Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


Fighting Fair In Liberia

Every passing day, General Samuel Kanyon Doe confirms the anxieties often expressed about his ambitions and how he intends to transform them into reality.

In spite of all indications to the contrary, Gen Doe persists in claiming that he wants to usher in an era of democratic rule in Liberia. Given that democracy is one of those words and concepts open to widely varying forms of interpretation, he is still taking a peculiarly strange way of bringing about democracy in Liberia.

To begin with, he has turned a deaf ear to all arguments that he gives himself too big an advantage by not resigning as Head of State to fight the elections. Having decided to stay on with all the advantages of incumbency, he does not even want to allow the liberty of being treated as a candidate.

It is quite true that many African leaders have a great difficulty separating their own identities from the states they govern, making it impossible for even the mildest forms of criticisms to be made about their actions and personal lifestyles without being accused of subversion and treason.

The truth however remains that Gen Doe cannot really have it both ways if, as he insists, he wants to be the leader that brings in democratic rule to Liberia, he will have to accept the indignities that come with it. If he says that there will be free and fair elections in his country, he will have to play by the rules, he will have to accept that there are others of his countrymen who disagree with his ideas, who believe that they are better qualified for the position of President of Liberia, he will have to accept that once you have offered yourself as leader, you cannot avoid the scrutiny and criticisms that come with it.

If every time somebody criticises Gen Doe such a person is guilty of causing instability or subversion or trying to ridicule or belittle the presidency, the handicap that the other leadership aspirants already have, will become veritable impossible tasks.

There is, of course, a choice that has always been open to the General dating back to April 1980 when he set himself the task of liberating the Liberian people - he can always decree himself the Head of State as he already is and carry on as such for as long as he pleases. There would not be very much that can be done about that. As he himself has said on occasion, there are two methods of coming to power, you are either voted into power by the people, in which case, you have to listen to them or you put yourself in power in which case you are largely free to listen only to your own conscience.

The ban that has been placed on the United People's Party (UPP) of Mr Gabriel Baccus-Matthews, for example, can only heighten a lot of anxieties and lead to the possible conclusion that anybody or organisation that opposes Gen Doe is not likely to get very far in the campaign.

Electioneering in Africa has a character all its own, some of the peculiarities dictated by the facts of illiteracy, the lack of adequate roads and transportation and communication difficulties in general.

The printing of pamphlets and posters becomes an indispensable part of the campaign and can hardly constitute grounds on which a party can be banned.

In much the same way, it is difficult to appreciate the reasons for closing down the 'Daily Observer' once more again. Supposing that the 'Observer' is indeed guilty of all the charges laid against it by the Justice Minister Mr Scott, they hardly constitute grounds for closing down the paper. The most serious of the 'charges' is that the 'Observer' has constituted itself into an opposition to the government or some would say to the party led by Gen Doe. He surely couldn't have hoped to achieve such an aim without some opposition. The existence of an opposition paper - if that is what the 'Observer' was - would be an important ingredient in Gen Doe's plans for free and fair elections.

As for the other reasons given by Mr Scott to justify the closure of the 'Observer', they come as an embarrassment to a government trying to gain credibility. How the 'Observer' places its stories on its pages is a decision that rests solely on the professionals that work on the paper and cannot be decided in the Executive mansion.

If the newspapers were to take Mr Scott's words seriously, even Gen Doe himself might soon find that he will be afflicted with an acute case of overexposure. They will place his photographs and his words on the front pages everyday, on the days that he has not uttered any words, they will try to print his dinner table conversation. After a fortnight of it, Gen Doe will likely find that his countrymen would be turned off completely from him. For, too much of everything, even of the best in life, can prove too much.

The 'Observer' has probably, even if unintentionally, been doing Gen Doe a favour by not giving the kind of publicity to the Head of State that Mr Scott would like. Doing out the goodies in bits has always guaranteed a heightened appetite.

It is not for nothing that the expression is 'fighting for an election', that is the only way 'victory' can be claimed or a 'loser' can be pronounced at the end. If everybody who opposes Gen Doe is not going to be able to 'fight' the election, Gen Doe will soon find that he will not be in a contest. As a professional soldier, such a situation can hardly be to his liking. After all, the stronger the opponent, the more balanced the equipment and manpower at the resources of both sides, the sweeter the victory when it comes. Gen Doe can hardly enjoy his 'victory' when it comes, if he has not fought for it.

Let it not be said that Commander-in-Chief Doe will ever run away from a fight or pick on puny and unworthy opponents for a fight.

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