By Philip B. Suah, Jr.
As Liberians experience an unprecedented legal case which seeks redress for election grievances through the law rather than the barrel of the gun, many are fast becoming fatigued by the legal process. This is understandable because we have not experienced such a process, neither have our civic stamina been so tested. What is not understandable are remarks attributed to former US Ambassador to Liberia, Dr. Linda Thomas Greenfield, which gives the impression that the legal case is a letdown to Liberians and it has been led by “a third place candidate who has run three times and never got more than 10 percent.”
This is unfortunate because Dr. Greenfield, an accomplished individual, was born in 1952 in Louisiana, and experienced racism at its core before graduating from a segregated high school in 1970. If anyone should understand the value of a grievance, it should be the Ambassador. If anyone has benefited, in part or in whole, from a grievance being taken to the Supreme Court of a country, it should be Dr. Greenfield. Between the 1950s and 1960s, blacks in America made up about 10% of the population of the United States; yet such small percentage of blacks relative to their white counterparts did not minimize the value of the civil rights struggle, nor detract from the legal cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. In fact, many whites at the time felt Americans were wasting time on the “irrelevant” issue of race when they could be spending time on other “important” issues.
But it was the persistence of the civil rights pioneers who legally challenged an unjust political environment that led to the freedom millions now enjoy. Dr. Greenfield, who did her political science fellowship in Liberia in the 1970s, has since benefited from the struggles of civil rights pioneers, many who themselves did not live to enjoy the fruit of their labor. It was for posterity that civil rights pioneers took on Garner V. Louisiana, 368 U.S. 157 (1961) where the US Supreme Court ruled peaceful sit-in demonstrators protesting segregationist policies could not be arrested under a state’s “disturbing the peace” laws. For posterity, civil rights pioneers championed Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.
This legal case, initiated by Cllr. Brumskine and the Liberty Party, is rooted in the law and the basic tenets of democracy, one that will not only serve this generation but future ones. It seeks to stop an attempt by few powerful and cunning individuals from usurping the voice of the people. I am reminded of US former President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who stated “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.” It is time Liberians say no to the private power seeking to burden the country with their personal interests. That is why it is important for everyone, including the esteemed former ambassador, Dr. Greenfield, to allow the legal process to continue without political interference. So far the law has not been violated and the legal system not distorted by this case. Liberians may not have such precedence, but they are joyful to witness someone using the law and not bullets. They are glad Cllr Brumskine is not giving warmongers and criminals money in the dark to bring war to our shores; rather, he is demonstrating that Liberians can and should always seek redress from the law, even when the stakes are high.
This case seeks to remove any dark cloud from the 2017 elections so that the next President can have a firm ground from which to uplift our country from poverty, corruption and fiscal mismanagement. We cannot call for the strengthening of our judicial system and at the same time take shortcut to justice. We cannot proclaim Liberia’s progress towards democracy while we seek to demean those who are exercising the basic principles of such democracy. How can we be sure any candidate obtained a certain percent of votes in an election when the very results are questioned for fraud and irregularities? If evidence obtained illegally cannot be used in any court of law, why should the results of a questionable election be used to determine who truly garnered votes or can and cannot file a grievance?
British screenwriter and playwright, Tom Stoppard, succinctly state that “It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.” It was the value of the count that made the Supreme Court of the United States to take the Bush V. Gore case in 2000, for which America waited patiently. And it was the value of the count in Gomillion V. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339 (1960) that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled electoral district boundaries drawn only to disenfranchise blacks violated the Fifteenth Amendment.
Similarly, it is for the value of the count that collaborating political parties in Liberia are seeking redress. If following the legal process has worked so well for America, we should expect nothing less for a small African country. So when someone alludes to “10%” being insignificant, I remind such a person that democracy should be about the people, ten percent or not.