Thursday, December 15, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Since the start of the campaign season, the Monrovia rumor mill has been churning out such frequent, fantastical tales and apocryphal episodes that this town makes a rural boarding school look like a scientific review board.
Quite aside from theories involving the Nobel-prize committee rigging Liberia's elections, or any story having to do with Prince Johnson, here is a review of some of the biggest eyebrow-raisers to sweep this city since mid-September, with some follow-up, where possible, of what real and factual events might have fueled the collective imagination.
1A. A member of President Sirleaf's personal security was killed (by UN forces, other bodyguards, burglars, a lover, a rival, or himself) while attempting to:
a. assassinate the President while she was campaigning in Bong or Nimba County
b. help ambush her convoy in Bong or Nimba County
c. planning either (a) or (b) as part of the President's guard detail or advance security crew.
d. leaping in front of the President and taking a bullet for her during (a) or (b)
1B. A member of President Sirleaf's personal security died from a gunshot while:
a. fighting with his girlfriend
b. fighting over a girl
c. cleaning or toying with his gun
d. taking a bath or shower
e. falling under random attack by burglars
DATE OF RUMOR: September 24-26 and onwards
STATUS: REMAINS UNCLEAR. The only confirmed portion of this is that George WIlliams, a member of the President's special security service, died of a gunshot wound in Ganta. The extraordinary, early version of this rumor, that the President herself was shot at but only survived due to a bullet-proof vest and/or the intervention of Mr. WIlliams or another member of her security and/or UNMIL guard(s), seems to be totally untrue. Just what happened remains the subject of speculation, as timing (and location deep inside Prince Johnson's home turf) of such an individual's death from a bullet raises plenty of suspicions and details of the investigation have been little-broadcast and drowned out by later election coverage.
2. At the voting booth on election day, George Weah's vote was immediately invalidated by officials because Weah foolishly:
a. used too much ink to mark his thumb-print on the ballot, causing his ballot card to drip with ink, bleeding through the other side and causing potential invalidation of other votes in the sealed ballot box with so much gooey ink
b. dipped his finger in ink before he had voted, therefore technically being counted as having already voted even though he had yet to cast his ballot.
STATUS: UNTRUE. Although this tale sounds like a perfectly entertaining episode of the tired, never-ending myth, oh-that-Weah-is-just-a-dumb-jock, in fact pretty much the opposite happened in reality: Weah had taken took the opportunity of casting his valid vote to point out the shortcomings and potential pitfalls of the ink-dipping system in front of the media. The first clue that this story was off was that its not clear that poll station staff would have any authority to invalidate anyone's vote at the moment of casting the ballot.
a. A crazed rebel mob sweeping from one end of town to the other in the middle of the night.
b. Factions of Political Parties looking to incite fear and chaos
c. The owners or the political parties themselves, trying to reposition themselves as victims of violence and chaos.
d. Looters/Apolitical Hooligans
DATE: Early Saturday, October 15th for UP office; The night of October 16/17 for Love FM Radio Station.
STATUS: CAUSE OF BOTH FIRES UNKNOWN, despite the arrest of suspects. Other than the fact that both structures suffered fire, it is unclear which of the above reasons is or are true. We can, thankfully, eliminate (a) of course, which was the apocalyptic version of choice in the early hours of Saturday when word first spread that a UP office was ablaze.
4. Ballots were stuffed and/or tampered with
DATE: 12 October onwards
STATUS: UNVERIFIED. Despite supporting photographic evidence, no independent body has confirmed these claims, which were put forth by the CDC. International monitors have largely praised the poll.
The photographs themselves have been questioned, as it seems incredible that an illegal operation to stuff or tamper with ballots under cover of night would welcome flash photography. Paradoxically, the report failed to gain widespread credibility seemingly because of its supporting photographic evidence, which was even shown on Al Jazeera for at least one news cycle.
5. The CDC Candidate, Winston Tubman, was rushed to the UN hospital with high-blood pressure, nearly having a coronary incident due to the sudden news that Prince Johnson was endorsing Sirleaf in the Second Round. Tubman was later flown to Ghana for treatment, even though this was masked as a campaign-related journey to consult with other West African politicians.
STATUS: MOSTLY TRUE, except for some important details. The early, theatrical rumor of Friday, that Tubman swooned with a near heart-attack because of the PYJ news, was easy to dismiss-- how would anyone know the cognitive trigger that causes another person's cardiac episode?
All the same, this is perhaps the most annoying and endless rumor episode, because (1) it was denied but was true at the time, and was otherwise handled poorly in terms of media and public relations by the Tubman/CDC camp (2) there is a big difference between, on the one hand, getting malaria or some other common ailment in Liberia and going to see a physician, who happens to work at a hospital, and on the other hand being rushed to the hospital with a serious condition which requires airlifting for treatment in another country.
With its outright denials of what was days later confirmed to be true, and otherwise lack of timely messaging on the situation, the story stayed way out in front of the CDC, to the point of open speculation in the press and social media that Tubman would withdraw from the run-off, and George Weah would move to the the top of the ticket in the second round.
5A. A major coalition of leading opposition parties, including the CDC is withdrawing from the elections.
5B. The CDC is withdrawing from/boycotting the run-off.
DATE: The coalition withdrawal was announced on 15 October, with threatened boycott by CDC being a constant refrain from then until the present.
STATUS: ???? As to the first part, News of a coalition withdrawal was true, even up to having put the declaration in writing, except a few days later the CDC and other small parties continued to be in.
Despite constant, strenuous, and confusingly contrary claims, the status of the second part is unclear, with daily reports that the CDC is serious, including a recent announcement of an official withdrawal--although its Presidential candidate Winston Tubman is publicly complaining that he wasn't consulted. Standing in a poll is sort of a binary position of either being in or not, but in this case, there is no point speculating on the ultimate outcome, despite official pronouncements. Only November 8th will tell whether the CDC is in fact part of the run-off.
6. National Elections Commission Chairman James Fromayan is being fired or is resigning, because:
a. it is the demand of the opposition due to fraud (see for example #4 and #5A/B above)
c. it is the behest of President Sirleaf and the Unity Party, to take the fall and undermine complaints about the close connections between NEC and the UP.
d. A combination of b and c.
DATE: Howling over NEC impartiality transformed into calls for Fromayan's resignation after the sloppy letter was circulated on 27 October. First broadcast of word of Fromayan's resignation came on the afternoon of 28 October, apparently on True FM, but no official announcement came until the afternoon of Sunday, 30 October.
STATUS: TRUE. Confirmed about 48 hours after it was everyone's lips, including talk radio in Monrovia, and the Chairman claimed the backwards-letter was not reason enough to resign, and the NEC's public information chief was sacked. Remarkably, the reasons stated in Fromayan's quote are basically all the above. His removal undermines the CDC's cries of injustice, and makes President Sirleaf look decisive and democratic. It is uncommonly frank anywhere to admit to falling on a sword for the sake of a patron, but especially for this town.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
A light rain has been falling since before sunrise. If it was heavier, I would say it might effect turnout at the polls, but for now its just a damp drizzle.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Sunday, October 9, 2011
As the President of Liberia, as the President of all partisans, it is befitting, on such an historic night, that I bring you a message of great hope and abiding faith. Our country is at a defining moment in its historical journey. For more than three decades, we have never had back-to-back elections. We had free, fair and transparent democratic elections in 2005, and we are about to repeat it. If we do this well, and I'm convinced that we will, we MUST be proud of ourselves.
I thank all Liberians that have contributed to a campaign that has been violence free, and we call upon all of you, as we pray, that the election phase will be equally violence free.
As a country, we have seen and experienced too much: our people have suffered; our people have died; and our people have had to run away in order to survive. In the three decades of struggle for peace and democracy, I have been personally victimized, jailed more than once, forced into exile several times, and subjected to many years of verbal abuse. But we all thank God that under my leadership, the last eight years of peace and tranquility have been better than the previous fourteen years of violence and civil strife. We don't want to go back there!
...we will be grateful and appreciative for your votes so that we can together consolidate the gains we have made over the last six years and usher for you and your children the kind of enormous economic prosperity, tremendous opportunities and social justice you deserve. If, however, you decide to elect someone else, we commit ourselves to respect your decision; we commit ourselves to accept the results announced by the National Elections Commission.
...We sincerely believe that respect for your decision and acceptance of the results announced by the National Elections Commission are absolutely necessary for the promotion and enhancement of our young democracy; the peace, stability and social justice we have enjoyed over the last six years can only be continued if we all commit ourselves to respect your decision and accept the results of these elections. I therefore call on my fellow compatriots who are competing in these elections to similarly publicly commit themselves to respect your decision and to accept the results announced by the National Elections Commission.
My Dear Liberians,
All awards belong to the people whose shoulders one sits upon.
This is a defining moment in Liberia's history. In a few days, you will choose the future and direction of this country. I In doing so, I ask you to look around, see that progress has been made, see that a foundation for a new Liberia has been built. But I also ask you, to look into the future with me and see where Liberia is going, to see its potential, to see the possibilities for your families, your children and your children's children.
As I have travelled across the country, county by country, village by village, I am pleased to see how much progress we've made in the last 5 years rebuilding what had been destroyed over the previous 20. But I know we must do more. I know that the paved roads has only made it to the edge of town, and that the way to your village remains dirt and rutted. I know that Schools have re-opened, but that reliable power and quality teaching remains a challenge. I know that the town clinic is now open, but there are not yet enough doctors to care for the people. And I know that maybe your neighbor has a job, but you are still looking. I understand many Liberians are struggling to feed their families.
It is my commitment to you, my promise, that the road will soon reach your village, that our teachers will become better trained, that more lights will be turned on across the country, that the investment we have made will result in hundreds and thousands of jobs for our young people, that our children will not go to bed hungry. Brick, by brick, stick by stick, stone, by stone, this is the foundation.
Dear Liberians, now is the time for national reconciliation. Let us forever put the pain and burden of divisions and conflict behind us and work together to share in the opportunities and promise of a New Liberia.
@penelopeinparis, Penelope Chester, went on to file a post in UN Dispatch: Could the Nobel Peace Prize Hurt Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's Changes at Re-Election Next Week? which incorporated a more nuanced reflection of the counter-intuitive liability of the win:
To a remarkable degree, the torrent of global press that followed over the weekend repeat much the same story. While, many foreign journalists covering the elections seem to be familiar with the reality that Sirleaf's international celebrity plays very differently here in Liberia, but others seem to have startled by this aspect, treating it as a late-breaking development:
But her critics have said the prize is evidence only of her international fame -- not her domestic record, which includes controversy over her temporary support to a rebellion by notorious warlord Charles Taylor against ex-president Samuel Doe and impatience with the slow pace of reconstruction.
New York Times: Prize or Not, Liberian Faces Tough Race to Keep in Office filed by Adam Nossiter:
But analysts say more tangible benefits are harder to pin down. Corruption “remains pervasive at all levels” amid “widespread claims of malfeasance in government circles,” a recent report on Liberia by the International Crisis Group noted.
A leading anticorruption official was not reappointed, and Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf has ignored a report by a commission set up to investigate crimes committed during the war. It recommended that she be banned from office for 30 years because of her early involvement with the warlord Charles Taylor, which she later said she regretted. There have been no prosecutions, rankling many voters.
The Associated Press: Nobel-Prize Winning Sirleaf to face stiff Competition at Tuesday's polls, as published in the Washington Post:
Pervasive corruption, criminality and the slow progress of national reconciliation have undercut her support on the home front, critics say...
Sirleaf also sidestepped last year’s recommendations from a South-African-styled Truth and Reconciliation Commission that said she should be banned from public office for 30 years for her early financial support of former rebel leader Charles Taylor. Taylor is currently awaiting judgment from the International Criminal Court in the Hague on charges of war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone.
AFP: Nobel Power Marks Feverish End of Liberia poll campaign [sic?] by Fran Blandy:
Despite ushering in much-needed foreign investment and getting billions of dollars in debt-relief, Sirleaf is criticised for failing to implement the recommendations of a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report naming her on a list of people who should be banned from public office for 30 years for backing warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor.
The Independent: Feted on the International Stage, but Accused of Hollow Promises At Home. Filed by Daniel Howden:
Beyond the debilitating graft that many Liberians blame for holding back the country's recovery from 14 years of conflict, some of the most serious concerns centre on Ms Johnson Sirleaf's alleged role in those wars. Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up to deal with the legacy of those ruinous wars and was initially lauded for its work by Ms Johnson Sirleaf's government...Ms Johnson Sirleaf faced questions at the time about her relationship with the warlord-turned-President Charles Taylor...Ms Johnson Sirleaf admitted to a single meeting with Mr Taylor and to making a small financial contribution to his then-rebel movement, which she later came to regard as a mistake.
She had in fact met Mr Taylor on more than one occasion and is alleged to have had a much deeper role in support of his armed group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia...
When the report was published, some people were recommended for prosecution; others who had shown adequate contrition were publicly forgiven and a third category of people was to be barred from public office for 30 years. Ms Johnson Sirleaf's name was in the last category. Her administration hastily invoked her constitutional immunity and the TRC found its recommendations largely ignored by a newly hostile government.
While all this background is certainly important context, it is misleading to cite the TRC report and Taylor history as any sort of significant liability that Sirleaf has had to overcome to win. Sirleaf's explanation of her support for Taylor seems adequate enough: she thought Taylor was the right option at the time, and like many was desperate to get rid of Doe.
To say that she should be disqualified from office because she supported Taylor completely disregards how widespread support for Taylor always has been, and still is. For all the perhaps-unfortunate, inconclusive manner in which the report was unceremoniously shelved, that is simply not a topic that is very common to hear anyone in Monrovia bring up as a factor in which party or candidate they support.
Equally incorrect is the concept that the Nobel Prize would reverberate quickly through the electorate, shifting voter opinion. While it is a potential point of argument which is totally unhelpful in such a fragile environment as the election period will be, it is not being internalized by the populace. No need to repeat what I said with brevity on twitter:
The major obstacles that Sirleaf faces, as many of this weekend's articles make a point to mention, if not properly emphasize, is that such an overwhelming majority of Liberians exist in jobless misery, with the daily prospect of just finding enough resources for a single meal posing a significant challenge, aside from accessing other basics such as healthcare, sanitation, or a minimally decent education.
The daily reality of this struggle is exacerbated by the twin evils of endemic corruption and a wide inequality that still rests of the foundations of a dangerously divided nationhood. People's lives are remarkably similar to what they were in 2005, and for that matter in 2003, 1997, 1990 or 1980. The last six years haven't significantly changed that, and although it can be strongly argued that the disease of corruption is difficult to eradicate, many citizens of this country, in their daily dealings with the police, the courts, schools, and government, see no significant improvement during her time in office. This is why President Sirleaf's re-election, as sensible as it seems from afar, is so uncertain here on the ground.