An Assistant Professor of the University of Liberia Graduate Program of International Studies, Professor Josephus Moses Gray has revealed that although democratic governance remains a challenge on the African continent, Liberia has made a significant progress in the practices democratic governance, and is recognized by the World as the pioneer and torch-bearer of democracy on the African continent.
In his instructive power-point presentation on the theme: “Democratic Governance and National Development in Post-war Liberia–A Lesson for Nigeria,” Dr. Gray recounted that the concept of democracy can be traced precisely to the city-state of Athens, ancient Greeks in the fifth century B.C, democracy in Africa can also be traced to Liberia, evinced by the 1847 elections that brought the father of nation, Joseph Jenkins Roberts to power.
The one-day academic forum held on February 26th at the auditorium of the University of Liberia Capitol Hill Campus was well attended by the presence of academics with Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, President of the University of Liberia, Vice Presidents of University of Liberia, Directors of the University of Liberia Graduate and Professional Studies Programs, Deans and Heads of Departments of the University of Liberia, Prince C. Johnson, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), and the high-powered delegation from the Nigerian Defense College, students’ representatives as well as other scholars and officials of government attending.
Professor Gray’s presentation which lasted for about forty-five minutes was followed by questions from the audiences particularly members of the high-powered delegation of the Nigerian Defense College and academics of the University of Liberia Graduate Studies Programs. The various questions were meritoriously addressed by Dr. Gray, while other concerns, addressed by Dr. Weeks and Prof. T. Debey Sayndee.
In an insightful quote of three former presidents of Liberia, Ghana, and Tanzania, Prof. Gray in remarkable words of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said: “Africa is not poor; it is poorly managed” that conflicts and crises have affected the standard practices of governance and establishment of sustainable economic growth on the African continent.
Also in the famed words of ex-president of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings: “Most of our peoples have already noticed that the new system of governance on the African continent is being severely tested by the lack of good faith in certain leaders and administrations”, in the notable words of former of Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere: “Africa needs to improve governance everywhere in Africa in order to enable our people to build real freedom and real development for themselves and their countries
Drawing a deep lesson from the three former presidents of African states, Professor Gray said constitutions of African states must provide methods by which the people can, without recourse to violence, control the government which emerges in accordance with it and even specify the means for its own amendment”.
In his comparative analysis of democratic Governance and national development on the African continent, Professor Gray discloses that Liberia is no exception to both internal and external factors that pose a serious threat to the practice of democratic governance and socio-economic development on the country. According to the UL professor, democratic governance and national development can be achieved by instituting the right policy at the right time by the right people at the right place through the right institutions.
In a word of appreciation to the UL administration, Prof. Gray said he graciously accepted the invitation to facilitate forum not only because he felt that such an occasion should always be cherished, but it is a cause that is so dear to his heart and that he has been looking forward to the exceptional forum. Speaking further, Dr. Gray said he was humbled given him by President of the University of Liberia, Dr. Weeks through the office of the Vice President for Graduate School, Dr. Jonathan C. Taylor, the opportunity to share some of his thoughts and convictions regarding the theme of the forum: Democratic Governance and National Development in Liberia.
“Our presence here today bears a very great responsibility because we are representing our beloved countries, our histories, the ideals and with high demands and determination, our beloved and great institutions: The University of Liberia and the National Defense College of Nigeria”, he noted.
He said as the first independent Republic in Africa, and second black independence Republic in the world, Liberia has strongly committed itself to promote democratic governance on the continent. He recalled that the first election that took place on the African continent was held in Liberia on 21 September 1847 with the election of Joseph Jenkins Roberts as the first President. He said since then, Liberia has been judged by the world to be a pioneer of democracy in Africa.
“Also Liberia is the first country in Africa for Newspaper to appear on the Newsstand or to be published. The Liberian Herald first appeared on the newsstand on February 16, 1826. Again, Liberia is the first country in Africa to allow women to vote in a democratic election, while in 2005 Liberia made history to elect a woman’s as president”, he indicated.
Prof. Gray told the forum that, unfortunately, two separate elections in Liberia have been recorded in the pages of history with specific reference to the 1927 Election, out of 15,000 registered voters; the incumbent Charles D. B. King garnered 243,000 votes against his opponent who received 9,000 valued votes. While in the 1975 Election, President William R. Tolbert received 100% of the valid votes.
According to him, another unfortunate incident in the nation’s democratic system took placed in the year 1870, the undemocratic removal of President Edward J. Roye through mob action from office. But said the nation has undertaken several tangible interventions that have resulted in boosting national capacity and political wills to avoid potential crises to multi-party democracy in the country.
Liberia’s political history as concerns democratic governance from the period of Independence to presence has experienced several difficulties resulting in several factors-both internal or external political maneuvering and arms twisting.
The opposition political party also has its root in Liberia—the first opposition political party was established in Liberia and participated in the 1847 election. The two parties that took part in the 1847 election were the Pro Administrative Party headed by J. J. Roberts and Anti-Administrative Party headed by Thomas Buchanan; interestingly, both served as governors of the Commonwealth of Liberia.
As torch-bearers of democracy in Africa, the founding fathers of Liberia were successful in building three (3) political institutions, sometimes called Systems: The state….sheltered by internal and external sovereignty; rule of law (established Constitution) and democratic governance (accountability and inclusiveness). Since then, Liberia has been judged by the international system and actors of the world to be practicing democracy in Africa in line with international best practice.
The promise of democratic governance in a contemporary Liberia is more positive than before; even though there are still several obstacles that require practical actions to be overcome in order to enhance progress in current Liberia’s democratic space.
For instance, Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution provides that “All power is inherent in the people, while Article 3 states: Liberia is a unitary sovereign state. The article further states: The form of government is Republican with three separate coordinate branches: The Legislative, Executive and Judiciary, consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances.
Under our democratic governance system as relates to the separation of powers and doctrine of check and balance, Legislative Power is implemented by the National Legislature as the legitimate representative of the people. The Legislature of Liberia consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives, both of which must pass on all legislation. In the present legislative period of 2019, the 54th National Legislature is composed of 103 Members; out of this 29 Senators- (currently 28 males and 1 female, instead of 30 senators due to the recent passing of Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff); 73 Representatives (currently 9 females and 64 males), this brings the total males to females in the National Legislature are 93 to 10 or a ratio of ten to one.
In the Liberian presidential system of government, the president functions as Head of State, Head of Government and at the same time as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL); the President is elected directly by the people every six years. Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances doctrines, cabinet ministers are nominated and appointed by the President upon the confirmation by the Senate. Presently, the cabinet consists of 24 individuals of whom Three (3) are females and twenty-one (21) males.
According to the Liberian constitution, the Judicial power is vested in a Supreme Court and such subordinate courts, while the Supreme Court comprises: One Chief Justice and four Associate Justices; currently consists of two females and three males. The Judiciary is supposed to be independent. Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution provides that: ‘All power belongs to the people and noted that they have the right to call for a constitutional referendum when their safety and happiness so require.
Dr. Gray said the practice of democracy in Liberia, just like other democracies across the globe, has its own trials and interferences which include having free and fair elections in which all participants and stakeholders have confidence; leveling the playing field for political parties and other activities; toleration of opinions of both in the opposition and critical voices and public. Other areas are respectability for constitutionalism and rule of law, justice; that all elected officials be accountable to the constituency and counties; people in offices of public trust should discipline their words; extermination of all forms of corruption, leaders lead by examples and encouragement and respect for democratic values and competitions by all political actors.
“Our democratic governance system should show cherish respect for a democratic system based on the rule by the poor and disadvantaged, a system of decision-making based on the principle of majority rule; a society based on equal opportunity and individual merit; a structure of rule that protects the rights of minorities and majority and a government that serves the interests of the people”.
Prof. Gray said democracy in Liberia is practiced limited and indirect democracy with respect to constitutional values in which the citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programs for the public goods. He said Democracy is limited in the sense that popular participation in government is temporary and occasional, while it is indirect in that the public does not exercise power themselves, instead they merely select those who will govern on their behalf.
Prof. gray told the forum that globally democracy can be measured on the basis of the principles such as citizen participation which means that citizens are part and parcel of what happens in their country, citizens are part of the decision-making process and policies formulation Start from the bottom to the top.
“ The principles include political equality-meaning political equality of all citizens is an essential principle of democracy, equality before the law, equality of opportunity based on individual’s capacities and people should not be denied equal opportunity because of gender, association, religion or race”. He said political tolerance should always be encouraged although the practices of politics believed to be the easy path to obtaining economic wealth and leadership power. He said the Liberian society, compared to other African societies, is doing well in the area of political tolerance.
The third principles of democracy is transparency means that officials both public and private allow for public scrutiny of what they do while in public office including that citizens are allowed to attend public meetings and are free to obtain vital information, holding of regular elections to ensure that bad leadership are not forced on the people and those elections are the main avenue for all citizens to exercise power to elect, or choose and reject their leaders through a secret ballot.
Regarding the principle of the rule of law, Prof. Gray said the constitution of Liberia provides that no one is above the law and requires that all citizens observe the law and are held accountable if they break it, due process of law requires that the law should be equal; fairly and consistently enforced; equality before the law.
The issue of human right is also indispensable to democratic governance in Liberia since democracies around the world strive to protect the rights and freedoms of their citizens from abuse, to choose their leaders, right to life, the right to own property, the freedom of expression.
The UL professor disclosed that the Liberian electoral system allows voters to cast secret ballots, free of intimidation, violence, and inducement and further gives electorates the options to make their choices on the basis of alternative developmental programs. He explained that it provides for changes in government without violence while power can be transferred from one party to another by means of majority decisions, saying that the process-service as a conduit to move forward through the will of the majority and serve as the yardsticks how democratic governance in Liberia is viewed internationally.
Speaking on the crucial role of the media, Prof. Gray said the media generally constitutes influence and effective ingredient of the world. It is due to the role of the media it is called the “Fourth Estate” since a vigorous media is an important element in a strong and healthy democracy. In Liberia, the history of journalism dated far back from the era of pioneers in 1822 when the first batch of colonial masters arrived in Liberia. The first independent newspaper to appear on the newsstand in the country was the “The Liberian Herald on February 16, 1826.
He revealed that currently there are over 60 FM radio stations operating in the country with about 46 in Monrovia and its surroundings and also there are over 60 prints in the country but majority of the newspapers are occasional due to financial constraints, saying that the media role in democratic governance like Liberia includes playing a critical role in improving governance; fights against bad governance and undemocratic practices include abuse of state wealth, human rights and constitutional violations; help in reducing corruption, increasing economic efficiency and stability; serves as a “mirror” of the Liberian society and shapes public opinions, among other roles played.
He, however, said the media also encountering difficulties include lacks of needed financial resources and advertisements, inadequate support and persistent delay to settle payment for advertisements; unethical and unprofessional situations, lack of proper training by some journalists; sour media-government relations and lacks the capacity to report in-depth. Besides, Prof. Gray identified the lack of monthly incentive and benefits have a negative impact on the practice of journalism in Liberia, saying that some journalists depend on the corrupt political bureaucrats and foreign capitalist for “token” to meet their daily needs.
He said the history of democracy in Liberia without the role of Liberian women will be incomplete. In the practices of democratic governance, women play a significant role. Any society that downplays the ability of women and continues to subscribe to outdated beliefs which denied women advancement will always be a conflict with itself. The non-violent activities of Liberian women draw international attention to the once atrocities that were being committed in the country.
It is very difficult to discuss democratic governance in Liberia will out mentioning the meaningful contributions of Liberian women towards the obtainment of democracy and lasting peace. Their activities witnessed successive signing of the Accra Peace Accord and democratically elections in 2005 which was won by fearless Liberian women—Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and this struggle of Liberia women started a long time since the famous role of Mother Suakoko of Bong County and other indigenous Liberian women whose history deliberately failed to remember for selfish reasons.
In his words of conclusion, Prof. Gray stressed that the need for Liberians collectively in the spirit of African solidarity and Pan Africanism to protect the democratic gains, values, and norms; and give due respect to the practices of democratic governance.