View from the ground: Liberia elections

By Flickr user Multimedia Photography and Design- Newhouse School

Tuesday saw run-off elections in Liberia between the incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (United Party, UP) and opposition candidate Winston Tubman (Congress for Democratic Change, CDC). 

However, Tubman called for a public boycott of the election claiming that the first round had been fraudulant. A protest organised outside the party’s headquarters on the eve of the elections descended into violence and resulted in a number of deaths, with sporadic violence continuing into election day.

The question on everyone’s lips is ‘What does this mean for Liberia?’  At worst, the election result could be violently contested and at best the winner is unlikely to be universally accepted, making governing very challenging.

David Konneh, Executive Director of CAFOD partner Don Bosco Homes  lives in Monrovia and shared with us some of his reflections of what things have been like on the ground over the last few days…

On Monday I was trying to get to the ECOWAS building to pick up my brown card, to travel to  Sierra Leone. The office is just  two minutes from Madam Sirleaf and the opposition CDC headquarters.  As I drove up I heard shooting and then saw teargas everywhere. I had to reverse quickly and didn’t know what to do. I saw young people confronting the police  and I was scared. I didn’t want to stay in my car, for fear that I might be dragged out and the vehicle set alight.

I jumped out of the car, and hid behind it, as I crouched on the ground, I heard the voice of a woman calling me into her house.  ‘Come inside, come inside, be quick’, she called. I dashed into her home and from her window both of us scared watched what was unfolding in front of us. My eyes hadn’t escaped the sting of teargas, and  they started to smart. My befriender, gave me potato leaves to put on my eyes, she swore that this old remedy would  work and after sometime sure enough the smarting  became less. With my eyes a little better I called my office and told my staff to stay put and not to leave until things were calmer.

On Tuesday all was very calm. I was able to vote at the empowerment Temple – African Network of Episcopal churches in an area known as the the ‘Oldest Congo Town. There were only four people at the polling station. There are 4,000 polling stations across Liberia and I planned to visit the 89 that were scattered across Monorovia.  It was the same, not  many people around and voting, and the only election monitors were African Union, ECOWAS and Madam Sirleaf’s UP monitors.  No CDC monitors could be found.  I was told that come evening time there might be more people  coming to vote. 

When I ask people, why aren’t you voting, exercising your hard fought democratic right, I’m told ‘no need to  vote, we know the result’.  In a hotel by the beach, I socialised with a group of young people- the talk  was tense. Some of the young men told me that young people were tired of  war, and they don’t want to ‘step back’.  We need peace, he went on to say, ‘lets talk peace’.

In the evening, a peaceful quiet. A few more people were seen going to polling stations, but not many.

On Wednesday, a few of the offices downtown remain closed and staff told to stay at home. I spoke to a young man who said that he hoped that what ever happens the vote will be accepted. He explained that he had gone from class 4 to class 10 and he hoped in two years to finish his studies and go onto college, but he said, I can only achieve this dream if there is stability in my country.

I understand his dream. At Dom Bosco homes, our work helps rebuild the dreams of many young Liberians affected by our 14 year civil war and today are still feeling the effects.

We saw only recently how election impasse in neighbouring  Ivory Coast sent many thousands to our border looking for refuge, whilst others endured great suffering back in their country, we in Liberia do not want to see this happening here.

We hope that once the election is formerly declared we can go back to rebuilding our beloved Liberia, there is still so much more work to do.

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