13 November 2017

Liberian Youth Urged to Resist, Political, Election Violence

Gbarnga, Bong County — Jorquelleh District Paramount Chief Mary Larteh on Friday urged young people not to allow politicians to use them to instigate violence during and after the run-off election.

"You are too precious to be used as scapegoat," Larteh said during a one-day Presidential-election-focused Community Media Forum organized by Internews.

"Some of their children are abroad going to school, while you are here going to government schools."

About 100 people gathered at the Gbarnga Women Center to discuss the theme: "Promoting Democracy and Prevention Election Violence through Dialogue."

The Gbarnga forum was one of four organized to engage citizens and the media in a dialogue aimed at helping people understand the deliberations of the Supreme Court case and counter miss-information regarding the postponement of the run-off election that was scheduled for Nov. 7.

The run-off election was put on hold after the Liberty Party complained about fraud and irregularities during the Oct. 10, 2017 elections.

The Community Media Forums were held Thursday and Friday in Gbarnga, Kakata, Saniquellie and Buchanan.

At the Gbarnga forum, Larteh called on young people to encourage their peers to talk about issues surrounding the elections, not resort to violence.

"Don't allow someone to use your hands to roast their cassava," she said, referring to politicians using young people to instigate violence.

Young people, she said, must help sustain the peace and the gains that transformed the country over the last decade.

"Take the message to your various communities," Larteh said. "Engage your friends on the need to maintain the peace," she said.

A panel comprising individuals representing civil society, media, the National Elections Commission and law led the discussion.

Moses Bailey, head of Regional Coordinator of the National Youth Movement for Transparent Elections (NAYMOTE), said young people should be ambassadors of peace, not conflict.

As pillars of Liberia's young democracy, the youth should involve in positive ventures that will impact the country, he said.

Dorothy Tooman, head of the Development Educational Network (DEN-L), Dorothy Tooman, called on participants to use the knowledge they gained from the forum to spread peace messages in their communities.

Robert Flomo, assistant election magistrate in Upper Bong County, urged citizens to remain calm as the National Elections Commission works on addressing the complaints filed by the Liberty Party.

He reaffirmed NEC's commitment to holding peaceful and credible elections.

"Liberia is all we have," he said. "We will do all in our power to conduct a free and fair run-off election as was done to the first round of the election."

The event's theme resonated with Attie Mager, a student at St. Martin's Catholic School. The forum encouraged her to promote non-violence during the run-off election.

Liberia has come a long way and it was crucial that the young people form a sustained collaboration with their peers to maintain the peace that is being enjoyed by everyone, she said.

"I have learned a lot about maintaining the peace," she said. "With a peaceful country, I feel we can achieve a lot as a people."

Moses Togba, coordinator of the Group of 77 Bong Chapter, said the event was a step in the right direction.

Togba recalled how he lost his older brother during the civil war in 1990. His brother, he said, was the family's breadwinner.

Violence, he said, is not an option. Liberians, he said, should discuss their differences regarding the election, not fight.

"There is no winner for being a violent person," he said.

"Liberians are witnesses to the 14 years of civil unrest that took place here."

The President of the Liberia Motor Transport Union, Samuel Elliot, President of the Bong Chapter of the Liberia Motor Transport Union, said the union is committed to promoting peace during the election.

Elliot said Pehn-Pehn boys have come of age. Many of them have transformed their earnings into building homes, education or investing in commercial vehicles.

Violence, he said, will destroy their hard-earned investments.

"You can't be owner of house and want to be the instigator of violence," he said.

"They have learned a lot about the need for a violent-free Liberia."

Gbarnga's Mayor Viola Cooper lauded Internews for organizing the event. Some citizens are confused about the stalemate over the election, she said.

They do not understand the details of the Liberty Party's case with the NEC.

Citizens, she said, are expressing the concerns on radio talk shows.

Violence, she said, is counter-productive to development.

"Misleading information leads to violence," Cooper said. "Always verify any information you hear."

The program was broadcast live on Radio Gbarnga, one of Internews' radio partners.

Crispin Tulay, Internews Social and Print Media Advisor, said the forum was an opportunity for the citizens and the media to raise their concerns with stakeholders in the electoral process.

The goal is to promote peace through participatory dialogue, he said.

Internews is an international media development organization that is implementing the USAID funded Liberia Media Development project which seeks to increase citizens' access to independent and reliable information and empowerment to engage in well-informed public discussion on important issues.

Internews supported the 2017 electoral process by organizing over 126 representative debates in 73 electoral districts nationwide.

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