By Hannah N. Geterminah
Some women’s right advocacy organizations have called on President George M. Weah to exercise the political will to investigate violent circumstances surrounding the leading senatorial candidate in Gbarpolu County, Madam Botoe Kanneh, and to ensure that she participates freely in the re-run electoral process in Nomodatonau without intimidation or threat from the traditional Poro Master otherwise referred to as “Country Devil.”
The senatorial election in Gbarpolu County is at a standstill and there is a need for re-run because a town chief of the town allegedly seized the ballot boxes and the poro master was ordered to come to town. Whenever the poro master comes to the town, women and males who are non-members are forced to be locked up in their houses as the master and members of the poro society implement whatever they are in the town for. This means that the female candidate, Kanneh Gbotoe, will not access the ballot boxes already in the hands of the town chief as the poro master she must not see is in control of the town.
The group, after receiving reports that Madam Kanneh was beaten, detained and threatened with the “Country Devil’’ in the town of Nomodatonau, District 3, near the Sierra Leonean border, risked their lives to rescue the only female among nine male candidates. The group rescued Madam Kanneh and took her to a safe location.
Those women groups include Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH), Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI), WONGOSOL, and Liberian Women Can Lead (LWCL).
At a press conference in Monrovia on Wednesday, December 16, 2020, Madam Facia B. Harris of Paramount Young Women Initiative said: “We wish to inform the public that the Traditional male devil and other cultural practices have no role in politics because they limit women’s participation.”
Madam Harris said, “We strongly condemn violence against women in the ongoing elections, specifically Gbarpolu County. We are particularly concerned that government officials are creating barriers to prevent a leading female candidate vying for a seat in the male-dominated Senate.”
She said the Senate of 30 members has one female who is Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence re-elected in Grand Bassa County. She said there is a need for other females in the Senate so that women can be represented and their voices heard.
Madam Harris named Edith Gongloe-Weh, candidate of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) and Madame Botoe Kanneh, an independent candidate, as the only two women left in the Senatorial race.
Madam Harris said electoral violence is a crime against humanity and referenced Section 10.21 of the new election law that encourages candidates and political parties to travel throughout the country to canvass for votes and prohibiting administrative, military and/or paramilitary from interfering with a person’s rights to participate in politics as a guiding tool that backs the right of Madam Gbotoe to participate in an election.
She said the new election law gives NEC the authority to recommend to the government the dismissal of any official involved in interfering in the electoral process.
Based on their findings, Facia Harris said George Manneh Weah should investigate the reports about human rights abuses by the Liberia Immigration Services (LIS) and other military and paramilitary officials in Nomodatonau.
“The President should also investigate the voice recordings circulating on social media where Superintendent Keyah Saah is heard mandating local officials to vote for the ruling CDC candidate on the instruction of President Weah,” she said.
Madam Harris called for the immediate dismissal of Paramount Chief McGill Wleh of Nomodatonau (Jawajah Chiefdom, Kongba District, Gbarpolu), Superintendent Keyah Saah and other officials involved in disrupting the process by seizing the election materials and bringing out poro master instigating voter suppression, all of which are in violation of the law and the Code of Conduct.
Madam Kanneh, who is leading by 449 votes (4722, or 25.68 percent), followed by Rep. Alfred Gayflor Koiwood of the ruling party, the Coalition of Democratic Change (4,273 or 23.24 percent) according to NEC result, beat the representative in the district that he represents in Gbarpolu County.
It may be recalled that NEC ordered a re-run in Nomodatonau because in the town, 2,021 voters did not participate in the Dec. 8, 2020 election on grounds that Paramount Chief McGill Wleh seized the ballot boxes and election materials.
According to Madam Harris, during their visit the team discovered that Madam Kanneh was beaten and harassed along with several members of her campaign team.
She said two of the women on the campaign team were raped while in police custody, and others experienced “horrific forms of human rights abuses from traditional leaders.
According to her, the women were ordered to stand in the sun with their arms raised for hours without food, noting that Madam Kanneh’s brother, Cllr. Boakai Kanneh, head of the Law Reform Committee, was also beaten while in police custody.
“We want the government to Investigate and bring to justice those who perpetrated the rape on Madam Botoe’s female supporters while exercising their rights to political participation,” Madam Harris said.
She said rape should not be used as a weapon in elections, adding that ‘It is a violation of women’s rights, and Liberia as a signatory to the various human rights laws, must comply.”
Madam Harris added, “We call on the government to arrest all suspects involved in the threats, detention, and assault on Madam Botoe and her supporters. They should issue a public statement to reassure women in District #3 that they would be protected at the time the 2,021 voters will go to the polls in the rerun.”
She said it is important the government instructs the Ministry of Justice, Joint Security operations and other para-military officers to ensure the safety of citizens in Nomodatonau before, during and after the rerun.
Madam Harris urged NEC to exercise the powers granted under the new election law to deregister and penalize political parties and their members from disrupting the electoral process including facilitating violence.