Liberian Scholar Calls for Urgent Constitutional Reform to Advance Decentralization in Liberia

Ibrahim Al-bakri

LONDON – Liberian Scholar Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei has called for a robust constitutional reform to allow for the full implementation of the Local Government Act and sustain gains made towards decentralization reform in Liberia. Addressing the 2019 conference of the Liberian Studies Association in Chicago, Mr. Nyei noted that some gains were made towards decentralization over the last 12 years, such as the establishment of county councils, the passage of the Local Government Act, and the establishment of county service centers, but the gains cannot be sustained without firm entrenchment in a constitutional framework. 

According to Nyei who is a doctoral researcher at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Liberia currently has one of the oldest constitutions in Africa and the only country on the continent that has not done any substantial review or reform of its constitution since 1986 despite the numerous political crisis and the apparent dysfunctionality of the constitution. He pointed out that countries that experience violent civil wars and political crises normally seek to address their problems through broader constitutional reform with the aim of promoting political participation and inclusive democratic governance. 

Mr. Nyei whose lecture focused on the role of the existing county councils as a mechanism for deepening decentralization, noted that local people are taking advantage of the county councils to express their concerns, and demand accountability from their superintendents and legislators. He gave a background of the council which he said began in the early 1900s as a forum for Liberian leaders to engage with indigenous tribal chiefs and seek their support for the then inchoate Liberian state facing threats from British and French imperial powers competing for territorial control in West Africa. He said successive Liberian leaders used the council mechanism for various purposes such as integration of tribal communities and the establishment of patronage networks among chiefs. 

However, the council became a fully established institution in 2006 when it was first enacted in the budget Act, and since then “relations among local people and their political leaders have transformed with more demand for political accountability”, he said. 

Based on these developments, Nyei who is also an Adam Smith Fellow in Political Economy at the George Mason University, proposes a program of substantial constitutional reform for the full establishment of local councils as permanent structures for deliberative democracy and development in the counties. He called on President Weah to take advantage of his current authority and unmatched popularity to lead the country into a process of reform in line with the current demands of democratic government and socio-economic rights.

 He described the current constitution as obsolete and out of sync with the demands for democratic governance and political rights in the 21st century. Mr. Nyei mentioned that the processes leading to the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh is a further testament to the ineffectiveness of the current constitution in protecting rights. The impeachment demonstrates how current officials and public institutions violate the constitution with little or no restraints from other constitutional institutions meant to sustain the system of checks and balance.  

The Liberian studies Association is currently held its 51st Annual Conference at the Concordia University from April 11-13 under the theme “Beyond Transition: Sustainable Development Challenges for Liberia’s New Administration.” The LSA was established in 1968 to provide a means for effective cooperation among persons interested in furthering research in all scholarly disciplines on topics relevant to the Republic of Liberia and adjacent areas.