The first vice president of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) has noted that the act of choosing Liberian leaders over the years has brought the country much sorrow, and has led to disunity, disintegration, coups, civil wars, etc.
Reverend Kortu K. Brown foresees that for the first time in 73 years, Liberia in 2017 will historically see the transfer of power from one elected president to another.
Rev. Brown recalled that the last time there was a transfer of power through election was when President Edwin Barclay, who led the country from 1930-1944, presided over presidential elections in which he was not a candidate and former senator and Associate Justice William V.S. Tubman, from his party, won; becoming the 18th President of Liberia.
He asserted that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf faces the similar challenge. “This is a special moment in our history that we can’t work any less for, because our country is poised to make history – and make it in a big way.”
Rev. Brown is also the Overseer of the Water in the Desert Church in Brewerville, outside Monrovia.
He made these remarks recently when he served as moderator at the workshop organized by African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) from South Africa in Collaboration with the Peace-building Office at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) in Monrovia.
He said the fact that President Sirleaf will not be a candidate in the 2017 elections is politically welcomed, but noted that such scenarios in other fragile states in Africa have tended to raise the stakes among political competitors and if such competition is not properly managed, there is always a high risk of tensions turning into violence.
Quoting available records, Dr. Brown reflected from the first formal election for president on October 5, 1847, which was won by Governor Joseph Jenkins Roberts of the Pro-Administration Party against Samuel Benedict of the anti-Administration, and the 2011 elections that ushered in President Sirleaf, there have been about 50 presidential elections in Liberia.
On the other hand, Rev. Brown said records also show that there have been about 52 legislative elections including the 2014 special senatorial elections, and about 18 national referendums have been held since the independence referendum on October 27, 1846, that decided on the independence of the nation.
Asserting that Liberia is entering a new epoch in democratic governance, the LCC vice president said the message citizens send out about the 2017 elections will help drive the results and significantly contribute to peace and stability.
“We are gradually consolidating our democratic gains through the holding of regular elections at both the presidential and legislative levels. If we are positive in our messaging – and we need to be – we will be able to rally the country to see the historical importance of these elections and their impact, globally.”
He said the session which focus was on the 2017 elections must now try to analyze lessons and good practices that can be drawn from the management of political tensions that have been triggered by elections in many fragile states in Africa.
“The session should reflect on strategies already in place and those that can be developed in order to contribute to a peaceful pre and post electioneering period,” he said.
According to him, some of the important policy and/or institutional frameworks that need to be put in place to ensure that the elections are seen to be free and fair, include: the lack of open political debate or an informed electorate; unfair rules; interference with campaigns; tampering with election mechanism; and cheating at the polls or tallying of election results, etc.
The focus of the 2017 elections should be the Liberian people and the very serious challenges they face. So we must prioritize civic and voters education to ensure a level playing field.
Concerning “Generation Change,” Rev. Brown said Liberia’s first President Roberts was 38 years old when he came to power in October 1847, Stephen Allen Benson was 40; Daniel B. Warner was 50 while James S. Payne was 43; Edward J. Royes, 55; Charles Dunbar Burgess King, 44; W.V.S.
Tubman was 49, Tolbert, 58 and Taylor 49. The oldest to probably be elected were Alfred F. Russell, 74, G. W. Gibson, 68 followed by President Sirleaf at 67, according to Rev. Brown.
“So we need to ensure that our public presentations are properly researched to avoid misleading the public resulting into making the wrong decisions, especially regards the so called generation change.
“As we explore the role of the “international and local actors leading up to the 2017 elections and how it may impact on the peace-building processes,” we call on all of us to join this debate; remember, 2017 maybe a new car without a driver, like some say. Let’s work to ensure that we can find the right driver to take us to where we as a people want to go,” he concluded.