Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Civil Society Must Remain Firm, Or Extinct
Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

I sometimes wonder what would happen to the people in a given country if they had a government with absolute power, or what would happen to a constitutional government that has limited power. However it may be, in all dimensions, there may be some uncertainties in the control of power, and its essence thereof. If a government has absolute power, then the people’s voices will sound like the sea breeze and just blow cold without impacts. On the other hand, if a government has limited power its control and influence over the subjects will weaken and may gradually plunge the state into anarchy. The convenient political balance sheet is to neutralize the center of authority – give the people the power, and the power be exercised by the government through their legitimate representatives, and that the legitimate representatives remain conscious and alert to the voices of the people – the repository of true political power.

This premise is to lay the foundation of this commentary which by the mandate of my conscience as a civil society actor, I must convey to vent out sentiments of the foreseeable consequences of an infirm civil society, and an attitude of ignoring the voices of the people - not by a system of military junta, a dictatorship, a monarchy, but by a ‘fledging democracy’ still in the nursery for incubation and subsequent maturity.

Civil societies are formed to have people united and governed under an authority that they may not suffer the wraths of each other in the pursuit of their personal gains. It is from the civil society that governments originate. Generally, civil society has been referred to a political association governing social conflict through the imposition of rules that restrained citizens from harming one another. It is these groups that build the strength of a government and there existence further approves and assures its legitimacy. Theoretically, civil society ‘is composed of the totality of voluntary civic and social organizations and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society as opposed to the force-backed structures of a state (regardless of that state’s political system) and commercial institutions.

If democratic governance and practices had never existed in Liberia it must be primarily because of the absence of effective civil society activities or the presence of harsh political environment for their existence. The emergence of effective civil society activities in the country in the 1970’s saw the enlightenment of the masses which culminated into a radical change that we are still struggling to consolidate today.

During the period of the military intervention, and the various eras of crises from 1990 upward, the civil society organizations, through relief, charity, peace making, advocacy and empowerment activities, have been the source of hopes and consolations for the people of Liberia. During the transitional administrations when there were no oppositions, it was the civil society that kept the role of monitoring and critiquing the governments that the power must not be misused and abused to the derailment of the people.

The civil society, since the civil war has been very active in peacemaking, election monitoring and democratic consolidation. More besides, the civil society has also been the sanctuary or refuge center for political oppositions who in the past were caught in the dragnets and traps of dictators in the country. In the 1980, the 1990s and early 2000s, when some oppositions and activists were arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned, it was the vociferous voices of civil society groups and actors that kept the alarms and sometimes compelled the regimes to have them released.

Interestingly and very disappointingly, the regime that is much acclaimed today as a ‘democratic’ regime, clustered with former activists and civil society actors that were the voices of the past, is the regime that is ignoring the voices of the people and the voice of the civil society. That the same activists watch the excesses of a regime and dance the cantata of those excesses while the civil society cries foul, is inimical to personal integrity, principles and values, and a disillusionment of the people. This must go beyond our understanding of its superficiality, and we must begin to reflect and calculate that if this regime succeeds in its refractory campaign of silencing the civil society and rendering it irrelevant thereby laying it into a coffin of dormancy, the possibility of the reemergence of absolute, imperial, and dictatorial rule is imminent in Liberia.

The recent public outcries of the civil society organizations through various outlets and communications against the railroaded appointments and confirmations of commissioners of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission which was adamantly ignored by the government must now raised our eyes above the lenses of the glasses, and we must begin to either accept all other treatments or stand firm in the fight to consolidate democracy seeing the present political establishment as an adversary.

The Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission, among every other thing, is a brain-child of the Liberian civil society which came about after sober reflections and realization that, to strengthen the capacity of government and build a durable democratic system, corruption must be fought fearlessly. It was the civil society that persuaded the transitional government in 2005 to sign the United Nation Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), and the same civil society pursue the drafting of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Strategy (White Paper on Corruption) which evolved into the Anti-Corruption Act that finally established the Anti-Corruption Commission. In recognition of the efforts and indispensable role of the civil society in this process, the Act provides that the nomination or appointment of Commissioners be done in consultation with the civil society. It is not only this commission that the civil society have been proactive with, the formation of the TRC saw a mass and broad based consultation process that led to an informed vetting and selection process of commissioners. Similar consultations were also held for the commissioners of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights. It must also be noted here that the civil society have been a formidable partner and an indispensable actor in all aspects of our rebuilding and recovery processes.

Unfortunately, after these and many more concerted efforts by the civil society organizations and local pro-democracy actors, the Anti-Corruption Commission has been formed in a blanket of sham which has been identified as not only an attempt to have civil society organizations and activists extinct, but also a stratagem to create a syndicate of witch-hunting against opposition leaders - a scheme long alarmed by some lawmakers and opposition politicians. As it has exposed its intent and will publicly, it has become to grind up in controversy as its formation did not only violate its own Act, but also blatantly contravenes the UNCAC which calls for an open and broad-based participatory process in fighting corruption. Furthermore the act of the President to hurriedly nominate commissioners in the absence of such broad-based participation and national nomination and vetting process is a complete self-stultification of her purported war against corruption. For those in the Legislature that did the haphazard confirmation, let it be known that the Liberian people are watching you as you draw yourself in a rubberstamp orgy of money-making while the people cry on you helplessly. You must also be aware that you were once in the civil society, and you shall return.

Finally, this ends with a call to all actors in the civil society to come together in true solidarity to fight back robustly because the true adversary has unsuspectingly brought itself to the fore. The media which is an integral part of the civil society must build the first line of defense since the adversary can not operate without it- yet it fights to silence it. The fight is no more limited to mobilizing the citizens, fighting corruption, and consolidating democracy, but it has now extended to a fight for survival with an adversary that has a full built-in potential. So Liberian civil society, unite and stand strong!!!

-In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice, the Pen shall never Run Dry-

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