Liberia: A politics of hot air and no substance?

By Nemen M. Kpahn

The Congo People coming back to rule us again, and we, the native people, have to stand up for ourselves. South easterners have been ruling Liberia for a long time. This year is our time, people from central Liberia, to elect a President.

Alexander Cummings will legalise gay relationships in Liberia if he becomes President; never mind, he is a married man.

Charlyne Brumskine is a neophyte and Congo woman who can’t speak Bassa well, although she speaks Bassa and has been active in the Liberty Party for many years.

Joseph Boakai is a sick old man and can’t be President, although Honourable Boakai says he is healthy and ready to lead.

His running mate Jeremiah Kpan- Koung is a human part seller (ritualistic killer). Where can you find the store sell human parts, and who are the buyers and in which country?

George Weah is a promiscuous and fine girl can’t pass by him. President Weah has a stable family and has been married for decades. Jewel Howard Taylor divorced Charles Taylor but still keeping his name for political advantage. Well, don’t we all have the right to use the name we want?

Tiawon Gongloe is a poor man with a big mouth running all over the place, saying he wants to be President. Isn’t Tiawon a renounced human rights lawyer? Should I go on with the mudslinging of the 2023 elections? An old Igbo proverb says -that wrongdoing is a hill; each one mounts theirs and decries those of others.

My intention is not to denigrate our political leaders. But to bring the rumours out in the open.

Liberia is a country with significant challenges. After more than 175 years of independence, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world in every measurement. 96%of our roads are unpaved. Paved roads do not connect our county capitals, and whole sections of the country, especially in the southeast, northeast, and northwest, become impassable during the rainy season. Youth unemployment is stubbornly high. Access to electricity by Liberians is among the lowest in the world. There is just one doctor for 20,000 Liberians. Security challenges remain as many murders go unsolved. The country has a growing drug problem, with many youths addicted to illicit drugs—the population of these young drug addicts, known as zogos, continue to flood the streets in increasing numbers.

Every six years, especially after the end of the civil war 2003, Liberians go to the polls to elect their leaders in our cherished multiparty democratic system. The plethora of radio stations from morning to night host lovely phone-in programs; whether on the more than two dozen radio stations in Monrovia or elsewhere in the country like Zwedru, Robertsport, Tappeta or Voinjama, we are inundated with political talk shows.

The format for a talk show is easy, a guy or lady in the studio holding a mobile phone needs to announce a topic, and the calls start coming in thick and fast. We Liberians are opinionated people; no other outlet allows us to vent our spleen more than the ubiquitous radio.

Unlike other countries, our newspapers are not filled with stories about a charity ball being organised or a courageous teenager who beat cancer to become top of their class. No, our newspaper headlines are filled with lurid stories about politicians.

Now check Liberian chatrooms and Facebook pages watch the numerous online talk shows or listen to podcasts about Liberia, whether Spoon Talk, Prophet Key, Suzan Gbangaye show and others, the topics being discussed are about Liberian politics.

Interestingly, none of our political talk shows is about policies and ideas tackling the growing poverty and deprivations the electorate faces. The predominant ethos is a race to the bottom. The message is vote for me because my opponent is evil.

So, when politicians have rallies or unveil their candidates, we look for who got the largest crowd.

“Chey de man get morale.! Imagine helicopter brought the man to the rally.’ We exclaimed!

Gone are the days of partisans printing their preferred politician or party names on their own white t-shirt because it is now too cheap. Now we see politicians dividing high-quality T-shirts emblazoned with the face/faces of their candidates in coloured T-shirts and vests.

Now I wondered who brought the culture of wearing berets and acting like militants in Liberia. Was it Emmanuel Gonquoi’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) with their red berets or the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change with their blue berets.

With clenched fists in the air chanting while Toyi-toyi in the style of militant youths from the townships during the days of Apartheid in South Africa, the youths of Liberia, including paid thugs recently seen at a church in Monrovia often tinge their attendance at political rallies with cries of Amanda! Awetu!

But these battle chants are of little substance regarding Liberia’s fundamental social and economic problems.

Often our political discourse is filled with identity politics. This man, that Congo man and that man, that Native man. Never mind that ever since the Pioneers landed in 1822, there has been an Americo-Liberian presence in Liberia for more than 200 years. Never mind that all of us in Liberia have ancestors from somewhere. Our ancestors came from diverse places, such as the southward migration from the Sahel after the collapse of the Ghana, Mali, and Songhai empires or recent West African migration to Liberia. Or from the West Indies or the Americas.

And so, the demagogues (people who appeal to our emotions instead of reasoning) blind us by talking about identity politics or engage in muckraking(mudslinging) like this man or that woman is from this tribe or religion and can’t be President, Representative or Senator. A clever strategy because once they have appealed to our emotions and exploited the divisions in our society, we fail to ask them the hard questions as they enjoy the spoils of Liberia’s resources.

How will you bring jobs to our people when we elect you as President?

What will you do to fix our roads and bring us electricity?

What will you do to solve our drug problem and tackle insecurity?

There is little that differentiate our more than 30 political parties from one another in terms of policies and platforms. They all talk in generic terms about bringing jobs and improving the economy.

And why we vent our anger at issues of sexual minority rights and where a person’s great-grandfather came from; some unscrupulous politicians pool the wool over our eyes and dip their fingers in the cookie jar—eating the cookies to benefit themselves while we shout Amanda! Awetu! on empty stomachs and praise them for the crumbs that drop on our tables as generosity.

Nemen M. Kpahn is a communication specialist who lives in the state of Queensland in Australia. He holds a Master degree in Communication from Griffith University  and  a Master degree in Research from the University of Southern Queensland and can be reached at mkpahn@yahoo.com.

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