6 January 2014

Liberia: Reject Violence for Sustainable Peace and Progress

Blog

In her address to the Nation, "Indiscipline and Lifting the Gag Order" on December 2, 2013, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf highlighted what she called the "wave of lawlessness which is creeping upon the State." In order to reverse this potentially dangerous trend, the President has called on all Liberians to fully commit to the maintenance of law and order, and peace in our beloved country.

"We cannot allow our fragile peace to slip from our grasp," she declared. "This requires all Liberians to change their attitude for the good of the nation."

The President's Address to the Nation comes amid concerns regarding instances of lawlessness, where individuals or groups that are aggrieved or are in disagreement for whatever reason, would resort to threats or use of violence as recourse to redress.

Speaking against the background of 10 years of sustainable peace and progress in Liberia, following decades of instability, massive bloodshed and destruction, President Sirleaf told Liberians that together, "we are trying to become a free, prosperous, just, open, secure and democratic society." "This national goal is important," she added, "because only in such societies can we experience true equality and the full value of our citizenship – where our differences in tribe, age, gender, religion and political associations will not limit what each of us, and our children, can become. It is only in such societies that all Liberians can share in all of the opportunities that the State has to offer, and benefit from the natural resources which we own together."

The President also noted that as Liberians grow in freedom to disagree and express disagreements, "we must use the law, and apply it equally and fairly, to settle those disagreements. Being law-abiding, even when we disagree with one another, is the only way to secure our society. We can no longer use violence or threaten to use violence, to express dissatisfactions or settle grievances."

President Sirleaf admonished Liberians that in rebuilding our society, "we must not confuse the freedom which we now enjoy with lawlessness, which we must avoid. Being free is not an excuse to be lawless, because freedom is protected by the law. This is why no society can be free and, at the same time, be lawless. And so from expressing disagreements to making claims, and from advocating for an issue to drawing attention to a cause, when we become lawless, we actually take away the freedoms and deny rights."

The President's address regarding the wave of lawlessness creeping in our country should claim the attention of every peace-loving citizen, irrespective of whether or not you are a supporter or opponent of the government in power. Despite our political, ethnic, and other differences, it is imperative for all Liberians to make individual and collective vows that the maintenance of peace and stability in our country is a responsibility for us all.

The experiences of our recent tragic history, characterized by a senseless civil war that cost the lives of an estimated 250,000 people and almost completely decimated our country, must remain a stark reminder for Liberians that we should know war no more.

As we all know very well, violence and bullets do not discriminate - a clear example being that there is hardly any Liberian individual or family that was not affected by the devastating civil war.

As a consequence of the years of instability and war, Liberia, which is endowed with abundant natural resources, suffered one of the worst economic collapses of any country since World War II, and became one of the poorest in the world, ranking 174th out of 186 countries on the Human Development Index.

However, by God's Grace and because of the resilience of the Liberian people, with very strong support from the international community, Liberia, which degenerated into a failed state, has emerged on the global stage as a post-conflict success. With its nascent multi-party democracy thriving, Liberians are enjoying an unprecedented level of freedom in the country.

Under the leadership of President Sirleaf, the rebuilding of war-torn Liberia started from scratch, even while the country was saddled with a debt burden of billions of dollars and was internationally blacklisted. Since then, Liberia has continued on a course of progress in all aspects of national endeavors. The progress includes the cancellation of $4.9 billion debt under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative.

From infrastructural development, such as rehabilitation and construction of roads, medical and educational facilities, provision of electricity and pipe-borne water, to the institution of policies and programs in order to strengthen national security and institutions, progress has been steady.

For example, a visit to Monrovia today is characterized by paved roads, street and traffic lights, whereas, just a few years ago the nation's capital was dark and traffic on any major road was snarled due to potholes and puddles. Monrovia is being transformed more into a cosmopolitan city, with a skyline that is changing rapidly with beautiful structures that have been or are being erected throughout the city and its environs.

Examples of other development projects completed just in 2013 include the nearly 100-kiilometer rebuilt and paved Monrovia-Buchanan highway, cutting drive time between the capital and the strategic commercial port city to one and half hours, from the more than four hours it took before the reconstruction. The government also completed the road to Belle Yalla, one of the least developed areas long cut off from the rest of the country, which once hosted the Belle Yalla notorious prison.

Mindful that electricity is the engine that drives a modern economy and is critical for improvement in the living conditions of people, the government, with strong support from our development partners, is working aggressively to rehabilitate the Mount Coffee Hydro Plant, which is scheduled to come on line in December 2015, at a cost of more than US $240 million.

The government's effort to electrify the country is gaining added boost under the West African Power Pool (WAPP), a World Bank sponsored project that includes financing the infrastructure of the transmission interconnection between the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Under the WAPP, power lines from the Ivory Coast connecting Liberia were tested in the provincial capital of Sanniquellie and other parts of Nimba County during last year's July 26 national independence holiday season. Grand Gedeh and Maryland counties, which are along Liberia's border with the Ivory Coast, are to also benefit under WAPP.

During a visit to Africa from June 27-July 2, 2013, U.S. President Barak Obama announced the Power Africa program, "a new five-year Presidential Initiative to work with America's partners in Africa and the United States to increase investment and leverage America's position with energy technologies, private investment, policy reform, and investment regulations to increase Africa's energy supply." Liberia is among six countries - Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania - as the first beneficiaries of the "Power Africa" program.

Road construction and energy are emphasized in this article because the Government of Liberia, in partnership with the U.S. Government's Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), recently completed a "Constraints Analysis," which indicates that lack of affordable electricity, as well as the insufficient and poor quality road network, are Liberia's top constraints to private investment and growth.

Because of the major reforms instituted to revive the economy, Liberia has attracted more than US $17 billion in foreign direct investment in the reactivation of the mining, agriculture and forestry sectors. Oil exploration has become a new potential in Liberia's private sector development.

I have decided to share these few points in contribution to the awareness that while the country is faced with challenges, progress has been steady. Among the challenges is unemployment, especially youth unemployment. Another challenge being that while striving to develop the country and create jobs to improve the living conditions of the people, the government is also struggling to control corruption, an aged-old vice that has the propensity to continue to undermine the country's progress.

Thanks to the level of free speech in the country, Liberians are becoming increasingly aware of their rights and responsibilities in a democratic system and are holding those in leadership accountable.

Nevertheless, while we exercise our democratic rights to openly express disagreements or to protest, we should be mindful that such actions do not degenerate into lawlessness or violence that could undermine our fragile peace. It goes without saying that Liberians risk reversing all of the impressive gains our country has made thus far if we allow lawlessness to prevail again.

Liberians must remain vigilant to ensure that the disgruntled and criminal few are not given opportunity to disrupt our country's peace and progress. We must no longer allow those who exploit public disaffection for self-aggrandizement to drag our country into conflict.

As we enter the 2014 Senatorial election season and also in anticipation of the 2017 General and Presidential elections, it is incumbent upon all candidates, political leaders and their supporters to conduct themselves within the confines of the law.

The youths, who are often used by unscrupulous individuals to spread anarchy, must be cautioned that those who encourage you to manifest violence are out to destroy your future. For example, do not allow others to incite you to vandalize or burn down your school or medical facility in your community out of frustration due to shortage of teachers and instructional materials, or because of inadequate medical service. How your education or health services would be advanced by destroying what is already available? We cannot expect more businesses to be established in order for more jobs to be created if businesses that are operating get attacked and looted every time people jump in the street to protest.

Finally, the President is highly commended for continuing her Stakeholders Consultative Meetings, such as her recent meeting with the National Traditional Council of Liberia, which are intended to constantly brief stakeholders on the government's policies and programs and solicit their input. This is a process aimed at fostering a spirit of reconciliation and unity amongst Liberians.

As the President noted recently, "it's time for us to unite to work and rebuild our country. Put disunity and confusion aside and let all Liberians join hands in the process."

Gabriel IH. Williams is the Minister Counselor for Press and Public Affairs at the Embassy of Liberia in the U.S. A former Deputy Minister of Information and acting President of the Press Union of Liberia, he is author of Liberia: The Heart of Darkness.

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