A Proposal for the Opposition in 2003

By Bushuben M. Keita

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted May 6, 2002

I would like to join the debate again, this time from another point of view. Different because it is a progression from positions held earlier, the specifics of which are now needed. Several commentators, including myself, have written about the need for the Liberian opposition to confront politics in Liberia with a unified stance. We have called for a meeting of all major opposition figures to strategize on the methodology of state change in Liberia and its practical implementations. For a while we could only hear ourselves speak.

In recent times the ice have begun to thaw. First was the position of former Liberian Presidential Candidate and Standard Bearer of one of the more significant political parties Cletus Wotorson, calling for a united stand although he had tried that in the last elections and gotten the wrong end of the stick from his colleagues. A second call was from Charles Brumskine, a former leader of the Liberian Senate who has set up a Presidential exploratory committee. The conclusion then is that some heavy weights are thinking seriously about this. In the democratic tradition for a debate of this nature we must advance specific proposals or methods that we intend the political leaders to employ. Many heads will likely be better than one, and others will hopefully contribute to the proposal until it is fine honed and acceptable to all.

A first suggestion would be that the topic of a single presidential candidate be debated last. This is because I see the issue as being the most potentially divisive for any kind of alliance since individuals bitten by the presidential bug are loathe to give up their ambitions for any cause at all. At the meeting of opposition parties at the Unity Conference Center in Monrovia in 1997, the selection process for a single standard bearer was blamed for the breakup when in fact the issue was a clash of personalities with various figures ascribing messianic potentials to themselves. When this issue is finally confronted, the Yugoslav approach may prove helpful. In that country, the opposition selected a candidate that they could all relate to whose democratic credentials was unquestionable. They also played safe by leaving out the potentially divisive professional opposition and settling on a compromise candidate not too strong to become a tyrant and not too weak to be useless.

Such a candidate would likely operate within the confines of the law, and the next elections will be a guaranteed free for all where an alliance may not be necessary. The alternative to a single candidate could result to the Kenyan debacle where the fractured opposition allowed President Moi to emerge victorious with about 38 percent of the vote. Liberia is also a simple majority jurisdiction.

y second proposal would be for the convening of a meeting of the opposition with delegates to be appointed by the major political parties and interest groups. The latter should prove a little tricky since a plethora of interest groups have mushroomed in Monrovia, apparently with one interest, keeping the NPP in power. They will want to be accredited and will attempt to derail the talks if accredited. They will alternatively condemn the proceedings if they are not invited and probably charge discrimination. This should not worry anyone very much since many are usually called but few are actually chosen. By now we know who the members of the opposition are in and out of the country. An accreditation committee of not more than 15 members representing political parties from 1997 and some major groups in the Diaspora could draw up a list of organizations to be invited and the number of delegates. The same group could work out the modalities for the conference including protocol on speaking opportunities, duration of the meeting, final agreement, cost of the meeting and the method for defraying cost. A West African country could serve as host, but any convenient location should suffice since a few of those countries may opt out of fear of Taylor.

The result of the meeting should be the establishment of a unified opposition committee with a single opposition spokesman. This is my third proposal. The heads of the various groups at the conference may have to publicly acknowledge acceptance of the role of the committee and its spokesman so as to rally their supporters to the cause. The committee should be empowered to make demands on the Government in Monrovia concerning the holding of free, fair and democratic elections in Liberia in 2003, the reconstitution of the elections commission, and above all the provision of adequate security for those engaging in political activities in the country. I say demand because it is unforgivable to have to beg in order to exercise basic human and constitutional rights.

Heads of member organizations will nonetheless have to commit to lend their clout to the committee in bringing international pressure to bear on the situation in Liberia, and in mobilizing support within the country. This includes the establishment of an opposition short wave radio service similar to that enjoyed by Mr. Taylor with the LCN, a competitive FM service for urban areas especially Monrovia, a professional newspaper carrying the views of all sides in Liberian politics, and a grassroots canvassing network the modalities of which it may not be appropriate to explicate in so public a media as this. This is my fourth proposal.

Finally, as we have already entered the month of May, I would suggest that a permanent opposition figure take upon himself/herself to make some calls and test the waters for an organizing committee. We would probably want to hold such the conference in July so that by year's end we are fully engaged in the process.

About the author: Bushuben Keita is a former Director General of the Liberian Broadcasting System. He presently lives in the USA.

© The Perspective
P.O. Box 450493
Atlanta, GA 31145
Website: www.theperspective.org
E-mail: editor@theperspective.org