Now let me turn to the topic on which this article hinges – the question, “Can Liberians learn lessons from the Iraqis?” I believe the next test for democracy will take place in Liberia when Liberians go to the polls in their country’s presidential and general elections scheduled to take place in October 2005. This particular election is not only important, but very crucial for Liberia, if she is going to regain credibility and begin to play the important roles she once played as one of Africa’s oldest democracies.
A BIT OF LIBERIAN HISTORY
I don’t intend to bore you with Liberian history,
but I thought of inserting a brief history of Liberia
in order to give a background of what I am about to
write. Liberia, as you may know, was founded by the
United States during the second decade of the nineteenth
century, as a country for freed African slaves that
wanted to return to the continent of Africa. The Country
of Sierra Leone in West Africa, I understand, was
also founded by Britain for similar purpose. Our history,
Liberian history, as we learned in grade schools,
teaches that the American Colonization Society, in
1822, authorized contingents of freed prominent African
slaves to travel to Africa to purchase land there
that would become a future home for African slaves.
Among this first group were educators, ministers of
the gospel, etc. This first contingent comprising
of men and women of diverse professional backgrounds
landed in West Africa on a piece of island located
off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Years later this spot became known as Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, so named after President James Monroe, who was President of the United States at the time. The settlers also named the island, Providence Island, in recognition of God providentially leading. From there they began contacting and negotiating with the aborigines, whose strong resistance, resulted into a series of wars. But the settlers overcame the aborigines, a new nation was born, which they named Liberia, from the Latin Libra, meaning liberated or freed. In 1847, twenty-five years later, Liberia gained independence to become one of a few independent countries in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. After independence, Liberia began to play important roles for democracy in Africa especially at the heights of colonialism in the 20th century, by becoming a founding member of various peace and political organizations after the Second World War. Some of these organizations included the League of Nations, which later became the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now called African Union (AU), The Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS), and The Mano River Union (MRU), a cooperative political, social and economic organization that was formed between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This then brings me to the question asked at the beginning of this article:
CAN LIBERIANS LEARN LESSONS FROM THE IRAQIS?
Let me list a few lessons, I believe, Liberians can learn from the people Iraq, and I propose a number of things they can do to make the upcoming elections count for all Liberians. I am speaking about qualified Liberian citizens in the United States who should be allowed to vote for candidates with leadership abilities who will lead their country in the right direction. This will send a clear message to the rest of the world that Liberians, too, love democracy, and are willing to sacrifice something for it. Yes, we can put our differences aside, and allow democracy to work.
Lesson #1: Courage, Determination and Patriotism
Liberians need to learn the lesson of courage, determination and patriotism, and not allow the enemies of democracy to distract or stop them from achieving their goal for freedom like the people of Iraq did on January 30, 2005. For the Iraqis, the enemies of democracy are the insurgents, disunity, and sectarianism, while for Liberians; the enemies of democracy are similar, but slightly different. Theirs are tribalism, corruption, which is sometimes coupled with a lack of interest in national affairs; instead, puts individual and tribal interests above national interests.
Lesson #2 – A Sense of Accomplishment
Liberians need to be driven by a sense of accomplishment, political accomplishments for that matter, setting their eyes on the date for the national elections in October 2005, not allowing anything or anybody to change that date. Again, another good lesson from the people of Iraq; they had their eyes set on January 30, 2005, the day of their historic national elections, which had been overshadowed by deteriorating security problems everywhere. Yet, they never allowed that date to be changed. The Liberian situation is a bit different. Thank God for the United Nations peace keepers that are currently keeping the peace in Liberia. You see, Liberia does not have the same security problems Iraq has, at least not as grave, and yet months ago there were rumors of a Liberian constitutional provision, which some people in Liberia were invoking as a reason to delay the upcoming elections by one year. That constitutional provision, they say, does not allow elections to take place without implementing a national census first. If that is the
case, I believe a thorough voter’s education and registration program both in Liberia and abroad, under the watchful eyes of the United Nations, the European Union, and the Cater Center can help solve the issue, which is based on fear of cheating and massive fraud. As for that constitutional provision, if it really exists, we will turn to it later, but Liberians cannot and should not ever delay the October elections.
Lesson #3: Nationalism
Merriam Webster defines nationalism as a devotion to national interests, unity and independence. This is one of the main lessons I want all Liberians to learn from the people of Iraq. It was this devotion to national interests that caused tens of thousands of Iraqis in the United States to drive six to twelve hours or more to go to a few polling stations to cast their votes. It was also said that some of them that are already U.S. citizens still went to vote for candidates in Iraq. WHY CAN’T LIBERIANS DO LIKEWISE? By the way, when I recently discussed the idea of Liberians voting away from home with a fellow Liberian, he was supportive of the idea, but expressed a concern about another so-called Liberian constitutional provision that does not accept absentee ballots. I am not sure if this is in the constitution, but if it is, I say forget it, or amend it because after all, that was then when the defunct True Wig Party of Liberia did things for its own political interests, not necessarily the national interests. Also, in those days Liberians weren’t scattered all over the world as they are today. I mean, not after a 14-year devastating civil war has killed more than 150,000 people, and driven as many or more abroad. Why should we still be living in the past? But, now, Liberia needs all of its citizens, I mean bona fide citizens, to participate in this coming election because this will determine the destiny of democracy in Liberia particularly, and Africa at large.
Here are a number of things that can be done to make the upcoming Liberian elections successful, creditable, and legitimate for all Liberians. When the upcoming elections are conducted in a free and fair atmosphere, democracy will once again reign in one of its oldest cradles.
Liberians in the U.S. and other parts of the world
should be allowed to cast their votes by absentee
ballots in the upcoming elections, so that they can
vote for candidates they believe to be qualified and
have the right mandates for Liberia in the 21st century.
Liberians should also not repeat the mistakes of the1997
elections, without calling names, when they allowed
themselves to be manipulated by politicians that promised
more than they could deliver. Who offered the people
certain basic commodities that never lasted long,
and the Liberian people ended up with a president
that plunged the country further and further into
poverty and instability.
Every Liberian living in this country, the U.S could donate a minimum of $100 towards the electoral process in Liberia. Imagine if the number of Liberians living in the U.S. alone, which may be in the hundreds of thousands, could donate $100, it will be a considerable amount of money, which can be used for voter’s education and registration and other logistics. This would also let donor countries know that Liberians are not just having hats in their hands begging, but they are willing to share in the financial burden that the international community is bearing on their behalf.
The money raised be deposited directly into a special bank account that is managed and maintained by the United States Aids for International Developments (USAID) for credibility and accountability.
50% of such funds be sent to Liberia, under the supervision of USAID, to help facilitate the electoral process there.
The balance 50% be given to the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia to launch a voter’s education and registration campaign for Liberians in the U.S., and to establish polling centers in various locations in the country for Liberians to vote in October.
In conclusion let me answer the question that I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can Liberians Learn Lessons from the Iraqis”? The answer is a resounding yes; Liberians can learn lessons of courage, determination, patriotism, perseverance, a sense of accomplishment, and true nationalism.
Also, I want to conclude by referring to a central theme that U.S. President George W. Bush made in his recent inaugural address, which was repeated in a recent interview by his newly appointed Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and again restated in his State of The Union Address. Not quoting exactly, but the President said that one of the main agendas for his second term will be to promote democracy around the world. I want to first of all, congratulate President Bush for his victory in November, and let him know that Liberians and citizens of other nations especially those nations in Africa that have been plagued by many years of civil conflicts, welcome his statement wholeheartedly, and are hoping that the U.S. will make that second term agenda a reality for them.
Finally, I am willing to work with the local and national chapters of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), which is also interested in seeing Liberians vote abroad in the upcoming elections. Together we can work with those that are sympathetic to the Liberian cause, to make this a reality, and rally Liberians around the country to register and prepare to vote in October. I hope my fellow Liberians will receive this article not as a criticism, but as a challenge and motivation to work together for peace and democracy. Thank you for taking time to read this article. I also solicit your support for the project, and welcome you comments.