— Gbarpolu senatorial candidate, Botoe Kanneh, declares
Botoe Kanneh, Gbarpolu County’s only female senatorial candidate among nine males, has said even though authorities of the National Elections Commission (NEC) has rescheduled the re-run of the senatorial and referendum in Nomodatonau District without addressing those challenges including the security of voters, they are going to participate in the process without fear of the “Country Devil (Poro Master) that the local authorities used to intimidate them earlier.
At a news conference held in Monrovia on January 4, 2021, Madam Kanneh told reporters that while she strongly believes that the re-run of the election will not be free, fair, and transparent, she is going to participate because she does not have the power to fight the government that is above everyone.
“The international community is advocating for more women to participate in politics, but in Gbarpolu, people are beating and harassing the only woman in the election. This kind of attitude will make other women afraid to enter politics. But we will not be intimidated by the country devil, the paramount chief, superintendent, or the ruling party,” Madam Kanneh told reporters.
Speaking at her first media interaction since she was rescued by some women advocates, Madam Kanneh said violence is not the way forward, stressing that “Violence against women is a disgrace to society.”
She said violence against her and her supporters was primarily because her opponent saw that she had been voted massively during a democratic election that could lead her to the Senate, and she waited for President George Weah’s intervention but sadly; he chose to remain silent amid threat on her life.
“The President is feminist-in-chief, but he has remained silent on the issue in Gbarpolu. I am appealing to him to intervene. We are waiting to see what steps he will take to stop violence against women in election,” she told reporters.
She said NEC has rescheduled the election during a period where “I do not feel safe. I need protection. I cannot go to the election under the same conditions. My supporters and I need protection.”
“I know the problem of my people”
Madam Kanneh said as a businesswoman, she decided to run for the Senate because of her burning desire in wanting to improve road conditions, health care and create jobs for young people (especially young women) because she strongly believes that past leaders (men) have done nothing to improve the lives of the people Gbarpolu County.
“I have traveled all over the county; to towns and villages where car cannot reach. So I have experienced bad road conditions and seen people die on the way to get medical care. People walk 10 to 12 hours to get health care. Over the last 20 years, I have provided loans to people to start business and I have catered to so many needy people from my small business. So I know the problem of my people,” Madam Kanneh said.
Madam kanneh said to get to the Liberian Senate, she has been beaten, harassed, and threatened with the country devil that led her to hide in the bush to protect herself from people who are trying to prevent her from serving the people of Gbarpolu county.
She said as Liberians went to elect 15 new Senators on December 8, 2020, the process was cut short in the town of Normodatonau, District # 3, Gbarpolu County only because Paramount Chief Macgill Wuluah seized the ballot boxes and election materials that resulted in the denial of 2,021 registered voters from exercising their right to vote.
Madam Kanneh said NEC planned the election in Normodatonau on December 15, 2020, but two days to the election, immigration officers stopped her and supporters from entering the town.
“The immigration commander told me that I should not enter Normodatonau because ‘I am a candidate.’ I asked the commander what about my followers, but he told me that his bosses told him not to allow anyone to enter Normodatonau if they did not live there. I had never had problem entering Normodatonau before. I have done business back-and forth across the border for 20 years. And no one ever stopped me,” she said.
“The immigration officer told me he needed permission from the Paramount Chief to see who can enter Normodatonau. After he consulted his boss, he was told that only five of my supporters could enter the town. I asked why all the CDC supporters were in the town, but the Immigration commander told me they would get the CDCians out, which they did not do.”
She explained that “We stood in the sun for hours. Between 4 and 5 p.m., some young women who were registered voters were denied entry into Normodatonau because they supported me. One of the young women wanted to enter the town because she had her voting card in her house, but she was denied entry. Because it was getting late, I decided to spend the night in ULC, a nearby village. I told my women to leave because the area was not secure. While I was in ULC, a boy came crying and telling me they had beaten my brother, Cllr. Bokai Kanneh.”
“The boy told me that the way they beat my brother he may not survive. I took a bike to Kungbor to look for my brother. When I arrived, I saw some police officers with the ballot boxes on the bike. People told me that country devil had come looking for me. I was crying for my brother because I had no information about him,” Madam Kanneh said.
She said when darkness fell, a young boy informed her that Normodatonau was not safe for her and that she must leave at once.
“I said I will not leave until I know my brother’s condition. I was just running from village to village trying to dodge my attackers. There were immigration checkpoints all over the place. I saw them seized people’s voting cards. They accused citizens bearing voting cards of being Sierra Leoneans,” Madam Kanneh explained.
“During the war,” Madam Kanneh said, “Many Liberians settled in Sierra Leone and came back to Liberia. They have been going back and forth across the border. They are Liberians. They should be allowed to vote. How can Immigration question the people voting cards when NEC had issued them?” she questioned.
Recommendations to NEC
Madam Kanneh has, however, recommended to the authorities of NEC that as they rescheduled the election for Thursday, January 7, 2021, the government should ensure that the Immigration officers return those voter cards that were taken from her supporters so that they will be enabled to participate in the election. She also recommended that the Country Devil be banned from the area during the election and some of her supporters who are still in jail in Bopolu should be released in order for them to exercise their voting rights, and international observers including the UN and ECOWAS should monitor the election with women’s organizations.
Bendu Jah, Gbarpolu county Rural Women President, called on the government to ensure that those that are responsible for violence in the country bear the full weight of the law, adding that violence against women is nothing about politics.
She said it is frustrating to have women treated with so much disrespect as it was done in the county during the just ended December 8, 2020 senatorial election.
Madam Jah said if the election must be free, fair and transparent, NEC should ensure that security is provided to protect everyone and the traditional male devil should not interfere with the process.
Olubanke King-Akerele, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, said women advocates are interested in the security of the candidate and her supporters and NEC must provide security for all. She pledged the women’s support to Madam Kanneh because elections cannot be free, fair, and transparent in the midst of violence.
“Enough is enough,” Madam King-Akerele said, “We were able to produce the first female President in Africa but here are we; we cannot protect our women, it’s a shame!”