– An LIB Life Commentary
There is a strong link between politics, arts, and entertainment. Wonder why politicians use musicians and other artists to get our attention? So I rest my case. Since it is that time again for promises to be made and mostly not kept, why should LIB Life be left out of it?
As we know, our culture is a direct descendant of our traditional heritage. A month ago, when the Darkpannah, Chief Flomo Tokpa Barwror, who is the head of all the traditional chiefs of Liberia, endorsed the ticket of the presidential and vice presidential bids of Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and House Speaker James Emmanuel Nuquay, he said it was because the Speaker is his kinfolk.
“Emmanuel Nuquay is our kin. We will do everything as traditional leaders in our authority to give the support he deserves,” the Darkpannah remarked during the endorsement.
What is worrisome about this is that our elders’ endorsement is not based on qualification, but tribalism or tribal identity. What is bad about it is that the Darkpannah and other traditional leaders endorsing political candidates are undermining their role to maintain and foster peace.
Although it is the Darkpannah’s and other traditional leaders’ right to participate in political activities, openly endorsing one candidate over another in their capacity as leaders send a clear message to their subjects who to vote for, which is a major threat to democracy and a challenge to the credibility of the electoral process.
A person’s vote should be based on his or her choice and should not be seen as being coerced or dictated.
This is because the act that created the National Traditional Council of Liberia clearly states that the role of traditional leaders is to promote cultural values and preserve the culture, tradition, history, and heritage of their communities, and facilitate development and resolve disputes.
In the event of an election dispute between a chief’s choice of candidate and an opponent, it would be hard to for the chief to resolve the disputed results against the candidate he/she openly supports and the complainant.
Being a country that experienced post-election violence in 2011, the possibility still exists that such a situation might occur during this year’s elections. For this and many reasons, traditional chiefs should focus on making sure the elections run smoothly than campaigning for and openly endorsing candidates.
But now that they have taken sides, these traditional leaders have undermined efforts to promote peace and facilitate the spirit of healing, reconciliation and among different communities, during and after these elections.
Traditional leaders from whom we trace back our entire cultural heritage should be and remain the voice of the voiceless, who are ready to challenge public and secular leaders without self-interest. They should not be part of the problem that may create chaos.
The chaos might stem from ill-informed youth in these far off places where traditional leaders still hold sway that might want to prevent other candidates from freely campaigning in their area because “my chief does not support that man.”
The right to access to these communities includes the authority to convene meetings and to invite subjects to said meetings. They should not interfere by only allowing ‘their candidates’ to canvass for votes in ‘their communities’ while at the same time denying others similar access. This negative ethnic campaign has the ability to cause violence and hatred among Liberians.
For these and many other reasons, traditional leaders need not be fully engaged in the political activities of candidates, but should rather be preaching peace.
The use of tribal endorsement is not just a challenge to democracy in Liberia but speaks of identity politics meant to promote narrow tribal interests, which is antithetical to political competition. It is tribalism!
And tribalism comes about when leaders exploit tribal loyalty to advance personal gain, parochial interest, patronage, and cronyism.
Tribal endorsements are not built on democratic ideals, but instead on the hope that when a particular candidate from their tribe wins, the benefits of patronage could trickle down to them, too, and not necessarily their people.
As a result, tribal endorsements are threats to democratic advancement.
In the root causes of our civil crises, tribal interests played a major role in the armed conflicts and civil unrest in this country that resulted in the loss of 250,000 souls and the displacement of millions. These tribal endorsements are clear signs of the dangers of ethnic competition, which underscore the importance of building nations around ideas rather than clan identities. Tribal leaders, by virtue of the code that created them, are expected to rise above ethnic and party politics by virtue of their missionary nature. They are called to serve all, which requires them to educate Liberians on the qualities of good leaders and leadership (not based on tribal identity). And as transitional leaders that control huge populations, they should be committed to the spirit of unity in diversity.
These leaders should not fail to realize that one of the greatest values that this country needs to adopt after 14 years of conflict is that the wealth of Liberia is our ethnic diversity, and they should endeavor to build the image of the country as one single ethnic community.