Democratic Institutions, Traditional African Institutions, And the Role of Liberian Youth In Conflict Resolution

By Charles Kwanulo Sunwabe, Jr.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 25, 2002

Editor's Note: Following the publication of our response to the threatening phone call made to one of the partners of The Perspective, Mr. Charles Kwanulo Sunwabe Jr, this paper received a flurry of requests about the content of Mr. Sunwabe's speech delivered on November 2, 2002, in Philadelphia. Though he spoke from note-cards, The Perspective asked him to provide its readers with the speech. Below is what Mr. Sunwabe, Jr. sent us:

In 1994, Anthony Lake, former Assistant National Security Affairs Advisor to former US President William Jefferson Clinton, observed that the leading candidate to succeed US containment policy was "a strategy of enlargement of the world's community of market democracies". President Clinton re-echoed this sentiment when he stated that the strategy of democratic enlargement serves US interests because, "democracy rarely go to war with one another, and democracy promotes international peace" (Debating the Democratic Peace Theory 2001, p.75). This Clintonian foreign policy initiative was predicated on the Democratic Peace Theory. The Democratic Peace Theory, which relies heavily on Immanuel Kant 1775 publication, "Perpetual Peace" posits that war among democratic nations are rare, and that democratic nations seldom go to war with each other. Additionally, the Democratic Peace Theory maintains that democratic nations have the proclivity to make, or go to war with illiberal nations, but only when they are threatened by non-democracies. Professor Michael Doyle, one of the leading proponents of the Democratic Peace Theory, asserts that democracies have certain defining characteristics (e.g. Institutional constraints, and democratic norms and culture) that restrain them from going to war with each other.

Professor Doyle argues that there are two variants of institutional constraints that prevent democracies from going to war with each other: First, democratic governments are reluctant to go to war because they are held accountable, and must answer to their citizens. As Professor Doyle states,

"Citizens pay the price for war in blood and treasure; if the price of conflict is high, democratic governments may fall victims to electoral retribution. Moreover, in democratic states, foreign policy decisions carrying the risk of war are debated openly and not made behind closed doors, which means that both the public and the policymakers are sensitized to the cost of fighting"(Debating the Democratic Peace Theory 2001, p.161).

Professor Doyle's second version of institutional constraints argument fixates on "check and balances"; and examines specific features of a democratic state's domestic political structure: executive selection, political competition, and the pluralism of foreign policy decision-making process. Professor Doyle contends that states with executives accountable to electorates, with institutionalized political competition, and with decision making responsibility spread among multiple institutions, or individuals, are highly constrained and least likely to go to war (Debating The Democratic Peace Theory p.163).

Democratic Peace Theorist John M. Owen states that liberal ideas cause democracies to turn from war with one another, and that the same ideas prop these states to go to war with illiberal states. Drawing from historical evidence provided by other democratic peace theorists, Owens defines liberal democracies as states with instantiates liberal ideas, and one where liberalism is the dominant ideology and citizens have leverage over war decisions. Additionally, he defines liberal democracy as those with a visible liberal presence, and that feature free speech and regular competitive elections of the officials empowered to declare war. It is his argument that liberal democracies have shared values and ideals, which prevents them from engaging each other in brutal wars. Accordingly, liberal democracies believe that individuals everywhere are fundamentally the same, and are best off pursuing self-preserving and materials well being. Freedom is required for these pursuits, and peace is required for freedom; and coercion and violence are counter-productive (Owen, 1995).

Please bear in mind that the central argument of the Democratic Peace Theory is that functional institutions are essential, and do provide the impetus democracies need to maintain themselves and to build international peace. I will come back to institutionalism later, but for now, I'd like to focus on Africa's own traditional system of government. Prior to the imposition of COLONIALISM, Africa had flourishing political institutions, systems and method of leadership selection that mirror modern Western Democracy. As Ghana's George B. N. Ayittey states, "According to traditional ideas, a chief could never force his people to do what they did not want to do. He was a leader rather than a ruler, relying for his position on influence rather then force" (Indigenous African Institutions 1991, p. 93). The African traditional system had built in machinery that allowed council of elders not only to assist chiefs in decision-making, but to help curtail, or prevent Chiefs from misrule and plunder. The late Nigerian intellectual Dr. Claude Ake (1993) described Africa's traditional democratic system in these succinct words: "Traditional African political systems were infused with democratic values. They were invariably patrimonial, and consciousness was communal; everything was everybody's business, engendering a strong emphasis on participation. Standards of accountability were even stricter than in Western societies. Chiefs were answerable not only for their own actions but for natural catastrophes such as famine, epidemics, floods, and drought. In the event of such disasters, chiefs could be required to go into exile or asked to die."

In a recent study on democratizing states by professor Jack Snyder of Columbia University's Department of Political Science, and Ohio State University's political science professor Edward D. Mansfield, it was established that democratizing states are more likely to go to war then states that have not undertaken the democratization process. Accordingly to Mansfield and Snyder, democratizing states or states that have recently undergone democratic change are much more war prone than states that have not undergone no regime change. Snyder and Mansfield point out that democratization give rise to a higher probability of war than the absence of democratization. In short, Mansfield and Snyder maintain that the democratization process is replete with wars (Mansfield and Snyder, 1999).

Mansfield and Snyder further postulate that during the process of democratization, threatened elites from a previous regime who have parochial interests in wars and empires have the tendency to use nationalist appeals to compete for mass allies with each other and with new elites. Often, the likelihood of war increases due to the interests of some of the elite groups, the effectiveness of their propaganda and the incentive for weak leaders to resort to prestige strategies in foreign affairs in fervent efforts to enhance their authority our diverse constituencies. In the case of Liberia, our warlords targeted and utilized young men and women as "subjects" and "objects" of, and the medium through which their competing ideologies and political desires, were expressed. For example, Alhaji G. V. Kromah used our Mandingo "brothers" and "sisters" as soldiers in his quest for personal political power, and Charles "Criminal" Taylor used "Mano" and "Gio" boys and girls as foot soldiers in his war of theft, plunder and genocide. Note that I am not saying that neither of the mentioned two groups was oppressed, or targeted by dictatorial regime, or a violent rebel movement; rather, I am saying that there was a better way to resolve our dispute then to have marched the country to a very brutal civil war.

Please note that democratizing states share common institutional weaknesses that make war likely. Accordingly, popular inputs into the policymaking process can have wildly different effects, depending on the way that political institutions structure and aggregate those inputs. Mansfield and Snyder note that in newly democratizing states, the institutions that structure political outcomes allow for popular participation in the process, but the way they channel that input is often a parody of full-fledged democracy. In democratizing states, there is a high level of political participation and weak integrative institutions to reconcile the multiplicity of contending claims. In a democratizing state, the absence of strong institutions such as parties, independent courts, free press and untainted electoral procedures tend to lead to war (Mansfield and Snyder 318). Brad Roberts contends that in a society where states have absolutely dominated societies, democratization tends to be very problematic. For example, he points out that in Latin America, democratization may proceed only on the surface and not in the distribution of power and participation in political life. He points out that in countless places around the world, fragile new democracies must contend with destabilizing social forces (i.e. elitist control, political violence, and heightened ethnicity).

As Roberts, puts it, "democratization is a tedious process, which has the potential to lead to war" (Roberts 1990 299). Richard Betts notes that democratization and self-determination can heighten nationalism and lead to unintended consequences such as the war we saw in the former Yugoslavia (Betts, 1999,).

My fellow Liberians let me point out that at independence, the traditional African system of government that I described earlier was rejected by the founding fathers of modern African nations. Some leaders even argued that the ingenuous system was primitive and incompatible with the political reality of newly independent Africa nations. Since then, Africa has experimented with three variants of democracies: (1) Founding fathers' democracy, (2) post independence democracy, and (3) the current post-Cold War democracy. In all of the three cases, successive generations of African leaders (i.e. military regimes, interim regimes, elected regimes) failed to embark upon beneficial political reforms, or true democratization. As a consequence, there exist in Africa today, political systems that are semi democratic, if not entirely autocratic. Please be cognizant of the fact that the global economy demands that all nations democratize in order to ensure protection and security for foreign direct investments. Additionally, democratization is seen as a medium of political tranquility that will help eradicate all forms of political tensions in order to allow measurable economic and infrastructure development to proceed. Let me point out that nations that refuse to adhere to the global outcry for democracy are, often punished, or treat as pariah. Taylor's Liberia is the biggest one on the African Continent.

My fellow young Liberians I have not examined the two political systems, or theories [Democratic Peace Theory, Ingenuous African System of Government, etc.] simply because I am passionate about theory. Rather, I want to point out to you that good governance and democracy are predicated on viable POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS that include:

1.The POLITICAL System,

2. The ECONOMIC System,

3. The Civil Service,

4. The Educational System,

5. The Judiciary System,

6. The Banking System,

7. The Media,

8. The Security System (i.e. military, police, para-military, etc.)

It should be no secret to any of us that the current African political system is defective, inchoate and dysfunctional. Additionally, it is used by very few bad elites [i.e., some educated people and some P.HD holders] to oppress, suppress and deny the African masses the rights to decent life. Therefore, it is imperative that the current outcry for democracy in Africa, particularly in Liberia begins with the reformation of the above institutions. As Dr. George Ayittey has argued,

"The civil service, for example, must be reformed so that it becomes more efficient and more professional, upholding probity, accountability and transparency." This means that every governmental promotion and appointment must be based upon MERIT, not on tribal affiliation or loyalty to the president. Corruption and bribery must be rooted out of the civil service, etc. The soldiers and the police must be turned into PROFESSIONAL servants of the people. They must protect the people, not the crooks in power. The Judiciary must uphold the RULE OF LAW. Thieves must be apprehended and prosecuted for all to see. Whether a minister embezzles 15,000 Liberian dollars or 10 million US dollars, he is a thief and must face the full rigors of the LAW"(Ayittey 2002).

The political system must have a LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. This means that political parties must be granted access to the airwaves and various television stations from the very outset of all presidential or congressional elections. An effective political campaign cannot be conducted one week before the election is scheduled to take place. Autocratic governments like the criminal regime of Monrovia must open up all short wave radio and television stations to the Liberian opposition, even as I speak. The Electoral Commissioner must be IMPARTIAL; the Voter's Register must be CLEAN, free from "padding" and fake voters, etc. This means that a former NPFL rebel and now Liberia's Elections Commission Chairman, Paul Guah, needs to resign immediately.

Let me return to the judiciary once again. As we all know, an independent judiciary is essential to all functional democracies. A judiciary that is independent of the government has the proclivity to dispense justice impartially, to adjudicate ethnic and political conflicts authoritatively, and to protect the rights of individuals from authoritarian regimes. In the case of Liberia, the judicial branch of government has always been subservient to the EXECUTIVE. To break this vicious cycle, I am proposing that Liberia's post civil war judiciary be tied directly to any foreign aid Liberia is likely to receive from the international community for reconstruction purposes. Please note that nations that have gone through debilitating civil wars such as ours, have always received assistance to help rebuild damaged institutions and facilities. In our case, the international community has demonstrated that it wants to help, but our government of "thugs" has failed to meet the basic criteria set by the international community. But, it is not too late to transform our judiciary! In fact, that is why I am proposing that our judiciary be tied to post Charles Taylor's Liberia international development aid.

Under my proposal, Liberian lawyers educated in Africa and the West, especially those educated in the USA, other caring African attorneys residing in the West or in Africa for that matter; native US lawyers, and anybody that genuinely cares about African humanity should be hired, or encouraged to volunteer their legal talents to help repair and re-launch Liberia's crippled judiciary. To attract US educated Liberian lawyers and the many brilliant African lawyers residing in the West to my proposal, various compensation schemes [i.e. student loan forgiveness, scholarships for additional legal specialization or training, etc.] need to be put in place and a mandatory 4 to 5 years service should be required of any lawyers who will sign up for the program. During the duration of the program, salaries of all judicial appointees in Liberia, be it court clerks or federal judges should be paid directly from an international account-notably from funds made available for post Taylor's Liberia development and reconstruction. Beyond salaries, vehicles, stationeries and other important equipment necessary for the speedy and transparent functioning of the Liberian judiciary should be purchased from the mentioned account and made available in timely manners.

Since the Liberian Government is not responsible for compensating judges, lawyers and other judicial appointees operating under the proposed judicial arrangement, it is highly unlikely that the EXECUTIVE would interfere or influence judicial matters in the traditional Liberian mindset. To be curt, the judges, in my purposed system will not be paid by or financially obligated to the Liberian Government; hence every decision handed down by the LIBERIAN COURT is likely to be based purely on impartial judicial reasoning rather than tribal and political affiliations.

I am aware that my proposal is likely to be seen as infringing upon national sovereignty, or granting international personalities influence over Liberia's judiciary [something that could be potentially dangerous]. In this regard, it would then make sense to maintain my core proposal but to have our judicial appointees and volunteers compensated directly from the Liberian Maritime Fund and through some degree of international oversight. Again, this measure would temporarily be geared on promoting judicial prudence, equality, and justice for all. Put simply, our current justice system must go! Note that when the judiciary is removed from the Liberian Government's control, and when all state judges and lawyers are independent minded personalities who are not appointed by an autocratic government [Taylor's regime], for example, then the bifurcated Liberian judiciary would be abolished and replaced with a more levelheaded judiciary system that promotes egalitarianism.

To uproot, and eliminate corruption in Africa, the MEDIA must be allowed to function in an environment that is devoid of acts of intimidation, police brutality and illegal arrest. The current Liberian Media institution is dominated and controlled by the Taylor dictatorship, thereby denigrating and making mockery of professional journalism and its tenets. Let me hasten to add that the prompt dissemination of information is paramount to the journalistic profession and it helps educate the masses about various defects within our political system while making sure that the public is adequately informed about global events. In all of Africa, the media has not been allowed to carry out the very rudimentary duty of journalism. As Ayittey observes,

"To solve or correct Africa's institutional defects, you must first EXPOSE them in the MEDIA. Those who do so are editors, journalists, writers, teachers, university professors, and ordinary laymen. After they have been exposed, you PRESCRIBE a solution and then you lobby to have that solution IMPLEMENTED. One person alone can't do this. It often requires a GROUP or an ORGANIZATION and this is where CIVIL SOCIETY comes in" (Ayittey 2002).

My fellow Liberians, to restore journalistic prudence to Liberia, it makes sense to privatize every Liberian MEDIA INSTITUTION. I love to see Hassan Bility conducting his unfeigned journalistic duty in a freed and privately owned MEDIA OUTLET. We are sick and tired of the one-sided and pro-Taylor rambling rubbish coming out of Monrovia. So let us privatize the Liberian Broadcasting Corporation, the Liberian News Agency, etc. It is about time that we [Liberians] heard news from independent sources!

As a young man myself, I want to point out that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow's Liberia. There are lots of steps and measures that the youths [i.e. young Liberians] can take to help make Liberia a better and functional democracy. For example, we can refuse to allow certain politicians, or a group of individuals to use us for political and ethnic related violence. We could also adopt the following measures: 1) resist temptations from rebel leaders. Let us no longer succumb to flirtations by rebel soldiers and leaders. Child soldiery is totally unacceptable and immensely costly. Let us be cognizant of the fact that while some of our young brothers were fighting for Liberian warlords, time was slowly passing by. Most regrettably, the warlords sent their own kids to foreign schools, while our brothers fought and died on the battlefront. Charles Taylor for example, recruited the Liberian youths while his own children were attending schools in Switzerland. 2) We need to play a leading role in advancing transparency, accountability and better governance in Liberia. 3) We could play this role by infiltrating political parties run by the OLD CORRUPT Guard, taking over these parties or cleaning them up (Ayittey 2002). Lastly, we need to understand that literary education (the kind that confers diplomas, degrees, etc.) is NOT the only passport out of poverty. VOCATIONAL training or education is equally, if not more important. A successful carpenter or bricklayer can feed his family just as well as someone with a university degree. Regardless of your current circumstances, I want to encourage you to learned and take advantage of the immense educational opportunity that America offers, so that you can be in the position to contribute in a meaningful way to the emancipation of our country. May God bless Liberia and May God bless every family represented here and beyond.

I thank YOU!

© The Perspective
P.O. Box 450493
Atlanta, GA 31145