In Search of a Fresh Start for Liberia

Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

January 21, 2002

In an atmosphere of dialogue and respect, the MDCL national convention, held in Maryland on Saturday, January 19, 2002, was not the usual Liberian political conference I have seen in the US. The number of people attending the conference and the discussions that followed far exceeded the number of those who came for the dinner and ball. This was a sign of the importance Liberians attach to the holding of free and fair elections at home in 2003.

It was a success because of the quality of the people. The conference room was packed to capacity on this day when the Washington, DC area was experiencing its first snowstorm of the year. Dr. Harry Moniba, former Vice President of Liberian, Dr. Jabaru Carlon, founding member of the Unity Party and former Minister, Honorable William Bull, Ambassador of Liberia to the US with his Deputy Honorable Aaron Kollie, Cllr. Mohamedu Jones - to name just a few were - all present. Friends of Liberia, through Jim Gray and his wife and the Carter Center representative voiced their readiness to work with Liberians and other international NGOs in fostering peace and stability in Liberia..

The Conference was about the up-coming elections and the many problems the country is faced with before being able to hold free and fair democratic elections, giving every candidate a fair chance to compete in an atmosphere devoid of threat, intimidation and manipulation.

The Liberian Ambassador to the United States, Honorable William Bull reaffirmed the government's commitment to the holding of elections in 2003 pursuant to constitutional provisions. He however emphasized that the continuing war in Lofa could lead to the disenfranchisement of large segments of the population and challenged the conference to call on dissidents to put down their arms and join the political process in the search for lasting solution to national problems. He reiterated the government's granting of amnesty and said that "whilst criticisms are welcome, [participants] would be more helpful if [they] were to advance practical solutions in a constructive way by engaging and dialoguing with government."

Dr. Jabaru Carlon said that Liberians were faced with some critical choices regarding the holding of free and fair elections in 2003. He said, "we could decide to postpone the elections; we could ask Mr. Taylor to step aside and let anyone from the NPP to run or we could get together and overthrow the government," insisting that he does not advocate a violent solution to the crisis.

Cllr. Mohammedu Jones sounded a wake-up call to all those interested in electoral politics that "Liberian was not ready for elections in 2003." He said that the elections laws of 1984 were absolute because they addressed themselves only to the elections of 1985. Among his many conclusions, he noted that no serious preparation were being made for the upcoming elections and that the "legislature has failed to enact laws for the governance of the Elections Commission as required by the constitution."

According to another speaker, Dr. Boakai Twe, "the security of the state is closely linked to the freedom of the press." Dr. Samuel O. Butscher in his turn emphasized the importance of voter education, registration and issues related to balloting.

In the evening, during the installation of the newly elected officers of the organization, the new President of MDCL, Ms. Nohn R. Kidau insisted that her organization was not a political party nor will it serve as an instrument in the hands of any politician or political party, but rather a forum for Liberians from all walks of life and political belief to share their experience and search for a peaceful solution to the nation's critical problems.

In a keynote speech, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Perry said, "the United States also believes that Liberian political groups should meet in a location where they all can be assured of appropriate support and security. We encourage the ECOWAS-Nigerian Government initiative to support an initial conference in Abuja to which all participants would be welcome, and in which they could set the ground rules and procedures for continued dialogue." He called for the re-opening of Star Radio and the granting of permission to Radio Veritas and other independent Liberia media to broadcast on short wave frequency. Speaking about the security situation in the country, Ambassador Perry said that "the fractured, untrained, undisciplined, and unreliable security forces continue to contribute to the government's deplorable human rights records by creating a constant climate of fear and intimidation."

During the discussions, many pointed out that the current crisis in Liberia has to do with the very structure of the Liberian political system because of the extreme powers invested in the presidency. The overwhelming majority of the participants called on the dissidents in Lofa to give precedence to the political process over armed struggle, because as Leslie Cole put it, "it would be an illusion for anyone to believe that they can wage and win another war in the magnitude of the one fought by the NPFL."

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