The dust that characterized Liberia’s first post-war elections has settled. No single party was able to win any considerable number of seats neither in the Lower House of Representatives nor the Upper House of Senate. A new government is in place and Liberians are hoping to pick up broken pieces of their shattered lives. But how much celebration can Liberians afford; is it a time to celebrate or not to?
Weah and the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) cried foul on and after the Liberian run-off presidential elections of November 8, 2005. The National Elections Commission (NEC) conducted an investigation in collaboration with international observers. The outcome – the massive fraud alleged by the CDC was a result of human error, the NEC report concluded. Could this be termed then that the CDC had a point when the party accused the commission of masterminding the fraud. You be the judge! Note that this is no longer a hot issue in Liberian politics. Many are content that the score has been settled.
While the President-elect pondered her victory, Liberia, especially Monrovia become tense as CDC supporters clashed with police and United Nations Peacekeeping troops. During this time, I spoke to some young Liberians in New York City and had a variety of opinions. One said, “Koromah, Winston, and other Liberian Politicians are well educated. But they don’t have the trust of the people. This is why George Weah was a favorite in the past election.” But why did Madam Johnson-Sirleaf win in the run-off, I asked. “There were many factors taken into consideration when the people chose her, like experience, contact, and education,” he replied.
Another said, “Weah’s election defeat can be attributed to the fears of his adversaries who chanted that if he [Weah] was elected president he; [pause] they created fear in the people’s minds that the man will be a bad president,” he lamented. Whether truth or myth, news writers and political commentators with renowned Western Medias made similar assumptions about Weah.
The New York Times in its October 29, 2005 issue, Lydia Polgreen likened George Weah to late president Samuel Doe, who ruled Liberia for ten years after seizing power in a bloody military coup in April of 1980. The writer argued that “Mr. Weah's rise has unsettled the tiny elite, with many worrying that he will become a figure like Master Sgt. Samuel K. Doe, who seized power in a bloody coup in 1980, ending more than a century of political domination by a small, powerful clique of descendants of the American slaves who founded this country more than 100 years ago.”
With pressure from international leaders, the CDC, the party headed by Weah, dropped its legal choice of pursing the election fraud case to the Supreme Court of Liberia. Eulogies and praises followed for the brave and manly decision made by Weah. This automatically paved the way for a peaceful inauguration of the new government headed by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The new government has since taken office as of January 2006.
In street corners of Monrovia, in homes of America, in ghettos of displaced persons and refugees camps around the world, Liberians celebrated this day – a sign of hope for a new dawn, a new era that shall champion the alleviation of poverty and the resettlement of many.
Even before the inauguration, the president-elect made a gesture to signal a complete break away from the past. Referring to her inauguration, she said, “So we want to use January 16, the day of our inauguration, for all Liberians especially those at home to celebrate our victory. We want our people who will not have the opportunity to join us at the Executive Mansion in the official celebration of the inauguration to do theirs at the community level,” reported The Analyst online (December 28, 2005).
For many Liberians, celebrations may happen down the road. The hopes and aspirations of both Liberians and international stakeholders have been set high. Internally displaced Liberians are hoping that they will get some financial assistance to help them return to their respective towns and villages to begin rebuilding their lives.
Liberians from the Diaspora are also flocking back to Monrovia in large numbers in a hope of finding jobs in the new government. Even some naturalized Americo-Liberians are betting their lot that they shall be given a chance to prove that they still have Liberia at heart. The only hindrance to those with dual nationality is that the Liberian Constitution does not allow it. Even born Liberians automatically lose that “birth-right” to serve in high-level jobs if they take an oath in another country.
This good sign of knowledge return and appointments made by President Johnson-Sirleaf have been applauded in many quarters. Notwithstanding, people are anxious to see the beginning of the changes that they have been promised. Firestone workers are already venting their frustration and are recommencing a strike that has halted operations at the Firestone Rubber Plantation.
Disgruntled employees of the Finance Ministry are pursuing a legal remedy to their mass firing by President Johnson-Sirleaf.
And somewhere in villages and towns, ordinary Liberians are still afraid of those, who once maimed and killed their love ones, now loaming around their communities with no jobs or skills.
The challenges are enormous; the expectations are high. Liberia could live up to its promise of “a free land of liberty with justice and peace for all” through the government’s resource management expertise. The resources (diamonds, gold, rubber, timber, palm-oil, coffee, cocoa; palm-wine, just to name a few) that adorned the Liberian soil, if manage in a transparent and equitable manner, will give each and every Liberian the chance to benefit from this massive wealth and enable the ordinary people to improve their living standards.
Until this can be achieved, Liberians have nothing to celebrate about thus far, since the inaugural celebration. This is the word of the people; the people will be watching! God bless Liberia.