By: James Thomas-Queh
As I have shown in Part l, manipulation may come in many subtle forms. For example - suddenly agriculture has become a priority after 12 years, and some of our “partners” are already pumping millions of dollars into the venture. It may be for a worthy cause, yes, but if one examines the sequence more closely, the signs of manipulation are transparent. Because if Liberia was coming out of 14 years of civil war, and, with an experienced, seasoned agriculturist as the Vice President, why the President did not assign him the noble task of transforming the country to self-sufficient in food production in the past 12 years, but only now when the VP is running for the presidency that agriculture becomes a priority? And yet, from the President on down (even the National Police Force), all have prosperous private farms, but only our poor peasant farmers and population are left to the whims and caprices of foreign palm concessions. Worse, the Unity Party chairman is on the bench, indicted in a corruption syndicate; and while the country is in an absolute financial chaos.
Of course, in any normal democracy (and I hope for Liberia a very normal, vibrant democracy - that for which over 250 000 of our innocent compatriots were sacrificed, and a nation devastated) no any amount of manipulation or ruse will give a victory to such a party for a third term – impossible or only by a miracle or default.
Now, to answer the question posed by the theme of this reflection, I will limit my analyses or appeals – in the form of suggestions and guidelines – to those national institutions and groups that I think have the capacity to impact and suppress any attempt to manipulate the 2017 elections.
The experiences from our countless national tragedies since the death of President Tubman in 1971, are memorable testimonies that applying the usual unorthodox political combinations or manipulations to facilitate the continuity of new elites in power have proven disastrous for our nation. Therefore, Madam President, do everything possible within your power to permit our people to vote free and fairly for their choice of a President in October 2017. And when that is overwhelmingly achieved, you must be merciless against anyone at the NEC who, under an emotional spell, may attempt to announce prematurely some confusing and contradictory elections results. Whosoever should genuinely win this Presidency, grant him quickly your unflinching support without any pre-conditions because by now, I surmise, that every serious candidate in this race should be award of the enormity of the challenges that await him, and the propensity of danger for any action or decision that may be taken in precipitation or euphoria of a winner. And by doing so, Madam President, you would have left Liberia on a genuine trajectory of lasting peace, stability, national unity, reconciliation and sustained national development. And your legacy will shine for ever.
Your divisions, petty bickering, egocentrism and mistrust of each other show the perfect mirror of still a divided nation, mistrust of one another, our government, and even our nation. But more important, it predisposes you to manipulation, ridicule and insignificance. Further, if you can not unite as one to lead the country, you will find it harder to reconcile the people and unite the nation as a lone leader. So I appeal to you to regroup; those who want to join with the ruling UP, have the courage, that is your freedom; those who wish to form the opposition block, go ahead, the sooner the better – and that is also your inherent freedom. This time let us be men and women of integrity and conviction, and not confuse our suffering populace with a multitude of splinter groups calling themselves political parties. We must give our people a renew hope for a better future - for their children and our children. For once let us put our nation first and foremost.
The National Elections Commission (NEC)
The established pattern that aspirant legislators from the leeward counties and districts can transport their voters from Monrovia to their counties and districts in order to vote for them, is a sheer travesty of democracy, anti-decentralization, anti-patriotism and a recipe for manipulation. How do we expect these legislators to develop or have interest in their areas when, in fact, they are not elected by those who sacrifice living in these deserted counties and districts? Can we expect the citizens living in these abandoned counties and districts to be patriotic when, in effect, they are forgotten by their elected officials immediately after the elections? Cannot we see why it is so easy for foreign concessions to manipulate our poor villagers to give out their fertile farmland to palm oil concession for absolutely nothing in return?
No, it is now time that in our 170th year of independence, we must take ourselves more seriously, strive to set and abide by the right standards of governance. This is the surest way to empower the people, and set forth our national development on a solid foundation.
The perennial difficulties of the majority Liberian youths date as far back as the 1960s, but we were extremely resilient as you are today with lots of courage and determination to learn and straighten things in our country. Like in our time, you cannot imagine how profoundly you have been positively changing the mind-set of our new political elites in the past 12 years. First, they came in from 2003, homeless like everybody else, many promises and some few dollars to distribute among the starving, destitute youths; so you trusted them and elected them unknowingly. Eight years later (2011), they had mansions, fat salaries, cars, etc, while you were left at the same point and even worse. Then they came back to you for re-election without any record of achievements to show, but only the same old bag of tricks; well, you threw most of the Senators and Representatives out of the Legislature.
Now, 2017 is the year of reckoning; you have most of the trump cards to turn the tables on the “elites/system deceivers” as being demonstrated by most of the youths in today’s world – fed up with the persistent lies, deceit, hypocrisy and manipulation by their leaders. So, be even more stringent and uncompromising in choosing your next President and legislators – those who will lead our country on a genuine path to people’s empowerment, national reconciliation, sustained peace and economic development. Beware of the new electioneering innovations by most of the present aspirants to play on your intelligence. Some are engaged in small impact projects, and while others are pursuing only photo ops - going around cutting ribbons to dedicate hand-pumps, their partners’ luxury offices, gas stations, and you name it. Most of them cannot show any record of what they had previously done or even possessing a decent home in the districts or areas that they want to represent. And this too must be a major factor in your choice.
Fortunately too, with the absence of the sitting President from the race, and the nation’s coffers depleted, there should be no lavish distribution of state largess. It should therefore be a bit easier this time to distinguish the true or genuine candidates from the demagogues and charlatans. Because the more your choice is clear, without any ambiguity, the less you are receptive to manipulation.
That said, let me give you an exercise that should further help you to make your selection. Were I to vote (unfortunately I am impeded by dual-nationality), I would begin by drawing up a “selection index” of the most important candidates to do a short listing. First, my barometer of measurement would point only on the last 14 years of peace and stability (2003-2017). Then I would eliminate any candidate who, wanting to lead the nation, had not made it an imperative to live and work in the Liberia during this crucial historical period of our nation’s re-birth. For the fact that we have experienced all the fly-by-night failed promises and manipulations, we must now judge the aspirants –not only on their successful international career, contacts, etc, but also their achievements and contributions which have impacted the people before all the electioneering fancy gifts. Second, I would exclude any candidate who surfs on tribalism (congou/country) - it is divisive, short-sighted, and an obsolete political platform. Third, I would cancel any aspirant who is not free from the burden of the civil war or has played an active role in it. And fourth, I would demand that candidates who have private homes in foreign countries should pledge to relinquish them once elected as President of Liberia. For me, either you are a true nationalist and trust the future of your country to be at the helm or you are not. But you cannot be paying taxes and mortgages in another country while your people are destitute and everything else is in an absolute mess. Furthermore, experience has also told us that such a double living standard is an incentive for massive corruption. Well, and not forgetting also that it has the propensity for blackmail by the foreign countries.
Well, should any candidate still remain in the short-list at this point (and God knows that most are also highly educated and fine individuals), my choice then would depend on the integrity and an unquestionable character; the content and feasibility of a genuine national vision – people empowerment, development oriented; recognized achievements public/private in the last 14 years in Liberia; knowledgeable on management of national economy and finances; demonstrates leadership; transcends tribalism and shows the will to promote genuine national reconciliation and unity. And these conditions also hold for the Vice President, and not a selection based only on a political calculation or strategy.
Your role is cardinal in promoting and consolidating our fragile democracy, and yet it is an extreme difficult task under the circumstances. Beware of the attempts by people to manipulate or set you up with plenty of true and false misinformation to get at their enemies, damage your own reputation or simply to muddy the waters – a sort of a smoke screen to abscond their misdeeds. Know your limits; you are not a policeman, court, judge or any state agent. You are a journalist to seek and write the truth –and nothing but the truth – even at your own peril. You may lavish all the praises to promote your preferred candidates, but please, do not engage yourself in petty snare campaigns against the others. And remember also that your reputation and integrity survive on a balance, true and objective reporting. Ah, do not praise yourself, let the public praise you.
Lastly, I appeal to you to refrain from using the world “stakeholders”; it is abstract or neutral – a very subtle manipulative technique to de-nationalize or disrobe a people or citizens and government of their nationhood. Always name the actors in national debates or social conflicts for what they represent –labour unions, political parties, students, citizens, government, etc . In this way the issue at stake is not detached or isolated from the rest of the societal preoccupations; it creates general awareness and solidarity among citizens, and in the process also breeds nationalism and patriotism. This is the foundation that renders manipulation ineffective.
In the 1970s, the Liberian Diaspora was small and tightly united, highly respected and powerful. The paradox, today it is huge, but extremely disunited, disregarded, powerless and inaudible on both the national and international fronts. The divisions within the Diaspora is the exact reflect of what exists on the ground - every county, tribe, town or village has an association somewhere in America or Europe - doing their own thing, fussing among themselves, tearing down or undermining each other. And unless we can come together and unite to lead the way, respect one another, I doubt whether we could ever effect any collective positive change in our country.
Imagine, even political leaders manipulate our disunity. They come to us to campaign and raise fund, but yet dual-citizens are not allow to vote nor work in government. Everything we write, suggest, advices given –all fall on deaf ears, once it does not deal on a character assassination.
Regardless of how you may have been elected, but once that has been accepted peacefully and officially by the Liberian people, I beg you to make your inauguration festivities a genuine communion of national reconciliation between only you and the Liberia people, and no else’s business. Do not put yourself ridiculously on a false throne while the majority of your people are hungry, jobless, homeless, massive corruption, messy education, messy health system, messy infrastructures, and the list goes on indefinitely. Let history be your guide; be yourself and humble, and not over pretentious. The challenges ahead are monumental.
In short, once you start off on a falsehood, no doubt, you will be an immediate soft-target to be strangled by both the internal and foreign manipulation vampires.
And as for my part, Mr. President elect, I wish you well and Good Luck in your rendezvous with history.