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The Dangers in Referring to People as Homosexuals in an African Country

This is a copy/paste from my Master Dissertation, 2013, page 15-18

Homosexuals?

Massad criticises the homo/hetero binary, that states that either you are a heterosexual or a homosexual. He argues that homosexuality belongs to a Western discourse and therefore represents Western hegemony. Consequently, to be a homosexual does not make sense to the majority of people that live in none-Western countries. Western LGBT-organisations are “heterosexualizing” the world with the implementation of this binary, which creates homosexuals where none previously existed (Massad 2007). Massad does not argue that same-sex practices did and do not occur in non-Western societies, but people, who engage in what organisations, such as ILGA, define as homosexuality, do not necessarily identify themselves with those terms. He further argues that scholars and activists transform MSM (men who have sex with men) and WSW (women who have sex with women) into passive subjects, they label in order to promote their own personal agenda (ibid:189). In Nigeria ‘yan daudu riga [skirted dan daudu] regard that to be a ‘dan daudu is like a shirt, you can pull on and off at will (Gaudio 2009:9). Gaudio argues sexuality is not about what you are, but what you do. The “doing” is also highlighted among Ghanaian MSM and WSW, who describe themselves by stating, that they “do it”, when they talk about their sexuality (Hengeveld 2012; Dankwa 2009).

“It also lends support to scholarly arguments that gender, sexuality, and other ”identities” should be seen as practices rather than the essences, as things people do rather than things people are.” (Gaudio 2009:65)

This is supported by Christensen, who did research in the Gold Coast, today’s Ghana, among the Fanti. The belief was, that those born with a light soul would desire men, and those born with a heavy soul would desire women. If a man desired another man, it was because he was born with a light soul. The result was that their relationship would still be viewed as to be between a man and a woman (cited in Murray and Roscoe 1998:105). This is to exemplify that in parts of the world sexuality is fluid by being attributed to what people do, and, therefore, sexuality shall not be viewed as representing a stable identity. As Massad, Epprecht questions whether the world can be seen as fundamentally heterosexual, where he joins hands with Gaudio (2009) in understanding sexuality as fluid, that cannot be reduced to a binary system. The word homosexuality has a historical etymology, that cannot be understood as transnational, transhistorical, and misunderstood to be “self-explanatory unaffected by language” (Epprecht 2008:113). The implication is, that it is not self-evident that we can call an MSM or WSW for a homosexual because we do not know if the person would identify him or herself as being one (ibid:17). Even if a person defines him or herself as being homosexual, we cannot naturally assume the word connotes the same understanding for the informant and for the researcher. The implication of the wording “doing” also implies you can stop “doing” it, which underpins the fact that sexuality is understood dynamic that is defined by your actions. The flexibility of “doing” possesses a problem to the queer theory. Butler (1999) and Sedgwick (1990) challenge the sexual binary by arguing in favour of the existence of a third gender or a third sexuality. However, they still define you in relation to something that you are rather than an identity that you can take on and off like a shirt at will. For this reason, this paper does not find the queer theory useful to fully understand the concept of “doing sexuality” in contemporary Ghana.

In Ghana, one of Dr Attipoe’sMSM-informants notes, that he likes both anal and vaginal sex, because two is better than one, and “people will not suspect what is going on.” (cited in Epprecht 2008:129). In Ghana -as in other parts of Africa- children play an immense role in society, where to have children is not a choice but an obligation. As Dr Attipoe’s informant notes, to have a relationship is not necessarily a matter of affection, but can be a strategy to keep the affection toward your own gender is hidden from your family. We could label an informant a bisexual, but bisexuality requires sexual attractions for both sexes (see Gustavson 2009 among other scholars), but when to have children is a social and moral obligation, to have sex with a person of the opposite gender is not a choice. Thereby to have sex with one of the opposite gender cannot be defined as bisexuality (Gaudio 2009:10). Consequently, to have a spouse of the opposite gender does not logically follow that you are sexually attracted to him or her. A research from USAID in co-operation with CEPEHRG and Maritime argues that nearly two-thirds of all MSM have had sex with at least one female partner in the past year, and one-third with multiple female partners (USAID, CEPEHRG and Maritime 2010:4). As a consequence, it would be wrong to label an informant a homosexual or a bisexual without knowing how the person labels him or herself. For this reason, I have chosen to replicate Epprecht’s terminology by using MSM and WSW (Epprecht 2008). These terms will be used unless a person or group defines themselves otherwise. However, the usage of these terms has a built-in problem with the element of sex. The anthology “Boy-Wives and Female Husbands” enumerates accounts from missionaries and anthropologists, from people who did not define what they were doing as sex, but e.g. as “playing”. From Ghana Ajen writes:

Nearly all the men admitted to having played with other males at least at that stage in their life [childhood].” (Ajen 1998:132).

Or sex constitutes penetration. When Kendall interviewed women in Lesotho, she asked a local woman, if she knew of women who shared blankets together [to have sex]. The woman replied:

“It’s impossible for two women to share blankets (…) you can’t have sex unless somebody has a koai [penis].” (Kendall 1998:228-9)

But when Ghanaian men talk about sex, it does not necessary connote the act of penetration, but it can as well be the squeezing the breasts of the woman (Bochow 2009:402).

Despite the problem in defining sex, whether a penis is required or not, and whether penetration must occur or not, the terms MSM and WSW are the best ones in describing the people this paper wants to examine, because these terms allow for a fluid understanding of sexuality, whereas the term homosexuality signifies a stable identity that stands in opposition to heterosexuality.

The fluidity of gender and sex further complicates the task of interviewing. The interviewer can establish a safe space by gaining the confidentiality of his informants but without gathering accurate data, if the interviewer is unable to ask the right questions. To overcome this problem, I lived in the same milieu as my informants to get into their shoes, to try to learn the language, and to understand their culture. In relation to this paper, the complication in gathering accurate information about sex and partnership was that I could not instinctively use words such as sex or homosexuality because the informant might not recognise those words in relation to his or her reality, or the informant and I would have diverged interpretations of these terms. This was why such words were avoided unless the informant used these terms him or herself during an interview.

Bibliography

Ajen, Nii, 1998, West African Homoeroticism: West African Men Who Have Sex With Men, ed. by Murray and Roscoe, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands – Studies in African Homosexualities, Palgrave

Bochow, Astrid, 2009, Valentine’s Day in Ghana: youth, sex and secrets, Erdmute Alber, Sjaak van der Geest and Susan R. Whyte (eds.), Generations in Africa. Contrasts and Connections, Hamburg, pp. 400-429

Butler, Judith, 1999 (2007), Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire in Gender Trouble, Routledge, pp.1-47

Dankwa, Serena O., 2009, It’s a Silent Trade: Female Same-Sex Intimacies in Post-Colonial Ghana, Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research (NORA), 17(3), pp. 192-205

Epprecht, Marc, 2008, Heterosexual Africa? – The history of an idea from the age of exploration to the age of HIV, Ohio University Press

Gaudio, Rudolf Pell, 2009, Allah Made Us – sexual outlaws in an Islamic African city, Wiley-Blackwell

Gustavson, Malena, 2009, Bisexuals in Relationships: Uncoupling Intimacy from Gender Ontology, Journal
of Bisexuality 9:3-4, pp. 407-429

Hengeveld, Wieke 2012, I “Know”, “Do” You? – to live, love and motivate your choices as a Ghanaian woman in female same-sex relationships, Master Thesis, University of Amsterdam (not published)

Kendall, 1998, When A Woman Loves A Woman – in Lesotho: Love, Sex and the (Western) Construction of Homophobia, ed. by Murray and Roscoe, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands – Studies in African Homosexualities, Palgrave

Massad, Joseph A., 2007, Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World in Desiring Arab, University of Chicago Press, Chapter 3, pp. 164-190

Murray, Stephen; Roscoe, Will, 1998, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands – Studies in African Homosexualities, Palgrave

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, 1990 (2008), Epistemology of the Closet in Epistemology of the Closet, University of California Press, pp. 67-91

USAID, CEPEHRG and Maritime, 2010, Ghana Engaging New Partners and New Technologies to Prevent HIV among Men Who Have Sex with Men, Jan.

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Nana Akufo-Addo and Homosexuality

During an interview on Al-Jazeera with Jane Dutton, the discussion involved many issues, one of these was the matter of homosexuality, where Nana Akufo-Addo expressed the opinion that a legalisation of homosexuality was inevitable. Now some media outlets bring headlines saying, that the Ghanaian president himself wants to legalise it.

First things first, no, Ghana is not about to legalise homosexuality, which I will return to in a moment.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo is strong rhetorically, and he shows it here in this excellent piece, where he starts talking about his upbringing in England.

Normally the discourse on homosexuality is that the West is pro-gay trying to “export” this practice to Africa, and Africa is against it because it is a western import, hence un-African. In just a few words, he dismantles the entire premise of this argument by, correctly, pointing out, that homosexuality used to be illegal in England – and by extension the West.

Homosexuality is not a particularly Western thing since it used to be frown upon in in this part of the world too.

Additionally, homosexuality is not illegal in Ghana per se. Section 104(1)b speaks about unnatural carnal knowledge with consent. The focus is not on sexuality but on some sexual acts. The reason is that the Ghanaian criminal code is partly inherited from the British Common Law, and the Common Law is older than the terms homo and heterosexuality.

You can not punish a man in Ghana for being a homosexual, you have to have proofs that he had penetrative sex with another man. That is not an easy task.

Section 104(1)b has been discussed for almost a decade. Akufo-Addo’s political opponent, John Evans Atta Mills started the amendment process back in 2010 by establishing the Constitution Review Commission. The commission recommended amending sec. 104(1)b by simply removing it. But there were some human rights clashes, so the overall recommendation was to let the Supreme Court decide what should happen. That is where the process came to a halt.

Nana Akufo-Addo follows in the footprint of his predecessors from both parties.

Lastly, Akufo-Addo does not say that he will legalise anything. He says, that a population can change its opinion like it happened in England.

It is a gradual process, where he expresses his belief, that a decriminalisation or legalisation of same-sex acts is bound to happen eventually. He does not say that he will pass such laws at any time soon or even during his time in office.

Though, it is a shout out to activists, human rights lawyers and others, that they are heard and a belief that their voices are helping to shape a better Ghana, and they shall not give up. Even the popular opinion is against them today, the future belongs to the activists.

It is also a subtle message to Western countries, that they have to shut up. This is an internal discussion, Ghanaians are having with themselves, and they will decide when the time is ripe. A critic in how the British PM Cameron tried to push a British agenda upon Ghana in 2011, that resulted in an unheard backlash, where the issue of homosexuality became toxic and progress made by pro-homosexual voices was under threat.

Relevant articles on homosexuality and Africa:
– Africa, Homophobia, and Western Hypocrisy
MA Thesis: On Homosexuality, Nationalism and Colonialism in Ghana
Kommentar: Beskåret udviklingsbistand skader homoseksuelle (Danish)
Quiz on Africa and homosexuality

Do They Know It’s Christmas? – With commentaries

Band Aid: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

This song was originally recorded in 1984 and the aim was to collect money for drought victims in Ethiopia. However, it quickly became a song to include the entire African continent. It is almost remarkable how artists managed to include virtually every negative stereotype about African in one song. The song was re-recorded to help collect money for the victims of the Darfur crises with new artists in 2004.

I have taken the liberty to add my own commentaries to the lyrics. I hope you will find them helpful.

It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid

Don’t worry, be happy. Christmas mood here I come

At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade

I get it, we have light and happiness, and they do not. Africa is our negative reflection when we look at ourselves in the mirror.

In reality, if any place is dark it is Europe and America. The sun has gone into hiding. That is why we need candle lights. Support Norway, they need heat and light.

When stereotypes are turned against ourselves, as the Support Norway-song, we see how ridiculous stereotyping is, and how much they blind us from seeing how the world really is.

Not to forget that several African countries are located pretty darn close to the equator. People look for shade. They want shade. They have plenty of sunlight.

And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

A continuation of mentioning all the things that the artists believe that we have and that Africa is lacking. Not only is that a completely false dichotomy it is also patronising.

African countries have joy and a world of plenty. Some places might have too much since we are beginning to see problems with obesity.

But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it’s hard

Inequality is rising. More people than ever before are in prison. The elected president is unqualified. Christmas is pretty hard for many Americans. In Denmark, my country, the number of poor people have doubled since the year 2008. How does this verse relate to Africans?.

But when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear

Where? There are a lot of sad places around the world. Have you ever been to New Jersey or Lolland on a cold and windy Autumn day?
Again lyrics meant to reactivate our prejudice concerning the African continent. To think about the continent as a country of sadness, darkness and hopelessness. Of course, this is not the case. Africa is a continent of light, fun, colours, joy, hope and good food.

Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears

Geography is not their strong suit. There are numerous rivers and lakes in Africa. The River Nile, the longest river in the world, is located in Africa. We also find the Congo River, Uele River, Kazinga River, Niger River, and the Hawash River. The last one is found in Ethiopia. And many, many, many more rivers and lakes. Water is flowing.

And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom

No, the chimes are from churches filled with people singing Christmas songs. Not doom. Try joy.

Well tonight thank God it’s them
Instead of you

What? Have you ever been to an African Christmas feast? If you had, you would wish it was you.

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time

That is plain wrong. Before global warming really took off, there was plenty of snow on Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya. Today, the snow left on Mt Kenya is melting at a dangerous rate. Snow is still common on Mt Kilimanjaro. Snow is also found on the Grand Atlas Mountains in Morocco where we find ski resorts. Likewise in the Southern part of Africa,  where the tiny country Lesotho also has ski resorts. How much more snow do you want?

It would also be horrible if snow fell in the parts of Africa where snow is uncommon. The buildings are not constructed to withstand cold.

Why is it even a bad thing that there won’t be snow at Christmas? I am from Denmark, and we hardly have snow at Christmas either. You don’t see people making sad songs about our snowless Christmas.

The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life (oooh)

Is life not a great gift? But how about being with friends and family. Receiving presents. Enjoying a good meal. Going to the cinema. Going dancing. Looking into the eyes belonging to the love of your life. What do you think people in Africa do at Christmas? Sit around in a mud hut in some refugee camp surrounded by flies passively waiting for a generous white person to save them? Give me a break.

Where nothing ever grows

Africa has rain forests. And where do you think your tea, coffee, chocolate, flowers, and several of your fruits in your local shop come from? That is right, Africa.

No rain or rivers flow

I have lived in Ghana. It rains! And to repeat, there are several rivers in Africa. Africa is not all the Sahara desert, just as the USA is more than the Nevada Desert or California.

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Are you bloody kidding me? More than half of all Africans are Christians, meaning +500 million people in Africa are Christians. When we are on the subject, Christianity spread to the African continent shortly after the death of Jesus, where Christians soon began to appear at the Horn of Africa. Christianity has existed in present Ethiopia since the 1st century CE. So yeah, they know it is Christmas.

However, not all Christians celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. In Denmark, it is celebrated on the evening on Dec. 24. In the Coptic Orthodox Church in Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7. Did you know that? Or you thought that the USA was the world? That was a rhetorical question.

Here’s to you
Raise a glass for everyone

You feel that this song is so incredibly bad, that you have to intoxicate yourself to believe in these awful liars and prejudice, and then to drag me down with you by offering me alcohol too, so I lose the ability to think clearly. Thanks, but no thanks.

Here’s to them
Underneath that burning sun

So first you bemoan that there is no light, and now you bemoan the burning sun. Make up your mind

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Yes, they do! Do not repeat your own ignorant nonsense

Feed the world

Great, donate money to your local trusted charity foundation. Purchase made in Africa products to improve local business in Africa. How about open your own window. Do you see a poor person? Invite that person over. How about supporting the increase of the minimum wages in your country, so workers can have a decent Christmas. Or raise taxes to provide a helping hand to people not having a job. You know, improve your welfare system. It is easier to help your neighbour than the world. I mean, the world starts at your front door. Take one step at a time.

Feed the world

Or we can continue having a meaningless chanting session, where no one has to do anything to feel good about oneself. Just as liking something on Facebook. It makes you feel good, like you have accomplished something. You have to save the African “country”, the dreadful place just waiting for a knight to save it. Deep sigh.

Let them know it’s Christmas time again – feed the world

They do know! Do I have to repeat myself? And they do have food. Well, not all, but most of them have.

Let them know it’s Christmas time again

I give up. Perhaps you have raised a glass one too many. I just think that I will choose a different Christmas song this year.

The Liberian Election: Results Are In

Finally. 10 days after the Liberian election was held, the results are in, and you are in for a very few surprises.

Run-off

As expected, no one got the required +50% to become president. Hence a run-off will take place between Joseph Boakai and George Weah on Nov. 7, 2017.

(Update: run-off is temporarily suspended due to accusations of irregularities during the first presidential round. New date yet to be announced by the NEC)

George Weah has tried this before, as he also won the first presidential round in 2005 when running against Ellen Sirleaf. Weah won the first round by 28.3 % against Sirleaf’s 19.8 %.

However, during the following runoff on Nov. 8, 2005, Sirleaf won by securing 59.4 % of the votes against Weah’s 40.6%.

In 2011, Weah, this time as a running mate to Winston Tubman, also managed to enter the run-off, again against Sirleaf.

Sirleaf won both the first and second presidential round by winning the first round by 43.9 % and the second one by 90.7 %. Though a widespread critic of systematic rigging was present and the National Election Commission did find evidence of voter fraud.

Weah is no novice into the art of politics or to winning a presidential election, but he has also tried to lose. He knows winning the first round is no guarantee that he will win the runoff too. He learnt this the hard way 12 years ago. But he has the momentum.

On the other hand, Vice President Joseph Boakai knows, that to lose the first round still means he can win the second round. He knows the system from the inside, and if he can get some of the former candidates to support his candidacy, he holds a strong hand in winning the run-off in November.
However, Boakai’s weakness is Sirleaf. Strong rumours more than suggested that she threw her support behind Brumskine. Brumskine is out, and if Sirleaf and Brumskine get behind Boakai, Boakai is strong. If the Sirleaf-Brumskine alliance continues to undermine Boakai’s authority, then Weah stands strong.

The Result

Liberia is turning into a two-party system as we know from numerous African countries and the USA.

The top 3 candidates:

a) George Weah got 596,037 votes (38.4%)

b) Vice President Joseph Boakia got 446,716 votes (28.8%)

c) Charles Brumskine got 149,495 votes (9.6%)

No candidate seriously threatened Weah or Boakai, but the alleged Sirleaf-Brumskine alliance did hurt Boakai, and it is going to be interesting to follow how Brumskine reacts to his defeat. Also to see how the Congo-Country divide will affect the election. Especially since Brumskine managed to get nearly 10 % of the votes placing himself third in the race.

The rumoured Brumskine-Sirleaf Congo-alliance can also be used to pressure Joseph Boakai to hinder necessary reforms to face the wide level of inequality still favouring the Congo minority at the expense of the native populations in return for their public support of Boakai’s candidacy. This part is just personal speculations.

Full result: http://necliberia.org/pg_img/2017%20Final%20Results_10_19_2017_15_03.pdf 

Liberia – Tidligere sort bosætterkoloni skal til stemmerurnerne

Liberia skal for første gang siden borgerkrigen sluttede i 2003 vælge en ny præsident, og det sker d. 10. oktober.

Vinderen af Nobels Fredspris i 2011 og nuværende præsident Ellen Johnson Sirleaf  træder tilbage efter 12 år ved magten, eftersom landets forfatning kun tillader en præsident at sidde i 2 periode. Samme begrænsning kender vi også fra USA.

Den tidligere krigsherre Prince Johnson truer allerede med borgerkrig og landets nuværende vicepræsident, Joseph Boakai, der også er præsidentkandidat, mener, at præsident  Ellen Sirleaf underminerer hans kandidatur. Men det vil jeg komme tilbage til.

Flere kandidater stiller op, men de fleste analytikere peger på, at enten vil landets vicepræsident Joseph Boakai vinde eller George Weah, en tidligere kendt fodboldspiller. Da Weah stillede op første gang i 2005 tabte han til Ellen Sirleaf, selvom han vandt første valgrunde.

For at vinde skal en kandidat have mere end 50% af stemmerne. Ved de sidste to valg er det aldrig sket i første valgrunde. Der er derfor sandsynligt, at landet igen. igen skal ud i en anden valgrunde før en endelig vinder kan udpeges. Her kan andre kandidater få en vigtig betydning, da deres opbakning til en frem for en anden kandidat kan betyde forskellen på succes eller fiasko.

Tidligere krigsherre Prince Johnson kan blive en af kongemagerne. Det var hans mænd, der dræbte den USA-støttede præsident Samuel Doe i 1990 og kastede landet ud i en ny borgerkrig, den nu krigsforbryderdømte Charles Taylor vandt.

En anden vigtig person kan blive Charles Brumskine, en erfaren politiker og medlem af americo-liberia eliten, en slægt, der daterer deres rødder tilbage til de frigivende slaver i USA, der grundlagde landet tilbage i 1822.

For at forstå valget, er det vigtigt at kende til netop americo-liberia eliten, der har siddet på magten i størstedelen af landets historie. Deres parti, the True Whig Party, sad på magten uafbrudt fra 1869 til 1980. Flere af valgene var præget af grotesk valgsvindel, selv efter moderne standarder. Ved valget i 1927 modtog vinderen, Charles D. B. King 147.000 stemmer, men kun 15.000 havde stemmeret.

Fra det øjeblik Americo-Liberia satte sine ben på jorden i 1822, gik det galt. De så sig selv om civilisationens forreste skanse, og de lokale var at anse som laverestående skabninger. De bragte herre/slave mentaliteten fra det raceopdelte USA med sig. Love blev implementeret, der gjorde det ulovligt at omgås lokalbefolkningen, du måtte ligeså ikke gifte dig eller få børn med en. Det var apartheid før apartheid så at sige.

Fra midten af 1920erne og frem til 1931 blev lokale også jagtet som dyr og solgt videre som slaver til Spanien og sejlet til øen Bioko af liberio-america eliten. På øen Bioko blev de lokale tvunget til at arbejde i plantagerne.

Regimet beskattede også de lokale hårdt, og hvis du ikke kunne betale dine skatter, måtte du enten sælge dig selv eller dine børn for at betale din gæld. Det var en effektiv måde at holde befolkningen nede og skaffe billig arbejdskraft. Amerikanske Firestone var selv flittig modtager af billig arbejdskraft i Liberia, hvor de producerede gummi.

Den amerikanske journalist John Gunther skrev i 1955, at for at finde lignende horrible forhold for de lokale i Afrika, skal vi tilbage til Leopolds Congo.

Det hele eksploderede i borgerkrig efter mordet på Doe, en krig, der ikke sluttede før 2003.

Men flere af problemerne er aldrig blevet løst. Hvem har retten til jorden, hvem må bo hvor, og mange føler ligeså, at gerningsmændene og ofrene for borgerkrigen ikke blev løst tilfredsstillende.

Landet er i dag blandt de fattigste på kontinentet. Afrobarometer placerer dem i bunden, hvor op mod 3/4 af befolkningen går sultne i seng. Ebola i 2014 satte landbrugssektoren i stå, og ca. 5000 personer mistede livet, skønt WHO skønner, at tallet kan være betydeligt højere.

Positivt kan ebola måske have givet landets nærmest ikke-eksisterende sundhedssystem et nødvendigt løft, da nyt udstyr blev bragt ind og lokalt sundhedspersonale fik fornyet træning.

Af andre problemer ses, at store dele af landets ungdomspopulation står uden arbejde. Det gjorde dem til billige lejesoldater for udenlandske sikkerhedsfirmaer, hvor mange blev sendt til Afghanistan og Irak, og flere kom aldrig hjem. De var krigenes usynlige soldater. Deres navn står ingen steder, og hvis en døde, blev han erstattet. En kynisk handel i døde kroppe, præcis som under slavehandlen. I dag er de unge tilbage, men de har stadig ikke arbejde, og mange har også begået umenneskelige gerninger som børnesoldater under fortidens borgerkrige, der gør, at de er udstødt af deres egne samfund og familie.

For ikke at tale om den allestedsnærværende galloperende ulighed, Americo-Liberia eliten har skabt gennem mere end 100 års udnyttelse af landet og befolkning.

Der er med andre ord stadig kæmpe udfordringer, og skønt Sirleaf har holdt landet stabilt, er freden på ingen måde en stabil eller en positiv en af slagsen. Der er behov for at imødegå de unge, skabe jobs, og få løst nogle af de mange udfordringer, landets historie som bosætterkoloni ikke har taget et opgør med endnu, såsom ulighed.

Liberia er beliggende i Vestafrika, og denne region er inde i en stabiliserende fase. Det Vestafrikanske Økonomiske Fælleskab (ECOWAS) har udvist aktivistisk handling mod ledere, der kunne destabilisere regionen. ECOWAS-medlemslande udgjorde en vital del af styrken, der sikrede ro efter den anden borgerkrigen i Elfenbenskysten i 2011. De var en afgørende faktor i genetablering af demokrati efter militærkup i Guinea-Bissau i 2012. Og igen i den seneste konflikt i Gambia i januar 2017. Den sidste konflikt truede med at kaste Gambia ud i en altødelæggende krig. ECOWAS løste konflikten uden et eneste skud blev affyret.

Nu skal Liberia fortsætte den stabiliserende stime, Vestafrika oplever. Sirleaf har på mange området ikke løst de problemer, landet har, men hun har nedbragt korruptionen, hun har sikret stabilitet, og hun skabte et fundament, en ny leder kan bygge videre på. Desmond Tutu beskrev Sirleaf med disse ord: “Hun har bragt stabilitet til et sted, der var på vej mod helvede”

Det er videreførelsen og sikring af regionens stabilitet, vinderen af valget skal bygge videre på. Og det bliver ingen nem opgave.

En fortsættelse af freden er ikke let, når præsidentkandidaterne er ikke bedste venner. Favoritten, vicepræsident Joseph Boakai, har langet ud efter præsident Sirleaf, at hun bag hans ryg forsøger at underminere hans kandidatur. Sirleaf er en del af Americo-liberia eliten, det er Boakai ikke, han tilhører den lokale etniske gruppe, kissi. Præsidentkandidat Charles Brumskine er også americo-Liberia, og Boakai har mere end antydet, at Sirleaf finansielt støtter Brumskine, da de tilhører den samme gruppe, og dermed er ved at stikke en kniv i ryggen på ham.

Den anden favorit til at vinde valget er politiker og eksfodboldspiller George Weah. Han bliver truet af den tidligere krigsherre og præsidentkandidat Prince Johnson. Skulle Weah vinde valget og blive præsident, truer Johnson med borgerkrig. Weah satte mange sind i kog, da han tilbage i januar udnævnte Jewel Howard som sin running mate. Hun bærer efternavnet Taylor, og er den krigsforbryderdømte Charles Taylors ekskone. I 2012 blev han ved den internationale krigsforbryderdomstol i Haag idømt 50 års fængsel for krigsforbrydelser begået under borgerkrigene, og han afsoner sin straf i England. Frygten er, at ekskonen er tættere knyttet til eksmand, end hvad hun siger. George Weah har også bekræftet, at han har været i telefonisk kontakt med Charles Taylor. Dele af befolkningen er derfor stærkt bekymret, at Charles Taylor vil styre landet gennem Weah og ekskonen.

Joseph Boakai er storfavorit, da han repræsenterer stabilitet og Sirleafs succes. Omvendt er hans alder imod ham. Han fylder snart 73 år, som står i kontrast til landets unge befolkning. Han repræsenterer også Sirleafs manglende succes, som ungdomsarbejdsløsheden og den stigende ulighed. .

Weah appellerer til de unge. I 2014 vandt han en jordsskredssejr, da han blev senator med 78% af stemmerne. Han var oppe imod Sirleafs søn, der måtte nøjes med 11%. Men valget af Taylors ekskone er kontroversielt.

Hvem der vinder valget afgøres to steder, Liberias befolkning bosiddende i Liberia, men en ligeså magtfuld gruppe er liberianere bosiddende i USA. Remitter fra diasporaen spiller en vigtig rolle i liberiansk politik. Mange af personerne i USA blev drevet flugt under borgerkrigen, og deres følelser for Taylor er iskolde.

Upåagtet af valgresultatet, vil den nye regering stå med kæmpe udfordringer med at få alle ombord og at sikre fremgang for alle, og ikke kun en lille elite.

Who Shall Lead Liberia – Election (2)

So this is where we stand in the year 2017, as the country shall elect a new head of state. Sirleaf is stepping down according to the 1986 Constitution, and there is sincerely doubt who will win the election.

There are 20 candidates, but the most important ones are:

  1. Current Vice-President and a member of the Kissi, Joseph Boakai.
  2. Former football player, former presidential candidate of 2005 and member of the Kru, George Weah
  3. Former rebel leader and a Nimba, Prince Yormie Johnson (PYJ).
  4. Former director of Coca-Cola, Alexander Cumming
  5. The only woman in the race and former model, MacDella Cooper
  6. The richest man in Liberia, Benouni Urey
  7. The experienced politician and a member of the powerful Americo-Liberia (Congo-elite), Charles Brumskine

I will start eliminating the ones, that will not win.

Alexander Cumming does not stand a change. He is politically inexperienced, and whatever small chance he had, he blew it with the hammock accident. He was seen carried around in a hammock by natives. That brought back memories in how the Congos use to treat the natives as savages and obedient subjects under leadership such as Tubman.

cum01.jpg

Source: thenewdispensation

MacDella Cooper will neither win. She is a former refugee, who fled to Côte d’Ivoire in 1991 and later to the USA, from where she got her education. She has not shown any real trust that she will win. She runs on promises such as free education, universal health care, electricity in every home, and she will deal with the Congo-urban elite that has rigged ownership of land for the natives. Hence the natives have lost access to their source for food and national heritage. A more fair land reform is needed.

All this sounds good. Who can be against any of these things?

But these promises are expensive and simply impossible to keep. Furthermore, if these promises should bear any merits, it would require Liberia to deal with its massive corruption, a plan to kick-start industrialization, and a plan how to improve the absent infrastructure. There is no plan.

But in 2015, she did say this :

I take my money and go to the road of Washington D.C. I could have the presidency – I tell you that much, that’s how easy it is.

On the tapes, she also expressed a lack of interest in politics or for running for president.

Lastly, she is also an ex-girlfriend to George Weah, and she argues he is the father of her third child.

Lastly, Benouni Urey will not win either. He is perhaps most known for handling and to be in control of the wealth belonging to Charles Taylor, even he has tried to distance himself from Taylor in the recent past.

Furthermore, even Prince Johnson is unlikely to win, if the election enters a run-off as in 2005 and 2011, Johnson can play a crucial role in whom becomes the next president.

He has affirmatively and consistently denounced to support Urey, and under no circumstances would he stand second on a ticket under Urey, Meaning, Urey simply lacks the popular and political support.

Three people are in the race, and they all have a decent chance. The vice president, the former football player, and the Congo politician.

Let’s start with the Vice president Joseph Boakai and Politician Charles Brumskine

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Source: frontpageafricaonline

Boakai (right) will turn 73 years old on Nov. 30, 2017. His age is against him in a country, where the median age is just 19 years old. 49 percent of the population has not even turned 15 years old yet. However this figure is from 2011, and today, many of these young persons are old enough to vote and they are ready to vote.

Will the youth vote in favor of preserving the old elite, who have failed them the last 12 years? We also witness how African presidents fall ill and end spend more times overseas than at home. Most critically, the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, recently spent more than 100 days in London too sick to travel back to Nigeria. The Ghanaian president,  John Evans Fifi Atta Mills died in office after a prolonged illness. Not to forget Robert Mugabe almost spends more time in Singapore than in Zimbabwe.

Boakai’s age is against him, and the people might fear to elect a leader who suddenly is absence because of a sudden ill health, or worse, dies in office.

On the other hand, Boakai represents stability. You know what you get, and even he does symbolize a continuation of the problems or limitations during the Sirleaf Administration, he also represents the accomplishments.

Unlike Sirleaf, he is a native. Though it seems he is torn between playing the native card to distance himself from Sirleaf or to ask for togetherness to not rub the Congo elite the wrong way. For instance, he has expressed disinterest in a more fair land reform as proposed by Cooper, since a land reform will negatively impact the Congo-urban elite. On the other hand, his camp has promoted him as a countryman, a true son of the soil.

Boakai holds one strong card. In case a second presidential round is needed, Prince Johnson has aired support for Boakai. In 2011, Johnson came in third, and he threw his support behind the Sirleaf-Boakai ticket over the Tubman-Weah. If he does this again, now the Boakai-Nuquay ticket, he stands a good chance becoming the next president of Liberia.

However, he has one major problem. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She belongs to the Congo aristocrats, and her support for her Vice president is debatable. According to the Front Page Africa Online, Boakai is cited for saying this:

I am not the one saying that President Sirleaf fully supports Brumskine. The people are reading the signs and they’re saying that.

Boakai’s supporters are using this divide in their slogans such as this one:

“Our ma [Ms Sirleaf] spoil it, our pa [Mr. Boakai] will fix it.”

The signs include Brumskine and his associates are seeing driving new cars allegedly paid for by Ellen Sirleaf, but Brumskine has denied any such accusations. Brumskine belongs to the Congo just as Sirleaf, where papers have begun to make this election about the Congo-Country divide. Between Brumskine and Boakai.

The sentiment felt toward the Congo aristocrats is best summed up in the Patriotic Vanguard:

Americo-Liberians [Congo] generally feel that native people should remain subject to them, that Liberia should be ruled by them, that the presidency is their entitlement, a birthright passed to them by their forebears. The attitude to have it all, land, property, good things and power without consideration of the masses, has helped create social cleavages and unrest.

The alleged Brumskine-Sirleaf alliance plays directly into this narrative, a narrative that is potentially conflict-generating.

Yes, Liberia has experienced peace the last 14 years or so, but Robert Groelsema from the Africa Justice and Peace Working Group refers to the last 14 years as a “negative peace“, because of the unresolved matters of inequality and land ownership, a matter neither Bromskine nor Boakai dare to touch.

An election deemed unfair can cause the Congo-Country divide, the gap between the haves and have-nots, the urban aristocrats and the subjects to reignite.

Add a youth who knows how to handle a gun and willing to go to war overseas for cents. They can be bought again. It is a powder keg.

Hopefully, everyone will stay peaceful, and no one will hand over the match.

The vice president has the best cards on his hand, but Bromskine shall not be ruled out, and if he comes in third as in 2005, he, together with Johnson, can decide whom they recommend shall become the next president. If he comes in second and shall run against Boakai, it can turn poisonous.

No, I have not forgotten our last serious contender, the former famous football player, George Weah.

Weah-1.jpg

Source: Forbes

In 2005, he won against Sirleaf, but he lost the round-off. In 2011, he was the running mate of Tubman and again, he came in second to Sirleaf. This is his third try. Third time is the charm, right? It was for Nana Akufo-Addo in Ghana, who lost in 2008 and 2012, but won the Ghanaian election in 2016.

He stands strong, and he is the most likely contestant for the job -after Joseph Bokai. He belongs to the Kru, and his main base is the youth. He will turn 51 years old just a few days before the election on Oct. 10, giving him an advantage over Boakai.

In 2014, he won a landslide when running for senate where he beat Ellen Sirleaf’s son, Robert Sirleaf by 78% to 11%.

Even he is labelled inexperienced, his political success is visible by everybody. Unlike the other candidates running for president, he stands for change. He is not affiliated with the war, with the current malfunctioning administration, and he is young – compared to his political opponents.

He even has musicians playing in order to attract supporters.

His weakness is Johnson, but Johnson is under investigation for crimes during the civil wars as recently confirmed by the former chief prosecutor for the former U.N.-backed special court for Sierra Leone, Dr. Allen White.

Johnson accuses Benoni Urey and Donald Trump for instigating the investigation. This is good news for Weah.

But, for there is always a but, George Weah has taken heavy fire, when he in January 2017 picked his running-mate, Taylor, Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, Charles Taylor’s ex-wife. She is the frontrunner for Charles Taylor’s old party, The National Patriotic Party (NPP), who won the election in 1997 prior to the Second Liberian Civil War from 1999-2003.

Weah has also confirmed, that he has been in contact via the telephone with Charles Taylor serving 50 years in prison for crimes against humanity in a cell in Britain.

The fear is, that Charles Taylor will try to use Weah through his ex-wife to regain influence over Liberian politics.

Furthermore, to win the election, you need support from locals, but as importantly from the Liberian diaspora predominantly living in the USA. The remittances from the diaspora play a vital role in the election. Weah’s football career is a plus, but the attitudes toward Taylor is cold, and his pick as running-mate by forming a coalition between Taylor’s ex-wife and the party NPP and his own party, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) can turn fatal and end handing victory over to Boakai.

JYP has also threatened Weah with war, in case Weah wins the election. Weah is a very controversal candidate.

To Sum Up
So where do we stand? Boakai and Weah are seeing as the most likely candidates, where Brumskine is the joker. But as the American election more than showed, polls can be wrong, and if Brumskine or Urey makes the impossible possible by coming in second and force Weah or Boakai for a run-off everything can happen.

However, the Congo-Country divide is still well alive, where the current peace appears to not be a sustainable one, and certainly not one that shall be taken for granted by anyone. Especially if Bromskine and Boakia end running up against each other during a run-off, or if JYP decides to deliver on his promises in case Weah wins.

One thing is sure, the ethnic card shall stay in the pocket for the safety of the country and the Liberian people.

To read part 1, the introduction, click here

Who Shall Lead Liberia? An Introduction (1)

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Liberia: Democracy or Settler Colony?
October 10, 2017, is a historical date. For the first time since the Second Liberian Civil War ended in 2003, Liberians shall choose a new president.

Since the election of 2005, President and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ruled the country for 12 years, and she is forced to step down. The Constitution clearly states, that a president can maximum be reelected once, and she was in 2011.

So whom will be the next president of Liberia? There are 20 candidates, but the most important ones are:

  1. Current Vice-President and a member of the Kissi, Joseph Boakai.
  2. Former football player, former presidential candidate of 2005 and member of the Kru, George Weah
  3. Former rebel leader and a Nimba, Prince Yormie Johnson (PYJ).
  4. Former director of Coca-Cola, Alexander Cumming.
  5. The only woman in the race and former model, MacDella Cooper
  6. The richest man in Liberia, Benouni Urey
  7. The experienced politician and a member of the powerful Americo-Liberia (Congo-elite), Charles Brumskine

Before I begin to analyze this election, we need a proper historical background to understand the current state of Liberia and the various divisions, that will likely influence the election.

(If in a hurry, skip to part 2, where I analyze the above-mentioned candidates)

Liberia – A Settler Colony
Liberia is known for being one out of only two African countries that were never colonized. The other one being Ethiopia.

While it is true, that Liberia was never colonized by any European power, the freed American slaves coming to what became known as Liberia, acted like its white counter-partners and brought the worst of the racist practices from the USA to what became Liberia.

The first American freed slaves began to arrive in 1822, and on July 26, 1847, Governor J.J. Roberts declared Liberia for independent. At this time, the black settlers consisted of less than 3000 people. The settlers became known as Americo-Liberians or the Congua/Congo population.

The Congos saw themselves as the outpost of Western civilization representing an advanced race compared to the natives who were seen as someones on a more primitive stage of development.

As a tribute to the US and the president who had allowed them to relocate to Africa, they named the capital Monrovia after the American President James Monroe. The flag also reflects the country’s ties to the US.

Segregation and Enslavement of the Native Population
From 1869-1980, the True Whig Party was the only party in power ruled by the Congos, who never constituted more than 1% of the total population. However, today, the Congo population consists of approximately 150,000 people or 3% of the total population.

During the one party regime, the party enforced strict racial segregation and the believed superior Congo population were prohibited to mingle and worse marry one from any of the ethnic groups belonging to the natives. “The savages” should know their place. A system similar to what became known as Apartheid half a century later in South Africa. Liberia did it first, as argued by the Polish journalist, Ryszard Kapuściński in his book “The Shadow of the Sun“.

Each ethnic group was giving a piece of land, and if one dared to move or speak a language outside of one’s designated ethnic group, the punishment was harsh and quick.

That was needed, for the Congos needed hard labor, and that was done through slave raids. In 1931, this report proved, that not only was the Liberian state involved in the enslavement of the native population, they were actively involved in the slave trade with Spain. Slaves were sold to Spain and transported to the little island of Fernando Po (today’s Bioko part of Equatorial Guinea). The slave trade started in 1928 and remained until 1931.

The American journalist, John Gunther, narrates how:

…boys were hunted almost like animals, herded to the ports and shipped abroad by Spanish or German steamers. (p. 875)

He ends the piece stating that:

…one has to go back to the history of King Leopold in the Congo to match it. (ibid)

The second reason was the use of so-called pawning. The Congos levied people brutally, but the locals earned virtually nothing for the work they did. It forced the people to pawn themselves or their own children in order to pay the regime in Monrovia. At times women were forcefully pawned to attract male pawns. Some people lived in slavery for their entire life because of pawning.

A third and last reason for the need for labor and pawns were the need of labor within Liberia, where the natives worked in local and foreign plantations, such as the American owned Firestone, who owned rubber plantations since 1920. In a matter of fact, Liberia is to be seen as a step child to the US, where the US sponsored the regime, and it can be discussed if Liberia at times more looked like at a US protectorate than an independent country because of the elites dependency on the US.

But to return to Liberia, the natives working as slaves received frequent and cruel treatment by the Congos. We have reports about how people were flogged, tortured, and smoked over an open fire. The Basket was a common technic to punish people. A basket is filled with stones and dirt. Four well-trained soldiers will then lift the basket and place it upon a person’s head, and the person will be forced to walk. Eventually, you will injure your neck because of the massive weight you are carrying, and you will die a painful death shortly afterward.

The Congo Apartheid regime was so perverse, that they did not even have to pretend any election was real. President Charles D. B. King got 143,000 votes in the 1927 election, but only 15,000 people were allowed to vote. In 1940, a man dressed a monkey in a frock coat, and the monkey voted without any problems whatsoever.

The segregation between new comers and the natives is known as the Congo – Country divide or the Settler – Native divide. It was meticulously carried out from day one, and more than 150 years later, it is still in place. We still find members of the Congos – the descendants of the American slavers coming to Liberia from the 1820s – who believe they are the natural rulers and the natives are their subjects. Akin to the American discussion if Barack Obama was fit to serve as President of the USA. A debate marred with direct as indirect racism. Liberia and the USA share several features and hence face similar challenges.

The pawning and selling the natives as slaves, well, that time is over. When Gunther visited Liberia in the 1950s, he argued these practices had stopped. But the poverty and indifference to the natives’ well-being were still ubiquitous, and the corruption rife. He further noted, that in the entire history of Liberia, only two Liberians had ever become doctors, and no health service existed until 1931.

The Regime of Samuel Doe 1980-1990
The Congo-Country divide sounds like that it is the Congo Monrovia elite versus the natives. Samuel Doe proved this false. The natives do not represent a single bloc as emphasized by Professor Elwood Dunn in his essay in the anthology “Civil War in Africa” from 1999. They represent several heterogeneous voices and agendas.

Samuel Doe coup d’état power and killed President William R. Tolbert Jr. in 1980. In doing so, he ended the True Whig Party 111-year-old one party regime and ended the Congo aristocracy.

Samuel Doe belonged to the ethnic group, Krahn, located in inland Liberia, and when he took power, he mirrored the regime of the True Whig Party. He replaced their ethnic group with his own, and the ethnocentric rule of Liberia continued.

During the regime of Doe, the USA strongly backed the Doe administration and provided support to arm and fund Doe’s militarization of Liberia, that again was used by Doe to unleash terror upon the population.

On Sept. 9, 1990, Doe was brutally overthrown, viciously tortured and finally killed by Warlord Prince Y. Johnson and his men. Johnson videotaped how he and his soldiers mutilated Doe, who begged for forgiveness. Johnson is seeing enjoying a beer during the act, where it is observable that Doe is missing an ear.

A reason for Johnson’s harsh treatment was, that he belongs to another native ethnic group, the Nimba consisting of the Gio and Mano.

Even all members of any opposition to Doe and every ethnic group felt Doe’s brutal regime, the Nimba were especially singled out after Thomas Quiwonkpa, a Nimba, led a failed coup against Doe in 1985. The capture of Doe was for Johnson payback for a decade of brute oppression, systematic rape and the burning down of villages initiated by Doe as a response to the failed attempt to overthrow him.

Civil Wars  – the Era of Charles Taylor
The First Liberian Civil War lasted from 1989-1996 and the Second Liberian Civil War from 1999-2003.

Charles McArthur (Ghankay) Taylor entered the scene to fill the vacuum created by Doe’s removal from power. Various factions fought for power, but Taylor turned out to be the victor. His father was Congo and his mother members of the Gola. Making him half Congo and half Country.

The wars were a result of the Congo population aristocracy, who for more than a century systematically had subdued, enslaved, and marginalized the native populations leaving the vast majority of the people in chronic and severe poverty deprived of infrastructure, education, healthcare, and jobs. Doe continued the exclusionary political policies.

Decades of anger exploded and was instrumentalized by Taylor in reaching power.

However, even after he won the election with a landslide in 1997, the war still continued, and accusations of war crimes began to erupt, likewise that he used neighboring Sierra Leone to smuggle diamonds where the earnings of this trade were allocated to his private bank account.

During the Second Liberian War, blood diamonds from Sierra Leone were financing himself and his troops keeping the war going.

During both civil wars, Taylor’s army consisted of child soldiers, who murdered and raped civilians of all ages indiscriminately. Former child soldier from Sierre Leone, Ismael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, tells about his experiences as a child soldier during the Liberian-Sierre Leone civil war.

Somebody being shot in front of you, or you yourself shooting somebody became just like drinking a glass of water.

On June 4, 2003, Ghana hosted the Accra Peace Conference, where president John Kufuor, as the chairman of The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), headed the peace talks in ending the civil war. As President of Liberia, Charles Taylor was also invited, and he had announced he would resign to start the healing process.

He kept it simple:

Mr Chairman, Colleague Heads of States, as a patriot I am willing to make any sacrifice for my beloved Liberia. And therefore I say to you all and the people of Liberia that I resign as President of Liberia if my resignation is what will bring peace to Liberia.

However, prior to this announcement, things had gotten sour. At 10 am the same morning, the Special Court for Sierre Leone had indicted Charles Taylor for war crimes for his role in the Sierre Leone Civil War. The planned meeting among the various Presidents was immediately rescheduled.

Then-Ghanaian ambassador to Sierre Leone Kabral Blay-Amihere briefly states in his memoirs, that:

There is no way Ghana will arrest Taylor. (p 90)

Charles Taylor flew back to Liberia the same day in an aircraft charted by the Ghanaian authorities and later Taylor was granted political asylum in Nigeria. In 2006, Nigeria changed its mind, and Taylor tried to flee Nigeria but was caught and sent to Liberia on a charted plane. Coincidently, this happened hours before the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, was to meet the US President George Bush Jr., who had criticized Nigeria for harboring a war criminal.

May 12, 2012, Taylor was sentenced 50 years in prison on 11 accounts of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in Hague.

After four years of hearings at the UN-backed special court for Sierra Leone in the Hague, the former warlord was convicted on 11 charges including murder, rape, sexual slavery and enforced amputations.

The Sirleaf-Boakai Administration 2005-2017
The presidential election in 2005, was the first democratic election since the civil war and it represented an end to the transitional government based on the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2003, the same meeting where Taylor had resigned, and an end to the wars that had plunged Liberia into chaos.

The election was between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, herself a Congo, a former World Bank Employee and former finance minister and her running mate Joseph Boakai. They ran against the former internationally known football player, George Weah, whose runningmate was Rudolph Johnson. Ellen Sirleaf won the election, but first after Weah had won the first round by 28.3% against Sirleaf’s 19.8%. Brumskine got 13.9% and came in third.

During the second presidential round, Sirleaf won by 59.4% of the votes and became Africa’s first female head of state in modern time from Jan 1, 2006.

But soon things went down hill for Sirleaf. In 2006, she established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The goal for the TRC was to promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation after nearly 20 years of war.

During the regime of Samuel Doe, she worked as an International Coordinator for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor.

When interviewed about her role in NPFL, she said that she was fooled by Taylor, and she had no idea about his true intention for the heinous crimes Taylor was accused of, and she tried to make him end the war.

In the end, the TRC put down the names of 50 people, they believed should be barred from holding any public office, because of their affiliation with the Civil Wars and Charles Taylor. Ellen Sirleaf was on that list. She deemed parts of the recommendations of the TRC to be unconstitutional and refused to implement them. If she had done so, she would have had to step down immediately. By refusing to implement the provisions, she allowed herself to stay in power.

Her affiliation to Charles Taylor cast shadows over her Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. In 2011, she was also re-elected by winning the first presidential round by 43.9% and the second round by 90.7%.

The Positive Aspects of Her Administration

  • Kept a country that had been through hell secure and stable.
  • Secured economic growth.
  • Beginning to build the country from virtually nothing.
  • Bravery for daring to talk about women’s rights such as addressing rape, where she herself is a victim of attempted rape and survivor of domestic violence.
  • In 2015, the UN forces finally left Liberia and handed over full control to the government for the first time since 2003. A huge victory for her.
  • In the words of Desmond Tutu: “She’s brought stability to a place that was going to hell.”

The Negative Aspects of Her Administration:

  • Blatant corruption, however, she has avoided the corruption to be directly linked to her.
  • The health care system and educational system are still non-functioning. Gunther noted, that in the 1950s, the country only had two native Liberian doctors. Prior to the Ebola epidemic in 2014, the country had 173 home grown doctors, but likely only 50 doctors in the country. The rest had left the country to work abroad. That makes about 1 doctor for every 90.000 persons. The health care system was still abysmal.
  • When Ebola hit Liberia in 2014, the system was not remotely ready for any crises, and only the ones living in Monrovia, where most of the Congos lived (and live) had access to something that can be called a health care system. Out of the three countries severely hit by Ebola (Guinea, Sierre Leone, and Liberia), Libera was hit the hardest with over 5000 deaths, and the number is likely higher, as the World Health Organization notes: “the figures are underestimates, given the difficulty collecting the data.“Hopefully, the Ebola did provide Liberia with new equipment and proper training for the health care staff that will improve the lives of the locals. Ebola could be a blessing in disguise.
  • In 2015, a Danish documentary revealed, what had happened to the country’s former child soldiers. They were traumatized by war, cast aside by their families, and abandoned by their state. They were found by foreign security companies looking for cheap soldiers to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, first and foremost, as mercenaries. They were paid, but virtually nothing and the trade in human bodies and corpses were not much different from that of the slave trade. The documentary was titled the Child Soldier’s New Job and broadcast by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, DR.Liberia cynically tried to get rid of its problem; a high youth unemployment that consisted of angry young men who knew how to handle a gun. By selling its own people as mercenaries for greedy and cynical foreign security, Liberia had found a solution to a growing problem. Angry young men do not cause problems if they are overseas. Publically, Sirleaf referred to the actions of the security companies for illegal and should be stopped immediately, back in 2009, but it continued, and if not she, then high ranked officials and ministers must have known.
  • The France African Historian, Gerard Prunier has also accused the Liberian regime milking the UN system. A reason the UN troops stayed for so long was, that the government got money from having the UN about. When the UN thought about leaving, the state would create some minor disturbance for the UN to stay a little longer. A sign how corrupt the regime is, and that the regime still relies on external funds rather than the people, they are supposed to serve.

Under Sirleaf and Boakai, the country has stabilized and it was brought back from a brink of death and destruction. It was on the road becoming a failed state by more than a century of a perverse ruling elite represented by the Congo aristocracy in Monrovia followed by two civil wars that traumatized several generations.

But not only is corruption still rife, data from Afrobarometer (2016, Jan) shows that things have gone worse the last years. Lived poverty has gone up from 1.24 in 2009 to 1.72 in 2015. This makes Liberia stand out as the second worst performer among the 33 countries measured by Afrobarameter. Only Togo is worse, and here lived poverty has even decreased.

Another report from Afrobarometer (2016, Oct) shows that satisfaction with the democracy has seen a severe drop since 2012. In 2012, 52% of the people were happy or fairly happy with the democracy in Liberia. In 2015, the number had dropped to just 35%.

The Congo-Country Divide and the racist sentiment embedded have still not been addressed properly by the post-war government, and Ebola destroyed years of progress the country is still recovering from. Not to forget, we still have a huge unemployment rate disproportionally affecting the youth, whom for most parts are still traumatized of the wars.

To make matters worse, not only were large parts of the population trained to handle a weapon and kill, a good proportion have been trained to handle a weapon and kill in Western wars in the Middle East in recent times.

The people are struggling to find work and they are starving. 73% of all Liberians have gone hungry to bed at least once in 2015, More than any other country measured by Afrobarometer. The situation makes them vulnerable to be exploited by cynical “big men”, who can be tempted to pay the angry young and unemployed men money or simply food for creating riots harming their opponents in case the election result is viewed as disfavourable to one’s political situation and/or ethnical affiliation.

A concern for an outburst of violence during an election is not new in an African context. But as the world was concerned during the elections in Ghana and Kenya, each election did not plunge these countries into violence, where peace was maintained. But the violence that did erupt in Kenya elucidates the problems with angry young men among the have nots. Every day, they can see how a small elite is driving big cars reminding themselves that they have nothing. It creates tension.

Liberia is no exception, and the history of ruling by the Congo minority exacerbating the Congo-Country divide is still a cause for concern, but I hope, that Liberia will maintain peace and progressive path Sirleaf did begin to embark upon when bringing the state of Liberia back from total destruction.

For part two, the election 2017, click here