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An Argument For No Postponement Of Liberian 2005 Elections

Rev. (Dr.) Napoleon L. Divine (August 28th 2004)

"..We must muster the nationalistic zeal and require that individuals seeking high office demonstrate the capacity to create and perpetuate genuine democracy rather than simply seeking positions for the sake of power perks and property. I believe that the bitter lessons of the fourteen-year civil war should inspire a passion among Liberians, as never seen before, to create the healthy environment for democracy to take root and thrive in our country."

I have not often written on this medium but have of late felt impelled to do so, in the interest of suggesting an alternative viewpoint to a notion that is growing in popularity, for the postponement of the 2005 Liberian national elections. I ask for your kind attention to some arguments why I believe that this notion may not be prudent and might not serve our nation’s best interest.

Of late, I have become increasingly concerned by continued talks of extending the timetable for national elections in Liberia by a year, because the country will not be ready for such elections within a year. I believe that such talks, especially from prominent and experienced Liberians, might send the wrong message to our benevolent benefactors who have sacrificed enormous resources to secure the peace that our beloved country, Liberia, currently enjoys. I believe, with all my heart, that it would be prudent on our part as Liberians, to respect the time-table that has been set by the United Nations and work with everything that we have, to ensure that even the minimal conditions are met to hold National elections in October, 2005.

By suggesting or seeking more time to “get our house in order” would simply undermine our credibility and standing with the international community, in my judgment. Considering that many of our international friends have sacrificed virtually “life and limb” on our behalf, it would seem disingenuous on our part to not consider that the international community has commitments to other areas of the world, currently experiencing worst hardships than ourselves. What comes to mind is the nation of Sudan where there are reports that the lives of over a million of our fellow Africans are in great peril because of the instability there. I can foresee the imminent prospects of United Nations intervention in Sudan to curb the senseless killing and hardship of innocent people, especially women, children and the elderly. Should the world’s body contemplate intervention, there will be increasing pressure to withdraw troops from Liberia as the progress of disarmament in Liberia continues. This, my friends, is the reality that we must consider very seriously when we talk of recommending changes in a process that these people have set in place and seem determined to follow through on.

We must heed the maxim; “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”. We do not want to be in a situation where a great disaster occurs resulting in damage to properties; outside help arrives to rebuild the houses of those most affected. Upon help’s arrival it is made clear that there are many other houses to be rebuilt and plans to spend only a day with each of the affected, after assessing the extent of the damage; Upon their arrival, they meet you asleep and have to wake you up and have to frequently remind you of your responsibilities to the rebuilding process. Then towards the end of the day, you ask them for more time fully conscious that they have already told you that there are others who need similar help.

Let me therefore share several reasons why, in my humble opinion, it might not be prudent for Liberians to continue to suggest a possible change in the timetable for the 2005 elections.

Firstly, I have a concern that more time will entail the prolonging of the tenure of the current transitional administration. As much as the cooperation of former combatants in the current arrangement is laudable, we must be careful not to create or support the notion, unconsciously, that this is a workable solution for governing a sovereign nation state; especially where the population has had no say in the conferring such legitimacy. In other words the current arrangement, while seemingly working, was designed mainly out of convenience, to curb the indiscriminate loss of lives and properties--the proverbial settling for the lesser of two evils--and not as a permanent solution for governance. This is a very dangerous precedence even though it is increasingly gaining prominence among African nations experiencing social and political instability.

Secondly there have been continual rumors of corruption and mismanagement within the current system. Even if these rumors are unfounded, the very perception of this, especially after our nation has suffered so greatly, makes the postponement of the election an untenable option.

Thirdly, suggesting that proponents for elections are simply desirous of seeking high office is both wrong and unfair to the many Liberians who are genuinely yearning for their country to return to some semblance of constitutional democracy. Also, it appears increasingly obvious that international donors to Liberia’s reconstruction might be more forthcoming with a government in place that has been elected by the people of Liberia.

Fourthly, the other argument being made for postponement of the 2005 elections, as the need to modify the constitution in order to curb the power of the presidency, is unsupportable, in my judgment. Quite frankly I believe that our problem has resulted more so from our failure and lack of commitment to adhere to the principles and safeguards contained in our existing constitution, than flaws contained in it. Inherent in our current constitutional framework is the provision for checks and balances among the three branches of government; the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. I believe that the presidency is as powerful as we allow it to be; it is by default that we have had overly zealous individuals to abuse the authority of this office. If any lessons have been learned from the bitter tragedy of our recent experience, it is that we endanger our own safety and well being when we fail to adhere to the high standards of our institutional instruments. I believe that if a new generation of leaders emerges, having learned the bitter lessons of war, and covenant that it will uphold and defend the constitution of Liberia, then we will begin to see that our existing instruments are quite workable.

Therefore, we must muster the nationalistic zeal and require that individuals seeking high office demonstrate the capacity to create and perpetuate genuine democracy rather than simply seeking positions for the sake of power perks and property. I believe that the bitter lessons of the fourteen-year civil war should inspire a passion among Liberians, as never seen before, to create the healthy environment for democracy to take root and thrive in our country. After all, we are the oldest republic on the continent of Africa and among the nations of the world. One would think that this should mean something to us as Liberians. We must insist on a new corps of leaders who are prepared to put their COUNTRY FIRST and who will seek to develop the constitutional and political framework that will sustain a rich and vibrant democracy in Africa. We can begin now by working with the United Nations and the international community to create the enabling environment for political aspirants to present their vision for the country before an informed electorate. In this regard, we must galvanize the support and energies both at home and abroad for volunteers to educate our people about the virtues and value of democracy and the need for them to help give birth to a genuine democracy through their informed participation. One of the great blessings of this moment in our history is that the good Lord has favored us through the intervention of the international community to have the first transparent elections in a lifetime. No single individual or individuals should feel that he or she is an “heir apparent.” Nothing would be more injurious to our future as a nation than the notion that certain individuals can thwart the election to their benefit; this would be a subversion of our democracy. We must seize the moment and rise to the occasion and create for our people a system that they can be proud of. If this is done right, we can lay the foundation for a succession of leaders that would guarantee stability for our nation and people, peace and a future for our children. We invite violence and war when individuals perpetuate themselves in power leaving no room for legitimate opposition and the development of alternative leadership potentials.

Now, with the help from our international friends, we have a window of opportunity to create a system where legitimate political aspirations can be encouraged and rewarded. The foundation can be laid, my friends, during the 2005 elections for frequent elections to occur in the future thus empowering our people to periodically determine their own destiny. Should this occur, Liberians will be able to walk anywhere around the world with their heads up high and generations unborn will call us blessed.

We must thank our international benefactors for their selflessness, their service and their sacrifice on our behalf by creating this opportunity for us to rebuild a nation where our citizens can all live in freedom and not in fear; where our fellow Liberians can love and protect their neighbors and not sell out on them out of fear for their own safety; where our children can return to the classroom as students and learn to live in peace and not learn to hunt down and kill their fellow citizens in cold blood. I am convinced and I believe with all my heart that there are tens of thousands of our fellow Liberians out there who share the same vision for a peaceful Liberia and are committed to bringing this about. But I believe that achieving this vision must start with the 2005 election. So, let us get to work fellow Liberians, for the clock is ticking and we must appreciate the urgency of the moment. May God bless Liberia and save the State.

About the author:
Dr. Napoleon Divine is a Liberian minister and the founder and Pastor of a Liberian congregation in Philadelphia, PA. He has been involved in nearly a quarter century of advocacy for Liberia, while studying and living in America. His advocacy has taken him to the United Nations, to the White House, to Congress and to Liberia several times. Currently, he travels throughout the United States to conduct reconciliation exercises amongst his fellow Liberians in the hope of building grassroots participation for a future peaceful Liberia. He will celebrate tens years of pastoral ministry in 2005. NAPOLEONLDIVINE@AOL.COM

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