The EU -- Missing The Boat?

May 12, 2021

The EU delegation to Liberia has spoken and made clear its position on a number of issues to which it expects compliance or else its observer mission will not be present in Liberia to monitor the 2023 elections.

The EU’s observations concerning uncertainty on the span of appeals timelines to guard against potential conflicts, steps to adopt a passive registration system and the creation of a reliable voter registry in order to enhance participation in the electoral process, etc.

However, this newspaper is troubled by suggestions that the EU may not send an Observer mission to monitor the 2023 elections if issues raised are not addressed.

For example, the EU recommends that the Legislature initiates a Constitutional Referendum process for the successful removal of what it refers to as the “Ethnic” definition of Liberian citizenship, meaning the removal of Constitutional provisions restricting citizenship only to people of Negro descent.

The Daily Observer notes that this is not the first time this issue has come to the public. Previous national referendums held on the same issue have failed to pass.

Just why the Liberian people have consistently rejected the removal of this provision from the Constitution can perhaps be explained by the circumstances of the country’s birth as a nation founded by individuals who had lived a life of servitude, degradation, and domination under racist White rule in the US.

In their Declaration of Independence in 1847, they presented a litany of complaints, a list of grievances to the entire world, particularly the United States of America, providing reasons that compelled the drive to Independence.

Further, the European scramble for Africa and the partitioning of Africa at the 1888 Berlin conference and the long period of colonialism marked by the brutal exploitation of native populations and the rabid extraction of their natural resources provided justification, to successive Liberian leaderships at the time, for the maintenance of the exclusionist clause in the Constitution.

In contemporary times, the racist White Apartheid regimes in Southern Africa and their brutal suppression of the Black population and the mobilization of African public opinion against racist White domination had an impact on the Liberian people.

For it ultimately served to deepen fears of alienation and domination if Whites were to be granted citizenship. To most Liberians the fear of being dispossessed is and has been upper most on their minds.

Further, rising social inequality deriving from a situation in which less than 2 percent of the population is accounting for more than 70 percent of the national income is a recipe for social instability and the deepening of fears of domination and dispossession.

This is a matter which will require time and change will certainly not come overnight even if the Legislature does take steps to hold a national referendum on the issue.

It will still be left with Liberians to decide the matter through vote -a democratic exercise.  And if the matter fails to pass, is the EU telling Liberians that it will pull out of Liberia? We hope not.

Another issue of concern is the recommendation calling for enforceable affirmative action for women.

The question is why such conditions do not apply in Europe or the United States where enforceable affirmative action for women is on the books?

In the view of most people spoken to, this is a matter which one cannot legislate. Even in the United States of America, the world’s oldest democracy, it is only recently a woman has been elected for the first time to the office of Vice President.

It can be recalled that Liberia recorded a first with the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first female President in Africa. And she scored this first in the absence of any legislative provision whatsoever.

Just why should the EU therefore insist on the adoption of such extra-legal measures as a condition for its support to the electoral process is difficult to explain.

Another issue of concern which the EU apparently failed to highlight is the issue of Constituency based elections as opposed to that of the Electoral District based elections.

It encourages voter trucking, leading to conflicts, some of which result in serious life threatening injuries and destruction to property.

Article 80 (c) and (d) of the Constitution provide:

(c) Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to be registered in a constituency, and to vote in public elections only in the constituency where registered, either in person or by absentee ballot; provided that such citizen shall have the right to change his voting constituency as may be prescribed by the Legislature.

(d) Each constituency shall have an approximately equal population of 20,000, or such number of citizens as the legislature shall prescribe in keeping with population growth and movements as revealed by a national census; provided that the total number of electoral constituencies in the Republic shall not exceed one hundred...”

The current use of Electoral Districts is unconstitutional. Further Electoral Districts lack a defined population and are of no consequence in national development planning, owing to the lack of a defined population figure as opposed to a Constituency.

The EU would have been more on the mark had they flagged this issue and prevailed on the Legislature to pass a new “Threshold Bill” to enable NEC delineate Constituency limits immediately following the Census in 2022.

This is important because under current arrangements some counties with large populations like Nimba, Bong, Grand Bassa, Montserrado, Lofa and Margibi are under-represented, and this could be a recipe for future trouble.

Perhaps the EU should have prevailed on the Government to step up to the plate with matching contributions to underwrite the cost of Census and avoid postponing it -- this in view of the significant EU contribution to the holding of the National Population and Housing Census. Liberians remain appreciative of EU assistance to this country but, in this case, we dare say the EU appears to be missing the boat.