“Hey Liberian people, I know you got an election going on and all, and I’m gonna let you finish, but Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was one of the best presidents of ALL TIME…”
That’s the message sent to Liberia by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee today. If you weren’t aware, Liberians are headed to the polls next week for the second election since the end of 23 years of social upheaval.
As Liberia expert Michael Keating puts it today over at Foreign Policy:
I think it is fair to question the Nobel’s Committee judgement in awarding this prize in a situation where its announcement might be construed as a full-throated endorsement of President Sirleaf’s reelection on the part of the international community. The situation on the ground in Monrovia is much more nuanced than Madame Sirleaf’s coterie of uncritical foreign fans would have us believe. Many of the gains she takes credit for are real but they are still only benefiting a very small group of Liberian citizens.
In a recent Newsweek article, Prue Clarke and Emily Schmall, highlight amongst other specks on the presidents spotless international image, the situation of average Liberians in a country where 9 out of 10 live on less than $1.25 a day, high levels of corruption in the current regime, the inability of the president to deal with social problems such as high levels of rape in the country, and the recommendation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission she set-up that she should not be involved in politics for 30 years. The article also points out that while the Unity Party is able to hold rallies of 40,000 people, some of her former supporters, especially women, are starting to rethink their stance on the President.
The problem that arises is that the President’s local support is just not as strong as the international community would like to believe. This is probably because the international community has invested a lot in the technocratic peace-building development scheme they’ve deployed from Afrghanistan to Sierra Leone. While the international community encourages the integration into the global economy, and the holding of free-elections, many Liberians have been led to believe that a vote for the status-quo will be a vote to maintain a fragile peace.
It was in the midst of this environment in which I was able to visit Monrovia this summer. In July, when George Weah’s CDC rolled into town young people swarmed the streets bringing daily operations in the city to a halt (and they are repeating the same feat today). You don’t get a feeling unlike Occupy Wall Street or what was depicted of Tahrir Square. While the CDC supporters are unfortunately engaged in a game of politics that will ultimately benefit the few leaders of the party, the sentiment that the current leadership has not helped them was not lost on me.