finances to know where the money comes from and how it should be spent.”

The painful memories are still fresh, having emerged from about two decades of political history punctuated by civil wars, instability, destruction of lives and property, economic devastation, etc. Do we have the luxury of time to elect a leader only to spent valuable time and resources providing training in the art of governance? Then the first economic decision would be to elect another individual who is already trained and cultured in the business of politics and governance. Do we have the luxury of time to elect a novice to the presidency? Wouldn’t this be like sending a freshman science student to the laboratory all by himself to conduct an experiment? Liberians cannot afford to gamble their political future any more. We just can’t.