“Country Devil in Election: An Abuse of Cultural Symbol”

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Botoe Kanneh, Senatorial Candidate, Gbarpolu County

— Says women advocacy group

By Joaquin M. Sendolo

In the Liberian culture, women and males who are none members of the poro society are forbidden from seeing the Poro Master otherwise referred to as “Country devil.”  

When in town, women and none male members are locked up in houses not to see the Poro Master, and to avoid anyone attempting to spy it through the window or door in some other ways, he comes out with his crew of trumpeters mostly during the night hours except in an emergency or membership initiation that he visits the town from his shrines during the day.

Culturally, anyone ordering the country devil to come out in such a way that will vulnerably expose him to the sight of women or none members has seriously transgressed cultural norms, and it is from this standpoint that the Coalition of Liberian Women Organizations are holding Paramount Chief McGill Wleh and Gbarpolu County Superintendent, Keyah Saah, for not only attempting to intimidate Senatorial candidate Botoe Kanneh but exposing the unique cultural symbol to public ridicule and vulnerability.

Election is a time when all citizens of voting age converge in one place to cast their ballots for candidates of their choice, but when the Poro Master comes in, a large number of people who are not to see him run into houses to avoid any devastating consequence that follows the offense.  During this broad day of curfew to allow the master in town, intransigent people could easily spy from afar to know what really it is that the men are protecting. 

However, it becomes very devastating for such a person who breaks this rule, and the women group are of the view that the action of the local chief and the Superintendent to allow disruption by the poro master in election does not only constitute human rights offense but breaches Liberia’s unique cultural norm for which the duo must pay whatever fines such a breach requires.

“Since when are cultural practices introduced into our elections?  We cannot have the country devil coming out at the behest of individuals who are looking for political gain and using him to intimidate and disenfranchise women’s voters. We also want to state that our “country devils’’ are an integral part of our traditional heritage of which we are immensely proud. This abuse of such an historic symbol is denigrating the very fabric of our nation and putting us up to ridicule,” said the women group in a release.

The women who seem to be knowledgeable in Liberian culture went on to say:  “The use of the devil during elections and in any statutory process is wrong. That is not what our traditional authority is used for. This attitude is corrupting the practice of our tradition.  Our laws prohibit the abuse and misuse of our traditions. There are specific traditions and practices when the country devil is called out. This does not include election. The Country Devil is prohibited from coming out during election.”

Considering the abuse of Madam Kanneh’s right in the electoral process, the women also blame the joint security in Gbarpolu for not doing much to enforce Liberia’s statutory laws to protect Botoe’s right. 

 “We strongly believe that this cultural and physical attack on women in our electoral process is at odds with Liberia’s commitment to achieving women’s representation in politics.  We therefore remind the Liberian government of its obligation to protect all candidates especially women candidates to promote equal participation of women,” the group contends.

Even though required of the joint security to enforce the law, whenever members or non-members of the poro society come across a curfew announcement about the presence of the poro master, they dare not resist because of the excruciating consequences that normally come with the challenge, unless otherwise the government orders excessive force to be used to halt this cultural activity.

With the unfolding event in Gbarpolu, the women recalled other electoral incidents in a similar fashion and blamed the National Elections Commission (NEC) by noting:  “We also believe that NEC could have been more forceful in the execution and protection of the electoral process. We do not understand why there is a failure in this regard.” 

“We want to remind the government and citizens that the attack on Madam Botoe Kanneh is not an isolated incident. During the August 2017 by-election, Telia Urey, who ran for the District 15 seat to replace the late Rep. Adolph Lawrence, was attacked; stones were thrown at her office and vehicle.  Also, Cornelia Kruah-Togba, who was running for District 13 seat, was attacked along with her supporters. Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, who was campaigning with Kruah-Togba was also attacked. In the just-ended senatorial election, there were reports of election-related violence in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, Nimba and Grand Bassa counties,” the women group recalled.

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