Eclipse of Democracy On The Horizon -The Analyst’s Resolutions for 2024 – Expectations Vs Campaign Promises
MONROVIA: Gradually, Liberia’s democracy is evolving quite well with multiple crucial elections widely described to be peaceful, fair and transparent. In six years, the country will be witnessing two political transitions—from one political administration to another. Quite an incredible feat. The first took place in 2018 and the second is in 21 days from one. This is in contrast to 71 years between political transitions—from 1944 when William V. S. Tubman took power from the President Edwin Barclay and not until 2018 when ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf handed power over to President George Manneh Weah. The culture of democratic elections, with all its baggage of fierce campaigns, temporary hate and bitterness and division, is firmly taking roots, and the country is being widely hailed. Once again, on the fresh portals of transition, the country is on edge, with the citizenry almost cut two equal halves between the major parties as per the ‘razor thin’ results produced; expectations for change and rescue have reached all-time high; debilitating factors such as poverty, corruption and abuse of power in the offing, amongst other things. In this special edition, THE ANALYST dissects the prevailing realities, attempting to provide resolution mechanisms towards deepening the prospects for sustained democracy, peace and stability during the first year of the new administration’s terms.
The conclusion of last year’s general and presidential elections, including the runoff elections of November 14, adds to Liberia’s credit and pride as an emerging exemplary democracy on the West Coast of Africa. Citizens peacefully participated in campaigns with parties of their choice, cast the ballots, awaited results, and when the results were announced, all went quiet, nonviolent.
The ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), particularly President George Weah, demonstrated high political sportsmanship, letting the highly emotional period conclude without protest contrary to naysaying they would not bow gracefully.
The onus now rests with the incoming ruling Unity Party administration to thread responsibly and consolidate nation peace, harmony and reconciliation needed to underpin their agenda for development promised the people of the country.
Handling Hyper-hyped Expectations: Liberia’s expectation for transformation and possibly prosperity under the UP administration is quite high, and needless to mention. The height derives not only from long years of political neglect and intractable hardship; it also comes from the boast by the UP that it is most situated for national leadership, and has the solution to problems of underdevelopment faced by the people.
The party did not come with the boast only during the campaign; all through the six years of CDC incumbency, the UP was fierce and provocative in its agitation, stating invariably that the CDC administration was mismanaging the country and there was need for change.
It seems the rhetoric resonated with the people such that when the ruling party was maximizing its incumbency with lavish campaigns in style and grandeurs, the UP managed to pull nearly similar crowds at its rallies. And in the end, by its agitation and honeyed promises, it snatched power from the hands of the incumbent administration.
By dismissing and condemning all that the CDC was doing, including the government’s well-sung pro-poor development programs, the UP was saying essentially that it was capable to build more roads, fight corruption head-on, create more jobs, expand the electricity grid more, put more medicines, beds, doctors, equipment in the health sector, amongst other bread and butter issues.
Liberians, both supporters and opponents of the UP, have been speaking loudly—and rightly so—that they would settle for nothing less than the “rescue” and “change” that the party boasted for in six years and promised during the campaign.
Resolution: Promise is a debt, so goes the maxim, and it is an understatement saying the incoming UP administration is under moral and political obligation to deliver on most of its promises if not all. The source of conflict in the developing world, which at times is fanaticized de-election, is failure of political elites to deliver on promises made to their people. Asking citizens to manage such high expectations, particularly without a strategy in doing so, following a high-stakes election is not only to fuel disinterest of the masses in our country’s politics and democracy but also a source of conflict.
One of the presumptive officials of the incoming government, former Auditor General John Morlu, is right—and we agree—that “we must live up to expectations, not manage them.” According to him, the UP is obligated to meet the expectations of Liberian people, and that managing their expectations is not an option but a duty.
It must have been an accidental assertion when senator-elect Amara Konneh in a crude way, without doing the intelligent thing, nakedly dumped his “manage your assertion” campaign on social media.
Playing with the expectation of the long-denied people of Liberia is playing around a tanker of gasoline with a flaming touch. It needs to be handled gingerly, something that can only be done by communication experts and not politicians.
Liberians deserve a good life. They deserve change. They deserve rescue. They deserve social services. They deserve bread and butter. And thank God President-elect Joseph N. Boakai and his lieutenants put their necks on the chopping board. They know how to do it; that they are the most capable people to do so.
Giving Rescue Mission Meaning: Challenging Poverty
Supporters of the new UP government and the potential officials, amid the waves of enthusiasm taking over from the CDC, will have to recognize a major fact: the conditions and circumstances that underpin the UP’s first term which took 12 years are not the same as they were. Exogenous factors of crippling proportion are at bay. The departure of UNMIL and its over 16,000 troops, and the exit of a swarm of other international players, are new dynamism on the horizon. Thus, the supposed flagship program of the new regime called ARREST may not have the same contexts and catalysts as were the UP’s 150-Day deliverables, iPRS, PRS and Alft of its 12 year reign.
This is not to argue that poverty is not the major pandemic to tackle. It is a known fact that Liberia from time immemorial has been fighting tooth and nail to lift itself, by its own fusty bootstraps, from the depths of poverty and degradation it had sunk due to more than a century of mismanagement compounded by 14 years of senseless civil war.
The last six years of CDC rule saw reasonable progress, first the maintenance of the peace and stability in the absence of the international stabilization forces, and the provision of basic social services, and impressive repair of the Liberian macroeconomy. Liberia has recorded modest gains in security, politics, the economy, and foreign relations over the last 18 years. However, Liberians think, as the young government is all-too-ready to admit, the UP is expected to do much since. for every step forward, there seems a half step backwards – for every gain in socio-economic and political development, there is a loss to corruption and mismanagement; there is a loss to political or communal acrimony of a sort. The way out of this, pundits agree, is for the nation to set a roadmap, a resolution of a sort, for 2024 that sets the trajectories for sturdy recovery, peace, and stability.
Resolution: To give the Rescue Mission Meaning and fight poverty, the incoming UP must resolve to establish and maintain the necessary environment and ground conductive for development and human interaction. That requires a deliberate campaign to maintain the peace, reconcile the people and establish an inclusive political regime. It must eschew winner takes all, and make every qualified Liberian feel part of the administration and a sense of belonging to the nation. The UP administration must lead a crusade of peace, mobilizing Liberians at home and abroad that they shall never again tread those muddy grounds and quicksand of political bickering, undue skepticism, incrimination, and what many consider the beginning of witch-hunting and obsession with official expediency.
As the nation embarks yet on another epoch of national integration and peace and development this year, there looms spiraled expectations amongst the citizens, putting pressure on the ruling elites to work firmly for the good of the nation. All this requires sobriety, determination and focus if tangible achievements are to be bagged at the end of the year.
For the economy
The current picture: The incoming UP administration will not be confronted with as much turbulence of the Liberian economy as it was when it turned over to the CDC in 2018. That was when the nation at that time had faced the deadly Ebola virus and inflation was unprecedentedly high. Before the Coalition for Democratic Change government took over state power, the gains made got upside-down. Why the evolving situation may not be the making of the current government, the economists will have to decide the proper rescue path to take.
The CDC fought the turbulence. It reduced inflation from nearly 40 percent to single digit, attracting rare favor from international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. Economic recovery and reconstruction are still a matter of hunt and peck, largely reliant on foreign assistance. The international community, mainly the United States and its economic allies, is warming up to the needs of the country through increased aid and lending. There is agreement in both Monrovia and Washington that economic assistance must follow austere fiscal and economic management and sustainable peace in Liberia. The Government passed the revered Millennium Challenge Corporation, setting it on the page to benefit from copious US assistance.
Obviously, there is no lack of consensus, neither is there any lack of trying to erect these safety posts, as the government’s financial management team fights tooth and nail to resuscitate the economy that was in shocks if not in coma. But widespread fears about corruption continue to haunt the George Weah administration, triggering sanctions on officials by the US Treasury and State Department. This is likely to affect foreign relations and send investors on wait and see holidays for the new administration.
In the face of competing interests, and even though the government has put reins on extra-budgetary expenditure and reduced the public servants’ salaries, it has barely been able to streamline expenditure in line with acceptable international standards and donor expectation. Attempts to de-tenuralize integrity institutions have been ringing bells in the ears of international partners and watchdog institutions. There is a positive note to all this though: the government’s control of the money market and steps taken on extra-budgetary spending put into place is doubtlessly reaping dividends in revenue generation with corresponding budgetary expansion.
Citizens’ Expectation: Notwithstanding this current phase of the Liberia economy, the citizens expect increased job opportunities, improved wages, the jumpstarting of the private sector, and drastic reduction in the prices of consumer commodities specifically rice, building materials, and transportation fares determined by reduction in the prices of gasoline and fuel oil. They also want improvement in social services such as improved delivery of safe drinking water, electricity, refurbished and equipped public schools, and refurbished and equipped health faculties across the country. For them, post-war peace and reconciliation is inextricably bound to the provision of these facilities and opportunities. Even those who sympathize with the government’s efforts have joined critics to press for robust government programs to alleviate the biting pervasive hardship.
The resolution: The incoming Boakai administration, in one accord with the people, must muster all of the nation’s human and material resources to resolve that this nation needs sober programs for 2024. The administration must redouble its efforts in making itself the darling of the international community so that direct foreign investment will flow and international confidence restored, as it makes progress on domestic popularity owing to emphasis on road construction.
The Government’s foreign affairs or diplomacy must be stepped up because Liberia is not an island. The Weah administration did little on this front. There is a dire need for a robust domestic program to start this year, 2024 to maintain or possibly increase foreign partners, including investors, stop leakages in foreign affairs as to attract the favor of the international community which will lead to improved investment opportunities and Liberia’s place in the international realm. Much must be done to eradicate or minimize corruption through the efficient streamlining of fiscal spending, revenue collection and saving, and the establishment of priority spending regime; and that, the donor community is made to build confidence in the ability of the Administration to run the economy without hitches. In this regard, domestic and international fiscal and resource monitors, including the Liberia Extractive Industries (LEITI) must be left to do their jobs without interference; they should not continue to be window dressing and armchair monitors but must become the true technical guards of transparency and accountability they were intended to be.
The current picture: The country is divided. There is no if and but about that. The October and November elections witnessed bellicose campaigning on both sides, and crude words and melees took place. The political playing field has been quite charged with aggression, bitterness and hate. The acrimonies in and amongst the media speak unfavorably of its political temperament. Some opposition political leaders are still counting their losses, knocking on wood, and hinging their luck on the 2029 general and presidential elections. With fear that they will live in want and squalor while out of government, some opposition figures have made themselves lukewarm and ambivalent. Independent minds are uncertain what will happen; whether the opposition community will break apart or they can put up a formidable force in the year to keep the government’s feet to the hearth.
Citizens’ Expectation: Political harmony, constant dialogue between the opposition on one side, including the outgoing CDC and incoming ruling UP administration, must be avoided. The instance of divisive political bickering that has the potential to prompt donor drawbacks. Besides, they expect strategic cooperation between the opposition and the administration whereby inclusion will be based on individual merit rather than on politically derived job placement of the mediocre in government. They want prosecution of those violating the laws and the repeal of obsolete statutes that are hindering the anti-corruption fight and the safe delivery of justice in the courts of the land. They expect a law-driven opposition and not one relying on sentimentalism to push sectoral agendas at the expense of the rule of law. They want the prosecution of corrupt officials; and above all, they want a national peace and reconciliation agenda the implementation of which will not lead to more strife as some fear will be the case with the calls for War Crimes and Economic Crimes tribunals.
The resolution: The incoming Boakai administration has no choice but to draw up a political agenda that will introduce sobriety—or political hygiene as pan africanist Patrick Lumumba would say—into the political field. Accomplishing this will require the administration to organize a series of disinterested political meetings aimed at drawing up what will be called the National Dialogue Conference where all Liberians will voice their positions on the path to transformation. Such a Dialogue will, amongst other things, exact consensus amongst politicians to critically monitor the government and exert reasonable pressure that will compel the government to deliver on its promises within the ring of wherewithal availability. It will also eschew radicalism for its own sake since radicalism finds its strength in violence and fear mongering, and violence and fear mongering measure their successes in the level of security breach, which Liberians do not need. It will be unreasonable, for instance, to require the government to supply electricity to pre-war status when it is clear that the Mount Coffee Hydro-Plant requires more than it is doing. The Liberia Electricity Corporation needs to increase its output and penetration to cover many more homes, as electricity is the fulcrum of development and transformation that comes with employment and decent living. However, it will be unreasonable to expect the government to provide employment for all those unemployed and at the same time pave all major highways in the country within a year. The citizens will expect the opposition to play its role as the monitor of public policy and not to degenerate into the abyss of violence advocacy.
The current picture: The Weah administration will be leaving a relatively high bar, and the Boakai administration will have to strive to catch up. Liberia’s internal security, without the help of outsiders as it was for nearly decades, was jealously protected by the Weah administration. The departure of the international stabilization force, UNMIL, puts much strain on the security of a country that had depended on the international community for national security for years. The Weah administration did not falter. It has risen to the occasion.
There were incidents of electoral violence, some fatal, though generally isolated. Same occurred in Lofa, Montserrado, Grand Gedeh, etc. Family and communities are torn apart by electoral quarrels. Paralleling this is massive unemployment, particularly amongst young people, something that is taking its toll with implication on security. Excruciatingly low wages for security personnel and the massive peddling of narcotics are all red flags that hovers on the horizon to contend with in the coming months. Armed robberies are on the rise as electricity is still a luxury in the country.
Citizens’ Expectation: Following years of war and fear, Liberians cannot afford insecurity and violent crimes. Thus, they expect nothing less than radical reduction in violent crimes through joint security vigilance and preemptive operations. Also expected is the acceleration of the police re-forming process, the full rearming of the police, and the systematic prosecution of the criminals to serve as deterrence to would-be criminals. They expect the recycling of criminals – wherein the security forces simply arrest violent or career criminals, detain them without charge for an unspecified period under so-called special security operations, and release by the force of the rule of law – to end. Expected also is the complete rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants. Granted, there was once the DDRR program years ago, but the citizens will expect a remedial program to address residual issues.
The resolution: The incoming Boakai administration must order a special commission to independently review conditions and situations being faced by various security apparatuses in the view of improving the quality of their service to the population. Such a commission, for instance, will review remunerations for security personnel, the quality of the places of their residence, the uniforms they wear and their exposure to training opportunities. The backgrounds of security personnel must be checked and those involved with excessive drinking and narcotics weeded out. Day and night patrols must be enhanced in communities and highways to help the free movement of goods and services. The Administration must insist that reintegration of ex-combatants is placed at the top of security priorities, remaining convinced that unless the issue of ex-combatants is solved, the security question will remain elusive and will continue to be an obstacle.
For Social Services
The current picture: The Weah administration must be given some amount of credit in the provision of social services. Electricity was expanded. Tens of thousands of homes were connected to the grid. Several community roads and highways were built and started. More mega hospitals were built and under construction. Pro poor housing units built or under construction. Free education in public universities and free WASSCE. And the list continues. But challenges remain. Major highways were cut off and many regions inaccessible during the rainy seasons. The prices of basic commodities are high. Little was done, as was the case for past governments, in the agriculture sector. There are concerns in the area of water and sanitation. The public corporations that supply water and electricity are still largely operating at the mercy of humanitarian organizations and the development partners of Liberia. The government’s contribution has been marginal and will continue to be due to the volume of service competition amongst the various sectors of government. The Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) is operating minimally
Citizens’ Expectation: The public expect the further expansion or restoration of electricity and water at least to the capital and beyond. They expect also the reduction of the prices of basic consumer products or the stepping up of minimum wages to honorable levels. Current national budget estimates for minimal national wage is US $150.00. Whether or not the government has been able to activate this minimum wage is a question to ask. They expect the incoming government to concentrate seriously on constructing at least one all-weather highway for the ease of travel and to spur commercial activities from which the government draws much of its revenue. Furthermore, with the giant steps taken towards public education, installation of digital registration at the University of Liberia and free tuition for public colleges, the Boakai government must step up its support to these public tertiary schools and improve conditions in secondary schools which are feeders of the colleges.
The resolution: The incoming Boakai administration must use an austerity program to raise money/revenues and obtain external support in order to jumpstart the restoration of basic social services at least to Monrovia and its environs. The recent reconditioning of access and back roads in the capital is commendable; but it is a drop in the ocean of the demands for access roads throughout the country. Besides, it must review the so-called Monrovia electrification program so that efforts can be concentrated on the restoration of the facilities of LEC at least in Monrovia by the second quarter of 2024. The administration must resolve to prioritize education by stepping up the budgetary allotment for education to take into consideration the role of education. It must remove bottlenecks to fair business practices such as unnecessary freight and surcharges that never reached government coffers, in order to reduce the costs of petroleum products, rice, and transportation. It must remove the high risk factor associated with the use of the Freeport of Monrovia by holding talks with UN, EU, the U.S. government, UNMIL, and Maritime officials to declare Liberian ports free of security risks. The National Budget must consider between 15% to 25% for education consistent with international protocols and national laws.
In the coming months under the new political administration, the Liberian people, be it supporters and opponents of the UP, must not be aloof. Our democracy requires participation and engagement with the ruling class, keeping it in check and its feet to the fire because those in authority are humans and prone to errors, ego and pride that have the tendency to mismanage the national voyage. To keep them on track requires the full participation of all, not in any negative and destructive way but in constructive ways with Liberia considered the common denominator.
Our resolution is to use our pages, particularly our Editorial pages and “Memo to the President” as mouthpieces of the silent masses of the people who have no means and medium to communicate their heartfelt concerns to the power that be.