Liberia: Election Reform Advocacy Through 'Visual Storytelling'

The Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative (LAVI) is the five-year USAID-funded project strengthening Liberian stakeholder partnerships that advocate for and monitor policy reforms. LAVI supports their civil society and government partners to collaborate on common policy issues and design advocacy campaigns that are effective, inclusive and relevant to the Liberian context.

iCampus is a multi-sector innovation and community space that brings together technology, accountability and social change. Individual and organizational members can use the space as an office or to hold events, participate in numerous trainings, and more. Among other things, iCampus is also an implementing partner for LAVI.

Through that relationship, the idea to organize an electoral reform mini-film festival was born. Accountability Lab, another member of the collaborative team behind the festival, is a non-profit organization working in the fields of active citizenship and good governance. They support individuals to develop and implement ideas for integrity and accountability, in communities and institutions. iLab, also party to the effort, is all about "technology that matters for Liberia".

When it came to the idea of showcasing electoral reform through video, or visual storytelling, they agreed to feature the three proposed reforms with the most agreement across the fifteen counties: supporting women's political participation, reducing the tenure of elected officials and changing the date of elections. "We find innovative ways to complement the work of the civil society organizations LAVI works with" said iCampus manager Luther Jeke.

"In this case, we came up with several possible campaigns to beef up election reform efforts." Knowing that the average person might not be prepared to read "long, bulky reform reports", iCampus turned to advocacy through the arts. "Using music and film will spread the message far and wide."

The videos were first shown last week, at iCampus' Monrovia headquarters, a far cry from Jeadepo District, Sinoe County. While residents of the district were not in attendance, they would certainly appreciate the three-minute video that tells the same story they've been sharing.

The deplorable state of roads leading into, and throughout the county has been a serious impediment to Sinoe citizens "turning out in their numbers" to cast their votes. Located in electoral district #2 and represented by Hon. J. Nagbe Sloh, Jeadepo, is not an easy place to live, let alone vote, during the rainy season.

Sakaree S. Toe, President of the Youth Association, testified to the difficulty of moving about "between the hard rain, muxxy roads and overflow of rivers". He said that the commute between towns was often beyond the ability of many residents, not to mention poll workers and other NEC personnel.

In the electoral reform video, J. Werti Swehn, NEC Chief of Logistics, agrees.

He states that multiple centers across several districts in Sinoe could not, for example, exhibit the final registration rolls at the same time "as all the other centers across Liberia". Flooding made the roads impassable, leaving personnel stuck in transit, sometimes hours from where they needed to be. Materials, including exhibition rolls and ballots, xix not reach polling centers at the established times, causing serious delay in the overall process, even to extending voting beyond the constitutionally set day.

Swehn concludes in strong support of a date change, citing the rains as "a challenge for us as a Commission, as an electoral management body", especially when it comes to the Southeast.

The rainy season video, along with the two others on women's leadership and term limits, are available on YouTube. They were filmed and produced by KMTV and feature the perspectives of diverse electoral stakeholders -- public officials such as sitting lawmakers and ministry staff, civil society actors including Federation of Liberian Youth and Girls for Change, political party representatives and ordinary Liberian citizens and voters.

iCampus Learning and Communications Manager Janet Kamara said the team made sure to contact key players in the political arena as well as lesser known or heard members of society. They scheduled appointments, and engaged with people encountered on the street, "because we wanted to tell a balanced story".

As a group, they present both an objective and a compelling dispatch on electoral reform. They also give James Freeman, a young kekeh driver tired of "rainy season voting" a unique platform to speak: "I voted for this government. I would like for them to change election date."

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