UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Liberia: FOL Testimony
Date distributed (ymd): 970629
Document reposted by APIC
The following testimony was distributed on the Friends of Liberia (FOL) E-Mail Network on June 24. For more information on the FOL E-Mail Network contact Steven Keenan <email@example.com> or
Friends of Liberia, 1616 North Fort Myer Drive, 12th Floor, Rosslyn, Virginia 22209 (Mailing Address: P.O. Box 28098, Washington, D.C. 20038). Tel: (703) 528-8345; FAX: (703) 528-7480; e-mail: Liberia@FOL.org
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS Africa Subcommittee
Holds hearing on the Liberian elections
Time: 1:00 pm
Location: 2200 Rayburn House Office Bldg.
Date -- June 24
-- Howard Jeter - United States Special Envoy to Liberia, Department of State
-- Kevin George - President, Friends of Liberia
-- Mohamedu Jones - Vice Chair, Liberians United for Peace and Democracy
The testimony of U.S. Special Envoy Howard Jeter and LUPD
Vice-Chairman Muhamadu Jones will be distributed on the FOL e-
mail network when FOL is able to obtain an electronic copy.
Kevin George, President, Friends of Liberia
June 24, 1997
House Subcommittee on Africa
"The Liberian Election: A New Hope?"
Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to testify about Liberia's election.
Today marks the opening of the voter registration period in Liberia for the election on July 19. The next several weeks will be a period of both hope and considerable anxiety as Liberians attempt to cross the delicate path from war to peace and to democracy.
Liberians know that this election is a vital step in their country's transition to peace and democracy. They are keenly aware of the challenges of the democratic process and the consequences of failure. The chaos on the streets of Monrovia in April 1996, the fate of 200,000 dead civilians, a quarter of them children, or the dilemma of Sierra Leone, where a nascent democracy was recently overthrown are fresh in their minds.
In my testimony today, I will address why I believe Liberia's election is a critical event. I will also outline the obstacles that must be overcome for this election to be considered free and fair and the actions that Liberians and the international community can take to strengthen the likelihood of a successful transition to peace and democracy.
Legitimate Elections are a Key Step
Most Liberians recognize that peace in Africa's oldest republic can only be sustained if there is a strong democratic form of government. The July 19 election is therefore a vital point where peace is tested by the reality of Liberians choosing one candidate over another. It is essential that the election be perceived as free and fair.
I emphasize that this election is among the first of many steps that Liberians must take to consolidate the process of peace. Disarmament officially ended in February, but there remains a tremendous need for the reintegration of combatants back into society. A majority of the 800,000 Liberians waiting in neighboring countries told a visiting survey team that they will not return until they verify that the peace process is holding after the election. Security is their primary concern, but refugees also are concerned about the availability of food in a country that is producing very little of its own. A post-election Liberia must also resurrect its economy from one of illicit wartime trade to a legitimate process that provides jobs, revenue and resources to a devastated country. The first step is to hold a free and fair election.
The Challenge of Holding a Free and Fair Election
Liberia's peace process now appears to have two components that are crucial to a viable election: a degree of security and an independent election commission.
The warring faction leaders have not completely abandoned their arms or control over core groups of combatants. Arms caches continue to be discovered by ECOMOG. There is also concern that warring faction leaders running for political office have an unfair advantage in terms of access to parts of the country and resources to conduct a campaign. It is highly likely that warring factions could reorganize and arm if there is any letup in security.
On the positive side, however, ECOMOG's deployment in Liberia's cities and major towns since March has provided a level of security in the country not present since the start of the war. The effectiveness of this peacekeeping force is critical to maintaining order in both the campaign period and the post-election period. The diversion of ECOMOG troops to Sierra Leone reduced troop levels in Liberia from 13,000 to around 10,000 at a critical time. The U.S. and other countries should help ECOWAS meet its need to bring more troops into the country and to ensure that ECOMOG has the resources to effectively detect and control threats to the peace.
The organization earlier this year of a new election commission, one not controlled by the warring factions, is a second important reason in favor of a viable election process. It is not possible to predict at this time whether the Election Commission, which only became functional in April, can meet the logistical challenges of an election in the middle of the rainy season. It is now training and deploying election officers. According to a VOA interview yesterday with Henry Andrews, Election Commission Chairman, he has no funds to pay them.
The crucial first test of the viability of this process will be the registration of voters which begins today and ends on July 3. At this moment the roads to three counties are impassable and material for the registration process could only get to these areas by helicopter. There is the danger that voters in some areas of the country will not be registered unless resources, mainly transportation, are quickly made available to the Commission to fulfill its mission.
It is very important to remember that there are 800,000 Liberians who remain refugees. There is a small stream of returnees cautiously entering the country. More would probably return to Liberia if there was sufficient food and guarantees of security. UNHCR is not scheduled to start a formal repatriation of refugees until September.
It is clear that the interests of Liberia's refugees have been overlooked in planning for the election. The only information many have about the election is the occasional story they hear on the BBC, VOA or a partisan controlled local radio station. This will be an election in which roughly one-third of the population will be unable to vote because they cannot return home.
Support Liberians Need for a Peaceful and Democratic Future
Progress is being made by Liberians, against considerable odds, to achieve the conditions necessary for elections that were described in Senator Russell Feingold's April 24 letter to Secretary of State Albright and in FOL's February 7 Statement on Elections. Both documents are attached to this testimony and I request that they be included in the record of this hearing. That letter of Senator Feingold, signed by ten other members of Congress, lists the essential conditions that must be in place before an election can be convened. These conditions include having an independent election commission, promulgating an elections law, conducting civic education, ensuring that voters and parties are registered, and that election commodities are in place and polling sites identified.
These conditions have been adopted by many Liberians seeking to measure the viability of the electoral process. Some may argue that Liberia's July 19 election cannot be postponed again even if the conditions for free and fair elections are not in place. I believe it is far costlier to the peace process to hold an election when a short postponement would increase the likelihood that it would be free and fair. If Liberia's Election Commission feels that the basic conditions for a fair election are not in place then the U.S. government and ECOWAS should firmly support a decision to reschedule the election.
The U.S. government should reiterate that the date for the election, while important, is not as important as verifying that the conditions for a free and fair process are first in place. Once the election is held, and it is determined to be free and fair, then the international community should provide support through the appropriate channels to assist Liberians to rebuild their nation. Furthermore, strong international sanctions should be brought against any leader of the former warring factions that resorts to armed military force during the election process or interferes with the functioning of a freely and fairly elected government.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org Message-Id: <199706292138.OAA26549@igc3> Date: Sun, 29 Jun 1997 17:37:23 -0500 Subject: Liberia: FOL Testimony
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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