Some Practical Suggestions For Democracy And Development In Liberia

By Cecil Franweah Frank

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 10, 2004

I was reading an article of Ezekiel Pajibo some time ago in which he highlighted the need for Liberia to have bold and confident leaders. As he rightly observed in that article Liberia is indeed lacking in bold and confident leaders, even though in the present time of its history our country needs more than ever such caliber of leaders. Since the declaration of Liberia's Independence on July 26, 1847, two key words - democracy and development - have continued to elude Africa "oldest" republic in spite of the fact that the founding of the Liberian state to a large extend had to do with the yearning of our forefathers for attaining both. There are striking similarities between Liberia and Haiti. Both countries came about as a result of the desire of men of the Negro race - a downtrodden race – to liberate themselves from fear embodied in slavery, to acquire social justice from social injustices based on division by race, income, opportunities and religion, security from insecurity, in search of an inclusive society, and perhaps, most importantly, to rediscover their dignity and self-worth.

However, after two hundred years of Independence in the case of Haiti and 150 years of Liberia's existence both nations have so far failed to secure any of these lofty goals. The large majority of the populations of both countries continue to be excluded from society and divided on a large scale by income, opportunities and religion. Both nations found themselves caught in unimaginable bloodshed and violence on their Independence Day, an occasion that should have been celebrated in grand style. In short, both nations today epitomize everything that has gone wrong with the negro race - misrule, unprogressiveness, socio-economic degradation, indifference, servitude just to name a few. True, Liberia in particular was at one time a beacon of hope for many who immigrated to its shores from America, Europe, the West Indies, the Caribbean and even from Mother Africa. But this impression, or feeling served to have hidden the underground fissures that were shaking the very fabric of the country, which finally exploded in 1989 into open violence.

The main objective of this article is to provide an insight into what this author believes should be the practical agenda for a post-conflict Liberia as far as the political, economic and social aspects are concerned, on the basis of which it would be possible for Liberia to regain the years the locust had eaten, restore its prestige and credibility and try to live up to those dreams that inspired it's founding.


The main objective for political governance in post-war Liberia, in the opinion of this author, should be to secure democracy by instilling checks and balances, which have been absent throughout Liberia's long history, in our political system in such a way so that one man or group of men will no longer usurp so much power and wield such extraordinary influence over the fate of the majority and by so doing provide the conditions for sustained growth and development - not growth without development. The first task of political democracy in Liberia is to ensure equal and unhindered access for all to state power, which as history has shown had been the most contentious issue in Liberian political life that to a large extend fueled the violence that we witnessed in Liberia for 14 years. Liberian leaders have either lacked a vision or the will to enforce whatsoever vision they had for the development of the country. The Constitution, which should provide the framework for governance was disregarded and treated with discontent by the very people who should have upheld it. Liberian politicians are more talkatives than doers. Another thing is that this author grew under the perceptions, which of course I refused to accept, that only "doctors" could govern Liberia. This explains why all of Liberia's leaders, since Tubman, had spent their energies seeking out doctorate titles, even if honorary, in order to bolster their position and create the erroneous impression that they were the custodian of knowledge.

The native head of state Doe even fought for a doctor degree, thereby discouraging Liberian youths from pursuing academic excellence. In the view of this author, the conditions for democracy to strive in post-conflict Liberia and to ensure stability in the Liberian political system should go along the simple scenario of reduction in the President's powers, while at the same time increasing the power of the National Legislature and securing the independence of the judiciary. With this in mind, I propose the following in order to address those issues that have over the years paralyzed the system:

1. Constitutional Reform - The objective of constitutional reform should be decentralization of state management - giving more power to the regions to determine local policies and development priorities, including such areas as education, social infrastructure and human development, as well as the power to implement these policies such as forming their own budgets, financing developmental policies, collecting certain types taxes etc.. Likewise local authorities should be held accountable for what happen in their regions and they should be made less reliant on central authorities. They should have a share in managing state assets on their territories and gaining incomes from it as well for financing projects. To avoid outright manipulation of local authorities, particularly Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs, it is recommended by this author that article 56, clause b of the 1986 Constitution be revisited and the power of the President to remove these local officials be transferred to the National Legislature acting upon
a specific number of signatures of the local population in the respective localities of these officials, certified by the election commission as valid. In this way, we might not have town chiefs coming to bring resolutions of support to the president out of fear of losing their jobs.

Given that Liberia is a small country of 3 million and that the level of illiteracy is high, and in view of the fact that power had been the root of all evils in Liberia in as much as incumbents had feared parting with power because it will not be gotten back again, this author proposes to revisit article 50 of chapter VI of the 1986 Constitution that states that " person shall serve as President for more than two terms." In particular, this author proposes to former presidents to contest office after 12 years of leaving the Presidency irrespective of how many terms they had served.

However, no person who had held office for more than 2 separate consecutive terms should be allowed to contest further. Efforts should be made to exploit the opportunity for amendment that is provided for in article 93 of chapter XII of the 1986 Constitution.

This author is of the opinion that the Legislature should have a say in the appointment matters relating to officials of key public institutions or commissions as a way of counter-balancing the prospect of the President manipulating such organs of the State. One case for reform in this direction should be the Election Law of Liberia. For example, besides the establishment of the Election in chapter X of the 1986 Constitution under the title "Autonomous Public Commissions," and the implied understanding that the Legislature will enact laws for its governance, as well as mentioned of the Election Commission in other parts of the Constitution, specifically chapter VIII dealing with political parties and elections, no specific mentioned is made of the composition of the Election Commission or who has the power to appoint its members. Based on the experience of the Doe and Taylor years one understood that the Legislature had ceded to the President the power to appoint members of the Election Commission. As we saw this became a source of tension owing to the distrust in both governments and their propensity to temper with the election results and manipulate the commission by appointing "loyalists" and not necessary individuals with high standing and integrity, which in no small part contributed to the coming about of the civil conflict. Therefore for the sake of honesty and transparency, I propose that half of the members of the Election Commission, including the deputy chairman be nominated by the Legislature and the President should nominate the other half, including the chairman. In any case, all members of the Election Commission including the chairman and his deputy should be confirmed by the National Legislature before the President appoints them. This should be affixed in the Constitution. Moreover, members of the Election Commission should be appointed for fixed terms of 5 years each. The chairman and deputy chairman of the Election Commission should not be allowed to served more than one term of 5 years each in their posts. The same should apply to members of the commission.

Another case in point for reform should be the judiciary. Besides the Chief Justice, two of the four associate justices should be recommended for appointment directly by the National Bar Association and the other two associate justices by the National Legislature. Therefore, there should be a need to revisit article 68 of the Constitution. To avoid a repeat of the Cheapoo scenario, it is proposed to exert the independence of the judiciary by making it much harder to impeach judges, particularly the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. In this regards, it should be established that a 2/3 vote should constitute the basis for proceeding with an impeachment case and at the end of impeachment proceedings there should be an unanimous vote of all members of the Legislature for dismissing a member of the bench and not just a majority quorum as was the case leading to Cheapoo's impeachment. This should be intended to make it impossible for the President to manipulate the Legislature during such sensitive matters. This author proposes to affix this provision in article 71 of the 1986 Constitution.

Owing to what we saw during the Doe and Taylor times, this author propose that a cap should be placed on the number of times a president can grant pardon within one term. Article 59 of the Constitution is to wide-ranging without such cap. This explains why Taylor was able to abuse the system by, on several occasions, granting pardon to journalists that his government had accused of treason, even before these individuals were brought to justice, thereby undermining the judicial process and reinforcing Liberia's status as a banana republic. The President should not be allowed to grant clemency before the judicial process runs its course, and particularly in such cases
as treason. This author proposes that the President be allowed to grant pardon twice for one term. Also, the Judicial Committee of the National Legislature and the Justice Ministry should give explicit written endorsement to the issuing of pardon in each specific case. The endorsement should be of a recommendational and not binding nature. Final decision should be left to the President. But the National Legislature should have the right to initiate an inquiry into any case of pardon it finds questionable or to instruct independently the Justice Ministry to appoint a special independent counsel to investigate the appropriateness or suspicion of possible influencing the granting of pardon in specific cases. This will make the government in future more careful on leveling allegations against citizens and suddenly back-tracking to save face without any prospect of accountability.


The objective of reform in the economic sector should be to ensure accountability, reinforce support for the political system, promote transparency, combat corruption and protect the interests of Liberians to manage their economic affairs thereby fulfilling their fundamental rights as prescribed in chapter III of the 1986 Constitution.

The first and foremost in this regard should be to rigidly enforce or to enact laws that will ensure the disclosure of wealth and to speedily exceed to the UN Convention Against Corruption. Also, this author advocates for the imposition of a ban on senior officials in leadership position in Liberia from having foreign bank accounts and to oblige them to submit every six months full and complete information on their financial transactions as well as transactions of their close family members. Foreign accounts held before coming into office should either be closed or not allowed to increase in monetary holdings.

As lawmakers recently pointed out at a seminar at the US Embassy devoted to fighting against corruption, wages of civil servants should be markedly raised.

As part of the process of improving tax collection in the first stage and popularizing the idea of paying taxes, it is suggested that tax payments be codified (that is, every citizens and businesses should have a tax code for receiving benefits or conducting transactions). Also, the tax office at the Finance Ministry should be given an autonomous status while under the ministry in order to make it more effective. The Special Security Service at the Executive Mansion should be subordinated to the Ministry of Finance with expanded powers for intelligence gathering, fighting tax evasion in addition to protecting senior officials of the state.

This author proposes to prohibit companies that are not registered in Liberia or have registered affiliate branches from bidding for state contracts. Moreover, government should allowed foreign enterprises, in which Liberian nationals owned 25% of shares to compete for state contracts, except in cases that have the explicit agreement of the National Legislature.

Development will never come to Liberia if we continue to rely on foreign companies to do everything. History attests to this. The Indian and Lebanese business communities in the country have never productively participated in Liberia's development. In fact, they have always tended to set themselves apart from Liberians. A requirement should be to make these people to integrate in Liberia, just as Germany is now encouraging foreigners to integrate there. Foreign banks in Liberia have never been a catalyst for local development. In the light of these, Liberia will have to either compel foreign financial institutions to actively participate in the nation's development priorities or embark on a course of creating our own local financial sectors even if it means direct state financial intervention. This author is of the belief that in countries such as those on the African continent, state intervention is require since without it the living standards of the people will never be improved. Events on the continent over the past years have proved this. No countries among the developed Western nations have made it to their current level without significant state interventions. This is why this author considers that the insistence of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF that African states turn over development priorities to market forces as a plot. These international financial institutions are encouraging or largely silent with respect to state intervention in the former Soviet Union while criticizing such in Africa. Without state intervention in housing, electricity and other areas in countries of the former Soviet Union the plight of most of the citizens in these countries like for example Ukraine would not have been much better than what we see in Sub-Sahara Africa today.

But of course, these countries are in Europe and only Europeans have got the right to benefit from state intervention. Another point to mention is the racial nature of investments. Countries in North Africa are considered more developed than those South of the Sahara not because they have got better economic policies than their counterparts in Sub-Sahara Africa, but because they are more light-skinned and tolerable for Europeans. Therefore, all other matters aside they tend to attract more investments than their counterparts in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the case of Liberia, we had never had any significant industries for development before the civil war besides the extractive mineral sector. For example, Liberia had never had significant domestic industries managed by Liberians that could produce consumer products such as diary products, or even sugar, needless to mention alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. Coca-Cola and Club Beer factory were all foreign-owned without any Liberian shareholding. So if we are going to attract investments in the post-conflict future, Liberia like many other Sub-Saharan African states would see these investments going to the mineral sectors and not basically towards manufacturing, where jobs could be created. In such a situation it will be up to the government to build-up the manufacturing base of the country. In short, based on the available natural wealth of Liberia, the state will have no choice but to significantly intervene in all facets of nation-building. It is against this background that this author advocates for the setting up of state enterprises in major sectors of the economy with the eventual view to subsequently privatized them. Such sectors should include manufacturing, natural mineral extraction, construction and telecommunication. The state should also make way for private companies to get engaged in these sectors, but only with Liberian shareholding participation. A privatization law should eventually be passed to ensure that strategic enterprises with state shareholdings are privatized in a manner as not to damage the security of the state and to ensure that Liberians have access to the shares of these companies.

Foreign companies that have concessions in Liberia should be required to seek the approval of the Liberian government for transferring their assets to another foreign enterprise and for concluding purchasing and buying agreements of shares, even if these transactions take place outside of Liberia. If these companies fail to seek state approval they should lose their concession rights. This author suggests that the procedure for securing state approval should be given in conjunction with the National Legislature and by a specialized agency that should be set up for fighting against monopolism and anti-trust cases. Also, this author suggests to liberalize the telecommunication market especially in such area as mobile communication. Likewise, it is suggested to set up a specialized state agency for organizing and managing the procurement of material reserves of the country such as food, gas, fuel and oil. If the 1979 rice riot taught us anything it was that it is important for the state to retain the possibility of exerting control on market forces such as prices and supply. The lack of the ability of the Tolbert government to exercise influence on the price and supply of rice led to widespread discontent and hence the rice riot, which eventually culminated in the downfall of his government. It is also proposed that the government should provide direct subsidies to the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. As events in Europe and elsewhere show, without such subsidies Liberia will never be able to build a viable manufacturing industry and propel agricultural production to the level of self-sufficiency. Many of our leaders have failed to exhibit courage and boldness to take such a step. And one reason for this is that the funds that could have been used for such were diverted to private bank accounts to pay for better living standards of Europeans and Americans.

Also, government should strive to create strong financial structures. In this regard, this author proposes to enhance the powers of the National Bank of Liberia to maintain a competitive exchange rate; to control central bank spending and depoliticize its management of the money supply and credit; to ensure that the central bank can establish prudential supervision of structures for both the commercial banking system and the capital market as soon as it emerges in Liberia; set policies that channel capital investment inflows to constructive purposes and maintain positive real interest rates to stimulate savings. The interdependence of the National Bank should be safeguarded.


The long-term goal should be to rebuild the country's social infrastructure in such a way as to serve as a stimulus for economic growth, as well as to provide opportunities for ex combatants, internally displaced persons and refugees to get involved in productive activities. In this respect the things that matter most to ordinary Liberians would need to be addressed such as health care, education and jobs. One of the mistakes of the past was that development in Liberia was never people-centered. It was always centered literally speaking in the Executive Mansion. This explains why the people as a whole felt themselves alienated from the process of state governance and this in turn provided an inducement to the population to eventually take to violence as a means to realizing themselves when and as soon as this became possible. The simple fact is that there will never be integration or healing the wounds in Liberia unless people begin to feel empowered, that they have a stake in the country's future. No amount of speeches and talking would do.

Bold and confident decisions are required in this regard. Take for example health care. The long-term goal should be for Liberians to have access to health insurance. But in the meantime basic universal health coverage will need to be ensured. Special attention in this regard should be paid to women and children. Moreover, a system should be developed to render one-time financial assistance to women before and after birth. Financial assistance should be provided for the upkeep of a child up until he/she is 3 years old. Such cases for these assistance should be processed either through the place of work of the mother or through the social security agency.

On the issue of education this author propose that the government should concentrate on beating down the cost of education in postwar Liberia while seeking to increase enrollment and set the conditions for quality education in the country. Partly due to the government's actions, before the war there was an impression that Liberian students were more focuses on politics than in pursuing academic excellence. There was an impression that government did not have much interest in promoting education because it feared opposition to its policies. Attempts by Doe to promote the Agriculture College of the University of Liberia by providing free education as a means to entice students, for example, faltered in part because the government did not have any clear idea as to how to make use of these skills and it was actually not committed to developing agriculture and it was used as a propaganda stunt. Government should put its priorities straight in the education sector: science and engineering as well as information technology. These will prove crucial to the development of Liberia and the creation of jobs.

In the area of jobs, this author proposes the rigid enforcement of the Liberianization policy. In a country where a small faction of the population of 3 million can claim the privilege of being literate, there is not reason why even these literate persons should go jobless. One of President Tubman great legacies was the creation of conditions for mortgaging the country to foreigners. By 1989 Liberia was one of the ten highest net importer of foreign labor. This trend is set to continue even in postwar Liberia if strong leadership is not exhibited here. Foreign and local enterprises should not be allowed to employ foreigners illegally residing in the country. If caught hefty fines should be imposed and licenses revoked for repeated violation of the country's labor laws. This should apply to educational establishments as well. The procedure should at the same time be streamlined to ensure that local enterprises and institutions can easily
apply and receive permission to employ aliens if such capacity is not available in the country. Also, the government should work to ensure that a minimum of 50% of the managerial posts of enterprises in Liberia should be held by Liberian nationals. Failure by an enterprise to comply should lead to the cancellation of its license. It is suggested that this policy be even more strictly enforced in the mineral extraction sector. Moreover, it should be noted that even though our Constitution proclaimed equality for all, the fact is that time over and again women have been under-represented in Liberia. The Taylor government had tried to address this problem by creating the Gender Ministry. The proper legislative basis however was never set to encourage equality between men and women as far as access to employment opportunities was concerned. In this respect, this author proposes that a law "On the Provision of Equal Rights and Possibilities for Men and Women" be enacted. Among other things this law should establish that not more than 70% of citizens vying in elections should be of one sex. Besides, this law should provide for a minimum of 30% of the top posts in ministries and agencies, as well as state parastatals should be held by women. In the view of this author, this will not only improve the material well being of women, but make them participate more actively on an equal par with men in the management of the state.


This author is of the opinion that the above mentioned points, while not claiming monopoly rights to perfection, when instituted should go a long way in addressing the political, socio-economic developmental needs of Liberia as it emerges from the ghost of the past. These are issues that should have been implemented in the 150 years history of Liberia, but were willfully or otherwise neglected by the country's leaders. Liberians are tired of hearing speeches of better days ahead. So far we have inherited from our forefathers the worst days of any that one could imagine. All through the history of Liberia citizens have been told to fasten their belts. Citizens are making sacrifices and getting little in exchange or with no idea, whatsoever, when better days will arrive. Therefore, the issues addressed above in addition to the defense question will no doubt form the crust of the presidential campaign next year. There will be a division between those who have genuine faith in Liberia's ability to move forward with whatsoever resources and potentials it possesses and those who believe that without outside help Liberia can never be developed and it should always be in a begging condition. As was mentioned in a recent report of the International Crisis Group, Liberia needs a new crop of leaders. Such crop of leaders is presently not in the country. Those who claim now to be leaders of Liberians are at best sycophants and wimps, who if given the chance would revert Liberia to where it was before 1989 and prevent it from moving forward. 2005 will be the year that Liberians will have to make hard decisions. But given the level at which the people are presently situated, it is a question as to whether they will be able to stand up to the test of time. Liberia still has a long way to go and expenditures exceeding the $500 million dollars pledged at the donor conference in New York. Therefore in this context I hope that we would be able to have leaders who are visionaries and have the gust to make bold and confident decisions.

Cecil Franweah Frank is a political commentator with the Ukrainian News Agency in Kyiv, Ukraine, and is a security policy specialist.