Introducing Civility into Liberia’s National Conversation
More than anything else, the momentous event in Liberia’s 170 years of independence will be the Presidential election. The need to create a political system characterized by pluralism and civility is palpable.
The need to infuse our political life with self-respect and respect of others is vital, even indispensable to the consolidation of peace.
Unfortunately, in this election year, the Liberian political system is showing significant signs of heightened strains, disorganization, declining citizens’ confidence and worse, rising polarization. The focus is not on promoting positive policy changes or protecting national security and maintaining the gains in development.
Institutions and institutional actors are at loggerheads with one another. Words like bipartisanship, compromise, and serving the best interests of the people are becoming less and less parts of our national narratives.
As such, new ideas are not being cultivated, harnessed and bred into our governance systems and structures. Outdated policies and structures are therefore being normalized or recycled.
The time has come for a sort of rethinking to determine how this period of frenzy and seeming disorganization can be repaired and remedied. I propose a model of “statesmanship and Stewardship” as a way of resolving what is becoming a crisis with the potential to undermine the peace.
The current example is the impasse between the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court. Yes! We have seen such heated rhetoric between members of the legislature before, one which resulted in the previous Speaker of the House of Representatives stepping down.
But the recent talk of the House of Representatives impeaching three members of the Supreme Court Bench and the counterweight of the Supreme Court Justices citing the House of Representatives, particularly its Judicial Committee in a heated political season does not portend well for a fragile society a little over one month before a critical Presidential/legislative elections that is the fulcrum of peace consolidation.
These are not ordinary times. The forthcoming elections are extremely vital, because all of the gains made in democracy, peace, reconciliation and development hinge on it.
At this juncture, need exists for show of statesmanship and stewardship, even trans-partisanship in the behavior of our leaders. We expect our leaders to be forging allies from the political left and right or liberal, progressive, and conservative spectrum into a centrist coalition.
Essentially, the country needs a new form of partisanship that is aimed at harnessing the best the country has to offer and not its worst values, tendencies, behaviors, and actions.
Governance decisions should transcend politics and be aimed at finding common policy solutions so that the proponents can garner legitimacy whether or not they come from the left or right of the political field.
It seems that the country is suffering from the absence of a cohort of statesman or sensible policy stewards. We need a group of statesmen and stewards who can take time to understand how each governance action they take influences the peace, stability, and security of the state and its citizens.
It is time to make personal relationships the lubricant, which allows appropriate governance to occur and be sustained. Leaders in these trying times should be curious, open-minded, respectful of one another, and firmly grounded in the belief that the well-being of their fellow citizens is the basis upon which they were awarded leadership positions.
The war of words is not virtuous. The gridlock or acting like they live in alternative universes as opposed to forging coalitions and finding networked solutions to our problems is destructive. They need to reshape their behaviors.
The impeachment tough talk ought to end, just as the citation of the legislature needs to end immediately. These mutual provocative actions are precursors to conflict, even crisis that present a posture of our leaders, which does not look civilized.
These same attributes: curiosity, open-mindedness, mutual respect, and patriotism are the qualities essential for media practitioners, academics, and civic leaders (in non-governmental and religious organizations). Liberians of all backgrounds must cross superficial partisan, cultural, and professional boundaries or divides in times like these to ensure that the best interest of the citizenry is served.
It is no time for scoring tactical victory at the expense of the common good. This is no time for superficial ideological struggles which could derail the society and bring about setbacks that will take generations to repair.
Having these important public roles come with the responsibility to uphold basic rules of civility. It is undeniable that the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives have leading roles in governance. They cannot achieve their roles independently, but interdependently.
Leadership is not a zero-sum interest, but a positive-sum interest. Aggressive tendencies must be moderated by leaders, no matter which sphere they serve, in order to excel to statesmanship and stewardship.
These two institutions are wedded together by their common interest in protecting the security of the state. They therefore cannot be acting in ways where the other sees each as wanting to topple it. It is in my view, this paralyzing fear, which lies at the root of the problem at hand.
A Liberia where statesmen lead is one where coalitions are built to solve the nation’s biggest or core problems amicably.
It is a society where constructive political engagement occurs; adversaries tone down their bombastic rhetoric; and do not hurl insults at one another; and cooler heads prevail.
We are a fragile society. Differences among our leaders should be resolved away from the limelight peacefully. If left unresolved, it is the electorate that suffers.
The period when warlords showed off their strengths and doubled down on showing off the weaknesses of the others have passed. We cannot go back to the uncivil or warring past.
The Supreme Court and the House of Representatives need end the turmoil and focus on the common good while suppressing their respective egotistical self-interests.
Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D., Contributing Writer