By: James W. Harris

No matter which way Liberians decide to vote on November 8, the vultures are lurking

Without any doubt, the 2005 elections will be recorded in contemporary Liberian history as the single major event that finally gave Liberians their first taste of "real" democracy. But sadly, the first round of the recent elections held this past October 11 actually failed to settle Liberia's longstanding leadership question once and for all.

It was just the matter of time before Liberians too would inevitably join others around the world to exercise their voting franchise freely without the sitting government breathing down their throats. Liberians will no doubt be forever grateful to the international community through the United Nations (U.N.) and European Union (EU) as well as a few individual countries, like, the United States, Nigeria and Ghana, among others, that came to our aid during our greatest hour of need.

Yes, it took roughly 158 long years before this reality was made possible, but the feeling of being able to cast one's sacred vote in a relatively safe environment definitely makes up for the lost time. Liberians should pat themselves on the back for being so patient and tolerant of each other during this whole election period, choosing peace over senseless violence that had all but become the norm in our severely ill society. I'm very confident that other peoples around the world will emulate the surprisingly 'good behavior' of Liberian voters as they determine their own fates by way of the ballot box as opposed to the use of violent force as a means of accomplishing change. Certainly, a lot of lessons can be learned from the recent Liberian experience.

But despite showing the entire world that they were indeed capable of conducting their elections in peace and in a "civilized" way, Liberians who participated in the first round of the elections failed disappointingly to give a single candidate the necessary 51% needed to claim the prized Executive Mansion. Whether or not this was a good thing I really don't know, but we'll find out pretty soon.

"Cheap Talks"

And because none of the 22 candidates who participated in the first round of voting was able to garner the required number of votes, the run-off, which had long been anticipated, became inevitable.

Given this sad reality and in keeping with elections guidelines, the two highest vote getters, namely, soccer icon George Manneh Weah (28.3%) of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and former Finance Minister, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (19.8%) of the Unity Party (UP), respectively, will now be left to 'dux it out' (as Liberians say) come November 8, which is in fact just within a matter of days.

Whatever happened to the rest of the bunch, you may want to ask? Well, they may just be in the corner trying to sort out why they didn't come out on top. But sincerely a lot of them shouldn't have entered the race in the first place, but you know how our egos and inflated self egos can take over our sense of judgment sometimes. In any case, I do hope and pray that they'd see reason and be patriotic enough to stay and help the country to recover regardless of who our suffering people choose in the end.

For a country like Liberia that has been completely devastated by decades of senseless wars, it clearly would require more than just "cheap talks" to move the country forward. That's why I just don't understand why so many people would want to be President at this particular time in our history. I mean, the challenges ahead are huge and the Liberian people are somewhat awakened now and hungry for a change.

In Liberia today, we have a situation where the nation is totally broken and its people demoralized. Add to that the desperation of an impoverished citizenry who are tired of wars and are now longing for a stable life to say the least.

The People will expect miracles

Considering their present state, the Liberian people naturally would expect whoever is elected the head of state on November 8 to perform miracles overnight. That person will have to deliver the beef (mainly vital services) almost immediately or else all hell may break loose again. We're looking at a very volatile situation. And I'm not saying this to scare anybody either, because that's the reality in our country today! We should understand that our poor people are desperate after being wrongly denied their rights to a decent standard of living for so very long.

From the result of the first round of voting that was held on October 11, Liberians sent a clear message that they were tired of wars and desperately want to break away from the past. They also sent a clear signal that they were distrustful of carrier Liberian politicians, most of whom had directly or indirectly contributed to their present plight. That's why they gave George "Oppong" Manneh Weah most of their votes even with his known shortcomings - something that some people find difficult to accept.

From what I've gathered so far by talking to various people, many of them within my own circle of friends, family members and close associates, they really would've preferred another candidate to lead Liberia during these very difficult times other than either Weah or Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. In other words, they would love to see the next President of Liberia having the educational qualifications like Ellen, but the charisma and compassion like Weah.
Unfortunately, Liberian voters didn't find such traits or attributes in any one candidate. And as it stands today, they would have to choose between George and Ellen in November as well as everything they stand for individually. At this time, it would be too dangerous to speculate what the ultimate outcome will be, but the vultures (which can be found in either camp incidentally) that have been sucking the blood of our country are still lurking no matter which way Liberians vote on November 8.

No win situation

Coming to think about it, it looks like the end result of this election surely will be a "NO WIN" situation. Now what do I mean by that? If Liberian voters were to, say, give George Weah the prized Presidency, on one hand, they would most certainly be placing the destiny of their now war-ravaged country in the hands of someone who appears to be dedicated to his people and country, but lacks the necessary academic credentials to make sound judgment as to taking Liberia in the right direction. Also, they (the people I spoke to) see his close association with people of unprincipled characters, like, Gabriel Bacchus Matthews and Milton J. Teahjay, amongst others, as well as warlords Alhaji G. V. Kromah, Prince Johnson (now Senator-elect from Nimba County) and Sekou Damante Conneh, as exemplifying his lack of good political skills and judgment that may hurt not only him but the failed country as a whole.

"How could he have ever allowed these known political prostitutes and vampires to come close to his otherwise clean campaign", they wondered? They felt that he was making a big mistake just like the late dictator, President Samuel K. Doe, who surrounded himself with people having similar highly flawed characters, although they do recognize the need for reconciliation, forgiveness and whatever else. Well, these were just some of their major concerns at this time regarding a possible Weah Presidency in addition to his lack of formal education. Interesting, eh, isn't it?

Was it worth the price?

As for Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (otherwise dubbed the "Iron Lady"), on the other hand, the folks that I spoke to quickly acknowledged her educational and professional achievements, but blames her partly for Liberia's abrupt descend into chaos.

They asked, "How could this woman with a Harvard degree (whatever that means today) and her much talked about international contacts contribute so selfishly to the total destruction of her own country?" Further, "why does she have to be the President of Liberia even at the cost of about 250,000 plus innocent lives in addition to the complete physical destruction of our country", they also asked? They strongly insisted that it just wasn't worth the price, taking into account what now needs to be done to fully resuscitate the Liberian nation.

While they praised her for her much publicized "international experience", particularly, her long service with the UN and other international institutions and agencies, they strongly agreed that she lacks the moral authority to lead Liberia at this time due mainly to her various roles in the country's recent upheavals - even with her Harvard education.
They also see her stubborn refusal to answer allegations concerning her personal involvement in the ongoing Liberian mess, especially, the charges made by her former close associate, Tom Woewiyu in his now famous letter [kindly refer to "An Open Letter to Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf", September 15, 2005, the Liberian Dialogue] and Mrs. Tarloh Quiwonkpa's recent inquiry into her late husband's (the late charismatic General Thomas Quiwonkpa) death [please see "An Open Letter to Harry Yuan, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Amos Sawyer, Boima Fahnbulleh, and Others", the Perspective, August 9, 2005] as being very arrogant.

"We know that Tom Woewiyu may not be that credible, but what's about Tarloh's concerns?" they asked, adding, "Ellen should come out clean and tell us her side of the story." Remaining mute on these and other national issues shows that the "Iron Lady" may be trying very hard to keep her skeletons in the closet.
Another reason why they think she's dying to become President is to cover her tracks and protect her co-conspirators, who, many believe, are responsible for the ongoing Liberian drama. "Don't you see that she's already saying that she doesn't support a War Crimes Tribunal or intend on pursuing Charles Taylor from his convenient hideout in Calabar, Nigeria - something that a lot of Liberians favor to ensure justice", they quipped.

Restoring the settler (Congau) hegemony

Additionally, they still view her (Johnson-Sirleaf) as being a war-monger and someone who desperately wants the much cherished Executive Mansion for the sole purpose of restoring the seriously corrupt and inept settler (Congau) hegemony which had dominated Liberia for more than a century using various schemes without bringing much needed development to the country referred to often as the oldest 'independent' state in all of Africa.

In fact, the Liberian experiment has been such a disaster that it's pitiful to see where it stands today. There's no pipe-borne running water; no electricity; no adequate health care for the citizens; no decent roads and schools, among a long list of things that should have been taken care of ever since.

And the lack of these basic necessities doesn't mean that Liberia is poor and couldn't afford them either. It's just that the past leaderships of the country were so short-sighted and in contempt of the ordinary Liberians that they didn't care. I'm sorry, folks, because there's no other way to put it.

Therefore, no amount of aid that may be pumped into Liberia following the final results of the 2005 elections as some pundits are speculating would help as long as our so-called leaders continue to put such funds into their own pockets instead of taking care of the country's many needs. You see, Liberians have this big sickness of crying out for help while plundering and pillaging their own country at the same time. So, it seems to me more like a mental problem of sorts as well as our system of governance.

Liberians ought to get into their heads that the fuss about Liberia today is no longer over the old and false perception that only the so-called Congau people were corrupt and insensitive to our people's needs.
Doe, being an indigenous of the Krahn tribe and doing no better than any other previous Liberian leaders (rulers) who were in fact Congaus, has dispel that notion a long time ago. The new Liberia belong to those of its citizens who would work in a positive way in harmony to move the nation forward by rebuilding the country and pulling up their fellow compatriots who may be less fortunate by the proverbial bootstraps. That's what the future of Liberia should correctly be about and nothing else.

Same people, same results

Regardless of whoever comes to power, we always seem to get the same results - rampant corruption (as Doe or someone else used to say), the lack of transparency and accountability, misappropriation of our already scarce resources, etc. One reason for this could be that Liberians are so complacent that they continue to allow the same people who have wrecked havoc on our country in the past to manage our affairs. What an irony!
Just like Weah, Ellen too has a lot of baggage to carry. Since the NEC's announcement that she would be facing George Weah in the run-off, individuals who many Liberians consider to be leaches, have also begun flocking to her side. They include, the other undisputed "Iron Lady" in the person of the now defunct LURD's chief sponsor, Mrs. Aicha Conneh, David Kortie (a close associate of the now disgraced Liberian ruler, Charles Taylor), Harry Greaves, Jr. (who recently bailed out on his longtime friend, Gyude Bryant), Amos Sawyer (the political science guru who has failed so far to put into practice what he preaches) and so on.
So, what we're now seeing in both camps (Weah's and Johnson-Sirleaf's) are the same cast of characters that have been calling the shots in Liberia in recent times. Basically, it's more of the same - old wine trying to be repackaged in new bottles so to speak. This really doesn't make it look good for our country's future if we took into account the collective records of these seemingly opportunistic Liberians.

Separating sheep from goats

If Liberians were to carefully consider all the points that I've highlighted above with an opened mind, they'd conclude for themselves that what we'd have at the end of this unprecedented election exercise would technically be a "NO WIN" situation.
This should give level-headed Liberians the more reason to be vigilant and never let their guards down. Furthermore, there absolutely couldn't be anything more patriotic than to ensure that all those unscrupulous individuals who have so willingly contributed to the nation's current deplorable state, must never again be given the opportunity to come close to the seat of power.

Indeed, there are hundreds or perhaps even thousands of "highly qualified" Liberians that can fill the leadership void in our collapsed country today. But in order to give them the chance to come forward, we should first insist on getting rid of the old politicians who have failed us so miserably, thereby, leaving our country in tatters.
Realistically, it's not only about the education or lack of it on the part of George "Oppong" Manneh Weah, it's as much about the credibility and moral standing of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. It's not only about Weah's lack of formal education as some of Johnon-Sirleaf's blind supporters would want us to believe (because only a fool would say that education is not important), but it's also about Ellen's own core values and apparent lack of compassion for the downtrodden people of Liberia.

Being on both sides of the emerging divide between the two camps, the vultures will most certainly have another field day leaving the country in more shambles if we don't wake up as responsible citizens. We should therefore take heed and govern our choices accordingly from now on, separating the sheep from the goats literally.

Elections not the end, rather the beginning

For some of us the finality of these elections will surely not be the end of our desire to see a competent and caring government emerge in Liberia. Just as we kept our watchful eyes on the Doe and Taylor governments of late, we should also not relent in keeping the light shining on the next Liberian government.
For starters, we must make sure that people the likes of Bacchus Matthews, Milton Teahjay, Harry Greaves, Jr, (honestly, I don't mean to pick on these three either) and a host of others don't get any more high profile government jobs. I'm sure that many of you would agree with me that these fellows have had by far too many opportunities in the past to serve their country with distinction, but they did not. You'd also agree with me then that they and others who say they love Liberia can serve her in other worthwhile capacities. They really could help by possibly creating desperately needed jobs in the private sector as long as they pay their taxes to the government.

Jobs must be based on merit

Another thing that we could do as conscientious Liberians is to also ensure that whoever is elected president designates government jobs purely on the basis of MERIT rather than nepotism, friendship, etc., as we've seen in the past. For too long now, people that didn't deserve certain jobs based on their lack of the relevant qualifications (education) were given them anyway just because "they knew somebody." This time around, we must insist that the government sets a standard by giving jobs to Liberians based solely on their qualifications.

We must insist also on getting some ACCOUNTABILITY for the past. For example, if it happens that Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf gets elected, we should try to encourage her to personally address some of the issues raised in Tarloh's and Tom's open letters even in her capacity as the president or head of state of Liberia.

In the same vain, if George Weah wins, we'd expect him too to throw more light on his trip to Grand Gedeh County (the late Doe's home county) where he's alleged to have promised sensitive government positions to certain 'sons' of the county. We'd want to make sure that this isn't true.

If we could just do these little things, then I can say that we really would be turning a new leaf in Liberia. We should all accept the fact that the genie is now out of the bottle and it would almost be impossible to put it back in. Serving as hungry watchdogs for the new Liberian society is the very least that we can do as responsible and patriotic citizens of Liberia. The rest would be up to our so-called leaders chosen by the people.