Tuesday, April 7, 2009

THE IMPORTANCE OF DEMOCRACY AND YOUTH DEVELOPMENT IN POST-CONFLICT LIBERIA

STATEMENT DELIVERED BY IBRAHIM AL-BAKRI NYEI AT A ONE-DAY SYMPOSIUM ORGANIZZED BY THE YOUTH UNITED FOR CHANGE IN THE TOWNSHIP OF NEW GEORGIAON MARCH 28, 2009

I was pleased and honored to have received a note of invitation from the Youth United for Change to present a paper on a very important and challenging topic that has a resounding relevance in contemporary political discourses and the reconstruction o9f our war-torn nation.

Upon receipt of the invitation, several thoughts began to pierce my mind. First, I was flattered by the invitation considering my limitations and the abundance of knowledgeable and resourceful men and women in Liberia including many prominent youth activities.

Second, I began to wonder as to why a specific topic considering democracy and youth must be a subject of the discourse, and particularly assigned to me.
Having undergone several thoughts and reflections in which my memories recalled the participation of young people in governance, and the terrible consequences that can be visited upon the young people when the society breaks into anarchy and the machineries of government cease to functionally impact their lives, I was quick to realize the essence of the blending. That was what I think liberated me from what I earlier saw as a mental incarceration.

However, it is of significant interest and a resounding prospect for progressive developments in Liberia to see young people in the midst of socio-economic challenges, mobilizing themselves into civil society groups to find alternative solutions to the complex political and socio-economic problems facing the country. Indeed this is a laudable venture which must be encouraged and promoted across the country.

When I received the invitation calling me to present on the topic “The importance of Democracy and youth Development”, I saw it as a broad topic that stretches beyond the horizon with academic and scholarship potentials to demand a global understanding. Again considering our immediate history and national demands as a post-conflict state in still in transition, I thought it necessary to narrow the topic to a particular setting using a case study.

I therefore seek your indulgence my distinguish audience and organizers to permit me to modify the topic as “The Importance of Democracy and Youth Development in Post-conflict Liberia”.

According to experts of international relations, from 1989-2003, the Liberian state ceased to exist as a functional sovereign authority with monopoly over the use of violence. The state deeply sank into terror when rebel forces or illegal citizen organizations under the guise of Liberation groups competed with the state on the use of violence. Liberia therefore became qualified to be listed in the category of ‘failed-states’.

It is important to briefly retrospect on the undemocratic nature of governance in Liberia that opened the precipice of grief, mass frustration and distrust, and finally the violence and the civil war.

The history of governance in Liberia is replete with a tradition of undemocratic practices and imperial leadership. For over 100 years an ethic minority of Americo –Liberian built an absolute and hegemonic control over all facets of the Liberian society, from the politics to the economy and to the social institutions
This kept the country polarized with fears because the vast majority of indigenous African ethnic groups were kept marginalized, disenfranchised, economically dispossessed, and were reduced to subservient levels.

The challenge to the autocracy was built by young Liberians who organized various pressure groups to demand change, reforms and equitable distributions of the nation’s wealth.

Finally, the Americo-Liberian hegemony was deposed by another group of young Liberians enlisted in the armed forces through a bloody coup. It was a sad day in history, because coup d’├ętat in all its forms, is illegal, unconstitutional, barbaric, and a recipe for war and instability.

The history of activism, agitation, and the 1980 coup d’├ętat tells that the youths have been actively involved with the nation’s body-politics, and have been the main engine of change in the country.

After years of governance failure, civil war and mass social dislocation, Liberia is today called a “shadow state”. A shadow state is a state that is fragile with high potential of descending into chaos. For Liberia to move to an ideal state status, with a dependent economy, venerated status in the international community, the need for democratic governance and empowerment of young people must be considered san quo non in our national development agenda.

Democracy must be the art and not and just word of the government and people. But what is democracy. Democracy is a concept that most African leaders have not understood. It is a concept still misunderstood and misused in a time when dictatorships and autocratic regimes have attempted to claim popular support by pinning democratic labels upon themselves. In their self-delusions of running democratic governments, we see massive under developments of the continent, pillage and plunder of resources, extreme poverty, and rigging of elections.

In the phrase of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, but in a scholarly and theoretical definition, “democracy is a government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system”. Democracy goes beyond the periodic holding of elections. A viable democracy entails the unrestricted participation of the people in governance under a constitutional authority, equitable distribution of resources, and systems of transparency and accountability in governance. Liberia needs nothing less than the above to build its democratic credentials.

Democracy is therefore important in post conflict Liberia. It is only in a system of viable democracy that citizens freely work to reduce poverty and protect sustainable national development.

The young people that account for over sixty percent of the population of Liberia must be seen as the central focus in post conflict development initiative. The youths have participated in the country’s politics mainly during the years of war not as lead campaigners with conscious objectives but as agents or stooges fronting for the aggrandizement and interests of adults who had hidden economic and political agenda.

Empowering the young people must not in any way be reduced to a campaign of mobilizing political support this time around. It must be done with the clear objectives of meeting the national priorities of reconstruction and poverty reduction.

Youth development must entail the initiation of sustainable programs that will support both educational and economic empowerments. If the youths actively participate in the economy, it is most likely to have accelerated economic development, and a dramatic decline in crime, violence and instability in the country.

Youth development in post conflict Liberia is of relative importance to the building of a strong human security system. Security now no more depends on the formation of large armies with sophisticated weaponry, but the protection of individuals from violent comes, economic exploitations and social injustices. This is a new concept called Human security. This includes protecting people from hunger, disease, and natural disasters.

If the young people who are the reservoir of the productive energy of our society are economically and educationally empowered, those vice that threaten our human security will be drastically reduced.

Finally, my distinguished audience, I challenge you all to build a consciousness of national service and take on self initiative in the communities. See the nation as your own, the government as your making, work to promote the nation by respecting and supporting the government, demand your rights peacefully and be able to exercise your supreme power legally. Through this we can together build durable democracy, and provide development alternatives that will give the young people multiple options to better living standards.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice, The Pen Shall Never Run Dry

2 comments:

Emily said...

I’m definitely sure that democracy is a fundamental way to reassure some freedoms and never doubted its importance to the economic development of societies. As a businessman, indeed, I could not think of any other efficient kind of government in a long term process of development.

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Krystal said...

Liberia seems an ostensible 'poster child' in light of the call by women's rights advocates to insert women in all aspects of the political, social and economic transition in post-conflict countries.

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