The presidential election in Liberia has come and gone- there have been victors and yes, there have been losers. The situation remains dicey however, after a week of run off between the ex-football international George Weah and the Harvard educated banker Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf which saw the ‘iron lady’ emerging triumphant against all odds – literally winning by coming from behind.
This weekend represents a great milestone in the history of a nation with a tortured past like Liberia. You can imagine how tortured your nation if Nigeria is teaching you how to govern yourself democratically using the rule of law. How bad can it get? Liberia is the only nation on the African continent that can lay claim to a truly American heritage. Formed by returning slaves, its capital city (Monrovia) is named after President Monroe a champion for the cause of returning African slaves to their native homeland. The nation supposedly built on the ethos of liberty and freedom, hence the name Liberia.
However, after years of false hopes and near bankrupt government monopolized by the descendents of the American returnees in connivance with the financial powerhouses of America (like Citi Bank and JP Morgan that continued to finance the thrift-spending of the many corrupt governments of Liberia through the late 19th century and most part of 20th century), the house of Liberia fell like a pack of cards. With a mere Sergeant in person of Master Sergeant Doe taking over the reins of power from the elites, the nation was beset with a bloody civil war that saw the waste of human resources, enthronement of a beast-like man called Charles Taylor with so much blood in his hands just to keep the peace and then the final revolt that shook the whole West African sub region about two years ago.
Indeed, these past two years have ushered in a new era of peace and transformation in Liberia which culminated in last week’s election. What made it stand out was the intention of the people of Liberia to install a truly people’s government that indicted the establishment (epitomized by the rejection of the former war lords at the polls) and their resounding determination to restore peace and progress at any cost. This saw two greenhorns (by the bellicose standard of Liberia’s war past) emerging as front runners. George Weah represented to many (including myself) a new kid on the block trying to chip in his little to advance his nation. Even while Liberia was suffering George Weah gave to his people, giving in his all to get them to the Nations Cup, even the World Cup (he was a Coach, Financier and Captain all rolled in one). Weah was a face of success and hope to many Liberians and Africans alike at home and Diaspora.
To the chagrin of many, this weekend’s elections results have produced a clear upset of this lovely Cinderella story. Much as many will not want to believe it was the other dark horse of the race, a woman of great intellectual ability and apparently political shrewdness that emerged victorious in the much drawn Presidential contest. In retrospect, the race was won before it was lost. Three things stood in favor of the ‘iron lady’. The popular perception of Liberians (like most Africans) that age confers wisdom and that education was a prerequisite for moving their nation forward was a huge advantage the Harvard trained economist had over the ex-football international. Also, the inability of Mr. Weah to properly articulate his program; instead, relying on populism and even missing a televised debate made the election a done deal for most elitist minded Liberians. Finally, Mr. Weah was not a savvy politician and Mrs. Sirleaf was one heck of a politician. The moment she went on to proclaim her desire to form a government of nation unity she spoke the language of African politics. The message conveyed was simple: “My win does not necessarily translate to lose for you, and I will create a government that will include the old establishment and the new establishment”. Why will they- the other 22 opponents that lost out in the first round -pitch their tent with Weah when not assured of a sit in his government?
Above all things and beyond all these permutations in the previous paragraph, it was the demographics of post-war Liberia that gave Mrs. Sirleaf a resounding but unexpected victory. It is these demographics that most other male African politicians should be watching closely. A simple look at Liberia’s population distribution will reveal that even though the male-female population count is near equal, the women vastly dominate the men in the active voting age bracket of 15-64 accounting for 941,000 versus the male 896,000. In a nation of 3.4 million, this is a huge pool of likely voters. If you consider that women have a higher life expectancy than men, then you will expect women will dominate the most active end of this statistics i.e. ages 40-75. With Mrs. Sirleaf drawing most of her support from the network of the fiercely anti-war, pro-peace women NGOs , society groups and politicians, George Weah was left to pick the votes of the disgruntled chauvinist who were determined to keep the leadership of the nation in the hands of men (people like me by the way). But we all know, momma always have her way and in Liberia they just did!
And right now is the crunch time. Beyond the promises that Mr. Weah has made about his plans for his country, he needs to decide very soon where his heart lies. And that is why I ask, Mr. Weah do you love your country? If he loves his country, he will look beyond the momentary satisfaction of win-loss and see that it is Liberia after these long years of civil war deserve more than a protracted election battle. He should sacrifice like those two candidates that stepped down in the beginning after the Court ruling that they can legally stand for election, and do the same and give up his right for peace in his country.
Believe me Mr. Weah; you have every right to question the integrity of this election and every right to seek a re-run or a recount. But Mr. Al Gore had the same right, Mr. Churchill had the same right and yes you join these great men as a loser in a rather close election. But you can either decide to run or be burned – my advice is do not be burned. Do this for Liberia, do this for Africa, be sportsman like and let us move on. Mr. Weah once again, do you love your country? For me and my friends, we were sad you didn’t win, but also happy Africa can now proudly tell the super-power America that we are one step ahead in women liberation – we have a woman president and yes they don’t. God Bless the people of Liberia and it is now time for my country men to organize their own affairs! Nigeria we hail thee.
Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.
George Bernard Shaw