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November 18, 2005

 

LIBERIAN ELECTIONS – RIGHT WING VICTORY WILL ONLY AGGRAVATE THE PREVAILING BAD SITUATION

By: Peluola Adewale

Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) Nigeria

Baring any eventuality Liberia, the first republic in Africa, has produced the first elected female president in the continent, though this is not the first time a woman would lead the war ravaged country. George Weah, a former world footballer of the year and his party, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), have challenged the yet to be officially declared victory of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former senior loan officer of the World Bank, on the basis of allegations that the run-off election was fraught with fraud. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal filled by CDC and referred it to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) which has begun investigation into the fraud claims.

 

According to the NEC Johnson-Sirleaf had 59.4% of the votes as against the 40.6% of Weah. Weah won the first round with about 30% of votes, which was not enough to form a government as the constitution requires a minimum of 51%.

 

Meanwhile, the 18 members of CDC elected into the parliament have threatened to boycott the legislature if the alleged massive electoral fraud is not adequately addressed. The CDC is the biggest party in the national assembly.

 

On the contrary, the international observers have adjudged the election as free and fair. But the thousands of people, mostly youth that took to the streets on Friday November 11 to protest the allegedly questionable victory of Johnson-Sirleaf were not really surprised at the verdict of the observers. One of them, a 53 year-old unemployed man told IRIN, the news agency coordinated by the Secretariat of the United Nations, "The United Nations is not neutral. The international community is in cahoots with Ellen" (Johnson-Sirleaf is popularly called Ellen, her first name, by Liberians). This reflects the general feeling of the protesters. The high-handed response of the United Nations Police in Monrovia to the protest that led to two individuals being injured further confirms the suspicion of complicity of the international community in the electoral process.

 

The international community, a euphemism for world imperialism and its various agents, like a leopard that does not change its spot is not naturally expected to be comfortable with the support base of George Weah mostly dominated by youth, the unemployed and the poor seeking a break from the old order. Although, George Weah himself does not put forward any programme that is fundamentally different from that of Ellen or that could guarantee a turnaround of the devastated economy, he is seen as untainted and neutral and the symbol of the much desired peace and change.

 

Many of Weah’s supporters see Sirleaf, a former minister of finance and who had once supported Charles Taylor in the civil war, as one of the elitist clique that has ruined the country in its quest for power. "I want a neutral person to rule this country, not Ellen Johnson, who has ruined this country by backing revolutions (civil wars). We have been used by people like her", Junior Rose, a former child soldier who fought for three different armed factions told the Financial Times (London). Most of Liberia’s 100,000 ex-combatants irrespective of factions back George Weah. Another protester, an 18-year-old Hezekiah George told Independent (London), "I am not marching for George Weah, I am marching for peace and justice". Such a social base and high expectations could push Weah in a radical direction. Thus, imperialism cannot trust him with power, more so when a true blue imperialist pupil (Ellen) is available for the job!

 

IMPERIALIST RING

 

A leading representative of the international community presently in Liberia is Abdul-Salami Abubakar, Abacha’s Army Chief of Staff and immediate successor as Nigerian military dictator. In his brief period in power Abdul-Salami provided the slaughter slab for the imperialist elimination of the imprisoned symbol of the June 12 struggle in Nigeria, MKO Abiola, out of the mortal fear of his working people’s support base, and paved the way for the enthronement of an unrepentant pro-capitalist/imperialist statesman, Olusegun Obasanjo, as president. It was not accidental that Abdul-Salami left office to become an ambassador of "goodwill" of the United Nations. He surely has been called to duty in Liberia along with other "experts" to guide the outcome of the presidential election to the "right direction". Prevention is better than cure, goes a popular saying.

 

World imperialism has vested economic interest in Liberia. The Firestone Harbel rubber plantation in Liberia, owned by the US, is the biggest in the world. Also sizeable amounts of crude oil have been discovered along Atlantic coast of Liberia. The country is the second-largest maritime licenser in the world with more than 1,700 vessels registered under its flag, including 35% of the World’s tanker fleet.

 

From all indications, Weah’s recourse to the Supreme Court or NEC can only succeed in postponing the official announcement of Johnson-Sirleaf as the winner of November 8 election. With the colossal backing of the so-called international community, the result of the election as it has been already announced will be most likely upheld eventually. More so, George Weah himself has spoken openly against mass protests, saying that, "the streets of Monrovia do not belong to violent people". This sharply points out the contradictions between the pro-status quo Weah and most of his supporters who instinctively know that their aspirations cannot be met without rocking the boat. MKO Abiola exhibited similar response to the mass protest against the annulment of his electoral victory when he told the BBC in London that, "the one they did in Lagos I am against it". He was referring to the July 5 1993 phenomenal mass protest.

 

However, the fact that Weah’s appeal fell on deaf ears of his supporters on November 11 suggests that he may not be able to totally control the protesters who have held several other protest marches and adopted the slogan "no Weah, no peace" should Johnson-Sirleaf be eventually declared winner. They believe that the presidency of Johnson-Sirleaf is government for the interests of international finance capital and its local agents and not for the poor masses of Liberia. This is apparently why the inscription on one of the banners carried by the demonstrators boldly reads, "Liberia is for us. Give it to us".

 

LIBERIA UNDER ELLEN

 

Meanwhile, the "iron lady" herself has not hidden her resolve to weld the Liberian economy with iron hoop to the self-serving, anti-poor policies of the World Bank and the IMF. When asked to react to the suspicion of people against her government having a close economic relationship with the international finance institutions, she told the press, "I don’t see anything wrong with that. After all, we are going to take ownership of our economic programme here, if we work with the IMF and the World Bank and they provide the money, what is wrong?" (Guardian (Lagos), November 13, 2005). Yes, Liberia may be allowed to evolve its "home grown" economic programme, of course it has an able Harvard trained and World Bank groomed expert in its new president. But just like Nigeria’s National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), such economic package has to be drawn in the image of the IMF/World Bank and subjected to strict monitoring of the imperialist finance institutions before Liberia could enjoy any "goodwill" from the Bretton Wood twins. IMF or World Bank is no Santa Claus, they put their money where the self-serving economic interest of imperialism is best protected and the investment could yield super profits, at the gross expense of the poor working people.

 

Already, Liberia along with other war devastated countries like Somalia, Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire, has just been enlisted in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative programme of the World Bank and IMF as a step towards getting relief from its about $3 billion external debt burden. The creditors including World Bank and the IMF cannot reduce, let alone forgive, the so-called $3 billion debt of Liberia, which is miniscule to world imperialism but a huge amount to a badly ravaged economy, without being made to pay hard price. Liberia is now at what is called pre-decision point, the first stage of the programme. This means that it should have started servicing its debt and implementing harsh economic policies of structural adjustment or capitalist neo-liberal programme as dictated by the IMF and the World Bank, in order to be eligible for a relief. The new government has to intensify the implementation of the policies that include cuts in government spending, privatisation, trade liberalisation, downsizing, etc in order to successfully pass through the 3-stage programme and be entitled to cancellation of its multilateral debt. Johnson-Sirleaf is an unofficial adviser to the outgoing transitional government in hooking up Liberia to the HIPC initiative.

 

The government of Mali, which has completed the HIPC programme and had its multilateral debt cancelled by the annual meetings of IMF and World Bank on September 24 – 25, 2005 had in a week earlier told striking workers agitating for pay rise in the face of increasingly unbearable cost of living that one of the reasons their demands could not be met was the international demands for cuts in government spending (IRIN, September 19, 2005). This tells just little of what awaits the already impoverished working people of Liberia.

 

IT IS EITHER SOCIALISM OR UNENDING HORROR

 

Thus, the neo-liberal attack that Johnson-Sirleaf is set to prescribe as the medicine for the socio-economic ailment will further compound the perilous situation of the country. Although the 14-year long war badly destroyed the infrastructure and socio-economic fabric of the country, the economy of Liberia had been in tatters much before the civil war due to similar pro-rich anti-poor policies and characteristic corruption of the pre- war governments, one of which Ellen had served (Ellen was finance minister under Tolbert’s administration). It could be recalled that Samuel Doe led gang actually capitalised on the massive riots against acute hike in food prices beyond the reach of the common man to overthrow William Tolbert in 1980.

 

Already the human development indicators of Liberia are scary. The rate of unemployment put at over 85% is the worst in the world. More than 80 % live below poverty line (i.e. below $US 1 a day) and the level of illiteracy is over 80%. Less than 20% of the population estimated at 3.6 million could write or speak English, the official language. As at 2000, the most recent statistics of UNESCO on Liberia, 61% of primary school age and 18% of secondary school age were in schools. Of course, with the destruction of education system during the war and emergence of child soldiers, the current figures will be much worse. The life expectancy is 41 years for men and 43 years for women. For over a decade Monrovia has been without electricity and water, let alone the remote villages or towns. The BBC reported that there are tens of thousands of teenagers who have never seen electric light in their life.

 

Liberia needs huge resources to turn around its education system, health care, infrastructure (electricity, water, road, transport system, etc) and to guarantee jobs, foods, shelters, etc. Liberia is richly endowed with natural resources with potential of making it one of the most prosperous nations in Africa. Its main exports are iron ore, diamonds, timber, rubber, cocoa and coffee. Crude oil at commercial quantity has been discovered in its coastal areas and the country makes enormous revenues from its maritime registry (the second largest in the world), which in fact provided the bulk of foreign exchange earnings for Charles Taylor’s government.

 

With its immense wealth, the post civil war Liberia could jump-start its economy, set the stage for its development and provide basic needs of its population. Of course, it still much requires foreign assistance in addition, but this must be without strings attached. The major obstacles that will stand on its path to economic recovery are the deadly embrace of imperialist domination of the commanding heights of its economy and the capitalist economy’s profit motive. The neo-liberal policies of discouraging public spending on social infrastructure and basic needs that the new government is much set to embrace as article of faith will not provide any way out for the mass of the population.

 

Therefore, in order to ensure adequate provision of the basic needs of the people (food, job, shelter, education, health care, electricity, water, etc) and guarantee overall socio-economic and human development, the commanding heights of economy must be nationalized and put under the democratic management and control of the working people. This can only be achieved through a working people’s party with socialist programme being able to create a workers’ and poor peasants’ government.

 

Surely, the George Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), both in programme and leadership, is a far cry from what a genuine working people’s socialist party would be. Nonetheless, the kind and size of support which the CDC enjoys among the Liberian masses and youths, based of course on the false assumption that Weah is their own, is a graphic illustration of the scope and intensity of the mass support a truly working people’s socialist party can muster in the explosive situation that can develop in the coming period. Today, the organised structures of Liberian workers are weak due to the devastating civil war. But the strike and protest including roadblocks in Monrovia by workers of the Liberia Telecommunication Corporation (LTC) in April this year has shown that Liberian workers still retain the potential of rising against neo-liberal attack and raising political questions. The combination of the experience of this election and what is likely to result from the "iron lady’s" government will undoubtedly open possibilities for ideas of mass struggle and a socialist alternative to gain support.