By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
The Writers argue (FPA, September 8, 2016) that “Liberia has not, historically, been the model of liberal democracy. However, conditions are changing gradually. The seeming end of the Legislative stand-off which resulted in the Speaker’s (of the House of Representative)... recusal, symbolizes the strength of our emerging democracy. The state of our unity may be fragmented, but our new democracy has proven to withstand shocks that could have resulted in crisis, under previous governments... credit goes to the Liberian people . . . who fought for many generations to reach this stage. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf also takes credit for patiently nurturing the nascent social order”.
“Just 15 years earlier”, the Writers posit, “under (former President) Charles Taylor, consequences of the hold-off had deadly potential... then Senate President Protemp Charles Walker Brumskine found himself at loggerheads with President Charles G. Taylor. Brumskine had no other alternative but to seek refuge abroad for fear of his life”.
“Similarly, under (the late President) Samuel K. Doe, the result of such a stand-off could have led to coups and counter-coups. Also, in the prior one-party oligarchy, the stand-off would have been unimaginable. Throughout the saga, there were fears of chaos, but in the reality, it was the forces of pluralism that were at work. The fact that the state withstood the tremors is indicative of the blooming seeds of people power”. Therefore, the conclusion follows that the Liberian polity - past, recent past, recent and present-prevailing had been, and is, “deepening, new democracy”.
The Writers present a political, philosophical argument – ivory tower, academic, scholarly, historical and intellectual comparative analysis, with conclusions that although the Republic of Liberia, founded a century and half years ago in 1847, has shown, “historically” and beyond all reasonable doubts, not to be the example of liberal, democratic state, but political “conditions” have changed, “are changing gradually” for the better. For example, the Writers claim, the apparent “end”, but on-going of the recent stand-off by deeply-divided, factional members of the Lower House of the Nation’s Legislature, the House of Representatives, which resulted in the recusal of the Speaker “symbolized the strength of our new emerging democracy” and that the “credit” for this success of democracy – growth, development and “deepening” – goes tothe Liberian people and, especially, “President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for patiently nurturing the nascent social order”.
Firstly, like the criminal trial, defense attorney who places the credibility of the testimony of an important prosecution witness (not the person/personality of the witness) in reasonable doubt and likewise the message (not the messenger) unlike Liberian traditional approach, we take a closer look at the political relationships of the Writers and the Liberian political leaders of recent past and present/prevailing status quo, in the light of or given the Writers’ foregoing political statements, argument and conclusions:
The Writers argue, a scholarly/intellectual rationalization as paid PR agents, that “The state has managed . . . to reduce some of the structural incentives to violence by inviting the emergence of multi-party political system” and that “The once pariah state (Liberia) has acquired international legitimacy”.
Regarding “reduction of incentives to violence”, Bai Gbala wrote that “As long as the majority of the Liberian nation’s population is entrapped and remains in abject poverty, hunger, disease and the lack of information/education; as long as there is rapid population growth with rural-to-urban migration, conspicuous consumption without production; as long as there is no attention paid to rural Liberia, in term of socio-economic and political development, where the overwhelming majority of the population lives and where the nation’s known, natural resources are located; and as long as the “transformation” or transfer/release of administrative, economic and political power to regional, political/administrative, semi-autonomous sub-divisions, while a very few, less than the usual, political minority who control political power and policy-making lives in palatial mansions, but pays no attention, does little or nothing to assure or resolve the critical problems of the people, the seed of this class of organized, collective mob violence is planted and will, certainly, germinate with collateral damage. This is a sad commentary on and about the people, country and society founded in response to political tyranny and on the principles of the rule of law, economic justice and equality of treatment in pursuit of happiness, when the people are driven to extra-legal acts to awaken political power holders to acknowledge and to redress justified grievances (Gbala, 2014)”.
On the “once pariah state and the Liberian multi-party” regime, Bai Gbala observed regarding the issue of pariah state that “From and on the basis of the facts of Liberia’s past and recent past history, Liberia was not, never a declared a pariah state, an international outcast, nor subjected to diplomatic sanctions for any reason throughout the nation’s 169-year existence as a sovereign state. On the issue of Liberia as a broken state, indeed it is true that the Republic had been a broken state, with overwhelming, validated evidence - local, national/international – and that it was the sole responsibility of the ACDL and its agents, Mr. Charles Taylor and his NPFL, INPFL. They brought Liberia and its people to their knees, face-to-face with near-total destruction, which began with the November 12, 1985 invasion by force of arms, led by AFL Commanding General who, unfortunately, lost his life, including thousands of innocent Liberian citizens (Gbala, 2016)”.
Regarding multiparty regime, Mr. Gbala held that “There is a critical, troubling challenge in 21st century Liberia regarding the prevailing problem of multiplicity of political parties in our small country. Presently, there are some twenty-something political parties (and counting) in the country of less than 4 million people and 16 major, tribal groups. Compared to other countries, particularly, the United States, from which we borrowed, almost, all of our laws and upon which we modeled, almost, all of our political and economic activities, there are only two lawfully-recognized, national or federal political parties with a population of 300 million, ours is a joke”.
Firstly, the Liberian multi-political parties are organized and managed NOT in accordance with traditional convention of “shared beliefs” or political philosophy, but in accordance with or along ethnic/tribal lines. One may argue, reasonably, that the Tribe is still alive and well in Liberian, rural and urban communities as the major, instantly and conveniently available source not only for socio-cultural fellowship and unity, but also for economic, political and security protection, including related interests and multi-parties, along tribal lines”.
“Secondly, the divisive nature of our traditional ethnic/tribal bigotry – of fear, suspicion, envy, jealousy, superstition, prejudice, segregation/discrimination, and antagonism bordering on hatred, a condition which has been exacerbated by the recent civil war and created not only deep tribal cleavages, but also, lends abusive tendencies to the system of multi-parties, which must be overcome and, eventually, eradicated”.
“And thirdly, regarding the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the electoral process –laws, demarcation of constituencies, registration of political parties and voters, campaigns by the political parties and independent candidates, party finances/financing and oversight, vote-counting, declaration of results and adjudication of disputes in Liberia, as we have experienced – have not been free, fair, transparent, credible or legitimate. Indeed, the electoral process is seen by the Liberian people as being manipulated and controlled by ruling, political parties. For example, the recent, unusual and un-ceremonial abandonment of his position as chairman of the NEC and the secret, un-announced departure from the country while in the midst of several allegations of electoral fraud, is a critical, painfully-troubling case in point (Gbala, 2012)”.
Indeed, we know and admit that there had been and are, in fact, positive, “gradual” (political) “changes” due, mainly, to the “forces of pluralism”, but a powerless, poor and hungry majority in constant danger posed by powerful, wealthy, minority politico-economic forces in control of and dominating state corridors of power and the state treasury. We note the Writers’ call upon the leaders of tomorrow, some being kids still in diapers, metaphorically. Why not the globe-trotting, wine/booze-gulping Ivy-league University graduates of today’s present/prevailing leaders of the status quo who are in control, with awesome socio-cultural, economic and political power?
“Throughout the saga (of the Legislative stand-off)”, the Writers argue, “there were fears of chaos”. We note, also, the Writers’ call on and exhortation of the “leaders of tomorrow” who, the Writers say, “will have to convince the people (citizens) to vote for them (leaders of tomorrow) and, therefore, (the leaders of tomorrow) will have to address the issues voters care about: Empowering the people to take ownership of their own development”, or the Right to vote.
In a Rejoinder to one of the Writers’ Fears, Apprehension . . . of UNMIL Departure (The Perspective, November 9, 2015), we observed that “In a representative, liberal democracy . . . the Right-to-vote, particularly, in the selection of important public officials - mayors, town, clan, paramount chiefs and superintendents of counties of rural Liberia, for example - is not a privilege, but an inalienable right that inheres to adult citizens by virtue of their citizenship. But that right to vote, since 1847, had been, and is, denied citizens of the counties. Federalized Decentralization, with Unitary Structure abolished, seeks to make that right available to the overwhelming majority of Liberian voters”.
Throughout 169 years, successive, Liberian, political leaderships and their derivatives held on to the Unitary Structure, while the nation becomes a “failed State”. Now, we are told by the national, public policy theorists & counselors that “Liberia shall remain a unitary state with a system of local government and administration which shall be decentralized with the county as the principal focus of the devolution of power and authority”. Therefore, we hasten to provide comparative, contrasting analysis/conclusion below, showing the critical difference between the two, main, systems of government – Federal and Unitary. For, according to the premise/conclusions by the “Candidates for President of Liberia”, come 2017, the Liberian nation will have to wait, perhaps, for another 169 years or more for change, reforms, transformation!!
Decentralization – Federal & Unitary.
Both Federal and Unitary systems refer to or define “devolution” as decentralization of power. But there are distinct, important differences and conditions, critical to successful democratic practice and results, particularly, in the light of Liberia’s turbulent past. In the Federal system, devolution-decentralization is guaranteed by written, constitutional provisions, with terms and conditions binding upon the central, federal government and its regional, semi-autonomous constituents; whereas, in the Unitary system, devolution-decentralization is non-constitutional and that the central, unitary government reserves the right to alter, re-arrange or abolish the devolved-decentralized powers without consultation and/or consent of the regional constituents, because, unlike federal system, the regional constituents lack constitutional right to exist, in the first place.
Put differently, devolution of political power as defined, the right to vote in the selection of Mayors, Town, Clan, and Paramount Chiefs and County Superintendents, as desired and expected by the overwhelming majority of the nation’s citizens, is not governed by constitutional provision, and that the Unitary, Central government, the system now prevailing in Liberia, reserves the right to change and/or abolish the devolved powers without consultation and/or consent of the regional constituents, the counties in the Republic of Liberia. But, the Liberian voter in Fish Town, River Gee; in Saiquellie, Nimba; Tubmanburg, Bomi, let alone Bentol, Montserrado Counties need not a rocket scientist to tell him/her that this has been and is undemocratic!!
It is very important that we note that all “presidential hopefuls” or declared candidates for President of Liberia, premised the operations of their future governments, if elected, on 1847 or 169-year old assumptions - outdated, obsolete Unitary Structure of government, a structure that is not, any longer, valid or relevant to the socio-cultural, economic and political realities of the Liberia of today’s 21st century, pro-democracy world culture, world-wide.
For no other reason, for crying out loud, one would think, that any reasonable public administrator or democratic politician, answerable to the citizens, would seek to implement change, with reforms, in the light of doing the same thing for a century with disastrous results.
Finally, again we ask, why not exhort today’s present, prevailing leaders, of the status quo, to address the disgraceful Global Witness report/allegations against the Government of Liberia by, first, disclosing the identities of Big Boys 1 & 2 and NOT sweep the probe under the proverbial rugs to protect the powerful. But, then we realize that this approach will be inconsistent with the Writers’ employment and PR obligations. Therefore, we are not persuaded by the Writers’ argument that the Liberian polity is “new deepening democracy”.
Apparently, the Writers of the subject article are new comers on-ground in Liberia, having lived almost more than 75% of their cognitive lives out of the country. We argue that a dedicated/committed Liberian political animal should and must live and experience the political dynamics on-ground in Liberia of who says and does what to whom, where, when, why and the context of these dynamics. For, pie-in-sky political analysis and pontifications from the comfort of distant lands do not transfer democracy by osmosis.
Gbala, Bai M., Reason, Public Policy and Violence: The case of Tokadeh, Nimba County (and Butaw, Sinoe County) in Analyst Liberia, Monrovia, 2014.
Gbala, Bai M., EJS Reluctance to pull the Trigger on Ineptitude, Rejoinder to FPA in Analyst Liberia, Monrovia, 2016.
Gbala, Bai M., Commentary on Bill to fund Political Parties in The New Dawn, Monrovia, 2012.
Gbala, Bai M., Rejoinder to Fears, Apprehensions . . . in The Perspective, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 2015.
Wion, Jerry W., Classes of Liberan groups: Americo-, Congau-, Indigenous ethnic/tribal-Liberians, in FPA, Monrovia, 2016.
Woewiyu, Tom, Open Letter to Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (www.Liberiandialogue, Sept. 15, 2005.