By: J. Nhinson Williams
In 2017, we as Liberians will vote for a new president. That vote will be of historic importance because it will literally be a vote for the survival of the soul of our nation, its future and future generations. What makes the 2017 vote more important than past elections is that it sets the conditions and determines the circumstances of the future that we will leave for generations of Liberians to come. We have the power to either lay a strong foundation for a prosperous future or we can simply mortgage it away to heartless and power-hungry politicians who lack vision.
Liberia is a resource-rich country that has the potential to generate great wealth for all. From gold and diamonds to oil and uranium, our natural resources are the envy of more powerful nations. However, rather than capitalizing on our natural resources, Liberia has been left to face many serious, if not, life-threatening challenges: deadly Ebola, extreme poverty, colossal unemployment, Lebanon-bound teen sex trafficking exportation, severe food insecurity, child malnutrition, uncontrollable capital flight by politicians and bureaucrats, massive and widespread corruption, tribal and social disunity, politically-motivated religious tension; roads and highways in disrepair, and doomed cities with little or no electricity. While there are many negative depictions of our beloved Liberia, one thing is for certain: all of these ugly circumstances are not brought on by natural disasters; they are, instead, the making of an ineffective political system and many of its politicians who we elected and entrusted with the gamble of authority for the benefit of all Liberian citizens.
Unfortunately, rather than uniting for change, many Liberians have begun to feel helpless in the face of personal struggles and a political system that seems unchangeable. The beliefs that one’s vote will not matter because the system is stacked in favor of corruption and greed for a wealthy few has disempowered many citizens, who have all but given up hope. As a consequence, many citizens have stopped taking voting seriously or have chosen to sell their vote in hopes of getting a little immediate relief. This sense of political hopelessness and despair has permeated the country and now it is more difficult than ever to imagine a brighter future or to be able to imagine a day when everyone has enough to eat and a safe place to live.
There is a brighter future ahead, where families will see improvements in their livelihoods and Liberia will see job growth like never before. There are better days ahead if the citizens of Liberia will find the strength to stand together and demand long-term change over the short-term rewards of vote-selling for empty promises.
There is a saying that “one cannot have it both ways.” If people continue to sell votes for the promise of short-term gains at the expense of long-term prosperity, we cannot be surprised when diseases such as Ebola start eating up our nation, when your children go to school hungry, when joblessness is widespread, and when systemic corruption is endemic to the point where our country is rated in a unique category in the comity of nations.
Let me make it very clear: The 2017 vote for the Liberian presidency is not and should not be about President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. It is a vote about the future of our nation, our children and their children’s children. To her credit, President Johnson-Sirleaf has managed the country over the last decade with some degree of peace even though poverty has increased, social stratification has doubled, Ebola has wiped out our loved ones, and corruption has spread faster than hemoglobin cancer. But why blame the president when most of our lawmakers are corrupt and short-sighted, when there is no credible opposition, some of whom are serving as consultants and lawyers for businesses that underpaid and exploit our citizens.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has done her best in a system infested with shameless political stooges who once called themselves “progressives” and a group of economic criminals who too called themselves business people. She has also done her best in a nation besieged by a handful of insincere activists who continue to deceive our most vulnerable populations by championing causes and campaigning for political criminals who they know very well have no good intentions and vision for the country. Additionally, the 2017 vote is not and should not be about President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf because she has achieved what she set out to achieve in her lifetime: Being the President of Liberia for over a decade, as highlighted in her self-proclaimed autobiography: “This Child will be Great”.
In 2017, Liberians have a real opportunity to vote for an end to corruption and to vote for a better future. But first, Liberians MUST desist from selling their votes. Do not be fooled by false promises again. Our “politics as usual” is infested with those who are in the habit of deceiving our poor and illiterate people to vote for criminals, greedy politicians and folks who have misused our national wealth as personal property. This must stop! As Liberians, we must stop asking candidates for money or material things that can only provide brief, short-term relief, at best. Instead, we must learn to support the candidates that we trust and candidates that stand for real change. We can begin by examining the characters, visions, track-records, competencies and abilities of candidates. We must encourage our friends and neighbors and family members to do the same. Then we MUST VOTE! This is important because voting matters. This is very important because voting is far more than a mere democratic exercise; it is an ethical issue.
Voting is our fundamental right and it is our ethical obligation if we want to see a better future in our lifetimes. When we vote as Liberians, we have the power to make our government better or worse. By extension, our votes can make our lives and those of our fellow Liberians better or worse. If we vote for the ineffective leaders who have served in our past and present governments, then we can expect more of what we have now: Bad government, corrupt leaders and economic thieves, unpaved roads, massive unemployment, poor healthcare and educational systems, bureaucratic crooks, tribalism, nepotism, favoritism, and demonic and exclusionary laws.
If we remain hopeless and disempowered and choose to sell our votes, we can expect to see continued injustices: The struggling poor who err due to poverty and hunger filling our prisons while the affluent and privileged few who steal or exploit our national wealth partying and flying around the world on undeserved vacations with our underage daughters and sisters! When we sell our votes we become complicit in perpetuating unfair economic and social advantages for a few special interests in our society, while we also become complicit in the continued injustices that leave our poor Liberian families behind and that create conditions that lead too many of our children to jail rather than gainful employment.
Voting matters, and the WAY we vote matters! The 2017 vote in Liberia will be morally significant because it will change the nature, quality, scope, and kind of government we have. This is why the way we vote will help or harm our people and our nation. There is no other way this can be better said other than to say that we as Liberians MUST vote with our conscience. If you vote from your moral standpoint, you will begin to feel strong and empowered again. If you sell your vote, you are not just hurting yourself; you are also harming the entire nation. There can be no pride in that, only more hopelessness and despair.
Your vote will affect us all. Unlike other personal decisions where you alone bear the consequences of your decision, from ordering lunch from a restaurant menu to deciding whether or not to attend religious services, voting is an act with consequences for the nation. If anything, when we vote, we are ordering a meal for the entire nation to enjoy or one that will make almost everyone sick! In short, when voting, we impose the wonderful or terrible consequences of our decision on everyone.
Finally, I would like to ask Liberian political campaign activists to end the practice of vote-buying and I would like to believe that the practice would end, simply because it is unethical. However, I am not that naïve so I implore the citizens of Liberia to stand up and take note of this unethical practice and resist supporting the wrong, deceitful candidates. Please do not be swindled into voting for narrow self-interests because a bad vote in 2017 could plunge us deeper into debt and despair. But a positive vote in 2017, a vote for human rights and economic prosperity, will lift up the entire nation! The power will be in your hands. You can nourish the souls of Liberia. Use your power wisely!
Jones Nhinson Williams is a Catholic educated Liberian philosopher, President and CEO of New Liberia Foundation, and head of the US-based Jewish Family Services International Refugee Program. He has also been aiding African immigrants around the world and highlighting the issues of hunger, economic migration, and the condition of the internally displaced in Africa. Since 2003, he has primarily focused on assessing conditions and working toward solutions that would allow all Liberian refugees in West African countries to return home.