By Eminent Siahyonkron Nyanseor, Sr.
|LAMA Presidential Debate|
The highly contested Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta (LAMA), Inc., elections that was held on Sunday, November 8, 2015 at the Joseph N. Boakai Community Center; featured three presidential contenders, two females and one male. Also on the ballots were contenders for the positions of Vice President, Secretary General, Treasurer, Chaplain, Parliamentarian, and three Board Members. At the end of the elections that lasted up to 3:30 am the next day, a recount was requested by one of the presidential candidates because only 4 votes separated two of the candidates.
This article is about LAMA’s first historical marathon elections in the organization’s 39 years existence. The 34 years (September 1981), I have lived in Georgia, the November 8, 2015 LAMA elections is the first of its kind; despite the bad weather (pouring rain), Liberians came in droves (700 to 1000 individuals) from all over the Metro area to vote for the candidates of their choice. It was like a reunion! The Joseph N. Boakai Community Center was jammed packed, with long line extending into the parking lot. There were no parking spaces available; as the result, most of the people that came to vote had to park on the streets and as far as the Home Depot’s Parking Lot located several blocks from the Community Center, and they had to walk in the pouring rain to cast their votes; even the Lilburn Police were involved in managing the crowd.
The morning of the elections, some voters arrived as early as 9:00 am but due to the Community Center’s scheduling conflict that day, those that were to start voting at 10:00 am could not; they had to either wait or leave to go to work. Some people I talked with expressed their disappointment in the manner the elections was planned and conducted by the Elections Commission. When asked to cite some examples, they referred to “disorganization and in inconvenience it caused them”. Based on my observation, poor logistics played a major role in the disorganization that many voters experienced.
The presidential campaigns were quite interesting; the three presidential candidates had their supporters energized. These supporters were everywhere in the community soliciting support for their respective candidates. They went to churches, soccer fields and made home visits. One candidate called for “fair play in the campaigns”. Candidates from this camp conducted their campaign on the basis of not being politicians and would run a fair and clean campaign. However, this camp directed its criticisms at LAMA’s outgoing president instead of LAMA’s vice president who was in the race.
As one who has participated and observed many political campaigns in my life time, I could not understand the rationale for this camp to go after the person who was not running for election. This strategy gave the other candidates free range to go after the candidates that posed the greatest threat to them winning the election. As a result, the vice president camp went after the candidate they felt posed the greatest challenge to their candidacy. And on several occasions, their strategy was seen as unfair attacks against their challenger.
As a common practice, the objective of political campaigns is to make your opponents unacceptable to the voters. Therefore, it is naïve for the strategy of any political camp to expect their opponents to run a fair campaign; unless their opponents are not in the race to win. The third candidate in the race went after areas he felt the vice president was weak in - in order get votes from her. And when the results were announced the margin was too close, this made the loosing candidate to call for recount.
The Nature of Politics
According to Dr. F. Wafula Okumu, “…Politics is both spectator sport and political activity utilized by organized groups to get specific, tangible benefit for themselves. While many of us see politics as a passing parade of abstract symbols, to others politics confers wealth, takes lives, imprisons or frees people, or does other things, good or bad… In short, politics is life. Not to be politically active or conscious is to neglect your life”.
As for me, politics is not a game of fair play; it is both an offensive and a defensive game. Those who engage in politics or political campaigns must be willing to stand the heat (criticisms); because one’s opponent is not in the campaign to speak or write about their opponent’s virtues (good points). Therefore, those who consider “politics a dirty game” are dead wrong. The objective of Political Campaign is to win elections. In the end, the campaign with the best strategy usually wins. At some point, they ‘manipulate truths’ for the electorate to make their selection. This is the nature of politics! Not to see it as such is to misunderstand the beast called politics.
In politics or political campaigns for example, making one’s opponent unacceptable to the voters involves what we are witnessing between President Barack O. Obama, the Democrat and the Republican Party. In this Political Theater, the opposition’s goal is to find faults with the policies of the Democrats - even if those policies serve the best interests of the American people. To score political points, the opposition will oppose their opponent every chance they get.
Permit me to cite a classic example here. In the October 15, 2014 article by Madrigal Maniac published in the Daily.kos.com, Maniac writes:
I get tired of hearing the Republican base blaming Obama for everything and refusing to credit him for the good he has accomplished. …The right wants Americans to think they are the righteous strength of the United States, but in fact they are pussies.
…In fact, they are not the strength of this country, they are scared shitless. It’s how the Republicans win elections. They make their base of unenlightened voters into fearful Republican zombies so they’ll buy the same ideological crap every election. Nothing has changed in the Republican Party in 50 years. (http://www.dailykos.com/user/mdrigal)
In addition to Maniac, Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman wrote this about President Obama:
… Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn’t deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history...
Both examples should give the readers the picture that politics is made out of. Politics is no child play!
Elections Results / Recount
The recount by the Elections Commission was the right thing to do. But now that the recount is over, for the benefit of the larger community, we need to put the elections behind us; reconciled and unite for the greater good of the community.
At the end of the highly contested elections, the recount held on Saturday, November 21, 2015 in the jammed-packed conference room of the Salem Missionary Church in Lilburn, Georgia, which was witnessed by Liberians, non-Liberian observers, and Mr. Tedonzong Tchoutezo, President of the African Association of Georgia (AAGa); the Elections Commission declared candidate Yahsyndi Mollie Martin-Kpeyei the winner by a slim victory (299 – 294) votes over her strongest rival, candidate Somo Hawa Hubbard-Barsir. The third candidate, Nathaniel Tamba received 80 votes.
Things that Went Wrong on Elections Day
Since this was the first elections of this magnitude, we need to learn from what went wrong on Elections Day in order to be prepared the next time around. It is my honest opinion that Rev. Salifu Kamara, Chairman of the Independent Elections Commission and the dedicated members of the Commission deserves our commendation, and not insults; every member of the Commission and LAMA’s Administrative personnel must all be commended for taking their personal time off to conduct the first marathon elections in LAMA’s 39 years history. In fact, no member in the community should be ridiculed for the elections they braved the bad weather, when some of their cars were towed at their own expense.
From the start of this article, I provided examples to show the nature of competition; and what it is made out of. In any competition, there has to be a declared winner. Working in a campaign is an incredibly emotional experience. Just as it requires leadership to get your supporters to this point (election), it demands leadership to say it is over. The defeated candidate owes it to his/her volunteers. They put in a huge amount of work, and at some point they need to be thanked for their support; sooner than later.
I am reminded by one political observer who said, “Lousing sucks, but just having it linger without closure sucks more”. The election is over but the ideas espoused during the campaign lives on for another election circle. It is plain and polite for the victor to welcome the defeated candidate and their supporters to partner with them to work for the interest of the community. No victorious candidate wants to scream ‘YES, WE DID IT!’ jubilating in the face of the defeated candidate and their supporters, and still ask for their cooperation. That is why both the loser and the victor must now conduct themselves with dignity and maturity by nudging their supporters to put aside their differences, now that the elections is over, and become more engaged in the community to make LAMA a better organization. The election is over; we are not enemies even if we see things differently. Every Liberian in Georgia has a contribution to make in making LAMA and our community second to none. We can all be proud of this historic election; so let us build on the positive, rather than dwelling on the negative, for the total good of our community.
Finally, in the ultimate interests of LAMA and the greater Liberian community of Georgia, I pray for Love, Peace, Reconciliation and UNITY to exist among us.
To God Be The Glory!
About The Author: Eminent Siahyonkron J. Nyanseor, Sr. has resided in Georgia for 34 years, and has served the Liberian Community of Georgia in many capacities. First as Chairperson of the Intellectual Discourse, Chair of ULAA National Elections Commission; elected from the Georgia Chapter as ULAA’s 11th National President (1986-1988); he is the author of the history of the Liberian Community Association of Georgia, now LAMA, Inc. Eminent Nyanseor is former Chair of ULAA Council of Eminent Persons (UCEP), Inc. He is ULAA historian and founding member of the organization. Elder Nyanseor is Minister of Culture at the International Christian Fellowship (ICF) Ministries. In addition, he is a poet, Griot, journalist, and a cultural and political activist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org