On Tuesday, Liberia gave itself a beautiful gift

For the first time in several generations, a democratically elected president in Liberia is going to handing over power to another democratically elected president in Liberia.

It is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s singular legacy that she has made this look normal, but there is nothing normal about what happened in Liberia on Tuesday.

Liberia was supposed to be a success story. Often called the continent’s first and oldest modern republic, in 1847, it became the first African republic to proclaim independence. It was a founding member of the League of Nations, United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity.

Its problems began in 1980 when William R. Tolbert was overthrown in a military coup that resulted in about 23 years of political crises and two Civil Wars. These wars have resulted in the deaths of at least 250,000 people and then wiped out over 90 percent of the nation’s economy. That economy was so weakened that by the time the Ebola epidemic arrived in 2014, there was simply no bulwark against the onslaught.

The nation’s international image in the 1990s was defined by the terror of Charles Taylor. Peace did not return to the fragile country until 2003, when President Taylor, in a nod to the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, resigned in 2003 amid an Interpol arrest warrant for war crimes committed as he led the Revolutionary United Front rebel force in neighbouring Sierra Leone. He is now locked up, thankfully, in a British prison for 50 years.

The election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in 2005 brought peace, and it brought stability. Her calm, measured governance, while the subject of political dispute in her fractured country, has given the nation an image of sanity and growth in the international space. While over 80 percent of the population continues to live under the international poverty line, the country was credibly able to marshal an international coalition to fight Ebola and to help rebuild the nation.

In the same way, Liberia has managed again to impress the world with an oncoming election that has been defined by flourishing debate, an engaged civil society, a multiplicity of active options, a largely trusted electoral process and a strong expectation of fair polls.

Indeed, for those who have visited Liberia within the last few months, the march to strengthen democracy has often felt like a party; an ongoing celebration of a people’s will, a people’s dreams and the possibilities of useful change as 20 registered candidates battle to replace the first woman to be democratically elected president in Africa.

Those candidates include her deputy for 12 years, Joseph Boakai; the international footballer George Weah (who lost in a runoff to Ms Sirleaf in 2005) who are the frontrunners. Other candidates are former warlord, Prince Johnson who came in third when he ran for president in 2011; Benoni Urey, who is reputed to be Liberia’s richest man; Charles Brumskine who is a veteran opposition figure, and Alexander Cummings who is a respected business leader from Coca-Cola. There is also MacDella Cooper, who is the lone female candidate in the race. In essence, this is a keenly contested presidential election, fully engaging the citizens of the country and fully providing a range of options for the country’s uncertain future.

On Tuesday, almost half of the population (2.1 million registered) voters poured into the streets to vote at 5,390 polling stations across 15 counties. They will be enjoying the legacy of 12 years of uninterrupted peace and stability and a nation still existing in spite of two civil wars, a debilitating epidemic and an economy in permanent depression.

But for these voters, as well as the 148 international observers from the African Union, ECOWAS, The Carter Foundation, and the National Democratic Institute, that’s even more reason to vote.

Tuesday was a statement. A statement that Liberia has resolutely chosen democracy, and a statement that Liberia insists on marching forward

For a nation founded on the soaring hope that black people had better chances for freedom in Africa than in the United States, there is no gift more beautiful than this one.

Jideonwo is co-founder of StateCraft Inc, which has worked with presidential candidates in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. His latest book is How to Win Elections in Africa. 

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Chude Jideonwo
Chude Jideonwo

Chude Jideonwo is co-founder of StateCraft Inc, which has consulted for presidential candidates in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. He is author of the upcoming book How To Win Elections in Africa.


‘My biggest fear was getting the virus and dying in...

South African Wuhan evacuee speaks about his nine-week ordeal

Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories