More than a year prior to the commencement of the ongoing legislative and presidential elections cycle, various executive members of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and some of their key collaborators often made public statements to the effect that they would “win the election”, that they would “declare their own results”, and that unless they won, they would subject this country to another round of conflict. Throughout the campaign period, they have maintained an aggressive posture of intimidation, conflict, harassment - and violence, both by words and by action.
Since the October 11, 2011, presidential and legislative elections, CDC has intensified its posture of hostility toward the National Elections Commission (NEC) as well as to the opinion and desire of the Liberian people, our compatriots, for violence-free election and peace and security for all. Civil Society, Inter-Faith Council, Liberia Council of Churches, Liberia Muslim Council, Liberia National Students Union (LINSU), Press Union of Liberia, ordinary Liberian children, women, and our elderly citizens, both at home and beyond, have all literally and continuously pleaded for violence-free election and peace in our beloved country.
Further, CDC has demonstrated an utter disregard for international public opinion, and especially for the appeals of the leaders of our sub-regional and regional organizations: Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). It strikes me poignantly that CDC, in particular its Standard Bearer, Counselor Winston Tubman, seems in 20 short years to have forgotten how, many of us, including himself, initially sought refuge in Nigeria – and how the Federal Government of Nigeria, supported by the United States of America, the European, and United Nations, spearheaded the ECOMOG military intervention that laid the foundation, fought and died for the attainment of peace in Liberia. When ECOWAS speaks, especially through its current Chairman, the President of Nigeria, His Excellency Goodluck Jonathan, common sense, it seems to me, should therefore dictate that in spite of perceived wrong or any other grievance, CDC and Counselor Tubman should listen..
In addition, when the Mothers of our country, led by the venerable Ma Mary, affectionately called “Mary B” (Mrs. Mary Brownell), Mrs. Theresa Leigh Sherman, Counselor Yvette Chesson Wureh, Sister Mary Laurent, among others, the Fathers of this land, through the Chairman of the Council of Chiefs, Chief Zanzan Kawa, our children, the future of our common country, and all of our compatriots in the Diaspora, who in the quiet of their hearts, have joined us in unison to plea, rather to beg, for peace both before and after elections, and the CDC decides that these voices and our citizens do not matter, then of course, one could easily and rationally conjecture how a CDC government, if it ever became possible, would govern our country and people.
When the CDC leadership allows some of its partisans to use the instrumentalities of the media (radio, television, and newspaper) to heap vituperative upon our national leadership without making any statements to dissociate itself from such statements, then I wonder if the elderly would have a place of honor under a CDC government if it ever became a possibility in Liberia. I am so outraged when I hear young men on radio make rude statements about President Sirleaf-that I wonder what has happened to morality and home training in Liberia. Let’s forget the presidency for a moment, and acknowledge that Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as a person, is one of the elderly Mothers of our country. Do these young men have older parents? Were they raised in homes or communities? What home training did they receive? Did they attend Sunday school? Parents, whether they are western educated or not, are our storehouse of wisdom and should always be our object of reverence and honor and obedience. Old fashion value?
Yes. I am a middle age person. But I have my mother who is now in her 80s and lives with me. She did not receive any western education, but she taught my siblings and me the values of respect to any person older than ourselves – and for authority figure (village, town, county or country) – and humility. These values are not just my families, they are values that run across most families in Liberia, and across class and culture and country in civilized societies. So, when a young man, who hardly speaks English correctly, or who has no stakes in Liberia other than being born citizens, insults our President, our National Authority, then I wonder what has happened to old fashion Liberian home training and Christian/Islamic morality and discipline in Liberia? Then, I am reminded of the adage that states that if you live in glass house, you should not throw stone. The implication here is that if there is any young person who has an aged parent, male or female, if that young person disrespects someone else’s aged parent, that same ounce of disrespect and insults goes right back to the young person’s own natural parents in manifold.
To discuss political differences is healthy. To personalize such discussion to the level where it is rude and disrespectful to authority is not just obnoxious, but should warrant the unequivocal public rebuke of the group to which the young person belongs. And when a political party led by a person of high culture and education appears to tolerate or even sanction such disrespect to Constituted Authority, such silence speaks volumes about the morality of the leadership of the party and what country could obtain under his rule.
My Compatriots, let me now more specifically address some of the critical issues regarding the threatened boycott of the presidential run-off election by Congress for Democratic Change, as follows:
On July 5, 2011, National Elections Commission declares the presidential and legislative campaign officially open. CDC does announce that it would not participate in the elections because of either the composition of the Commission or for any other reasons. Reason: they believed then that they would win because they would simply “announce their own results”, or minimally create an “ungovernable” situation in Liberia to compel the international community to call for an “interim government of national unity”. This was – remains the end game of the CDC. Cut it, dice it in whatever way, form or shape. This is it.
Now, as in 2005, the lesson that was lost and remains lost on CDC’s mind is that electioneering politics is hard, serious, and non-stop work for the duration of a campaign process, because it involves marketing of the candidate and the policy to citizens, many without access to modern instruments of communications. Fame is helpful but it does not provide all requirements of electioneering politics. I traveled in several counties during the first round, and throughout my travels, CDC’s presence in rural Liberia was either very minimum, or not visible. In the capitals of the counties I visited, there were small groups of CDC youth here and there, who, when engaged, proved easily won over. The CDC, however, counted on two “critical assets”: Mystique of late President William V.S. Tubman, and the perception that Counselor Winston Tubman was late President Tubman’s son; and the fame of soccer legend Ambassador George Weah.
When I encountered voters during my campaign tours, especially in Western Liberia where the memory of late President Tubman remains alive among the elderly, I simply told them that Counselor Tubman was not the late President who die more than 40 years ago, but that even if he were, times and circumstances have changed. And it worked. The elderly nodded in agreement.
As it relates to Ambassador Weah, due to unavailability of radio and television receivers in many rural villages and towns, especially at the time he was at the peak of his soccer career and was winning laurels, many of the elderly have neither heard of him nor are familiar with his achievement. I often said that he was a decent young man who kept Liberia’s name alive during our conflict years. But then I would asked the elderly, “My people, if in this town, the roof of one of your huts was blown away, would you take someone from among you who has built and roofed his own hut before, or you would go to the blacksmith who lives in a hut built by another person and has no experience building and roofing huts to ask him to come, build, and roof your hut? And the response would be a thunderous NO! The crowds often understood without my making additional comments.
Many Liberians did not know that the popularity of Ambassador Weah was limited mainly to Monrovia and to the capitals of the counties where video clubs have made soccer popular and where the only creational activity that youth have is to witness games provided through satellite coverage. So, neither the Tubman Mystique nor the Weah fame could have won the election for Counselor Tubman and Ambassador Weah. But they performed measurably with about 32 percent of the total votes cast and 15 legislative seats.
Did CDC protest then or announce that it would not allow its new legislators to take up their seats in the 53rd Legislature in January 2012? No. Did CDC complain about fraud when its legislative candidates were declared winners? No. CDC started to protest only when the reality dawned on its flag bearers that defeat in the run-off was imminent; that such defeat would hurt the future presidential ambition of Ambassador George Weah because it would extinguish all hopes of a future presidential run. CDC knew, too, that if there had not been 16 Presidential candidates, Unity Party would have incontestably won the first round of the presidential election. The numbers tell it: more than a 10 percentage point spread between Unity Party and CDC. The third factor that helped CDC to survive a first round defeat was the surprisingly strong performance of the National Union of Democratic Change of Senator Prince Yomie Johnson across the country – and in particular in his native Nimba County. CDC underperformed in Nimba, and UP was a strong second place holder.
Further, in Montserrado County, where CDC had won a landslide in 2005, Unity Party proved very competitive, losing overall vote tallies to CDC by a whisker. This was the unmasking of CDC, the near defeat in Montserrado. CDC now knows that its perceived stranglehold on Montserrado County voters was neither permanent nor deep, and that in a second round with only two political parties, chances were strong that it would lose.
It is the totality of these factors that underpin CDC’s threatened boycott. Strange, one would say. If the elections go CDC’s way, as it did in the Legislature, it does not cry “fraud”. When it does not, then of course, fraud occurred. CDC has since tried to employ various tactics to support it spurious claims:
Fraud: according to reports, CDC refused five invitations extended by NEC to investigate its complaints. This claim of fraud is made against the unanimous verdict by reputable international and national observers, including the Carter Center, International Federation of Electoral Systems, ECOWAS, African Union, and European Union, various national observer groups, that the Liberian elections were free, transparent, and credible. Some even suggested that Liberia should be a model for African elections. Then, of course, to dent this moment of success and national pride, CDC begins to claim that there was fraud, but cannot prove the fraud.
Scapegoat and blaming NEC. This game received a bit of traction when an unfortunate, unedited letter written and signed by former NEC Chair, James Fromayan, reversed the final percentages attained by UP and CDC. This error, while serious, did not amount to much because over several days, the progressive results of the election had been released on live radio by NEC. By the time of the letter, everyone knew the final results. Notwithstanding, CDC made a mountain out of this mole hill. It called for Fromayan’s resignation. Soon, CDC wanted the entire National Elections Commission dissolved and reconstituted when the run-off elections was only about ten days away. How would a new NEC, if one were to ever fathom the senseless and irresponsible idea of reconstituting NEC, reorganize itself, plan for the run-off, and conduct the elections. Articles 80 through Articles 83 of the 1986 Liberian constitutions provide adequate clarity to show the folly of the CDC’s case.
A final point I would like to make about the Fromayan resignation is this: I knew and I said so to some friends that the demand for his resignation was only the first step, and that CDC would make other demands, the end goal being to create a situation that would make Liberia “ungovernable” and create a situation that would justify their call for a “transitional government”. Secondly, I knew that this was unwarranted capitulation that would yield no positive outcome.
My Compatriots, please do not misunderstand. The error committed by NEC in the letter signed by former Chairman Fromayan was grievous and most inauspicious. Was it the first time? No. The National Referendum was the first major error. But there should be a little bit of understanding here: NEC works under tremendous pressure. Most institutions and persons with weak psychological constitutions would crack under prevailing NEC conditions. And sometimes, when one works people, one does not operate on the basis that people have agendas, agendas that often run counter to the institution’s mandate or mission. One has to operate within the team. Mr. Fromayan learned a difficult, painful, and emotionally searing lesson, as I did when the Executive Mansion burned. I can empathize with his moments of anguish and self-doubt, and what ifs. He therefore did what was the honorable thing to do, and which I was the first public official in the Sirleaf Administration did: resign so that he did not become a “distraction” or the basis for CDC’s insistence on boycotting the run-off. But I will say this about James Fromayan: He is a descent Christian gentleman, who is a fellow Lutheran. In addition, if NEC was in the business of cheating, my good friend, Outgoing Senator Blamo Nelson, whose wife is now Acting Chairperson of NEC, would not have lost his bid for re-election to the Senate. Or if NEC is pro-UP, Unity Party would not have lost several bye-elections, including the one held for the election of the Junior Senator of Montserrado County. How else can NEC prove its neutrality and adherence to the Elections Laws and Constitution of Liberia?
My Compatriots, it is therefore not surprising that both the Government of the United States and the Economic Community of West African States, among others, have expressed disappointment at CDC’s insistence on boycotting the run-off election. In my view, however, NEC is doing the right thing, to proceed with the elections because this is what our Constitution requires – and our citizens’ demand. The duty that we, Liberians, have is to out in the same numbers or more, as we did on October 11, 2011, to vote for the Presidential Candidate of our Choice, peacefully, avoiding provocation and temptations regardless of their sources.
Reimbursement or payment for CDC poll workers. This is a laughable demand. Where can the line be drawn? And who provides the funds for CDC to pay its poll watchers? Should the Government of Liberia engage in budget bursting, unjustified expenditure to provide funds to CDC and, of course, all other participating political parties to pay their poll and other campaign and political party workers? Because, as it is said, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander”. Is it rational? Is it permissible under law? How can this be justified to the Liberian people, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and bilateral international partners who use their taxpayers’ money to support Liberia? And from which budget line of the national budget? Where is the source of the funds?
Other wild-goose demands such as the accusation that “President Sirleaf has used state resources” could be investigated if CDC were serious and had facts to support its claim. CDC should however know that incumbency has certain inherent privileges and advantages: free media coverage and other free privileges that an opposition does not have. Further, if CDC were the incumbent, its president would have some, if not more, of these advantages and privileges. Trust me! Further, CDC does not also seem to consider that Unity Party is currently the largest political party in Liberia. Its membership also comprises not just some of Liberia’s political luminaries, but Liberians who possess the resources and have been committed to fund their party’s campaign to ensure that the gains of democracy, socio-economic development, and progress are not reversed.
My Compatriots, it is understandable, if one considers that CDC is desirous of ensuring that its founder continues to be relevant in Liberian presidential politics. Any Liberian who has seen Liberia rebound in the past six years from the nightmare and destruction of 14 years of civil war will however not show any willingness to understand anyone whose utterance or action create the specter of another cycle of civil crisis. Liberia is still vulnerable; Liberia is still fragile. But Liberia refuses to return to its dark past.
Further, anyone who entertain who shows any sympathy for anyone who, by word or action demonstrates any impulse toward conflict is in effect showing gross disregard for the immeasurable investment of money and resources, time, energy, and attention that the international community has and continues to invest in Liberia. Such a person will show a great lack of appreciation and gratitude to countries which have their domestic and other similarly significant global challenges, but which have made the restoration of peace and democracy in this country a challenge worth pursuing and supporting.
In my view, my Compatriots, I believe there is a future hope for the CDC. Contrary to its belief, CDC would not be rendered irrelevant if it went into the runoff and lost the election. You may ask how? Six years are not a lifetime. What CDC should begin to do is to begin the process of building the party as a political institution. Right now, the CDC without my dear younger brother, Ambassador George Manneh Weah, is not a political party. The CDC is George and vice versa, period. The CDC should select astute and responsible political leaders, not rabid, loud mouth young men who speak before they think, who believe that when a person utters big words wrongly used in English sentences with wrong verbs and wrong adjectives, then it shows education. Communication, if they knew what it is, is simple, uncomplicated, straightforward, devoid of excessive verbiage that do not convey coherent meanings and messages. I am guilty here! But I am trying to underscore the point.
CDC should also be strategic. In my recent letter to Counselor Tubman, I wrote that the CDC seems to lack a strategic direction. The Country Music Singer, Kenny Rogers, in one of his famous songs, wrote about his advice to gamblers: “Know when to fold, know when to hold, know when to run …” Politics, in my view, is not gambling, but Kenny Rogers’ advice is as apt to gambling as it is to CDC today. The question is, have they listened to the lyrics of Kenny Rogers’ music, or would they be willing to listen?
Here is a second advice that goes beyond Kenny Rogers’ music. It has to do not just with the threatened boycott of CDC, but with statements by some of its key partisans that they would make Liberia “ungovernable” and would “rule a CDC Liberia” while President Sirleaf governs a “Unity Party Liberia”. THERE ARE NO TWO LIBERIAS. ANYONE WHO TRIES TO CREATE A TWO-LIBERIA WILL NOT SUCCEED BECAUSE THE CITIZENS WILL RESIST THEM WITH THE FORCE OF MORALITY. THERE IS THEREFORE ONLY ONE LIBERIA, INDIVISIBLE UNDER GOD’S COMMAND.
However, this statement is painfully reminiscent of civil war Liberia, when there was a so-called “greater Liberia” as against those of us who lived in Monrovia who were seen as persons living in “lesser Liberia”. To proclaim that “CDC” would make “Liberia ungovernable” is akin to a call for civil conflict. Thanks to our new democratic culture and to our President, whose democratic credential is unimpeachable and unmatched in Liberian political history. Such reckless, irresponsible, and provocative statements would have invited visitation by security agencies. I however applaud that under our current dispensation, persons seeking fame and the badge of so-called “political persecution” have been deprived of acquiring such labels because they have been ignored and left to languish in their frustrations.
My Compatriots, here is what the CDC really needs to know:
In 1989, Liberia had not witnessed a civil conflict of war-like proportion. So, there was a romantic, welcome attitude to war because many felt that a war would target and eliminate only a certain group of people. In addition, there was also a romantic, western movie –type perception of war. Some people erroneously and tragically believe that real people did of die in war, but would die and return to life. Naïve and simplistic. But true and Understandable!
By 1989, there was a large pool of significant Liberians and former national leaders who had been forced to flee into exile and some were living in unacceptable and demeaning socio-economic conditions, addition to their love for the country that they and we all call home. Understandable! I felt this pain myself.
By 1989, there had been a running feud between the governing national authority and his people, on the one hand, and a particular region and its people on the other hand. Efforts at rapprochement and peace-making between these two groups were cosmetic and not heartfelt. The wounds were not healed. So there was a section of Liberia that seemed open to considering and participating in any action, including war, that would “remove” the “undesirable state of affairs in Liberia”. Understanble!
By 1989, youth and progressive groups, too, were aggrieved. The Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), the amalgam of progressive and advocacy and human rights groups in the Diaspora, with strong domestic sympathy and underground support, represented their grievances and spearheaded active lobbying in the United States and in Western Europe. The internally “marginalized” and unemployed youth were also an important social indicator of our nation in ferment.
So, it was easy for a so-called “revolution” to be launched by tapping into the reservoir of social and political discontent in Liberia. Today’s Liberia is a different socio-economic and political environment: the wind of democracy has been unleashed throughout the country and is gaining strength each day; free press and free expression are current and their writs are being enlarged; free movement into and out of Liberia is unhindered; no county or region is targeted for punishment because a son or daughter did or said something for which there should be collective punishment; public resources are being accounted for (LEITI, PPCC, VPA, etc.); fight against corruption continues unabated (FOIA, LACC, etc.), civil liberties and human rights have attained a special place of honor in the governing and public policy architecture of the nation (Independent National Human Rights Commission) – and the nation’s image and honor and international respect have been restored.
My Compatriots, am I suggesting here that everything is 100 percent or where we all would want it to be? No. But I know where we were in January 2006. I know where we are today, and if each of us tries, just a tad objectively, we will see that under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, our beloved country has made much, much progress in six short years. Our recovery from 2006, both infrastructurally and internationally, has been miraculously. What is not miraculous is the leadership that has made this possible: pragmatic, tolerant, democratic, accommodating, even and often low-tempered, inclusive, caring, loving, dedicating, vision-driven, hardworking, dedicated, selfless, strong and energetic , internationally engaged and respected, and committed to leave our beloved country better than she inherited it. I was there in the beginning, and have remained a witness with a front row seat. This is THIS IS PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF. She promised on that noon day on January 16, 2011. She met the high percentage of the promise.
Yet does it mean that agents of anarchy and chaos and conflict are happy with our peace? I am not naïve to think that. Does it mean that all of our people are happy, too? I am not a dreamer, and so I do not think that. But I know two blunt truths: If we allow our country to continue uninterruptedly on the path toward increased socio-economic reconstruction and development in the next six years, building on the foundation has already been laid, we will stand and marvel how far we have traveled together. But, if we allow a few, driven by the naked desire for political power and easily and ill-gotten wealth to drive our country into conflict again, we will not just reverse our path toward continued progress and socio-economic development, we will return our country to its pariah state, to the state where war-and-conflict leaders plundered the resources of our country, enrich themselves, presided over crumbled social institutions, facilities, and infrastructure, including the lack of functioning schools, clinics and hospitals, and roads- and our people languished in misery and squalor.
This is why I have been heartened by the many voices from you, my Compatriots, young, old, and small, demanding a violence-free presidential run-off election. I hope you will go beyond public pronouncements. I hope and urge you to mobilize so that wherever you see a group, small and large, initiating or acting in a manner that threatens or undermines our common peace, security, and stability, you will not just report it, but you will collectively confront it, like our Mothers did during our civil conflict. We cannot and must surrender to those who wish to take our nation back to chaos and anarchy and destruction.
My Compatriots, I would like to conclude this letter by briefly addressing that my dear Friend, Counselor Winston A. Tubman, especially against the backdrop of statements he has made since his return from Nigeria where he reportedly met with the Chairman of ECOWAS and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Goodluck Jonathan. Let me assure you that Counselor Tubman was one of our few national leaders whom I admired. I still do. If there is any perception of a difference, it is that I just happen to disagree with the positions he has taken since the beginning of the ongoing election cycle. From the distance, I know that he may have genuine fears. But he should have known that when he signed up with CDC, he was signing up to ride the back of a tiger – and many of you, my readers, know what happens to those who ride the backs of tigers. But it is not late for Counselor Tubman to do that which mainstream Liberia and those of us who know him expect him to do: Do the Right Thing. It will not be popular. It will not be convenient. It may even cause him serious inconveniences. This is what leadership, I am told, is about, doing the right thing in spite of personal inconveniences, personal discomforts, and personal challenges. The right thing is to declare that CDC, in spite its grievances, will participate in the run-off. It will decrease the state of tension. It will prove that he is a genuine statesman – and a leader. It will earn the approbation of all Liberians.
Finally, to Ambassador Weah. You know me and I know you. I know you are a decent man who respects old people and loves his country. Some of us read of your wartime experiences. I remember, too, when you had the situation at Roberts International Airport during the early days of the administration, and President Sirleaf sent me to talk to you to assure you, many of your former senior advisors urged you not to see me. You mentioned that to be, but quickly said, “Mr. Dukuly, I know you, and because it is you, I will see you. If it were anybody else, I would not see them.” I remember that. When I arrived at your residence and some of your former advisors were interrupting our conversation, you asked them to leave the environment immediately. We had a good conversation, and you honored the promised you made, which was that you would make no further comments on the matter. It was leadership, because I could tell that you angry. You suppressed your anger and interacted with me respectfully.
What I want to say to you, Ambassador Weah, is that there were many years when the only good news coming out of our war ravaged country was “George Weah” , the Soccer Legend, FIFA Player of Year, Africa Footballer of the Year, etc. etc. You won more international accolades that I can count. You were special even for members of my generation who never made it beyond playing “tennis ball in our yards”. And you remain special. Politics, my dear Ambassador, is like soccer: You win some, you lose some. One defeat does not define the character of a team or the character of the individual excellent player that you and still are. Your contributions in the annals of world and African football and to the Lone Star will remain indelible in the history books.
Today, as in 2006 when I called and visited your home, I am calling on you to show the same leadership that you demonstrated. I imagine there are many advisors who are urging you not to bulge. But it is not their reputation that is on the line. It is yours. The international community does not know them. They know you, Ambassador Weah, and your Standard Bearer, Counselor Tubman. They expect you both to show leadership, to demonstrate patriotism, and to listen to the voices of your countrymen, all of us, to restore calm and to bring relief to our country by announcing that CDC will participate in the run-off election Tuesday, November 8, 2011. There will be many elections cycles ahead.
My compatriots, I urge all of us to pray. Miracles still do happen. There may be a 12th hour miracle. Otherwise, I urge you to go out on November 8, 2011 to vote for peace and security and stability, as well as the future of all of our children.
Morris M. Dukuly, Sr.
Former Speaker/Transitional Legislative Assembly (TLA)