Thursday, October 1, 2009


Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

A wave of transformation is blowing across the world. It is blowing from all hemispheres, and even those who stand to detest it in support of traditional leadership systems, ironically accept some of its tenets. This wave is gradually sweeping across Africa, and Liberia is rising up to the moment to benefit from the goods that come with it. It is breaking down the wings of tyranny; disestablishing oligarchies shaking the foundations of imperial and autocratic rules. It is implanting the popular will of the people as the most appropriate means of governance. It is installing justice, and awakening common people to the light of government. The wave is building strong public service institutions and leading to the eradication of poverty. That wave is the wave of democracy.

The pace with which governance is changing across the world to fundamentally address the interest of the masses who are the true custodians of power and authority is highly attributed to the growth of democracy in the 21st century. Democracy, in simple terms, is a system of government in which the people rule either directly or indirectly through their elected representatives.

Liberia is a growing democracy with a representative form of government. The country went through decades of conflicts that resulted into a full-scale military and violent conflict that lasted for fourteen years.

Today the country is recovering and rising to the demands of good governance by instituting the rule of law and building effective institutions for adequate service delivery. The above are all aimed at consolidating democracy and avoiding the recurrence to violent conflicts. The country has a constitution that gives power to the people, guarantees free speech and association and the right to worship in any form. Notwithstanding, the constitution has several lapses that pose major challenges to the growth of democracy and the rising political and economy order of the century – globalization.

It is however clear from the constitution that the country theoretically supports democracy, but the problem lies in practicing it as a culture of life and governance. If these were done, it would be impossible for one to have imagined that the country would go to war.

Since the end of the civil war, with the election of the first postwar government, the country is gradually rebuilding its institutions and putting in place appropriate mechanism to ensure that the government is answerable to the people, and representative of their interests at all levels.

Some of the greatest opportunities available to the people of Liberia today, particularly activists, are the growth of a free media community and the open environment to register and operate pro-democracy or civil society movements. The country currently has over eighteen local newspapers and more than thirty radio stations nationwide. The amount of civil society organizations operating in the country is about four hundred.

The only alternative to the problems of governance and economic development in Africa is democracy. It is the only system that can hold our leaders accountable for their numerous excesses in the management of our resources. In Liberia, precepts of transparency and accountability are very strange concepts that we find difficulties in dealing with.

But there is much to be gained if we truly understand and comply with those principles. The first thing we need to do is to open up the process of choosing our leaders freely. If the people openly and freely elect their leaders, the leaders feel accountable to the people. On the contrary, when leaders are imposed on the people, they have the tendencies of imposing their wills against the general interest of the masses they claim to lead.

The second is the issue of transparency and accountability. These are two inseparable concepts of democracy that demand openness in transactions, and taking responsibility for actions. The applicability of the two is a means by which corruption, which has for centuries impeded growth and development in Liberia, will be minimized.

This time, I will name decentralization of power as the third important precept which the new dispensation demands for accelerating growth in poor and underdeveloped countries. The overly centralization of power in Africa which is historically rooted in the legacies of colonialism has proven to be a failed system. The need for the decentralization of power and the equitable distribution of resources cannot be overemphasized at this time.

Under a decentralized governing system where power is in the hands of the people, and authority closer to them, democracy will flourish. This system will also take development closer to the people and reduce poverty in so many ways. When local leaders are elected and made to control their own resources under a transparent and accountable system, the issue of service delivery becomes effective and efficient, thus economic and social development.

As stated earlier, Liberia is a growing democracy, with glaring prospects. For the first time, young Liberians have the opportunities to participate in all aspects of governance. Through international and locally made programs, youth employment and empowerment is growing in Liberia.

It is through these processes that the consciousness of the youth is awakening to government and public debates. The country currently has about 376 youth organizations with a majority of them having programs of human rights and democracy advocacy, a few are in the area community development while some focus on other areas such as health (HIV/AIDS), environmental affairs, education, etc, according to a Federation of Liberian Youth report.

The National Youth Policy drafted by the Federation of Liberian Youth with support from donors is a real means to achieving the real end of increasing and legally positioning the youths in public activities. The policy is yet to be passed into law by the legislature due to some clauses that conflict with the Constitution of Liberia.

At present, there are numerous opportunities available to youths in the country particularly when it comes to the issue of governance and civil society activism. Notwithstanding there are daunting challenges as well since the youth face problems of limited resources and the lack of technical and professional know-how in planning and implementing programs.

All of the political parties in the country have youth wing structures that are very powerful and critical in decision making due to their population, exuberance and ability to move around. The latest census conducted in Liberia (2008) puts the youth at 60 percent of the total population.

In 2005, the openness of the first postwar elections in Liberia saw democracy at work in Liberia. The support of the youth was highly craved by political parties. There were also several young persons under the age of 35 who contested for various seats in the legislature. There were about eight young persons elected to the legislature that year.

That was a defining moment for Liberia’s emergence from conflict to peace and from anarchy to democracy. The youths were very much significant to that process. Several youth organizations participated as monitors and observers while individual youths were employed by the National Election Commission as election workers.
That was not the end. Since the inauguration of the first post-war government youth participation in public affairs and government is increasing steadily. Several mainstream civil society organizations are headed by young people, and they presently represent the most independent structures for public advocacy and civic activism in the country.

Youths are no longer chastised as agents of violence as they were. Much is being done in the areas of community peace education and dialogue to promote non-violence approaches in resolving conflicts.

Some youth organizations are mostly engaged with organizing public debates on national issues and promoting initiatives of dialogues amongst young people. These activities are helping to strengthen the peace and nurturing our nascent democracy.
It is no doubt that the role of the youths in the current democratization of Liberia is highly remarkable and unprecedented. This needs to be supported and sustained. What the youths needs are empowerment in education and employment to be self-sufficient and independent in their campaigns. This call is not just for young people who are activists, but for the entire youthful population. If the young people are kept busy with productive activities, it is unlikely that they will be involved with lawlessness or negative activities in society.

It has been established that the young people were used as proxy warriors to represent the interests of warlords on battle fields during the country’s civil war. Today most of those young people have been abandoned, and their participation in the civil war has been widely attributed to poverty and ignorance and idleness. This future of this new generation must therefore be protected by every means necessary. Again, the most appropriate securities needed are education and economic empowerment.

The productive energy of every society is in the youthful population. The talents of the youths need to be tapped for society to utilize that productive energy in them. Currently, many agencies of government are employing young people to work in communities either as volunteer teachers or health workers as a means of helping local people to reducing poverty in their communities. These are all some of the good products of the emerging democratic order we have in the country.

Over two thousand students were recruited to work in public and private offices in the country between July and August of 2009 while some were assigned in various communities as community volunteers to help local citizens in the areas of civic education and local community development services.

Haven worked as activists for many years, mobilizing youths and animating communities, we are still contributing, this time our services have gone at the level of national government. For years, we work with regional organizations like the Mano River Union Youth Parliament through which we were used to carry peace messages on a caravan in the Mano River countries – Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. We have also been working with other local civic organizations helping to promote civic education in our country and promoting good governance principles.
At present I and four other university students are working with the Governance Commission on the Liberia Decentralization and Local Development Program. Through this program, we have been able to travel around the country, meet local leaders, and organize workshops and dialogues with local people. It is through this program that local leaders and citizens alike have appreciated the need for government to be decentralized so that local fiscal, administrative and political decisions can be taken by local leaders. This they believe will give them the opportunity to elect their own local leaders, take ownership of their own budget and development programs.
Our roles at the Governance Commission, like other youth volunteering on other programs have been very important to the successful promulgation and public awareness campaign of major government’s policies to people all over the country.

There is also a free media community in the country which one youth leader once described as a product of the democratic forces that agitated for change in the country. This has been a point of public debate as to whether the present ambience of free speech and expression are gains of the present government. But majority, mainly activists believe that it is a collective gain attributed to the entire population that went against tyranny and oppression. Today, youth groups, civil society actors, as well as opposition leaders use the press freely to speak out against social and political ills. The government on the other hand exercises much restrain and tolerance in upholding press freedom and freedom of speech and expression as a means of consolidating the peace and democracy we have today. It is of much interest to note that instead of using security agents to clamp down free speech and media institutions as it was done in the past, the government today uses the courts to try violators.

This is the level at which the wave of democratization is blowing on our shows with young people playing significant roles. Indeed, democracy is blowing a wind of change in Liberia and the youth are at the center of that change.

In The Cause of Democracy And Social Justice, The Pen Will Never Run Dry!