Dear Fellow Compatriots:
Liberians: Let’s Savor and Celebrate the Historic Crossing of our Electoral Rubicon
This morning, the National Elections Commission (NEC) officially certificates the President-elect of the Republic of Liberia, Her Excellency Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The Commission also certificates 72 members-elect of the House of Representative and 15 members-elect of Liberian Senate.
This is a big deal and a big moment! It is also an historic day. This is the first time since 1955 when President William V.S. Tubman’s True Whig Party crushed the Independent True Whig of his predecessor and mentor, President Edwin J. Barclay, and then Secretary of the Interior, David Coleman, that Liberians are witnessing a democratic transition. It may be interesting to point out that David Coleman was the only Americo-Liberian at the time to be initiated into the Poro Society and to rise to the eminent position of Grand Dazoe. Small wonder that soldiers of the Liberia Frontier Force (LFF), who were ordered to shoot Secretary Coleman, refused to carry out the orders. Respect for Poro Culture among its initiates was strong and remains strong even today. 1955 therefore marked Liberia’s sad and tragic descend to a virtual one party state and single group political and socio-economic domination of the nation and its people.
My Fellow Compatriots, retrospectively, although the imposition of single party rule in Liberia may have served the political purposes of the ruling elite and our country at a peculiar historical time, even quell dissenting voices, it however proved counterproductive because it contributed to laying the foundation for the emergence of radical groups that operated outside the formal political structure and largely in the undertow. It was these groups, often operating clandestinely, that quickened the pace of radicalization of the youth of the country, and subsequently underpinned the April 14, 1979, Rice Riots and April 12, 1980, Military Coupe.
Furthermore, today’s occasion is historic because Liberia has not had genuinely free, fair, transparent multiparty democratic presidential and legislative elections in a half century – and longer. In 1985, there was a half-hearted attempt at democratic elections followed by an aborted military coup. The 1985 experiment with multiparty democratic elections was believed to have been gravely undermined when a 50-member special committee was constituted and sequestered outside the ambit of the elections commission of late Ambassador Emmett Harmon to tally the ballots.
Today’s occasion is therefore a moment and a day to savor and celebrate. It climaxes a presidential election in which 16 political parties participated and which significantly and appropriately was decisively decided in a run-off. Yea, it has been difficult arriving to this day. The environment was poisoned. Many believed that this day would not be possible because there were some Liberians who worked to ensure that it never happened; who schemed and are still scheming to undermine it; who worked hard, day and night, to create violent conflict in order to abort efforts at our democratic transition and take Liberia back to its inglorious past. Some have anguished and continue to anguish because defeat, when it visits the politically naïve, democratically immature, and inordinately ambitious, can be difficult to accept. Understandable, because for some, the late President Kwame Nkrumah’s counsel to “seek first the political kingdom …and all other things shall…” reigns true. The latter group has no political agenda for the nation; no vision, just the naked desire for political power.
But here in Liberia, as elsewhere in countries where democratic traditions and tenets have been nurtured for generations and are strong, democratic elections are never meant to end in a draw with no winners. Further, in democratic elections, those who lose do not engage in violence as a way to compel or dictate political accommodation or inclusion. There have been precedents in Liberia when in fact conscientious efforts were made to exclude even winners in so-called democratic elections. No one group resorted to violence to dictate inclusion. In 2006, however, there were serious and determined efforts to create a government of inclusion – and it was largely achieved. There is no doubt in my mind that the situation would be no different in 2011 than it was in 2006. Yet no one should hold Liberia hostage for personal political gains or the expectation that they would be included in the new administration because they threaten violence or speak recklessly.
My Fellow Compatriots, this morning, Liberia crosses the democratic Rubicon, and is on the threshold of setting a new and higher democratic standard. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has again become the first democratically elected incumbent President to be re-elected President of Liberia. On the eve of 1991, late President Samuel K. Doe’s moment was interrupted by civil war, and a 14-year transitional interregnum reigned. In 2003, President Charles Taylor, too, lost his opportunity when he had to abandon the presidency to seek refuge in Nigeria. President Sirleaf is therefore the first Liberian President, who is completing six years of democratic governance, to be re-elected in a robustly competitive process and to be certificated today to embark on her second term of office.
My Fellow Compatriots: are words of congratulations in order for the President and for all of us, citizens, both in Liberia and outside Liberia, for this monumental political achievement? I believe so. On your behalf and in my own name, I therefore say loudly, CONGRATULATIONS, MADAME PRESIDENT. Significantly, too, are words of thanks and grateful appreciation in order for our bilateral and multilateral partners and representations in order for ensuring that the 2011 presidential and legislative elections were held? Of course. I therefore would like to say “special thank you” to the ECOWAS Commission through its President, His Excellency J. Victor Gbeho, African Union through its Head of delegation, United Nations Military Mission in Liberia through its SRSG, Her Excellency Ellen Loj, European Union through its Representatives near Monrovia, all international and national Observer groups – and the President of the United States of America, Honorable Barak Obama, and his Government through their Ambassador near Monrovia, Her Excellency Linda Thomas Greenfield. I know a little bit about international relations, having graduated years ago from the Liberian Foreign Service Institute. I therefore have no illusion about the hard work that Ambassador Greenfield put into having the President of the United States issue that critical press statement. It did the trick together with other factors. UNMIL and our National Security Apparatus for working diligently, bravely, and sacrificially to avert another cycle of violence in Liberia. Thank you!
Yet as we close this chapter on our political history to begin a new, more promising chapter, much work lies ahead. President Sirleaf has repeatedly acknowledged this fact. For example, and of immediate concern to Liberians like me, are the following questions: (1) how do we begin to mend the broken hearts and broken relationships impaired largely by the passionate and vitriolic rhetoric that characterized our competitive democratic electoral process? (2) how do we reach out to embrace all of our citizens on all sides of our political, socio-cultural, economic, religious, and ethnic divides? (3) how do we begin to piece back together and reconcile our fractured nation and people, even though a small beginning has been started with the Gbowee Commission? (4) how do we arrest, harness, and channel the restless exuberance, creative energies, and unbounded vision of our youth and children through active engagement, provision of jobs, and creation of opportunities for their meaningful participation in governance and national leadership? (5) how do we connect our counties with each other and with our capital, Monrovia, and make social amenities available to all of our citizens? (6) how do we provide employment opportunities for our citizens in the 15 political subdivisions of our country? And (7) how do we create the safe, public space for us to engage in meaningful national dialogues without rancor, vituperation, and fear about the challenges our nation faces now and in the future, and define the steps we that we can take to ameliorate or address those challenges? There are many more “how do wes?”
My Fellow Compatriots, there is plenty work for all of us to do. We cannot and should therefore not permit ourselves to wallow in the sadness and anguish of defeat, or allow ourselves to be consumed or overwhelmed by hate and the craving for revenge. We must not also languish in our celebratory state and soon forget that now begins the hard work of building on the fundamentals already laid by the Administration for the further development of our country. Six years are not a lifetime. Soon, another election cycle will be here. But for now, the Liberian people have spoken and acted: they have re-elected President Sirleaf, and in a democracy the certification today of the President by the National Elections Commission literally closes the book on any further discussion about the 2011 elections, except the inauguration in January 2012.
Significantly, too, Liberians at home and abroad have spoken loudly and without equivocation: they want peace; they want those who are unceasingly beating the drums of violence and conflict to stop. Our fellow citizens demand peace and security and stability. They have said that they are resolved to stay, rather remain, in our beloved and beautiful country, and will never run again. The young people of this country should know that those who advise them to “spoil it” neither like them nor our common country. They do not want them to have a good life and a good future. Some of them have already had their futures. Some have squandered their futures and have nothing to show for them. So, they want to misguide and misdirect you, our young people. But know that you are the FUTURE of Liberia, because many of these people have passed the high noons of their lives; they are middle age or older. A few may even belong to the Dinosaur Club. Your future is just beginning or has not begun in earnest. Prepare for it so that you, unlike them, can fully utilize it and be fulfilled.
There will be many more elections in which you – and children younger than you, will participate. Many presidents and cabinet ministers and heads of public corporations will be produced from within your ranks. Liberia will be richer economically. Imagine oil being produced in Liberia in, say, ten years! Imagine Golden VerOleum, Sime Darby, Equatorial Palm Oil, Elenilto Liberia, BHP Billiton, Buchanan Renewals, ArcelorMittal, and many more transnational companies operating at full capacities and exporting their products from Liberia! Imagine the revenue bonanza that will accrue to Liberia and the impact on personal lives and the development of this country! But imagine, too, that if you follow the bad and selfish advice that your so-called “political gurus” are giving you to destroy our country – and by the mere threats of violence these companies pull out of Liberia! Imagine the impact on the economy, on employment opportunities! Go to the Greenville forest and see how Golden VerOleum is fast transforming a once desolate and abandoned jungle heartland into a thriving and bubbling plantation community! Imagine more than 500 Liberians now working for a company that commenced operation barely eight months ago. Then, imagine the impact that 14 years of war and six years of political misrule had on our country and on our lives! Finally, imagine that by the threats of violence, international companies operating here close down their operations and leave the country! Imagine the Government trying to encourage them to return and what their responses will be! Imagine! Imagine!
My Fellow Compatriots, those of us who are parents or who connect with young people need to have constructive conversations with them about our country. We should engage them. Many of the youth are under tremendous peer pressure and have needs to fit in and to be accepted by their peers. They paint their faces to look frightening and even evil. They hold green leaves and branches to show solidarity. They walk the streets as if only they exist and own the streets. But they are human beings, too, and are afraid even if they appear un-afraid.
The youth are our children. We cannot and should therefore not be afraid of them. In their actions are subliminal messages. Are we listening as a nation and a people? They are crying out loudly for help. Playing soccer with soccer legend George Weah provides momentary escape and relief, just as those who smoke or take drugs would acknowledge. We all were once youth. I remember moments in my life when I woke up at night and began to hit my tennis ball against the wall in my room. I had too much energy, and could not sleep. I sought avenue to release it. The youth have huge energies that seek outlets for release. The sports academy that President Sirleaf recently spoke about is a good place to begin. Vocational and technical programs are also excellent initiatives to launch. Temporary employment opportunities are excellent because they utilize youth energies and skills and put moneys in their pockets. These programs should begin sooner rather than later. But even as the Government does all these things, there are roles for each of us, as significant adults and parents: we should try to engage our youth in small groups and in organized forums in our Churches and Mosques, in our communities, and in our workplaces. We should connect or reconnect without own children, too. Disengaging out of fear and frustration would be disastrous for us all.
On a not so related matter, I would like to draw our collective attention to a situation that bothers and personally offends me. At the heart of this situation is a youth, Mr. Acarious M. Gray, the newly elected representative of Montserrado County and Secretary General of Congress for Democratic Change. I know Acarious personally, and I have to admit that I like the young man, his rambunctious nature, his propensity to be verbose even when he uses words wrongly, etc. etc. And he comes from Grand Cape Mount, a county with which my county, Bomi, shares a common borer, common languages, common cultures, common religions, and even common lifestyles.
I have however followed Acarious’ public utterances over the past several months. And I am disappointed and incensed by the fact that this young man, whenever presented the opportunity whether on radio and in other forums to speak or to grant an interview, always uses such opportunities to insult the President of Liberia, or to blame her for his personal problems and the problems of his political party. This is wrong. This is offensive. This is not politics. If Counselor Winston Tubman or Mr. George Weah were ever president of this country, I would not be disrespectful to either of them because I disagree with them, or because we belong to different political parties. So, here is my special appeal to Ambassador Winston A. Tubman and Ambassador George M. Weah, both national leaders and parents: please let Acarious Gray know that it is wrong to disrespect our National Authority, and that he must stop.
It is wrong to disrespect other people’s parents. I have to assume that Acarious Gray, coming from Grand Cape Mount County, has parents and was taught the same values that my Mother taught me: respect for anyone older than you, humility, and speaking gently and politely because words do not rot. The people of Cape Mount, as are all the people of Western Liberia and the entire country, have been historically respectful and continue to be respectful to all National Authorities. Here is therefore my second appeal to Acarious Gray’s parents and significant relatives, the people of Grand Cape Mount, and the electoral district of Montserrado County: send Acarious the clear message that he does not represent you when he uses inappropriate language in conversations about our President, and that he must stop.
Acarious Gray must know and understand that in genuine democracies, people disagree, and there are winners and losers. That’s democracy; otherwise, there would be no democracy. But in a democracy, we must not personalize our differences and use them to demonize our opponents. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is President of Liberia. She is also and more importantly the mother of four successful young men. She is a proud grandmother. In my years of dealing with her, I have not heard the President offer disrespect to a staff or to anyone else regardless of how high or lowly the person may be. I have not heard the President utter impolite words about even people she strongly disagrees with.
It is Acarious Gray’s democratic right to disagree with President Sirleaf. But, that right does not extend to his offering the President disrespect, ever, whether on radio, television, and in other gatherings. President Sirleaf is the symbol of our nation, the symbol of our flag. No one needs to like her, but we all have a patriotic duty and a moral and cultural responsibility to respect her as President of the Republic of Liberia and Mother of our nation.
I have my aged mother living with me. I could not ever fathom a scenario in which anyone, not even one of her many grandchildren and great grandchildren offers the smallest word of disrespect to my Mother, not even the mere hissing of teeth. I feel similarly very strongly about the President of Liberia, the Symbol of our Nation. Are there Liberians who feel strongly like me? Then, raise your voices as you did and continue to do in defense of peace and against violence in our country. There is power in your collective voice.
In Union Strong, Success is Sure…!
Morris M. Dukuly, Sr.
Former Speaker/Transition Legislative Assembly (1994-1997)