By Samuel Barbay Gaye, Jr.
With minor hiccups, Liberia has successfully completed three Presidential election cycles- something we haven’t seen in our lifetime until now. Despite the odds, Liberia is proving to the world that western democracy can find a home and flourish in sub-Saharan Africa.
Firstly, we would like to congratulate our fellow countrymen/women whose sacrifices have placed the country on an irreversible path of sustainable democracy. Next, the Unity Party-led government headed by Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Ambassador Joseph Boakai deserves our respect and admiration for keeping the country on a democratic path through maintaining the rule of law, respecting citizens’ civil liberties, initiating and promoting reconciliatory programs across the country, and conducting peaceful elections. Also, kudos go to the international community, for its support in sustaining democratic institutions in the country.
How Did We Get Here?
Like most western democracies, Liberia has had its fair share of civil unrests and war. Based on a conservative estimate (1989-2003), about 250,000 of our compatriots lost their lives during the Liberian Civil War. It took about a dozen peace accords before the guns could finally cease. Liberians were scattered across the sub-region in refugee camps while more than a million people were internally displaced in their own country. Liberians of all stripes prayed to God for the restoration of their nation that had turned into a killing field. Notable amongst many groups that protested the prolonged war and prayed for its conclusion was the Women in Peacebuilding Network headed by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Madam Leymah Gbowee.
When the guns finally ceased in 2003 and disarmament of various factions completed in 2004, Liberia successfully held its first post-war elections in 2005. Madam Sirleaf eventually emerged as the winner over Ambassador George Manneh Weah. During Madam Sirleaf’s first term, she instituted sweeping policy changes intended to create a small but efficient government with plans to expand the private sector as the main engine of growth and employment in the country. Madam Sirleaf prevailed on Firestone Rubber Plantation in Liberia to improve the living conditions of its poor Liberian employees. She also lobbied with the international community especially the U.S. Government to waive Liberia’s debts and provide the country access to new credit opportunities. The UP led government also implemented modest infrastructure projects in the country through the rehabilitation of the Roberts International Airport and highway, the paving of several community roads/highways, the construction of the Jackson Doe Memorial Hospital in Tappita, amongst others.
These efforts by the UP-led government were sufficient for the electorate to give the party another mandate in 2011. The party was flying very high and enjoyed the confidence of at least majority of the Liberian people at this point.
“A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand”: UP’s Internal Conflict—The Beginning of its Political Demise
Following the 2011 elections, Unity Party began to experience internal party conflict. This conflict emanated from disagreements amongst the hierarchy of the party on the formation of the government. Madam Sirleaf prevailed and formed a government that included few prominent members of the opposition including Ambassador Lewis Brown and Eugene Nagbe. The disagreement was so strong that the current Chairman of UP, then Secretary-General of the party refused his appointment as deputy minister at the Ministry of Commerce. It appears no one tried to resolve the conflict from early 2012 until it became public during the 2014 Senatorial elections when then Secretary General of Unity Party, Wilmot Paye, declared the President’s son, Robert Sirleaf “Public enemy of the UP” and would be treated as such. Mr. Paye further insinuated during a press conference that Mr. Robert Sirleaf’s sexual preference was for people other than women. While the UP was self-imploding and destructing, its bitter political rival (CDC) continued to activate its supporters and assured them that state power was not an elusive venture.
George Weah/CDC: The Ordinary People’s Hope?
A class system has always existed in our society. During the age of my grandparents, it was Americo-Liberians versus those of indigenous descent. Even though some people in our society still point to this divide, the biggest class divide in contemporary times is “educated versus uneducated” or “haves versus have-nots”. Whether it’s fair or not to the Unity Party, there has been this public sentiment or outcry that the party caters to the rich and powerful in our country; while CDC is the party of the struggling masses. Due to this (real or imaginary) sentiment and other socio-economic factors, there has been periodic tension between government’s security forces or the city government on the one hand, and street peddlers/petit traders on the other. And in most cases, these petit traders are members of the CDC. They also come from slum communities in the city that are considered political strongholds of the CDC.
CDC was the largest opposition political party in the country for the past 12 years in part due to the commitment of most of its supporters – those especially who have been on the margins of society. The jubilation that broke out in Monrovia and other parts of the country after NEC announced provincial and final results of the December 26 runoff, is a testament that ardent supporters of the party have kept their part of the bargain – they have voted for a party and a candidate they have reposed their confidence.
Will the party and President-elect keep their end of the bargain by providing opportunities: jobs, education, a decent life, recognition in society, etc.? Will it be a betrayal of promise or promise kept? Only time will tell!
Weah’s Electoral Mandate; Prince Johnson’s Role
As stated earlier in this piece, George Weah has been perceived by many ordinary Liberians as a source of inspiration. He came from a humble beginning to world of prominence; from Clara Town to Cameroon; Paris to Milan, and now from Rehab Road to the Executive Mansion. Weah has conquered almost all obstacles placed in his path that prevented him from achieving his desired goal. Politically, there were two counties in Liberia that prevented him from reaching the Executive Mansion in the past: Lofa and Nimba. But, in 2017, he overcame one of the two obstacles (counties) thus paving his way to the mansion.
Weah performed poorly in both counties during the first round of the elections in October and it appeared that would be deja vu again. But, this time he had the strategy to overcome his Nimba County nightmare.
Candidate Weah appeared with Nimba County strongman, Prince Johnson at Prophet TD Joshua’s church on a faithful Sunday morning following the first round of elections where no candidate obtained an absolute majority. Weah and his new political ally returned to the country and a few days later he was endorsed by Prince Johnson. Critics made a mockery of the new political marriage, stating that Johnson could not be trusted. The next day a group of women in Sanniquellie denounced Prince’s endorsement of Weah and vowed to vote for the Unity Party and V.P. Joseph Boakai.
The rest is history! Prince Johnson campaigned with Weah in Nimba, he kept his word, CDC won Nimba and that was sufficient to crown him President of Liberia. Weah owes a depth of gratitude to his ardent supporters, Prince Johnson, and the people of Nimba.
All Liberians should pray for Weah’s success because the country’s success depends on his success for at least the next 6 years.
About the Author:
Samuel Barbay Gaye, Jr., holds a Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN. He lives in New Jersey with his family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.