Over the past ten years there has been a lot of discussion about transferring power from the central government in Monrovia to our political sub-divisions—counties, statutory districts and cities. Gallons of ink have gone into papers, countless amounts of money into workshops and seminars. Yet we do not appear to be any closer to getting the job done than we were a decade ago, so painfully slow has been the process.
In this, the first of two articles on this subject, I shall share my experience with devolution in Kokoyah Statutory District, in the hope that that experience may hold some lessons for how we might pick up the pace and proceed with a little more speed on the vexed issue of devolution of power.
In 2005, when I served as economic advisor to the head of the transitional government, Chairman Gyude Bryant, I was approached by my people from Kokoyah. They were concerned that they were about to have a district superintendent imposed on them. The person was Mr. Edward Yallah, father of Senator Henry Yallah of Bong County. Yallah the Elder had enjoyed a long and distinguished public service career spanning back to the Tubman Administration. But the people wanted an opportunity to choose their own superintendent.
Why had they approached me? Because for decades the House of Zackpah had played a leadership role in Kokoyah affairs, and so, their reasoning went, who better to advance their cause than a scion of the House of Zackpah who was close to the levers of power?
Recognizing that their request was somewhat unorthodox (since super-intendents had always been appointed by Liberian presidents, not elected), I nonetheless approached Chairman Bryant. He asked me if I was sure that that was what the people of Kokoyah wanted. To make the point, I arranged for a delegation of chiefs and elders to come down from Kokoyah to meet him.
The chiefs came, they confirmed what I had told him, and he gave me the go-ahead to organize an election. Whereupon, I undertook a tour of the district, visiting all three sub-districts—-Boinsen, Tupkpablee and Kokoyah—-and informed the inhabitants that there would be an election for them to choose their superintendent. They were overjoyed.
An election date was set and a church in Botota, the district headquarters, was selected as the location for voting. Since we did not have a voters’ roll or the money to conduct a one-person one-vote election, we opted for an electoral college. Each of the three districts would appoint fifteen electors to the Electoral College to vote on their behalf.
Election Day was a festive occasion. Such was the enthusiasm that some people walked miles to participate in what some saw as an opportunity of a lifetime. Citizens from the three sub-districts were given time to caucus and select their Electoral College representatives.
After that was done, we went into the nomination process. In addition to the two candidates who had already been placed into nomination, I informed the gathering that anyone in the hall would be allowed to nominate a candidate, including himself/herself. At that point, Mr. David Wamah from Tukpablee stood up and nominated himself. So, the three candidates were each given 10 minutes to make a short electioneering speech.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Edward Yallah withdrew, leaving Mr. Quoi Wamah from Boinsen (the largest sub-district) and Mr. Wamah. What happened next was study in political horse trading that would have made Thomas Jefferson proud. The electors for the two smallest sub-districts (Tukpablee and Kokoyah) formed an alliance and outvoted the candidate from Boinsen by a margin of 31-14. Mr. Wamah, who was not a known candidate prior to election day and had only become so through self-nomination, won. Democracy has a way of sometimes confounding the pundits.
Then we moved to election of the development superintendent. Again, I introduced a new rule: the superintendent and development superintendent could not come from the same sub-district. That would disqualify a Tukpablee sub-district candidate from contention.
Again, something unexpected happened. The paramount chief of Kokoyah sub-district, Mr. Togar Glaygboe, realizing that the electors of Tukpablee might want to return the favor by voting for the candidate from his sub-district, in a supreme act of leadership, withdrew his candidate, thus leaving the field to Mr. Quoi Wamah, the candidate from Boinsen, who was elected unopposed.
Paramount Chief Togar Glaygboe acted as he did because he figured that a situation where the two smallest sub-districts (Tukpablee and Kokoyah) carried all the positions, leaving the largest one (Boinsen) with no position was a recipe for future conflict. So, he sacrificed his sub-district in the interest of peace.
These elections enabled the citizens of Kokoyah to choose their own district officials, the only district in Liberia to have done so, as far as I know, because of the willingness of the head of state to think and act out of the box. Moreover, this whole exercise was conducted within the span of just a couple of months and cost me no more than US$1,000.
Next week we will explore how the lessons learned from the Kokoyah experiment can be applied to other situations.
The writer is a certified public accountant and a businessman. He can be reached at ([email protected])