Updates from Liberia

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Liberian women pleading for peace

Since writing last week, things have gotten even more tense in Liberia in the run-up to October 11th’s election. The most recent news coming out of Monrovia is that the opposition party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), is upping its criticisms of incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration. During a live press conference hosted by CDC vice presidential aspirant George Weah, Weah’s continuing criticisms of Ma Ellen amplified in intensity. Weah has labeled Johnson-Sirleaf as a “war monger and war financier” (AllAfrica), implying that she was complicit in the killing of 300,000 Liberians, yet Weah has no evidence to back up these insulting claims. The presidential candidate for the opposition CDC, Winston Tubman, has again claimed that his party will win the first round of presidential elections to defeat Johnson-Sirleaf.

Johnson-Sirleaf has sought to shut down CDC’s claims that she is too old, at the age of seventy-three, to be re-elected as President. She claims that she still has the energy and ability to continue directing Liberia’s recovery after the civil war. Another criticism the CDC has leveled at Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration is its suspension of Ambrose Nmah, who is the Director-General of the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System, alongside other senior staff. In his place, professor Alhaji G.V. Kroham, a former presidential candidate and former leader of a rebel group that opposed Charles Taylor during Liberia’s civil war, is acting as the new Director-General. The CDC is completely against these actions, and demands that Nmah be reinstated immediately. In the CDC press statement released September 28, 2011, the CDC claimed that Johnson-Sirleaf suspended Nmah because he dedicated too much time on the Liberia Broadcasting System to discussing the CDC. The party stated, “With the dismissal of LBS’s Director General Ambrose Nmah, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has finally abandoned the pretense of presiding over a free press.” (AllAfrica). These very harsh and libelous claims are creating a major strain between the President and the opposition. The CDC also claims that Johnson-Sirleaf’s replacement candidate, Mr. Kroham, is problematic since he used to be the leader of a rebel group during the civil war. In another statement reflecting the CDC’s troublesome rhetoric lately, they say “the President, herself a financier of war, is recycling warlords and tired politicians. We ask how can Alhaji Kromah be a voice of the Liberan government…when he is a major culprit in the devastation of our beloved country?” (AllAfrica). The CDC says that there must be a new generation of political leaders entirely removed from the terrible Liberian civil war of 1989-2003.

Given these developments on the ground, the ECOWAS’s (Economic Community of West African States) Rep. to Liberia, General Obeng, has issued a caution to Liberia’s political parties to be careful when making damaging claims so that October 11th’s polls remain peaceful. He has urged the candidates to exercise restraint in the coming weeks. To back up this caution with action, General Obeng said that any Liberian political leader who encourages violence and chaos during or after the elections may be able to escape persecution locally, but will not be able to international persecution under the International Criminal Court (ICC). This threat of ICC persecution carries weight given recent African leaders who incited election violence and were forced to face the ICC, including former president of Cote d’Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo and officials in Kenya who were blamed for stirring up post-election violence in late 2007-2008. To complement General Obeng’s calls, US Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Greenfield, has also urged Liberians to be cautious against incitements and/or messages of violence in the run-up to the elections. She is specifically targeting the youth and urging them to stay away from encouragement of violent behavior. In wake of these fears, Liberian women have continued pleading for political candidates to ensure peace during the elections. The women have organized as “Women Coalition for Peace” and call for restraint on behalf of political candidates as well as the media.

On a related note, the head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Liberia says that the EU will cancel their observer mission for the upcoming elections. This cancellation is due to fears that the elections will not be free, fair, transparent and peaceful. Instead of observing the elections, the EU delegation to Liberia will conduct “diplomatic visitation” during the elections. Am I the only one who is wondering what that political rhetoric really means? This backing-out is interesting given that All Africa claims that EU taxpayers have paid upwards of 90% of the costs for October’s elections in Liberia. Liberian journalist Kenneth Best argued that the EU mission to observe the polls should not have been cancelled, and in fact is more relevant than ever given threats of post-election violence and vote rigging.

US Ambassador to Liberia Greenfield has said that the world is watching Liberia, and hopes that it can set a good example for the rest of Africa on how to conduct violent-free and transparent elections. These elections are also significant for the future peace of Liberia and its continual struggle for development after the brutal legacy of the civil war. Again, we at FUEL Youth are anxiously watching reports about developments on the ground in Liberia, and hope that all will go well!

Check out more at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201110020105.html http://allafrica.com/stories/201110010014.html

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