TODAY MONDAY, JANUARY 22, 2024 IS MAJOR watershed in Liberia’s political history. For the third time since 1944, the country is witnessing a peaceful and orderly transfer of power from one dispensation to another. This, indeed, is an historic triumph not just for the country but also in the whole of Africa, particularly in West Africa, where incessant military coups, militarization of politics, wars and chaos are order of the day. Admittedly, Liberia had had its share of bad days, when political failure, elitism and exclusion led to a military coup in 1980, an event that further degenerated into civil unrest that devastated the nation for 14 long years. But the bright sunlit of democracy has since adorned the nation following the end of the conflict, and for the second time after the war, the country is changing political guards peacefully and seamlessly. That’s a luxury for many African countries in recent years.
THANKS TO GOD ALMIGHTY who has restored the troubled nation. Thanks to the international community which sacrificed lives and enormous resources to bring sanity and peace more than 20 years ago. Thanks to Liberia’s political actors and stakeholders for beating their swords into ploughshare. And thanks to the Liberian masses for conducting themselves civilly and sanely with each other despite political backgrounds and persuasions.
WHILE ELECTIONS ARE good, and universally accepted as the centerpiece or fulcrum of peace and development, it is ironically potentially explosive and divisive. It can turn out to be the conveyor belt of conflict—intractable conflict that can imprison the very freedom and the very democracy it aspires to promote. But amid it all, Liberia has emerged as an eloquent example of how a nation can graduate from the ashes of war to the glorious sunlight of democracy and stability. IN THE LAST couple of years, Liberia has been a voice for outright condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional change of government, support for democratic succession through the ballot box and peaceful resolution of disputes. These are core issues in studies on democracy, which focus, amongst others, on issues such as popular empowerment, participation and representation through periodic, competitive, free and fair electoral politics.
LOOKING BACK, WE as a people have all reason be glad that our country’s return to the path of democracy starting from 2006 when we sought to move fast beyond the abysmal past not only with regard to our democratic credentials at home but also abroad, particularly in Africa. We would safely term this changed role in the promotion of democratic values in Africa as Liberia’s transition “from importer to exporter”. In other words, a country that was itself literally forced to accept democracy through external and internal exertions is now becoming one that promotes democracy by exerting pressures to ensure that those African countries left behind in the democracy whirlwind become come onboard.
INTERESTINGLY, FOR EVERY stage in our democratic process since 2006, this country has had a success story not only unique to us, but it served to amplify how far we have taken the paradigm and what lesson could be learned and replicated on the African continent. For example, in 2006, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first democratically elected female president not only for Liberia but for the entire African continent. In between, Tanzania and Malawi produced female presidents but through default as they emerged after their principals died in offices. In 2018, for the first time in 70 years, there was not only a peaceful transfer of power from one regime to another but also an opposition party through the outgoing President, George Manneh Weah took over from the ruling party.
AS A FURTHER consummation of the democratic feat, we are celebrating another peaceful transition coming out of the 2023 general and presidential elections. Today, the opposition through incoming President Joseph Nyuma Boakai is taking over from the outgoing ruling establishment. But more to the story is the fact that a female, Senator Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence, for the first time was unanimously elected by her colleagues to head the Senate as President Pro Tempore thus becoming the 4th most powerful politician in the country as well as an opposition politician, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa will be heading the National Legislature as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
INDEED, LIBERIA HAS come a long way. What we are celebrating today did not get to us by sudden flight. It became possible through a lot of sacrifices including the support of our international development partners who consistently stood by us to ensure that we remain on course and helping us build from one stage to another. It is not possible to have a perfect democracy but ensuring that the basic ingredients that make the votes of the citizens to count, their rights respected, the freedom to participate in the decision-making process of the country is guaranteed, the adherence to the rule of law, etc. are the only sure pathways to consolidating on the gains we have made.
THIS IS EXACTLY WHY we want to remind the incoming President, Ambassador Joseph Nyuma Boakai, and his government that their preferment to state power became a reality because stakeholders—the outgoing President, George Manneh Weah, his government, the various political parties, civil society organizations, the media, market women, labor unions, students as well as our international development partners—put in tearless efforts to make this day happen. They all put in the celebration today their patriotic deeds. Let not efforts be frustrated. That means the incoming government has the obligation to ensure that this democratic culture that is increasingly taking roots in our society must not be abused.
THERE IS JOY in the air and a shining hope that a clear message has been sent out there that democracy is not only here to stay but will be exported as a free gift to the rest of Africa for which they do not need to spent any monetary value to purchase except being resolved and determined to live freely among themselves. The onus is on Boakai and his ruling establishment. We and the rest of the world are watching closely.