“Traditional Elections More Transparent Than Western”

Head of the National Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders, Chief Zanzan Karwor

-Chief Zanzan Kawor

The head of the National Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders, Zanzan Kawor believes that the old “traditional” form of elections conducted to determine paramount, clan and zone chiefs in Liberia, were more transparent than the system of elections practiced today, which the Westerners have introduced.

Speaking through an interpreter recently at the headquarters of the council, Chief Karwor said during the traditional era, they understood each other and carried on their elections that were transparent and peaceful. But since the arrival of the Westerners, the entire process has become characterized by commotion and violence, he noted.

“When we used to have our elections like in the days of President Tubman, if six persons were contesting, we announced the voting time to everybody in the town and everybody wear their gown and stands before the crowd, the voters would go behind the person they want, and we would do the counting. If someone has 50 and the other 100, the persons with the highest numbers automatically win. That was what we called transparency,” Chief Karwor indicated.

In these chieftaincy elections, according to persons interviewed by the Daily Observer, each of the contesting candidates would sit, while their respective supporters were required to queue behind them, regardless of the weather condition, until a headcount was completed. Eligibility of voters was determined by designated individuals who could identify voters who belong to the respective constituency; height, in lieu of age, was also a criteria for eligibility to vote. At the time, most people determined their ages by how many farming seasons they had endured.

Interviewees did not recall any formal registration of voters, nor any record of the vote tally, which was simply determined by which candidate had the longest queue behind him or her. Also, everyone knew who the next person voted for; and the results were released on the spot.

This system was not without its problems, however, some of which are immediately obvious. The non-secrecy of the system caused much commotion, for example, between family members (such as between a man and his wife or parents and their eligible children) who supported opposing sides. The system thus also appeared to challenge the prevailing perception of leadership within the family.

In other cases, the results, whether accurate or not, created deep discontentment within families or among the contending candidates, sometimes to the extent that the most dissatisfied candidates would leave the “constituency” in which they lost the election, to go and establish their own. Examples include two towns in Nimba: Nyor Barlorplay and Nyor-Gbanwea New towns, were created in what is now the Buu-yao Electoral District #5.

By the exposing of opposing candidates and their supporters, family members used to feel deeply divided over a candidate of their choice, especially a father who would see some of his children or his wife in the queue of the opposition to his choice.

Also, one individual who says he was about nine or ten years of age when he voted, recalls that, because he was a bit taller than others in his age group, his parents augmented his height with some “Prince Niko” shoes to give “poll watchers” the impression that he was “of age” to vote.

Though Chief Karwor did say what was the population size of the country at that time of their ‘tradition voting,’ he said the secret voting system introduced by the Westerners has caused “disagreement and violence for the common people.” He said the secret voting process has made many politicians feel cheated, leaving the peace of the country unstable.

According to him, during the traditional process, “if someone ate a politician’s money, and that person did not vote for that politician, the person who ate the money would be exposed through the open line of voters,” adding that transparency is something that everyone looks at sometimes, not things that are done behind closed doors, and later bring out the result to the oppositions.

Chief Karwor also recalled how their days’ of elections never had confession or court process, noting that the secret voting process was introduced by the Westerners, which have caused many crises in the country.

He said all the power of the traditional people have been taken from them and assigned to the educated people, “but there is no progress that will make the nation peaceful.”

Karwor said that the educated people refused to sit on the old mat to plait the new mat; this is the reason why there are problems always in the modern transparent system they have setup, adding. “the Western system has also delayed voting process in the country.”

Chief Karwor argues that  the old traditional system was done orderly, transparent and more peaceful than the western system that has caused many people to feel cheated, and gone to the court. In some countries lead to violence that cost many lives and properties, he said.


  1. You are right Chief Zanzan Kawor, but you need to know we are living in the white man’s time. Today everything is about interest and people selfish games. In those days, your had peaceful assemblies and your were matured than now where anyone would make trouble and go free. In those days people used to say for my people sake I leave my own with God today they would do any thing to get position. Some people even said if it takes for the mason to be leveled to the ground no problem they would build it but they should have power by all means. What happening in Liberia is not new, this is how some people got to served as chairman of interim gov’t back in the days. Some people fired gun, others signed papers. It just like those who doing what is happening in Liberia are late and the Liberian People are smart this time.

    • F.D; you and perhaps other Liberians are only looking at the surface. Traditional Societies in Liberia are not totally transparent. When the Zoes(High Priests/Prietesses) get together in total secrecy and decide, that’s what goes. Are they always fair? You bet! Not. The Zoes are supreme. They always get their ways. No one dare question them(Zoes)

  2. Those elections were not election at all. My uncle told me whatever the president said was the final. In fact, he told me that they will just write names on pieces of papers for the preferred candidates from the president, and put them in the so-called ballot boxes two night before. On the day of election, they made everyone to stand in line to vote as a formality. We do not want to go back. Let’s look forward. Those days are over.

  3. Yes, perhaps in a town with less than five hundred people this method of voting can be possible and transparent, but where millions of voters are involved this method is impossible and impractical. Maybe a bit of honesty and being pragmatic can make this new voting method somewhat transparent and acceptable…

  4. Mr. Henry Freeman I agree with you in some part, and disagree with you in another part. All system have it down side. During our grandfathers’ days, the down side were: no paper trails, and no voter education. Meaning, a andidate could not cry foul and adjudication be made to trace fact etc….

    In our days ( today), Western powers are intefering to determine results. Case in point: few days ago a gentlemen called Allan White was interviewed by VOA, and was quoted as saying, ” George Weah has or is speaking with Charles Taylor”. For God sake, what does Mr. White got to do in Liberian election matter. America just elected apro KKK and White Supremacist sympathiser. Did any one from the Liberian media or any Liberian Government official said anything?

    We are a sovereign country. Our citizens choice should be respected, despite who that choice may be. The elect in Liberia will rule over Grand Gedeh, Lofa, Kakata , Harper etc…not Pennsylvania, Michigan or California.

    Mr. White should concentrate more on the Robert Muller case.

    • Mr. Bah,
      You failed to acknowledged that it was or still the Western powers who are helping to rebuild Liberia after the war. The basic fact is that they spent their resources and man power for our betterment and therefore, they have much saying in our internal affairs.

      Can you believe it, after a group or a person have/had destroyed your family, delayed your progress, and rape your sisters/mothers and at the same time these same disadvantage group/individuals jumps in the street saying: you killed my ma, you killed my pa, your raped my sisters and mothers BUT I will vote for you! Can you tell me what type of people we are? Do you want the Western powers to take you as a serious person? NO NO Mr. Bad, they will not!!! So I think that based on the above, the Western powers can never respect your opinion or your choice. Rather, they always have to make their own judgments simply because they sent their resources and money when [we] destroyed.

  5. The reason for physical lining were (1) the means to provide enough paper ballots (2) not enough transport or roads to place precincts. Western literacy and other reasons to find. However, the primitive process was accurate and is still in existence considering the present condition of underdevelopment still in some parts of Liberia. Voters still have to stand in line. The illiterate can finger print and the literate can write. The disabled can use other parts on ballots. However, the secret modern balloting would be apropos also if election laws today are followed on par with traditional laws laid paralleled by founders. The immediate issue is that tyrants and Officials who cheat to gain power have not followed the electoral process and system. So The Republic of Liberia has no alternative but to keep the nation’s instruments on them until the follow the jurisprudence of the election activities. The Liberian people must have their freedom of choice. Wait for God’s time.
    Gone in silence. Do not reply this box.

  6. Mr. James,
    The person who the Liberians were glorifying, “you killed my Ma, you killed PA, but I will vote for you”. He supposedly, ” Broke jail in America “. Ummmm. You and I, including other Liberians must believed that he actually broke from a maximum penitentiary in Boston, Massachusetts. The stakes holders that have interest in Liberia, outside Liberia were actually shock that against all odd, with all the ,” atrocities that this person has committed against his own people, some bigger hidden hands were involved. I m not his supporter, I didn’t vote for him back then….there was another leader before this fellow came. That leader was given $500,000,000( five hundred million dollars) in aide. The largest any sub saharan African country ever received. It also dwarf all the aid that have been given to all Liberian Presidents from JJ Roberts to Tolbert combined. What happened in the regime if that leader, one section of the Liberian population claim they were marginalized.

    So, let all Liberian come together and forget the past and move forward. It is only through forgiveness, and respect for one another we can set a new dawn for our country.

    Most of our problems are designed and orchestrated outside Liberia. The results are brought on us. There is enough blame to go around. Let us be carefull not to always be fooled by big stake holders to continue being used as “Go For”.

  7. This zanzan man has so much power in Liberia that he doesn’t know what to do and say. What is the purpose of this traditional man in our modern Liberia? I understand he has car(s) office, power and above all payroll of his own; what is his role and what purpose does it serve?

  8. So true chief but, those days no longer in our 21st century society.
    You just have to deal with it or forget it.
    During, your day, your fuck our country up with your so call traditional leadership.
    That how, the so call American Gainster came into Liberia and started killing our people. Because Liberia had no Government.

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