LIBERIA HAS had some not so proud political historical moments that have become enshrined in the record books and placed Africa’s oldest Republic in the glare of the international limelight for all the wrong reasons.
THE GENERAL ELECTIONS of 1927, was declared a victory for former President Charles D.B. King of the True Whig Party who was re-elected for a third term after defeating Thomas J. Faulkner of the People’s Party. That vote was however referred to as "the most rigged ever" and made in the Guiness Book of World Record as the most fraudulent ever. Despite the fact that there were fewer than 15,000 registered voters, King received around 240,000 votes, compared to 9,000 for Faulkner.
WHEN PRESIDENT WILLIAM V.S. TUBMAN died in a London Clinic on July 23, 1971, following a post-operative complication from prostate gland surgery at the age of 75, his death ended a 27-year reign that ranks him the longest serving President before him – and after him.
TUBMAN’S 27 YEAR-REIGN PUTS him among the all-time Africa list of longest-serving African heads of states. IF IT IS ANY CONSOLATION MOAMAR Ghaddafi ruled Libya for more than 40 years before he was overthrown in 2011 and a laundry list of current and former rulers have surpassed Tubman’s Liberia record: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – Equatorial Guinea and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola have been in power for 37 years); Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe (34 years) Paul Biya – Cameroon (32 years), Yoweri Museveni – Uganda (28 years); Deposed Burkinabe President Blaise Campaore ruled for 27 years; Omar al-Bashir – Sudan (25 years); 7. Idriss Déby – Chad (23 years), Isaias Afwerki – Eritrea (23 years), Yahya Jammeh – The Gambia (20 years) and Denis Sassou Nguesso – Republic of Congo (17 years).
OMAR BONGO RULED Gabon for 42 years until his death in 2009; Mobutu Sese Seko led Zaire for 32 years before fleeing into exile in Morocco after being chased from power in May 2007 after a seven-month rebellion led by a lifelong opponent, Laurent Desire Kabila. He died in September 8, 1997 at the age of 66. Until his death in 2005, General Gnassingbé Eyadéma had led Togo for 38 years.
SO IT WAS a bit refreshing to Liberia embark on the path to an important political transition last weekend when its current President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf used her final appearance at a ruling party convention to turn over the affairs of the party to her Vice President Joseph Boakai.
THAT MOMENT in history is one that is commendable and must be recognized and hailed as a poignant historical note that sets the tone for what is about to unfold in the coming months as Liberia prepares to hold what is inarguably its most important elections in history.
FOR NEARLY A DECADE, the world and Liberia’s international partners have been keenly watching, waiting and anticipating Liberia’s political transition – from one democratically-elected government to another through a smooth and democratic process. IT IS A PROCESS that is necessary to complete Liberia’s transition from war to peace for the simple reason that a smooth transfer of political power is a fundamental characteristic of the principle of democratic good governance and will show the world that Liberia is poised for political maturity.
NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR Sierra Leone which endured a similar civil war experience as Liberia completed a change of leadership and government when President Ernest Bai Koroma, the current President who was an opposition candidate in 2007, succeeded Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, setting the tone for what many African nations should be striving to emulate.
IN TURNING OVER to her vice President at the Unity Party’s convention last Saturday, President Sirleaf proclaimed as she embarked on yet another historic journey in the post-war nation’s democratic development process, that her administration has expanded the democratic space. “We have worked with all Liberians we have been able to show tolerance as a very rare gem to be maintained and kept in the public glare. Peace, freedom, integrity democratic values are intangibles we hold not and can and must carry on.”
THE SIRLEAF ADMINISTRATION has endured numerous challenges since assuming office in 2006 and has had its back against the wall for much of its reign. While it has done a lot of good things in the past ten years, including reconnecting Monrovia to Gbarnga, Gbarnga to Ganta and currently in the process of connecting roads to Harper, Maryland County; the UP-led government’s reign has not been without some turbulent moments.
MOST PARTS OF the country remains without electricity although massive improvements are being made to bring the Mount Coffee Hydro plant up to speed and the West Africa Power Grid is in the works.
ACCESS TO SAFE AND AFFORDABLE drinking water remains a challenge and a lot of other challenges remain. But political transition is just as important as any infrastructural development, particularly for Liberia.
POLITICAL TRANSTION is about maturity, it is about poise and it is about displaying our strength as a nation and people, that we can come together in difficult times and show the world that those many days, weeks, months and more than a decade of war was a blip in our country’s history; that we as a people are better than what the world was allowed to see; that we can rise to the occasion when it matters and that we are capable of holding a fair, transparent, peaceful and credible elections when our political future depends on it and when the life of our newfound, post-war democratic survival demands it.
FOR THIS, President Sirleaf deserves some credit for starting a process that we hope would lead to a new beginning. A beginning that will no longer see one party dominance for long stretches of time; while gunning for the record books and hoping to re-establish a political hegemony; a beginning that will ensure that we will no longer be witness to yet another person coming to terms with the sweet taste of power and allowing himself to go astray.
LIBERIA HAS COME a long way - and has lost a lot of good people. We have seen infrastructures ruined that we are still paying for dearly today. All because one individual or a group of people felt they were entitled to power and felt it was necessary to take up arms and kill their fellow citizens to get it.
LIBERIA HAS taken a backseat to nations that were far behind our reach but have overtaken us today because we chose the path of war over the path of peace; because we chose the path of the corrupt and ungovernable rather than the path of accountability and transparency.
THE BEAUTY ABOUT DEMOCRACY is that it allows the people to make the choice that affects their lives. The international community came to our aid, our regional brothers and sisters heard our cries when we were bleeding.
THE TRUTH of the matter is that Liberia’s destiny lies within and only Liberia and Liberians can fix its problems. We can start by embracing the looming opportunity and making the right choices heading into election year.
HISTORY HAS BEEN MADE, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is on the way out for sure. Her anointing of Boakai shows that she is on the verge of doing something rarely seen in modern Liberian politics. Win or lose, the passing of the baton has begun. It is left with Liberia and Liberians to decide how the baton play will end and who will lead us into the next and crucial