The concept of democracy is pillared on the idea that everyone should enjoy the same rights and that political powers should be held by the people. Inarguably, assent may be unattainable from a sundry list of ideas propounded by the entire citizenry. The authority therefore to decide, make laws, and perform oversight duties to enhance local development priorities, is vested in, through the citizens, to a group of persons. This is simply referred to as representative democracy. During elections, citizens have the opportunity to choose who they would like to exercise executive and legislative powers on their behalf.
Without elections, democracy would not have been based on the seemingly insatiable wants and burgeoning needs of the people. It would turn into another type of government where decisions are extremely centralized with flagrant disregard towards the interests and aspirations of the masses thereby creating an unfettered increased of societal riffraff and it’s corresponding slums. This could lead to depravity!
Ironically, majority of the voting class are economically challenged who are often found quite apathetic towards the sophisticated election process which they do not have the education to distinguish one from the other. In a relatively high illiterate society like Liberia, voter’s education is imperative! It cannot be relegated to workshops and posters only, but rather a massive campaign reaching out to remote towns and villages, targeting all segments of our battered and underdeveloped prefectures. This will arguably, be congenial with incontrovertible results. Voter’s sensitization must capture also the significance of voting to ensure a conscious participation of our people in the electoral process, reserving the right to recall. The failure for elections to reflect their essence as processes that allow the conscious participation of the people limits the process playing any significant role in advancing the socio-economic and political wellbeing of the people. Conscious participation, as it were, cannot be achieved if the majority of the electorates are left languishing in the morass of poverty, ignorance and superstitions.
So, it will be a constant refrain from the raucous rendition this year: 2017 is the most important election in our lifetime. We tend to hear it in every presidential cycle. 2017 is on the horizon and the political amphitheater has begun to showcase some of the major players. Be that as it may, 2017 promises to be very interesting. Obviously, this election presents a watershed moment when Liberians sit at the cusp of making critical decision that could either throttle the historical morass of corruption, nepotism, elitism, unplanned and untargeted development programs, centralization of social services towards the elite, etc., or hoist the country towards economic freedom, expansion of social services to all, enabling environment for employment opportunities, expansion of economic developments, respect for the rule of law and an efficient and fair justice system, improvement in education, and respect for mankind. 2017 is a year believed to be the turning point in our nation’s history-a battered history characterized by wanton destruction and the present rebirth under the dynamism of President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf. 2017 could either be a year of continuity or one in which an opposition might be given a chance for a renewed strategy. What remains immutable is the fact that President Sirleaf will be turning the mantle of leadership to the would be winner. Howbeit, it is important for us to develop a few political construct based on not just anecdotal evidence but firsthand experiences as well as historical data and trends.
In retrospect, 2005 witnessed an election heavily influenced by a popularity contest against an internationally acclaimed credential. In the end, the latter won. In the succeeding years, many Liberians, be it oppositions or supporters, saw a forlorn warravished country being transformed. The construction of roads and bridges, the revitalization of the economy and our infrastructures experienced the rebirth. Our national budget increased from as low as $80m to a high of over $500m. Many young enterprising Liberians were afforded the opportunities to acquire the requisite skills set needed as the country transitioned from a failed state to a post conflict success story.
The “growth corridor” connecting the economic centers of our country by road and rail saw huge improvements. The Monrovia to Buchanan and the Monrovia to Ganta highways are a few classic examples. The rule of law, press freedom and freedom of speech are at an all-time high. Our people can now freely express themselves without the fear of being picked up by underpaid militias dressed as state securities as was the case in time past. The educational sector experienced high retention rates while girls’ enrollment grew exponentially. These profound achievements under the leadership of president Sirleaf is stupendous and her vision for the country, when aped, sets up the next leader or generation for irreversible success.
Let us hasten to highlight the enormity of the challenges faced by this administration.
Despite the many gains, our people, so deservingly, crave for more. They want improved healthcare, better educational facilities for their children as well as cheap and affordable electricity for all. The want improved access to pipe borne water. They want jobs and more jobs. The youths are in dire need of vocational education that would prepare them for the job market. Our young sisters, wives and mothers are in need of improved conditions at maternity centers. Our kids want access to improved playground facilities and our drivers want additional road networks which connect the entire country. Our foreign friends want to see a state-of-the-art airport facility worthy of a nation like Liberia.
Our servicemen and women want improved incentives and logistical support in order to effectively carryout their duties. Our civil servants would appreciate higher wages that would enable them meet up with the challenges of higher commodity prices as well as with the demands associated with running a family. Liberians can’t afford any dillydallying; in short, Liberians want MORE!
In 2017, all of these issues should and must be addressed by those we intend to surrender our individual powers to for the next 6 years. As Sirleaf has set the bar very high, Liberia needs a leader who is self-effacing, progressive in thoughts, intrepid, decisive, a unifier, and if you like, jingoistic. Not a leader who is a tyro and will potentially upend and reverse the gains made thus far. They must present clear and concise yet achievable ways by which these issues can and will be addressed.
They must also explain to us what creative ways will the resources be harnessed in order to solve these critical and legitimate concerns of the mass of our people. Besides, Liberians should be prepared to ask the hard questions.
What are the tax measures to ensure adequate resource mobilization? What portion of our national budget should be allocated to the varying sectors amid competing priorities? What about gender equity? What about gay rights? What about free tertiary education? What about job creation and youth employment? What about the failing commodity prices especially iron and rubber and government’s mitigating strategy to diversify our economy? What about low cost housing initiatives? What about global warming? What about our foreign policy options?
What about the global financial crisis which revealed significant weaknesses in the financial system and some of the vulnerabilities that can result from having such an interconnected global market against an economy heavily reliant on export? What about the issue of dual citizenship among others?
Therefore, as 2017 dawns, our caveat goes out to those seeking self-aggrandizement and are contented only to enjoy the fruits of power for 6 years, doing nothing for the poor electorates. When they are back again at their hustle, they attempt to cajole and coax our people with new sets of promises, or simply buy their votes with enormous money-power at their disposal. Our people, in the process, lose all their interest in the elections and they either abstain from voting or cast their votes only as a matter of ritual.
Such elections are not in the finest traditions of democracy, nor does the power of such democracies emanate from the people. Elections must therefore be the first democratic opportunity through which an informed people make the choices that will help in the building of a nation they aspire for!
The author holds a Bachelor of Science degree (BSc.) in Economics and a Master Degree (MBA, Highest Honors) in Finance. A post graduate leadership certificate from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and a candidate for Master in Public Policy at the Penn State University. He can be reached at [email protected] The Co-author holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology and Chemistry (Hons) with certificate in oil and gas process safety from NEBOSH in the UK. He obtained his postgraduate degree in Environmental Economics from the University of York, and has extensively written on resource governance and environmental justice. He can be reached at [email protected]