Prior to the holding of the October 10 elections, women of all ages gathered from dawn to sunset on a roadside close to the party headquarters in Monrovia of several presidential candidates and knelt in prayer, fasting, and supplication to God that the country be spared of violence during and after the elections.
The fast and prayer was also observed by women in the other counties. According to the organizers, their action was intended for God Almighty to keep the country stable during and after the elections.
The groups mounted placards outside their camps with the inscriptions: ‘Don’t touch our peace’; ‘Say no to violence,’ etc.
At their small encampment, the women under the banner of a local non governmental organization, Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), sang peace songs; but on election day, they played music over the public address (PA) raising awareness of their work to the delight and entertainment of passersby.
“In 2002 and 2003, we led the peace process under the banner of the Liberian women’s Mass Action for Peace and we are still assisting in maintaining our country’s peace,” Delphine Morris, WIPNET National Co-coordinator said.
Mrs. Morris said the women had assembled again for the 2017 electoral period to join their faiths and ensure that the elections remain free, fair and transparent.
“During the war, we prayed and fasted until the fighting ended in 2003,” recalled Jassah Ganyan, an elderly lady resting under the WIPNET tarpaulin.
But many here believe the specter of conflict still looms as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also a co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, steps down after 12 years in power.
“We foresee electoral violence,” said Morris, eyeing an armored police vehicle passing by. “It’s not strange to Liberia. In the 2011 election when the result was announced, we had violence break out a little, and one or two people died. We don’t want it again,” she added.
In 2011 the losing candidate in a run-off with Sirleaf, Winston Tubman, had called on his supporters to boycott the second round of voting. Two people were shot dead outside his headquarters the day before the vote.
Morris worries that presidential candidates are stoking possible disputes by prematurely claiming victory in what is widely acknowledged as an open field this year.
“All the parties you talk to, they all say they must win and they feel they have already won,” Morris said, describing a memorandum against violence they have asked all of Liberia’s political parties to sign. “If you don’t win, maybe this is not your time; maybe you have to do better work,” she said.
The Liberia Restoration Party Standard bearer, MacDella Cooper, said the country has lots of possibilities in reaching its promise land, adding that people need to elect the right leadership. “We had many years in the wilderness but today we are free people. Are we going to put wrong spirit there to spoil it for us again?” Madam Cooper asked.
Cooper continues: “I want to stand in the leadership of this nation because I understand that God did not create us as a people to suffer. That who can suffer it the most? Aren’t they women and children and young people, my mothers, my sisters, my brothers, my fathers? We should not try to make this mistake again.”
Despite being new on the political stage, Madam Cooper said she represents a new day for Liberia adding that she is committed to bringing about change. According to her, the LRP will restore Liberia to its original Christian State. She said: “When we put Christ at the center of our country, we will do better in this nation. We have got to start doing things the way God wants.”
The women’s peace movement led by its founder Leymah Gbowee, who spoke to journalists on Tuesday, said: “It took a lot of managing, tolerance, compromises, and everything that kept the peace because, without the peace, we would not have done what we have.
“But today I’m so pleased that now, our first generation of children can say they do not know anything about a gun, they never have to run,” she said.
According to her, sustaining the peace is primarily for the young people to remember the deadly civil war that was like rape for them during those dark days.
“Today, we are saying on this airfield, that never again should we remember the past. We are resolute as women from all walks of life that we will mobilize, use our limited resources and if any one thinks that they can take us back to war, it is false. We are for Peace and we will keep the peace,” she declared.
She was, however, quick to remind women that in 2003 and 2005, they lobbied for peace only and did not take into consideration political participation, justice for women, economic empowerment and all of the advantages a post conflict society should be having.
“We only stopped at peace. So, I am urging women that we are open to working with every group. Let’s come together and strategize and present our agenda to the next President and say ‘This is the women’s agenda and we want it to be implemented in one hundred days or in six years,'”she said.
The ceremony was attended by several groups, among them, the Women’s Situation Room and Crusaders for Peace.