Liberia: The Farmington River Declaration: Dead or Alive?

.... Liberia is a nation of laws & governed by the rule of law as opposed to the rule of men! Yet another illustration tantamount to bias, in the electoral process, is President Weah’s promise that he will give first-time voters scholarships. Come on! Come on! Is this a level playing field? Where are the President's Advisors? Do they not see or can they not read the lessons from what is happening in Sierra Leone where the entire electoral process is under review by the internationals??

A recent editorial of the Women Voices of 9 August on the status of the Farmington River Declaration (F.R.D) pointed out, that Count six of the Declaration “urged political parties to desist from engaging into actions or using languages whether online or offline that could provoke any type of violence, intimidation and human rights abuses from before, during and after elections.”

This notwithstanding, the editorial pointed out that the said Count was, in fact, violated on the first day of the October 10, election campaign.

On the contrary, that Count was, in fact, violated earlier, when the party of Cllr. Gongloe's march for sweeping corruption out of the country was met by “stone” throwing youths, allegedly of the CDC Governing Party, whose leadership, was amongst the foremost signatories of the said Declaration earlier this year on April 4, at Farmington Hotel in Margibi.

It was alleged that the Police stood by and did nothing; that (MOJ) had, in fact, been informed of the planned march. Investigation is called for on this. Indeed, it is reminiscent of last year July 26 near the US Embassy and Diplomatic enclave of the nation, of the fracas there, between university students and yet to be confirmed of private militia groups of CDC Political auxiliaries for which we are still awaiting reports.

Yet again, a short while ago, on July 26 , we had another violation evident in the national oration by Chief Zanzan Karwor - an oration which was both arrogant, and extremely divisive at a time and place that called for a message of non-violence and advocacy of peaceful elections. The oration was provocative and nothing short of what can only be seen as the very kind of speech that incites violence; hate messages similar to the “lead up” to the Rwanda genocide and about which the Farmington River Declaration cautions against.

But, even more alarming was to read in President Weah’s July 26 address, how he complimented Chief Zanzan Karwor on his oration, and I quote:

“Let me now take this moment to congratulate Chief Zanzan Karwor, Chairman of the Council of Chiefs and Elders, for the beautiful oration he delivered today. His selection to serve as National Orator on this day was in honor and respect to the Traditional Chiefs and Zoe’s of our land.

Now, my people, one must ask, how could President Weah’s advisors and team for his re-election, let him endorse so eloquently such a provocative and divisive speech which, in essence, flies in the face of his and other stakeholders' commitment to non-violent elections as per their signatories of the Farmington Declaration, by penning their names and commitment to free and fair and non-violence elections.

In short, the national oration was inconsistent with the ethos governing national orations – namely “to elevate the tempo of the patriotic spirit of all Liberians towards accelerated national action in forgoing reconciliation and solidarity of purpose, national reconstruction, and renewal, as well as making tangible recommendations for the resolution of intractable national challenges, as per any true patriot”, as stated by an eminent Liberian Ambassador.

The venom contained in that oration needs to be condemned if we are serious about the commitment to the Farmington Declaration. It was the late Irene Mensah who averred that “when one is wrong; you are wrong!” 

Moreover, it is not true that the selection of Chief Zanzan Karwor made history. Far from it. In July 2009, under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's administration, and during my tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paramount Chief Flomo Barworor from Bong County made history as the July 26 National Orator. Is there no institutional memory in Government? Where are the President’s Advisors? They must guide the Presidency correctly.

Yet another violation of the commitment to the Farmington River Declaration is evident in the recent “Casket burial parade” of the youths of the Governing CDC. The potential for violence of that event was unacceptable and even more provocative. While both President Weah and his officials as well as opposition and others worldwide have condemned the event, we write here to say that that is not good enough.

Action in the sense of independent investigation is needed from both the National Elections Commission; the Minister of Justice & the Steering Committee for monitoring the implementation of the Farmington Declaration. We cannot just settle for verbal condemnation. These are “early warnings” – “writings on the wall” of what is to come in the lead-up to the elections on 10 October. Doing nothing means condoning the action which in turn encourages more of such.

Accordingly, the editorial of Front-page Africa of Tuesday, August 15, titled There must be Full Investigation and Accountability for all Electoral Violence is on target and very much in order. The editorial demanded immediate attention and resolute action. How we advocated for a similar investigation in our comments on the altercation by CDC’s youths at the Senator Prince Johnson church a while back. Of course, nothing was done, encouraging what is taking place today. 

Here we wish to commend the very thoughtful article by Dr. Moses Blonkanjay Jackson in the Inquirer of Tuesday, 8 August, entitled Casket Politics Bane or Blessing: O Death where is thy sting? O Farmington Accord, why so soon? In that article, Dr. Blonkanjay raises a series of critical issues and questions – with which I wholeheartedly identify; extracts from which are highlighted below: “The casket signified the pre-matured death of the new-born Farmington Accord which all parties signed and vowed to eschew activities that generate violence.”

He continued as follows: “But no sooner had the Farmington been signed than CDC and UP took to the streets at the same time creating a volatile situation. As if to pour gasoline on the fire, no sooner had Farmington been born than CDC placed a photo of the presidential candidate of another party on a casket and paraded the streets, an act that would have surely birthed violence had UP reacted.” 

He then proceeded to pose a series of questions: “Where is General Prince Charles Johnson and Defense Minister Daniel Ziankahn who threaten to take action on people who carried out acts inimical to peace during these elections? Suppose UP partisans had attacked the casket to peel of the photo of their Presidential candidate? Suppose the UP goes to court for some breach of the law? Suppose Hon. Yekeh Yarkpawolo Korlubah in retaliation, prepares a casket for President Weah and VP Jewel Howard Taylor and parades the streets? 

Supposed CDCians chose to act against Yekeh? Where is the Secretary General of the CDC, Jefferson Koijee? Where is Chairman Morlue? Where is the CDC Campaign Chair, Eugene Nagbe? Do they support this act? When will they openly condemn it if they do not support it?” He ends with challenges to the NEC, and the LNB Association as follows:

“To NEC, is such an act a violation? What is the penalty? Where is the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA)? Why are we silent? God forbid Liberia!!”

Here we call on the International Community/ our Partners, for a robust reaction to these clear breaches of the Declaration! In that regard, we appreciate much their consultative meetings with all the Presidential candidates wherein they emphasized their respective obligations to the Farmington Declaration. This is clearly consistent with the UN Peacebuilding support office along with the Liberian Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission to support our nation’s peacebuilding priorities and in particular the legislative and Presidential 2023 elections. 

At the same time the recent missions of the ECOWAS and AU Delegations as well as that of the Special Representative of the UNSG Leonardo Simoe office for West Africa and the Sahel in Dakar, Senegal all attest to the serious concerns for our upcoming elections, at the international level for which we are grateful. The recent call by ECOWAS and the United Nations Resident Coordinator for investigation is in order and appreciated.

Having said that, however, there is a need for more effective and enhanced electoral violence prevention action in a timely manner in response to the “writings on the wall.” Conflict Prevention and robust action are required. At Farmington, we witnessed lovely speeches and signatures. But the “writings on the wall” are essentially early warnings!” Attention to violence against women during elections which has tended to be the order of the day in Liberia is equally critical. As such, the Women’s Manifesto spearheaded by Liberia’s Nobel laureates Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee that was recently released has addressed this very issue, and should be taken seriously, and acted upon.

Indeed the treatment recently from President Weah’s security (at a meeting of the presidential candidates) of the Female Presidential candidate Sarah Beyslow Nyanti speaks to this very issue. We thank Presidential candidate Gongoloe for taking a stand that what ensued was unacceptable and his call for an apology from the President. Here we commend His Excellency President Weah for his apology made upon hearing about that assault. At the same time, we were taken aback by VP Taylor’s alleged reaction that the President did not need to apologize to which we said – no Madam VP! He needed to apologize. We understand that eventually Madam VP also apologised!

In this connection, the New Dawn Newspaper on August 14 reported that Madam Esther Davis Yango, Executive Director of WONGOSOL, the Women's non-Governmental organization secretariat of Liberia has, in turn, frowned on the recent wave of campaign violence across the country. WONGOSOL similarly urges respect for the Declaration. 

We call for a conflict prevention strategy as opposed to conflict management (i.e. waiting for the disaster to happen and then action). In order to avoid a charge of insufficient and untimely reaction to these early warnings as was the charge by the independent assessment of the International community to the then “lead-up” to the Rwanda genocide. One is foreseeing serious potential for violence in our upcoming elections – an election where the need for an enhanced and Strengthened security presence throughout the country is clearly paramount and necessary.

This position of mine derives from my experience at UNDP-Africa headquarters as Division Chief for East & Central Africa including the crisis countries of Burundi; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo Brazzaville; DR Congo and Rwanda in the aftermath of the Genocide. As such one must take the “early warnings” seriously and not knock it. Concrete and robust preventive initiatives with consequences are clearly in order. While we may brag about this being the first time we are handling the elections on our own we must be real – are we able to do it? It is already evident that we have not been able to handle the violence of the first 10 days of the opening of the campaign process as well as other incidences since.

The action by the CDC on the opening day of the electoral campaign period was more than provocative. It essentially undermined everything that the Declaration pledged itself to uphold. We add our voice to others for an investigation of what happened, why it happened, and how it came about. And accountability thereafter.

Even more recently on 10 August, the violence that erupted between the CDC and Unity Party Partisans around the Vamoma House has driven home yet again the looming trouble and more violence ahead. Then there are reports of the more recent altercation in Nimba between UP and CDC leading to one CDC death that must also be investigated.

Investigations of none of these events have been forthcoming to date, While one is left with little doubt that the security capacity of the Government needs to be strengthened if we, the citizens, are to be protected during the upcoming elections.  The Citizenry needs reassurance, notwithstanding the Government’s and opposition's verbal commitments to peaceful elections. In this regard, we commend the Ministry of Justice and the Joint Security Forces for the dialogue/consultations on 8 August with the political parties and their candidates. Also, the NEC consultative processes with the various political parties are to be commended. But we need more than words!

As I close, I want to recall President’s Weah special statement on Wednesday 2 August at a session on promoting peaceful 2023 elections with the theme “Building the confidence of the Presidential candidates in the workings of the NEC organized by National Election Commission, ECOWAS and the UN Liberia. 

He said that the Farmington Declaration that they all signed was not just a piece of paper, but rather a solemn pledge to uphold the values of Democracy; Peace, and inclusivity through which they have promised the people of Liberia to create an environment that is free from violence and commit to free and fair elections. This being the case we want to hold the President and his party foremost to abide by his words, as well as the other Presidential candidates and their political parties.

Grave concerns in every quarter and in the media about the security situation facing our nation during the election period  In view of the above-mentioned, I am appealing to Mr. President, as President of the Republic of Liberia (and not as candidate) that you prevail upon the international community to assist and strengthen our security with at least a Battalion or Company of trained officers (to be deployed throughout the Counties) to serve as a deterrent alongside our gallant officers during the electoral process, thereby enhancing our security capacity; the objective being to avoid the growing electoral violence which is a violation of the Farmington Declaration to which you are a signatory. 

This would show the seriousness of your commitment both to the Farmington Declaration and that made in your meeting with the UNSG Representative from Senegal, as well as recently at the UN General Assembly. In this regard, we recall that when UNMIL was leaving, the Government was advised that they could be called upon if needed from Cote d’Ivoire. Surely our current reality, (brewing tensions and growing violence) is indicative of our need and therefore timely for such a call?

It is evident that we could benefit from the strengthened capability to provide the citizen's confidence for free, fair & non-violent elections called for if the Farmington Declaration is to be Alive! While we are aware that our ECOWAS Brothers are quite occupied with the ongoing Niger crisis, might the AU and development Partners respond? Indeed, might we, amongst others, call on the Indian Women Peace Keepers (thru the new Indian Ambassador here) who served us quite well under UNMIL? In addition, the kind of assistance that the Kenyan Police forces are currently providing to Haiti is an example of what we may wish to consider for enhancement of our security, from elsewhere.

We have urged, the President’s Advisors and the campaign management team of the Governing party, to provide factually based advice and also not put words in the President’s mouth that are wrong and provocative – the latest being President Weah’s promise to the Squatters community on Peace Island that Government will give them ownership to where they are, as the property is Governments.

This is not only biased and unfair electoral campaigning but it is provocative and completely wrong as Peace Island or Worell Island (its proper name) is not Government Property. The CDC Government is not empowered to make such a promise. Both the Land Authority as well as Lands & Mines and Public Works Ministries have the full History of that Island. 

The past Government could not take it over; nor can the present Government do so by Executive Order without going through proper legal procedures – It is owned by private citizens. Liberia is a nation of laws & governed by the rule of law as opposed to the rule of men! Yet another illustration tantamount to bias, in the electoral process, is President Weah’s promise that he will give first-time voters scholarships. Come on! Come on! Is this a level playing field? Where are the President's Advisors? Do they not see or can they not read the lessons from what is happening in Sierra Leone where the entire electoral process is under review by the internationals??

Hence the basis for the question posed in the title of this article – is the Farmington River Declaration Dead or Alive? The various actions reported upon here are nothing short of undermining the Declaration and the commitment of the president and another candidate to free; fair and non-violent elections by signatories to the Declaration. In the President’s own words, the Declaration is “not just being a piece of paper, as reported above.

Let us not embarrass Mr. President further. As such it is proposed that the NEC, in concert with the Steering Committee for monitoring of the implementation of the Farmington Declaration design a strategy for response to violations of the Declaration as highlighted earlier.

In short, the NEC, other relevant Government ministers such as the Minister of Justice must pay attention to the antecedents of the electoral processes; to complaints of unfair and compromising electoral practices and processes such as promises of scholarships to first time voters to influence them as well as in the case of the squatter’s community on Peace Island mentioned above, amongst others, as indicated by relevant civil society organisations.

The “writings are on the wall”; they are, I repeat “early warning”, Finally, we must be mindful of the recent US Government reaction to the outcome of the Sierra Leone elections. There are clear lessons for us. Close to home is the recent statement by the American Embassy here on their concerns about our ongoing electoral processes while we are pleased that our international Partners are also calling for investigations and accountability of the electoral violence that is ongoing.

In this regard in ending we recall the words of the national orator of year 2000, Dr. Romeo Horton (reference the 100 Anniversary of his birth, celebrated a few Sundays ago).

Yet others have come to our aid in recent times - foremost ECOMOG and Subsequently the late UNSG Kofi Annan who sent the largest UN peacekeeping forces under UNMIL. Yet, we are once again on the verge of taking the nation backward, notwithstanding all the sacrifices made on our behalf by our fellow ECOWAS citizens; UN peacekeepers, and Liberians ourselves. 

Ay mehn! Ay mehn! Where is our dignity and pride as a people? For God’s sake!

Finally, we recall the words of the late Episcopalian Archbishop of Liberia and Province of West Africa, Bishop Edward Neufville II on 13th Jan. 1998 upon the departure of the ECOMOG Peace Keepers

He said, and I quote: “The entire citizenry of this country must now become a national peace keeping force. In order to keep the peace every citizen must act and behave responsibly and respect  the rule of law; where there is no respect for law and order there is bound to be tension and lawlessness in the land. As a national peacekeeping force, we Liberians must respect human and civil liberty of others”

About the Author: Olubanke King-Akerele is a Liberian Patriot and Elder as well as Former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Former Minister of Commerce & Industry; and Retired UNDP/UN Resident Coordinator and Chair of Board, Angie Brooks International Centre for Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace & Security as well as Executive Director, Liberia Institute for “Growing” Patriotism.

Editor's note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Daily Observer's editorial stance.