Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Comment - Historic Moves In Liberia

These must be very historic times indeed in Liberia. The prospect of a return to civilian rule never ceases to raise the political temperature and the current Liberian situation has become even more spectacular because of the unpredictable nature of the events.

The timetable for the return to civil rule has been in place for quite some time and the reason must lie far beyond cynicism that very few people actually believe that the time-table and the rules will be adhered to.

Apart from the experiences of other nations being on their side and the natural reluctance of soldiers to surrender power once entrenched, the very nature of the rule of the People's Redemption Council have all made Liberians sceptical about the real intentions of General Samuel Kanyon Doe.

And who can blame them? When the revolution was launched in April 1980, it was a very far cry from what obtains in Liberia today, four years later. It is not only that the 'bad guys' of 1980 all seem to have become the 'good guys', the type of words that nurtured the revolution in 1980, now condemn their authors to a ban from participating in political activity.

Thus at the back of everybody's mind has been this suspicion that the country really has no control over what happens and the end results have already been decided upon and this feeling has been reinforced by the fashioning of the disqualification clauses in Decree 75 which seem to be aimed specifically at certain individuals and groups of a particular political persuasion.

It is very tempting, of course, to condemn the entire on- going process as some kind of a charade being enacted to ensure the pre-ordained General Doe a President of Liberia. Especially when it is considered that the results of the referendum appear to have been helped along by a very convenient and understanding hand.

It all seems too orderly that the figure for the registered voters should have shrunk from the 977,826 at the time of the referendum to 648,000 at the time of the results. Cynics would point out that a little problem like almost a third of overestimation would have been noticed and acknowledged by voting day and would have saved the PRC the embarrassment of seeming to be changing the rules in midstream.

But in one fell swoop Gen. Doe appears to have succeeded in confounding his critics and baffling his admirers. By dissolving the PRC, the ruling military council, the signals seem to point to an assurance that the time-table will be adhered to and the soldiers are on their way back to the barracks, and yet the fact that the decision seems to be all his appears to reinforce the suspicion that he has emerged as the single strong man and has succeeded in shedding his military colleagues to concentrate on his personal plans. His deputy in the PRC. was, for example, on a trip to Paris when the news of the dissolution of the PRC caught up with him in much the same way as the newly appointed vice president of the interim National Assembly (the Ambassador in London) was also taken by surprise.

Thus the speculation is bound to continue about the ultimate aims of Gen. Doe himself and the suspicion that there is an inevitable outcome that will not be influenced very much by the wishes of the Liberian people. However, Alhaji Kromah, the new Minister for Information who was recently in London made some very significant remarks worth recounting here. He pointed out what was happening in Liberia currently might appear crude and unworthy of praise to people in the West and savvy political commentators elsewhere, but sight should not be lost of the fact that for most Liberians this is the first time they have had an opportunity to participate in anything approaching a democratic process.

There is obviously much wisdom in the Minister's words since as already stated, the temptation is great to dismiss what is happening as a farce but the very unpredictable nature of things means that the excitement will continue.

If everybody had indeed written off the Liberian process, nobody would comment on it nor indeed criticize what they see as the shortcomings.

Doubtless it would have been more helpful if Gen. Doe had been 'elected' or 'selected' as President of the full interim national assembly instead of by the PRC just before its self-dissolution. Such a move would have been more reassuring to the cynical elements, much more than the assurances of Gen. Doe that the new move 'is in no way designed to interfere with the ensuing lifting of the ban on political activities'.

The truth is that the PRC had many opportunities to include all these moves in the original time-table and the rules. If it had been announced right from the beginning that a simple majority was all that was needed to pass the draft constitution at the referendum or that an interim National Assembly would be installed after the acceptance of the constitution, there would not have been the feeling that the rules are being manipulated to suit a particular objective.

A lot, of course, is going to depend on what happens within the ranks of the political parties that will emerge now that the ban on politics is being lifted.

If the bulk of the Liberian people should come out in enthusiastic support of the political parties, the message will get home loud and clear that they want to have a say in the conduct of their affairs and in choosing their rulers

There is not very much that a determined people cannot achieve once they are decided on their goals and the success or otherwise of the civil rule dream depends on the will of Liberians far more than on any plans by any individuals.

The path is bound to be full of unknown factors especially since the previous experience of civilian r did not exactly involve the whole of the population and most people have to be learning every inch of the way

The whole of Africa will be watching Liberia and wishing her people well as they enter this new chapter in the 137th year of the Republic.

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