Controversy has always been linked with the Western African country of Liberia. After dominating world headlines with the ouster and eventual exile of dictator and human rights violator Charles Taylor back in 2003, the nation has been struggling to find its footing amidst the shifting political and economic forces in the region. In 2004, Liberians elected Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president. There was much hope in Johnson-Sirleaf’s presidency – her term marks the end of 14 bloody years of civil wars and she’s also the daughter of the first indigenous Liberian to be elected into government. Coupled with her Harvard education, it seems like Liberia definitely got their money’s worth.
But here’s the deal. In a country that has seen over a decade of dictatorship, the last thing that they’ll probably want is a weakened democracy and increased centralization of power. That is precisely what’s happening now.
In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court in Liberia stated that the president should be the only to decide the mayors of each municipality in the country because the government’s coffers will not be able to shoulder the cost of holding the elections. This puts the president and her party at a distinct and definite advantage. Such a measure virtually insures the administration that they will have all the mayors on their side. There is nothing stopping Johnson-Sirleaf from naming all her co-party members into power.
Understandably, the opposition finds the entire thing very unacceptable. Through the Supreme Court ruling, they are rendered impotent and the only arena wherein they could’ve gone toe-to-toe against the administration party has been eliminated and replaced with a method that is very partial towards the majority.
Knowing the history of Liberia and the relative volatility of post-colonial Africa, it will be wise for the global community to watch the situation closely. If possible, countries which used to have a stake in Liberia (i.e. the US – who used the country as a repository of freed slaves back in the 19th century), should help out and ensure that the nation would get a fair shake as far as elections go. Liberia has shown that it could rise up from its dark past. It’s up for the rest of the world to make sure that it doesn’t regress.