Peaceful Election Truly Represents a Major Milestone for Liberia’s Democracy
By Gabriel I. H. Williams
Tears welled up in my eyes as I read the Concession Statement delivered by Vice President Joseph N. Boakai on Friday, December 29, 2017, following his defeat by Senator George Weah in the hotly contested but peaceful presidential election in Liberia. Irrespective of whatever the outcome turned out to be, I was simply moved by a sense of pride about this major democratic milestone Liberia has accomplished.
The peaceful conclusion of what was undoubtedly a contentious electoral process marks a profound break with the recent past, where change of Liberia’s leadership was characterized by violence, bloodshed and destruction.
In his concession statement, Vice President Boakai, who is the Standard Bearer of the ruling Unity Party, said … “a while ago, I called Ambassador George Manneh Weah of the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC), to congratulate him on emerging as the winner in the presidential contest. I also availed myself to help him in any way he may find me useful to advance the good of our country.”
Vice President Boakai then called on all his supporters and well-wishers “to support peace and collectively join hands to continue to build our country, heal our wounds and serve our people with honesty, as well as a renewed dedication and commitment.” He also called on all Liberians to close ranks and work together for the betterment of Mama Liberia.
Thanks be to the Lord that we are witnessing a period in the life of Liberia where a presidential candidate would concede defeat with such grace and dignity as Ambassador Boakai did, a demonstration of his true statesmanship. I recall that I was an intern at the Daily Observer newspaper in Monrovia in my early 20s training to be a journalist when hell broke loose in 1985, following the disputed general and presidential elections. Hundreds of people were killed and there was wide-spread abuse of human rights.
The unspeakable acts of brutality perpetrated during that time served as the fuel that set Liberia ablaze through nearly 15 years of bloody and devastating civil war. In his concession statement, Vice President Boakai acknowledged that the history of Liberia is characterized by episodes of fraudulent electoral processes that have engendered conflicts. He also cautioned Liberians to “remain cognizant of the extent to which elections are conflict-prone and have the potential to destroy nations, disintegrate families and undermine the sanctity of a nation.”
As Liberia went through the period of political uncertainty over the past few months, there were concerns and fear that the country might be plunged into another state of instability or armed conflict.
This is why it is noteworthy to proudly highlight that, despite the heated partisan rhetoric and the months of uncertainty that characterized the 2017 Presidential Election, Liberians conducted themselves peacefully. Even though emotions were high during the election disputations, they remained patient to allow for the constitutional process and the due process of law to play out. It was heart-warming to see mothers with their babies on their back, along with other children mixing with everyone else at peaceful political rallies and parades that often took on a carnival affair.
Also across the length and breadth of Liberia, in villages, towns, and cities, people gathered in their numbers to attend political debates and forums. Those events provided them the opportunity to hear from candidates and their representatives regarding their platforms.
Liberians in the Diaspora also invested their hearts and souls, resources, and time to be actively involved in the electoral process supporting various political parties and candidates. Many travelled to Liberia to be directly involved in the political process. Thank you for your support and sacrifices to help keep Liberia on a course of progress. An enhanced engagement of the Liberian Diaspora with the homeland is critical for Liberia’s rapid transformation. Through continued and sustained engagement, Liberians in the Diaspora will help create the enabling environment that would engender the transfer of knowledge, skills and resources to accelerate Liberia’s development and progress.
Through this historic election, Liberians have yet again demonstrated to the world, as they did in 2005 with the election of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia and Africa’s first democratically-elected female president, that they are a peaceful people.
One of the major accomplishments of the government of President Sirleaf is the tolerance of dissent, which has birthed an unprecedented level of freedom in Liberia. This is manifested by the fact that in 2010, Liberia became the first country in West Africa to pass a Freedom of Information (FOI) act into law. The Liberian people are beginning to see and enjoy the dividends of freedom as our nascent democracy grows from strength to strength. During the just ended general elections, an overwhelming majority of members of the National Legislature seeking re-election were defeated, while a very few who were regarded to have performed up to public expectations were re-elected.
Liberians are beginning to realize the power in their vote, and how they can leverage it to improve their lives. So if they give you the opportunity to serve and bring about some improvement but you are found to be an incapable custodian of the public trust, then they will show you the way out the door and let someone else take charge. It is hard time that the standard of public service in Liberia is improved to a generally acceptable and desirable level, and people charged with responsibilities are mindful of public expectation for progress.
With an increasingly vibrant and proactive civil society, buttressed by a free and economically vibrant media, Liberia’s democratic foundations can only be further strengthened. Hence, there is a need for increased support for civil society organizations and the media, so as to enable them to continue to be proactive in holding government accountable, as have been the case during the administration of Madam President.
We appreciate the positive role of all the presidential candidates who did not succeed during the 2017 presidential elections, and their supporters, who have shown by their peaceful disposition that Liberia continues on a course of peace and progress. Liberia’s democracy would be further enhanced by a strong opposition that will stay the course and continue to be constructively engaged with the government to ensure that the people’s business is done.
We also thank the international community for the sustained engagement with Liberia since the end of the civil crises and the beginning of post-war reconstruction. The United Nations, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), European Union (EU), and also to mention major partners such as the United States and China, must be highly applauded for staying the course with Liberia. With continued and deepened engagement and support, as manifested by the involvement of the international community in bringing a peaceful end to the 2017 General and Presidential Elections, there is reason to be hopeful that Liberia would remain on a steady course of democracy and economic progress.
Indeed, while Liberia is faced with enormous challenges, progress has been made. Upon taking office in 2006, the Government of President Sirleaf inherited a country internationally backlisted and regarded as a failed state. Today, Liberia has continued on a path of reconstruction, and she enjoys an international status as one of the most respected countries among the comity of nations.
Considering the longstanding historical ties subsisting between Liberia and the United States, one of the notable foreign policy accomplishments of Madam President was the establishment of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue in 2013. The first of its kind with the United States since Liberia’s establishment, the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue is the institutional framework for cooperation between both countries. In this light, irrespective of who is in the Executive Mansion in Monrovia or in the White House in Washington, D.C., there is an established institutional framework by which the relationship between both countries is governed.
Convened every two years on a rotational basis between Washington and Monrovia, the third round of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue took place on January 10, 2017 in Washington to build on the special historical and bilateral ties between the two countries and to convene four working groups focused on: Overcoming Challenges to Liberia’s Economy, Expanding Agriculture Production and Trade; Enhancing Liberia’s Investment and Infrastructure Climate; and Supporting Post Ebola Recovery and Health System Strengthening Efforts.
U.S. support for the rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee Hydro is an example of what is being achieved under the U.S.-Liberia Bilateral Partnership Dialogue, which also covers energy or electric power and road development, as well as human development.
Following Ambassador Boakai’s historic concession statement in Monrovia on December 29, 2017, The White House Press Secretary in Washington issued a statement congratulating the Liberian people on the successful conclusion of the presidential run-off, and President-elect Weah on his victory. The White House statement also paid homage to Vice President Boakai for his “years of honorable service to Liberia.”
Noting that the election represents a major milestone for Liberia’s democracy, the White House statement concludes: “The United States is committed to our longstanding relationship with Liberia and its people. We will continue to support the success of this historic democratic transition and the peace and prosperity of Liberia.”
Whenever there is a change in national leadership, people who are affected wonder what the change means for them; how is it going to affect the security and well-being of them and their families; how is the change going to positively or negatively impact their society or country as a whole.
As we all ponder the issues of what the new democratic change means for Liberia, I thought to contribute to the ongoing public discourse regarding how we can focus on building upon the gains that have been made to accelerate the process of development. I do so not unmindful that there are those who hold a contrary opinion, which is in keeping with the spirit of democracy.
For me, I see the glass half full, considering from whence we have come as a people and a nation.
Congratulations to President-elect Weah and Vice President-elect Jewel Howard-Taylor on your historic ascendency to our nation’s highest offices.
About the Author: Gabriel I.H. Williams is the Minister Counselor for Press and Public Affairs at the Embassy pf Liberia near Washington, D.C. A journalist and author, he served as Deputy Minister for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism before taking up his current diplomatic assignment in the United States.