Liberia’s democracy is under threat, and if nothing is done to control the growing cases of electoral violence, the country may plunge into chaos in the not-so-distant future. Firstly, there was electoral violence in Sinkor in mid-August, followed by Nimba County in the same month, and now, it is Foya, a relatively peaceful settlement in Lofa County, northwestern Liberia.
The violence in Sinkor, which opened the floodgates for electoral violence, was not as deadly as the subsequent two incidents, where innocent lives have been lost in the process. However, the images and accounts emerging from Foya are heart-wrenching, with at least three persons killed in cold blood and a host of others injured, and properties both private and public damaged in the process.
So far, about four or five persons have died from elections-based violence since the official start of the political campaign season on August 5. What is shocking about these incidents, which indicate the erosion of the democratic norms and values that Liberia has fought so hard to establish and uphold, is that they have regularly occurred between supporters of President George Weah and his main political rival, former Vice President Joseph Boakai, with no culprits ever held accountable.
It then leaves us to wonder whether the supporters of Weah and Boakai understand that elections are the cornerstone of democracy, serving as the peaceful mechanism by which citizens express their will and choose their leaders. Maybe they do not.
But whatever the case might be, someone needs to tell these overzealous supporters of the country’s two presidential candidates that their actions strike at the very heart of the country’s democratic aspirations and threaten the stability and unity of Liberia, which thousands of people have worked tirelessly to achieve since the end of the civil war 20 years ago.
The Foya violence, no matter who provoked it, is a reprehensible act and undermines the values of human dignity and respect for life. Every Liberian life is precious, and no election should ever be a pretext for violence. Just imagine the pain for the wife who is now made a widow in the process; the child or children who have now become fatherless and the parents who have lost their children in a most unforgettable way. The pain for them is beyond the condemnation and the condolence; it is forever.
And so, on a painful note, we mourn the lives that have been subjected to electoral violence so far and just hope for once that Weah’s and Boakai’s supporters would know that their actions over the last two months constitute a heinous assault on the principles of justice, fairness, and the sanctity of the country’s electoral process and the very foundation of Liberia’s democratic system.
It now appears that Boakai’s and Weah’s supporters — judging from the three violent elections-related incidents — have conformity in resorting to violence in pursuit of political objectives instead of pursuing the peaceful expression of ideas and sentiments, betraying the very essence of democracy we all long for.
Therefore, we call on the Liberia National Police to rise to the occasion, acting with urgency, diligence and impartiality, to investigate the Foya electoral violence. The people of Liberia deserve nothing less than a complete and unbiased probe into the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. Let the results be published and the culprits held accountable.
Failure to do so would not only perpetuate a culture of impunity but also further erode trust in Liberia’s democratic institutions. Justice must also be served, not only to assuage the grief of the victims’ families but also to signal to the nation that violence will not go unchecked. Electoral violence, we note, if not reined in by the Police, will undermine the progress made towards national reconciliation.
The blood spilled on the streets of Foya, we sadly note, is a culmination of the disturbing pattern of violence that predates the opening of political campaigns for the October 10 elections. In previous electoral seasons over the past five years, numerous individuals, including three female candidates, were attacked. Up to now — several years later — neither the Liberia National Police nor the Ministry of Justice have been able to present to the public the results of the investigations of said incidents.
Are the Police up to the task? Can they be trusted to conduct an independent investigation?
The path to peace, we also note, cannot be trod alone, and our nation’s journey bears witness to the incredible support provided by the international community to achieve this. The Liberian Civil War, which raged for over a decade, left behind a trail of destruction and suffering that is still felt today.
As we stand at this pivotal juncture, we want these overzealous supporters of Weah and Boakai to remember the sacrifices made by their fellow citizens and members of the international community to bring peace to Liberia. They owe it to them and to future generations to protect and preserve this hard-won peace. The world is watching and the people of Liberia deserve an electoral process free from violence, intimidation, and fear.
We, therefore, call upon Weah and Boakai to play a proactive role, respectively, to ensure the prevention of further electoral violence. They must take a firm stand against violence, using their influence to promote peaceful campaigning and dialogue, defuse tensions, and promote a culture of tolerance.
As it stands, the burden of preventing electoral violence now falls on their shoulders, and they must rein in their supporters’ behaviors to keep Liberia as a beacon of hope and stability in West Africa. Peace, they say in Africa, does not make a good leader; a good leader makes peace.