— Presumptive Senator-elect for Gbarpolu County, Botoe Kanneh, expresses gratitude
Botoe Kanneh, Gbarpolu County’s presumptive Senator-elect, has hailed women rights advocates for her victory among nine male political candidates if the National Elections Commission’s final result will render her the victory.
Since former President Charles Taylor established the county, Madam Kanneh is the first female to contest in an election to become a presumed winner after contentious electoral disputes that led to the re-run of the process.
Madam Kanneh in an interview told Daily Observer, “I could have fallen prey for the second time had it not been for those women who stood up to ensure that my victory comes to pass.”
According to her, she contested the 2017 representative election in Gbarpolu District #3 but was controversially flogged by Joseph M. Matthew, Sr. in the same Nomodatanau.
Nomodatanau is a village in Gbarpolu that is about a mile away from the Sierra Leonean border. The village and other nearby towns have 2,021 registered voters according to the National Elections Commission’s (NEC) voters roster.
‘Giants behind us’
Madam Kanneh, when certificated by the National Election Commission, will be only other female senator next to Grand Bassa county Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence. And if the dispute in the election in Nimba County ends favorably for Madam Edith Gongloe-Weh, she will be the third female senator in the 54th Legislature.
Madam Kanneh described her presumed victory as one not only for Gbarpolu County but the entire country and vowed to work collectively work with her female counterpart, Senator Karnga-Lawrence, in making sure that Liberia generally takes a straight stance on developmental activities, adding, “This is neither about Grand Bassa nor Gbarpolu county, but the country at large.”
According to Madam Kanneh, as a dry meat seller across the county, she found the courage to participate in politics when Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf successfully won the presidency in 2005, adding that her victory in the just ended senatorial election is the result of the resilience of women of Liberia to stand against violence and the limitation of women’s political participation.
Madam Kanneh said she chose President Sirleaf as her role model because of the level of inspiration she brought to the women and girls of Liberia to ensure that they participate in decision-making processes.
“I am feeling so proud because of women’s participation in this election. What they did for the Republic of Liberia, I can advise women now to get involved in politics and they will not fail because we’ve got giants behind us like the powerful women of Liberia,” she said.
Speaking to the challenges surrounding Nomodatanau, Madam Kanneh said, “My entire fear in the race was Nomodatanau town because of what unfolded in 2017. I knew that problem could have occurred, so I was very watchful and indeed it did happen.”
“Liberian people, especially women, we know that before vying for a position like this, we have to go through temptations and trials. So, no one should be discouraged when they see this kind of thing coming about because it happened to Jesus in the Bible,” she said.
‘Nowhere to Somewhere’
Madam Kanneh said her participation in these two elections were not based on the love for politics but her concern for the suffering that people of the county are going through.
She said as a businesswoman; she has traveled across the county and understood the physical and psycho-social agonies associated with the roads, healthcare delivery system and education, stressing that these conditions need to be discussed at the national level.
Madam Kanneh said her participation in the election is to ensure that the government includes the county in its development aganda and that the county social development fund be used for the real reasons that will benefit the citizens.
“The County is one of the worst underdeveloped counties in Liberia. No better healthcare system, education, roads and other basic social services,” she said.
“My plan now is to connect with the government and international partners to help in the process, and I think they will be ready to help a female that is coming from nowhere to somewhere.”
Before the Thursday, January 7, 2021 special re-run election in Gbarpolu County electoral district #3, Nomodatanau Town, Madam Kanneh had secured 4,767 votes, while her closest rival, Rep. Alfred Koiwood of the ruling Coalition for Democracy Change, trailed behind her with 4,281 votes from the 139 polling places out 144, according to data from the National Election Commission.
Though Kanneh’s lead against Rep. Koiwood has been slightly reduced, she is still expected to beat Rep. Koiwood, whose votes in the January 7 rescheduled run were apparently not sufficient to surpass Madam Kanneh in the race.
Preliminary results from Nomodatanau show that Kanneh, who ran as an independent candidate, obtained a total of 188 votes while Koiwood got 217.
Botoe’s Support System
The Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH), an institution that champions women’s participation in decision-making processes, collaborated with the Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI), African Women Leadership Initiative (AWLI), Liberia Women Can Lead, Network of Peace and Security Women in ECOWAS Countries, and Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) to set up an accountability room to observe and monitor the election in Nomodatanau.
The group, in its preliminary report, read by Mmonbeydo N. Joah, ORWOCH Executive Director, thanked the NEC and all stakeholders for putting in place the necessary procedures to make sure the election was held in a peaceful atmosphere following the December 8 disturbances that halted the process.
Madam Joah said the accountability room observed that the Elections Process began at 7:30 a.m. prompt up to 6 p.m., and the voting process took place in a peaceful and orderly atmosphere. The report notes further that special provisions were made for the elderly to vote; the polling places were small and that talking across polling places was distracting; 12 elections staff, 3 in each polling place and presiding officer in one center. The Presiding Officer of each polling place did allow observers and party agents to view the empty ballot box before vote casting.
She said the Accountability Room took noted of the presence of officers of the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) who arrived at the voting center.
Madam Joah said even though there was a report that persons with registered voters card from Lyn town around the border with Sierra Leone were being prevented from entering the town to vote, the Liberia Immigration Service later exercised restraint to ensure that all card bearing Liberians are given the opportunity to take part in the process.
She called on NEC to exercise transparency and accountability as its hallmarks, and continue to caution its staff to abide by the rules and regulations.
“Accountability Room strongly encourages all stakeholders and the people of Nomodatanau, Gbarpolu County, to continue in a peaceful manner for the respect of the rule of law and allow democracy to work for all,” she said.
Julia Duncan Cassell, Liberia’s former Gender Minister, said with the support of the peacebuilding office, they ensured a peaceful process, adding that NEC through its local office did a good job by allowing the process to start on time and in a transparent manner.
She said as part of NEC reforms; it is important to ensure that the LIS works with the commission when it comes to dealing with bordering towns, adding that those that have been prevented from participating in the elections for not being Liberians have voter’s cards dating as far back as 2017, which indicates that they have been participating in previous elections.
Madam Duncan Cassell said such a thing is not just happening in Gbarpolu but other bordering counties, which she believes require a strong policy to put an end to the act.
Kebbeh Mongor, President of the Liberia National Rural Women, cautioned that if people would vote or not, it must be handled during the registration period and not on the day of election.
She called on the NEC to ensure that the “Country Devil” does not take part in the election process, because the culture needs to be respected and protected.
Madam MacDella Cooper said elections along border towns must be handled with care because it is difficult to differentiate between Liberians and those of other surrounding countries.
She called on Madam Kanneh to lobby with the government to ensure that Nomodatanau gets good healthcare and better living conditions.