By C. Y. Kwanue, David Yates, Alvin Worzi and George Harris
It is the tradition of the Daily Observer at the end of every year to seek out individuals or groups of individuals from various walks of life — some prominent, some not so much — who have made or who are making contributions to society that have a transformative impact or that touch the lives of people in a meaningful way. This time around we came out a bit behind schedule — and with good reason. We had hoped to find one central figure in the electoral process that we could pin point and say, “there he/she is — our personality of the year.” Unfortunately the process, as we all witnessed, turned out to be a roller-coaster of sorts — one unpredictable turn after another.
So we decided to cast our nets a bit wider, partly bearing in mind that the peace we enjoy post-elections was due to key victories on different fronts. Then we realized that we did not want this award to have a total political undertone. Thus, even wider we cast our net and found another winner to join our collection of honorees — two individuals and two institutions.
They are: Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine; Ms. Charlesetta Nougbode Williams; the Liberia National Police; and the Elections Coordinating Committee. In the sections below, we have given brief treatise on each honoree.
Please click the arrows (below) to the left or right to view the sub-article on each honoree.
1. Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine
Cllr. Brumskine’s demonstrated resolve to seek legal redress through the courts, rather than through violence, to resolve disputes arising out of the October 10 elections, was an unprecedented turning point in the Liberia’s maturing democracy. In past elections, representatives of parties often staged public demonstrations to vent their feelings, which usually ended in chaos and violence. But in the October 10, 2017 elections, Brumskine deliberately avoided such a beaten path and instead opted to seek redress through the courts.
When the results of the October 10 polls were tabulated showing that presidential aspirant George Weah had swept virtually all the counties, earning him 38 percent of the vote count, Cllr. Brumskine’s Liberty Party(LP) took exception and filed a motion before the Supreme Court praying that body to place a hold on the runoff election. The runoff election had become necessary since neither of the two highest vote winners, Joseph Boakai at 29 percent and George Weah at 38 percent, had attained the threshold of 50 plus one percent.
Brumskine had complained of massive irregularities and fraud in the October 10 elections which, according to him, were widespread to the extent that they compromised the integrity of the elections. His position was supported by the All Liberian Party (ALP), Alternative National Congress (ANC) and the Unity Party(UP) who also claimed that fraud characterized the elections. He made particular note of the fact that his stance challenging the elections results was motivated by his concern for the rule of law and the peace and stability of the country and not about himself as he had already lost out in the first round.
In response, the court placed a hold on the runoff pending its review and final decision on the matter. This development caused much anxiety among Liberians anxious to put the elections behind them and move on with their lives. Some had even predicted an outbreak of violence but to the surprise of the watching world, Liberians, in general, maintained a calm demeanor and refrained from every act of violence.
The Supreme Court’s decision finally came ordering the NEC to clean up the Final Registration Roll and have it displayed at polling centers around the country before the runoff could proceed. Again another delay ensued which appeared to have taxed the patience of Liberians beyond limits; yet they persevered and maintained their calm thanks to Brumskine and other protesting parties – UP, ANC, ALP and the CDC – who together weighed in on their supporters to maintain the calm owing in large measure to Brumskine’s disposition.
We see Brumskine’s case as a precedence from which other political actors should take their cue when dealing with electoral disputes. And lest we forget, legal processes are time consuming and expensive. Moreover, many Liberians have the perception that the courts cannot be trusted. And this can probably explain why the country has experienced episodic instances of violence or armed conflict.
Therefore, Brumskine’s singular act of taking his case to court served to remind Liberians that despite imperfections, the courts provide the best option for resolving disputes short of reverting to violence. To Brumskine, such recourse was unthinkable especially given our disastrous experience with armed violence.
In the opinion of the Daily Observer, the long reaching consequences of Cllr. Brumskine’s action will serve to enhance the rule of law in Liberia.
Therefore, our editorial judgment elected Counselor Charles Walker Brumskine as this newspaper’s “Person of the Year 2017.”
2. Charlesetta Nougbode Williams
It was early Easter Season in 1982 when one of Charlesetta Nougbode Williams’ four children, then in the United States, was taken to the hospital to undergo heart surgery. The surgeon asked Mrs. Williams to make a statement before her little son could undergo the operation. With a deep breath, she made this vow: “If my boy is operated on safely, one day I will return to my native Liberia to help Liberian children.”
After a decade, Mrs. Williams finally returned to Liberia. Not fully aware of her promise, she was asked to take care of a relatives’ granddaughter, who was critically ill at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Sinkor.
Thereafter, Mrs. Williams agreed to make further arrangements for the sick child to be treated abroad. This assignment was the beginning of a journey that not many of her class would like to pursue at a retired age but which brought her squarely to begin fulfilling her vow to assist Liberian children. She began catering to disabled children whose critical conditions needed special medical attention.
Mrs. Williams, who originally intended to assist only children with cardiovascular problems when she first started, disclosed that it was difficult to abandon children with other medical needs.
She currently caters to children with numerous health challenges including spinal cord problems, and respiratory issues among others
Mrs. William disclosed that she receives children with various medical needs through recommendations from hospitals, clinics and individuals who share her contact to families that have kids with complex medical conditions.
One of these conditions is the severe damage to the mouth, throat and digestive organs of children who mistakenly swallow caustic soda left in their reach by family members or neighbors engaged in soap making. These children are unable to eat normally and survive by being tube fed until they are taken abroad for surgery to repair or replace damaged tissues and organs.
Madam Williams helps families gather medical records, work on children’s travel documents before sending them abroad for advanced treatment. She also noted that her work is being accomplished through the effort of institutions including the United Nation Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Healing the Children Florida, USA; Healing the Children Kentucky USA, and individuals partnering with her to make sure that severely sick children receive quality health care and treatment.
Moreover, through fundraising and support from her partners, Mrs. Williams’ organization “HealthPage Liberia Inc., established a temporary home in the SD Cooper Community, Paynesville where she shelters and feeds children while working on their treatment arrangements.
The Health Page Liberia, Inc., established in 2007, has since flown more than two hundred children with critical conditions to Ghana and the USA for medical treatment.
Despite her good work, Mrs. Williams said that getting children to the United States of America for treatment is becoming difficult as she disclosed that the US Embassy in Liberia is rejecting the escorts (those designated to accompany) of disabled children.
She added that the purchasing of air tickets and finance to accomplish the daily operations of the home are some constrains her organization is facing. The daily operation of the home which holds more than twenty children of various medical needs include staff salaries, transport of children, purchasing of food and sanitary items, erection of a water tower, among others.
Moreover, Madam Williams noted that there is also a need for medical insurance for disabled children.
Mrs. Charlesetta Nougbode Williams born 1954 in Monrovia holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Spellman College in Atlanta, USA. She also worked with the State of New York and Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services for eighteen years before returning to Liberia where she invests her mind, energy, and resources ensuring that children with critical medical conditions have advance medical treatment.
Her outstanding humanitarian efforts to seek medical interventions for suffering children who would otherwise remain neglected and ostracized has earned Charlesetta Nougbode Williams the Daily Observer’s recognition as Humanitarian of 2017.
3. Liberia National Police
Liberians can now boast of a successful electoral process and remove a doubt that had hovered over the country since the electoral process began and, fortunately, the two rivals in the presidential contest have set precedents that are unheard of in Liberia’s recent history.
What is significant is that the presence of police officers gave the various communities confidence for the various party representatives and observers to carry out their duties unhindered.
Of course, the LNP under Inspector General Gregory Coleman has gradually been reformed, as the officers’ interaction with the people demonstrated a level of professionalism, proving that Liberians can do it when they are properly motivated and supported.
It is true that peace does not only mean the absence of violence and clearly, LNP officers, under Coleman and his lieutenants, were aware of the need for a new dispensation. The officers are imbued with a sense of patriotism, aware that their role in the search for a new leader for the country also depended on them.
Challenges – there were many: Like other sectors, the LNP and other government security agencies work with scarce or limited resources and therefore they must work, with the hope that the future will be brighter.
Though there were fears and doubts about Liberians’ competency to run a successful election, the success of the management of the 2017 elections has proved that Liberians are competent.
During the violence-free electoral process, the LNP assigned officers to each of the presidential candidates which provided direct access to them.
Additionally, the LNP formed the National Elections Security Taskforce (NEST) bringing together all security agencies across the country and their resources to ensure proper coordination.
The success of the LNP clearly rests on Inspector General Gregory Coleman, who told the Daily Observer that LNP officers’ impressive performances are visible for all to see.
Inspector Coleman said he was grateful to God for the opportunity to serve the people of Liberia and serving them well to international level.
He attributed the success of handling the 2017 elections without any violence to the trust between the LNP and the various communities, which is very cardinal to Liberia’s peace and stability.
“One of the things that we expected and were able to deal with was the election period. We had to be as professional as we could to ensure that we got through peacefully,” Inspector Coleman said.
He said one of the challenges during the elections was the limited resources available to the LNP, which were spent judiciously.
“People want to see some of the things being delivered immediately as if there has been an increase in the funds available to the LNP,” Inspector Coleman said. “We had to change our spending priorities and as a result, we made some deliverables rapidly. We also communicated well to our officers to understand what was going on.”
Inspector Coleman noted that it is a leader that shifts the demands of his people, and when the demands are high and observed then it means that he (the leader) is competent to lead.
“One interesting development is that LNP officers now work for their communities instead of the other way around, which has helped us to advance to be successful in our work for the people,” he said.
He added, “If we had done things on the contrary, we would have had all the best strategies that would not have succeeded because we would have perceived as people who were working against the interest of our communities.”
According to him, overcoming such a situation put the LNP and its leadership in a better position to handle all election-related issues in a more unique and professional manner.
“Our mission is to deliver internationally acceptable policing to the people of Liberia. The role played by the Liberia National Police during the elections and comparing it with the international level, we were excellent and I can grade us 100 percent,” he said.
Inspector Coleman noted: “Our international and local partners are pleased with the work we were able to do over the last one year, especially during the elections. They do not even believe how we were able to work with the limited resources that we have as an institution.”
According to him, for what has been put into place, 2018 will be a year of increase for the Liberia National Police; a breakthrough year for the LNP; a year that LNP will shine brighter than it has ever shone in the history of Liberia.
He said the leadership is prepared to ensure that the rights of the people are protected, that democracy is respected, along with the rule of law as well as ensuring that every action is within the confines of the law.
“This year Liberians will say that the LNP is compared to any international police,” Coleman said. Again, as per “our requirement with United Nations Mission in Liberia drawdown, we should have a total of 8,000 officers, but now we have 5,200 officers and as the economy improves, it’s our hope that we will train more officers to reach the targeted number.”
According to the IG, the presence of police officers is being felt in most parts of Liberia, especially in the rural areas. “There are places that still need officers’ presence in the leeward counties,” he said.
“There are other areas the leadership is more concerned about due to the low presence of our officers and we are doing everything possible to ensure that those places are covered. It is not just about us not wanting to do it, the government has to be ready and willing to provide the support for us to achieve them,” Coleman said.
He continued: “There are incentives for deployment, the costs associated with training and many others that we all need to be aware of before achieving some of these things.”
Inspector Coleman lauded the men and women of the Liberia National Police for the professionalism demonstrated over the years, especially during the election period, noting that they are heroes and heroines responsible for the praises the leadership continues to receive.
4. The Elections Coordinating Committee
And our final recognition goes to the Elections Coordinating Commission, led by Mr. Oscar Bloh. This non-partisan network of civil society organization that monitors, documents, and reports on election issues to promote transparency and accountability in Liberia and strengthen the democratic process, started its advocacy from the word go, and was relentless in its awareness on some of the unforeseen issues that later emerged, concerning the final voter roll.
A champion of good governance, the ECC believes in the principle of democracy which led its advocates to encourage all eligible citizens to exercise their rights and political freedom to democratically participate in elections. “The ECC envisions a Liberia where citizens are knowledgeable, have public confidence, and credibility in the democratic process to make informed decisions,” said an ECC official.
And with a sustained campaign of providing needed awareness, the ECC strongly encouraged Liberian voters to maintain their decency, and the candidates to make information available for them to build their confidence in the most critical decision they could ever make during the 2017 Presidential and Legislative elections.
The ECC Comprises several civil society institutions, namely: Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD); Actions for Genuine Democratic Alternatives (AGDA); National Youth Movement for Transparent Elections (NAYMOTE); Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP); and West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP).
“We believe that promoting credible elections to increase public confidence in democracy is crucial for the peace and security of all modern societies. This philosophy is further reinforced by ten core values-credible, impartial, passionate, nonpartisan, accountable, transparent, neutral, networking and collaboration, and impact-oriented,” an official added, and hence the Daily Observer saw the need to recognize the ECC for its most important interventions to ensure that peace was sustained during the elections.