Organized Confusion: Election Politics In Liberia


By Brownie J. Samukai

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
September 8, 2005


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Monrovia became a panicky ground on 15 August when thousands of youths and supporters of various political parties took to the streets, without a clearer understanding of what was meant by the beginning of the campaign period and what they were supposed to do. It should not have been surprising when you have a highly illiterate population (about 85%) among the nearly 850,000 urban residents, many of whom reside in shanty towns where the unemployment rate is nearly 83.5%. Survival skills include subsistence petty trading (of chiclets, rock my jaw candies, etc.), drug abuse, gambling, and the harsh reality of prostitution. Many of these youths and supporters were desperate for anything to allow them release their anxiety. August 15 presented a useful opportunity for organized confusion.

Political aspirants were themselves unprepared for the actions of their supporters. These aspirants provided limited opportunities to properly educate their followers on what was expected at the beginning of the campaign period. Did we learn anything from this spontaneous response of the electorates?

Two presidential debates have now been conducted, and there are conflicting interpretations of the results from these debates. Dr. Dukuly, in his article on the Perspective web-site, eloquently reported on the first debate. The outcome of the second debate generated further heated debate on several Internet forums. Were these debates centered around issues such as jobs, health care, schools, roads, the tenets of good governance, tackling corruption, socio-economic development, and those things that the nation need most? Were the moderators themselves properly informed and strategically placed to steer the course of discussions in the direction of those things that matter most to ordinary people? The jury is still out on which audience these debates were intended to impact in helping make an informed decision.

NEC’s publication of eligible voters shows an almost even split figure: 50% men (676,399) and 50% women (676,157) among the nearly 1.352,556 million registered voters. Among these, nearly 40% (541,000 eligible voters) are between the ages of 18-28 years. Montserrado alone represents nearly 35% (473,000) of the total. A combined total of three other counties in six digit figures represent nearly 32.3% of registered voters (437,205). The implication is that the oldest within this 40% of eligible voters (say 28 years old today) was 13 years old in 1990, and the youngest of this same age group (18 years) was 3 years in 1990.

Let’s take a hypothetical scenario on these figures, around which several factors, subjective and/or objective, endogenous and/or exogenous which may have influenced the growth period of persons within these age groups. These may include, the war of course, death of family member, or friend, narcotics, peer pressure, assault, and the many more traumatic events that have already been characterized by experts.

The notoriety of events and personalities during this period was the war, with Charles Taylor and his gang of thieves serving as the prime influence. On the other hand was the nations pass time, football, with James Salinsa Debbah, George Weah, Boye Charles, Joe Nagbe among other professionals representing Liberia on the international scene. As the scenario unfolds, the logical question you could ask is, which of these two major events and personalities had a greater impact on the growth period of youths between the ages of 3 & 13 in 1990, and that of 18 and 28 in 2005? Could you say that other influences could have had greater impact than these two, or could there have been other greater influences or role models than these two situations? Are there other variables which could have had significant influence on the decision making process of persons within this peer group: Say, obtaining some degree of higher education, training and other livelihood composites, family responsibilities, or even exposure and learning process during years of exile as refugees, among others?

Under this scenario, the logic of numbers could be applicable since the decision making process of the eligible voter is not based on proven facts and informed judgment, but on the influence and admiration of the growth period of that eligible voter. It could be simple as general disillusionment and disconnect with the old order, or old politicians, or peer following. It is indisputable that history is the touch bearer for the future of society, and lessons learned and rectified represents a future well prepared for.

Other assumptions are made under this scenario: That there are four candidates who have turned out to be leading contenders at this time; that each of the four contenders has slight higher level of support in specific voting areas, among specific segment of the population; and as the scenario unfolds, political strategists have determined that what is needed are the combined support of women and youths in four major electoral voting regions of Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Bong and Nimba Counties, four of which carry nearly 67.2% of total eligible voters.

The scenario also makes the following observation suggesting that two, out of the four candidates, have made a significant level of impact on potential voters in Morovia.; and that taken altogether in the four counties, the level of support seem evenly split among the four major contenders. Under this scenario, it would mean that a minimum of 16.8% of support in addition to support from other regions is required to edge into political significance for possible run off elections. Strategist have also determined that since the recently held debate, the launching of various campaigns and platform presentation, any candidate with a significant margin, two times the minimum support of 16.8% support among youths and women in Monrovia, Grand Bassa, Bong and Nimba Counties, would be the most likely candidate to win the elections, even if there is a run off election.

Thus, with these numbers and percentages, we may assume that the outcome of October elections may not necessarily rest on the logic of competence, nor best qualified, but a combination of these along with electoral segment, location of electorates, and peer following: The combination of Liberia’s young population, and the choice of Liberian women. On the other hand, the 15% of educated, highly trained, middle class and well experienced eligible voters are spread too thin to represent a significant element during the first round of voting.

Let’s take some cases in point to test the hypothesis: Though credible pooling is yet to conducted, it has been repeatedly observed on nearly all radio talk shows in Monrovia, taking in calls about the elections, that most callers have either expressed their support for the youngest of all candidates, or have questioned his inadequacies. Others have expressed their support for a multiple of other highly educated candidates, prominently the high profile female candidate. Does this represent a significant indicator? Well, within the framework of this scenario and strategic determination, it is an indicator that should not be discounted about the thought process of those responding to these talk shows, and the impact it could have on those listening.

During my three weeks stay in Monrovia, there were credible reports that several colleagues, and some members of the international community had quietly gone randomly to select areas in central Monrovia, Old road area, ELWA Market Paynesville Market, Duala Market, New Kru market and West Point Market area, and asked for whom would they be voting. It was observed that a significant number of male street vendors, and hustlers, who have registered to vote (within the age group of the 40% of the electorates), expressed support for the youngest political candidate, while a significant number of female vendors (registered voters) expressed support otherwise, saying “it is time for women”. Are these actual indicators of whom the electorates prefer?

However, when added altogether, both male and female vendors in these locations, support seem to reflect some level of equilibrium. Even though such results may not necessarily be empirical, it would seem an indicator under this paradigm. Thus, under this scenario, the momentum has not shown a significant shift.

It would also not be premature to make some assumptions, as a strategic initiative within the framework of political maturity, in recognizing some traits or pattern determining the thinking of those who have registered to vote.

Under this circumstance, and in order to manage and navigate such organized confusion, visibility of candidate at the level of potential voters (not on a pedestal), and persistent clarity of themes and messages, commensurate with the listening audience, would seem to be determining factors. Managing this organized confusion would also require tenacity, proximity of peers, organized and proactive campaigning, and high profile media exposure to shift or help to influence those who may not have a clear commitment to a particular candidate. “Pound for Pound – location for location, playing field for playing field, pepper bush for pepper bush” – a strategy based on the hypothesis that what matter most is to get the numbers out in your favor. Perception of having a much larger following may at the end of the day, carry the greatest influence on voters who are in line on voting day.

It would be a strategic mistake, under this scenario, to assume that eligible voters are rational and desire the “best” candidate. The logic of numbers and the disposition of registered voters indicated herein, may suggest other wise. People and specific target groups may have entirely different interpretation and meaning of “best leadership”. There is a legacy of influence on the thought process of some given segment of registered electorates, thus requiring adjustment to the reality as it exists, and not necessarily dependant on a presumption of rationality.

The outcome of such “organized confusion” will be dependant on the acceptable perception of eligible voters, high visibility of candidate, media exposure to potential voters for a particular candidate. This assumption is not exhausted. Finally, a significant shift of support will come principally when there are overwhelming support from institutions of survival and livelihood, such as homes, schools, places of worships, marketplace, institutions of learning and training, Hatayi spots, hustling corners, as well as specific segment of the voting population, among others. By then, the organized confusion would have been settled, and our new leader decided upon.