Paul Yeenie Harry ~ (August 29th 2005)
"...We are in another bell ringing period again. One of the pathetic situations about Liberia is that most of our people do not have the opportunity to get the necessary information that will enable them to make sound decisions. Not many people can read and write. Besides, not all those who can read and write can afford to buy newspapers. Furthermore, not all those who can read and write are interested in the facts and the truth...”
"Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment. Therefore I say: Hearken to me; I also will show my opinion." Job 32:9,10
Here I am, again, with the herculean task of advising a society whose people have become polarized as a result of all sorts of reasons: illiteracy, vindictiveness, vested interests, misinformation, bemusement, and so forth. In spite of all this, I believe it is still my responsibility to advise my people. I am convinced there are those who have ears to hear, and they will hear!
A friend of mine called me from the States a few days ago and said, “Comrade Paul, thanks for your articles. Your points are well expressed, but …” I jokingly interrupted and asked, “Where is the BIG BUT coming from again, comrade?” He laughed and threw in, “You know, Paul, I wonder how many of the electorates will have the opportunity to read your articles and, if they even read them, whether it would change their decision to vote for a particular candidate that they already have in mind.”
“For all of the electorates, no, but,” I continued, “for some, yes.” I am convinced that some will change their mind. I then went on to say that the situation in Liberia is a complex one. With illiteracy standing at more than 75%, and unemployment at 85%, compounded by the fact that there is a colony of difficult-to-avoid corrupt politicians jumping from one political party to another, like excited jungle monkeys, it will be more than difficult for the people to make the right decision.
In fact, my intention is not to change everyone; it’s impossible because that would also mean changing the candidates themselves. Besides, I have no control over the decision-making process of those who will read my articles. I can only hope that some Liberians, somewhere, will be helped in their decision-making, especially as it relates to the Day of Judgment – October 11. I am out of Liberia now, and will be out for some time. All I can do now is to advise through my writing. The writing will be a piece of history by which the wrong decision-makers will be lectured in the future.
During the 1997 elections, I was in Liberia – I was on the ground. I talked to Liberians personally. I talked to friends, acquaintances, family members, etc. I participated in different debates on the campus of the A. M.E. Zion University College (then located in Congo Town), as well as those held in Chu-gbor on the Oldroad. In all those debates, not only did I tell my compatriots in clear terms that Taylor was not the right choice for the Liberian people, but I also give logical and historical reasons to prove my point. Some, not all, changed their mind and did not vote for Taylor. Most of those who thought we just didn’t like Taylor later realized that we were right.
We are in another bell ringing period again. One of the pathetic situations about Liberia is that most of our people do not have the opportunity to get the necessary information that will enable them to make sound decisions. Not many people can read and write. Besides, not all those who can read and write can afford to buy newspapers. Furthermore, not all those who can read and write are interested in the facts and the truth. Still, there might be newspapers and radio stations that may confuse the flow of accurate information because they choose to take partisan line: they favor a specific candidate because that candidate is a friend of the owners, or the officials, of the newspaper or radio station. Hence, the people are misinformed. Some newspaper owners or Board members are either running campaign for themselves or for some other candidate. The process becomes muddy!
Moreover, some of those who should actually be helping to tell our people not to make any mistakes in the process are the very people who are encouraging the people to go in the wrong way. When an individual whom a good number of the population have considered over the years as a discerning individual, or as the people’s voice, is supporting the wrong group during this bell ringing, the number of people that has had respect for him over the years feels that the side he is supporting is the right side, hence, they will be lured there as well. This is what is happening in Monrovia now, a situation that is helping to confuse our people more. I would not even be surprised if some of the potential voters decided not to vote on October 11.
Remember, also, that in Liberia, election time is “chopping” time, at least as recent history is concerned. And those who have the opportunity to “chop,” as well as those who can find and make use of the opportunity to “chop,” will do everything to “chop” from those who create the opportunity for “chopping.” This is an indisputable reality. For instance, the same musical group, or the same “Gio devil,” you see playing for this candidate today may be seen playing for a different candidate tomorrow. It’s mostly about the money, and not necessarily about loyalty or support.
Because most young people recognize this fact, they create different youth groups and arrange meetings with representatives of different political parties during elections in order to discuss the possibility of working together. If they don’t succeed with one party, they try another party. The process continues until they find a party that is willing to support them. Once the marriage is entered into, the youth group begins to sing song of praises, as well as campaign, for this party and its standard-bearer. The situation is comparable to that of an unemployed college graduate who’s sending unsolicited application from one firm to another, desperately trying to find the firm where his “luck will shine.”
Another thing: Election season in Liberia is excitement time. From what I have observed, I have come to realize that Liberians like to experience curious situations and events – situations and events that arouse their interest because of novelty or strangeness – which does not necessarily mean that they are part, or are interested in being part, of what gives rise to the curious situations and events. The different songs and dances, battle cries, honking of vehicles, the distribution and wearing of party T-shirts and caps, the preparation and distribution of colorful posters, political rallies, periodic concerts of of traditional and modern music, presentations of political speeches, formation of human-envoy parades on the major streets of Monrovia, etc., which usually characterize the campaign of almost every political party, are some of the main reasons why Liberians throng these different political events.
For instance, during the 1997 election season, there was a huge human-convoy parade on the Bushrod Island, a human-convoy that was engendered by the visit of Mr. Baccus Matthews, Standard-bearer of the United People’s Party, and his party members. The streets were blocked. Wheelbarrow boys, cold water sellers, plastic bag sellers, other peddlers, all were seen in the crowd. The same situation occurred when Dr. Tipoteh and the LPP partisans went in the same area. The interesting part about the scenario was that some of the same people who sang in the crowd, “We want Baccus! We want Baccus,” also sang, “We want Tokpa, Tokpa Nan Tipoteh. We want Tokpa, Tokpa Nan Tipoteh.” Election time in Liberia is excitement time!
In 1997 during the well-attended flamboyant political rally of Charles Taylor’s NPP, held at the SKD Complex, twenty-one of my neighbors attended the event. When they came back late in the evening, I asked them why they had gone to the event. Not to my surprise, seventeen of the twenty-one neighbors said, “We wanted to see what would really happen there; we didn’t want to be told ‘they say.’” I threw in with a captious question, “Didn’t you go there because you like Mr. Taylor and the NPP?” Five of them with a forceful chorus, “Like who? Taylor?” They thought I had committed an abomination by insinuating that they were supporting Taylor because they attended his political rally. Indeed, election time in Liberia is excitement time!
Hence, no one should come up with a hasty conclusion that because a huge crowd attends a specific political party’s rally or event, it means that all the members of the crowd are supporters of that political party or its candidate, even if they all shout, “We want Candidate X” one thousand times per minute. Remember, election time in Liberia is excitement time.
Now, let’s turn to the crux of the article’s title: pieces of advice for my fellow Liberians who will be voting on October 11. In Part One, I presented three pieces of advice. In Part Two, I presented two. In this part, I will present four. Let’s start.
The Sixth Advice:Do not vote for a person whom you believe will make militarization his national priority. This tendency could cause such a president to neglect the programs that are supposed to enhance Liberia’s development and progress, thereby rendering the living condition of the Liberian people a perpetual culture of poverty and illiteracy. Similarly, this could cause our beloved country to become the breeding ground for terrorists, mercenaries, coup plotters, nation distabilizers, and so forth.
You know the story of Charles Taylor who spent millions of dollars on the purchase of arms and ammunition, on the training and salaries of several security forces, while the Liberian people slept in constant darkness and the word “hand pump” became a part of Liberians’ everyday vocabulary. Instead of improving the Liberian people’s condition, he was busy setting up and improving new security forces. In spite of all that, the forces of LURD and MODEL came to his doorstep. Perhaps, if Taylor had sought the well being of the Liberian people all the time he was in power, they would have protected him, but he failed to recognize the source of a genuine and long-lasting protection – the people. No wonder he paid the price, and he paid it not only with disgrace, but also with tears.
My fellow Liberians, please check well before casting your ballot for a specific candidate on October 11. If you have forgotten about our distant history, reflect on out most recent history. Don’t choose the wrong person, please!
The Seventh Advice: Do not vote for a person whom you believe has, or will have, the tendency to constantly interfere with the functions of the judiciary, thereby, incapacitating that essential branch of government to dispense transparent justice. You are aware of stories about how some past presidents told the courts what to do, and what not to do. For Liberians to appreciate the essence of the rule of law, of due process of law, there has to be a strong and independent judiciary. For Liberians’ basic rights to be respected and valued, there must be a truly independent judiciary, a judiciary that is capable of calling the president to question, capable of challenging the deeds and utterances of the president, if it is necessary to do so.
Investigate, please, Liberians, investigate! If you believe a specific candidate is capable of giving Liberians a controlled or an inefficient judiciary, slap that person’s face by taking your vote from him and giving it to a better candidate. I beg you; don’t choose the wrong person!
The Eighth Advice: Do not vote for any candidate whose human rights records are tainted. From all indications, some of the very candidates running up and down in Monrovia should actually be taken to court and tried for their illegal activities, for the atrocities they have committed, for the human rights abuses they have subjected the Liberian people to. Instead of thinking about which lawyers to hire to represent them during their trial in court, they are busy going up and down in Liberia, like a confused mosquito that has just escaped the powerful slap of an angry victim, thinking about being elected.
I don’t know whether these people think that by participating in the elections will automatically mean that the Liberian people have forgiven them, or have forgotten the crimes they committed or the suffering they brought upon them. If that’s the thinking, they are dare wrong! It’s just a matter of time. The time will come and the real people will take over and, at that time, almost every buried case involving serious human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, plundering of our resources, etc, will be resurrected. The Liberian people are only being tactical at this time because of peace. Those criminals’ honeymoon will come to an end at the appropriate time.
If you vote for those who committed the worst of crimes against the state, against humanity and against the Liberian people, you will be creating a precedent – other people may choose to commit atrocities and come back to you to ask you to make them president, instead of coming to beg you and ask for your forgiveness. Don’t give them the change!
My fellow Liberians, do not vote for such people! Reject them, please! You may give them food and water, but I appeal to you to mean them with your vote!
The Ninth Advice: Do not vote for a candidate whom you believe is capable of structuring security forces that will be brutal towards the Liberian people. We saw this under president Doe. Do you still remember the earlier part of the war in the 1990s, when most Liberians, especially those living in Monrovia, said it would be better to cross over to the rebels of NPFL than to stay in Monrovia and be “protected” by Doe’s security forces? I once remarked to a neighbor, “It is better to be with the devil that you know than with the angel you have not seen.” She looked at me for a few seconds and said, “That statement could have only been made by the devil, and not by the angel.”
Most of those living in Monrovia at the time ran away from the President of Liberia’s security forces and went on the side of the rebels, some going to Taylor’s NPFL, and others to Prince Johnson’s INPFL on the Bushrod Island. Can you imagine this? But why? Why did the citizens refuse to be with the President’s security men? The answer is simple: The President’s security was brutal towards the people.
I know the brutality of Taylor’s security is still fresh on your mind. We know what the ATU, others explained it to mean Actual Torturing Unit, did to Liberians. We know! I say, we know what the SSU, which many called the Stupid Security Unit, did to the citizens of Liberian. Once I mentioned them to one of my friends as “Taylor’ s security;” he hissed his teeth and remarked, “Taylor’s secret kill. I don’t know why they were paid from our taxes.”
I beg you, my brothers and sisters. Do not vote for those whom you think will structure security forces, which will harass and intimidate peaceful citizens with impunity. Give them back kick by meaning them with your powerful vote. I repeat, mean them!
As we come to the end of this part, and as you think about what to do about all the candidates, reflect on the poem of the series:
The Men of My Land
The men of my land!
Oh! The men of my land!
When they want power,
They are like the gentle breeze,
Touching even the grass.
But when they get the power,
They're like blood-thirsty mosquitoes,
Sparing no one, not even anemia patients;
And like the scorching sun,
Pitying no one, not even the inhabitants of the Sahara.
For now, allow me to rest my pen for the next article.
About the author:
Paul Yeenie Harry is a Liberian; he lives in Poland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org