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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Liberia: FOL Testimony

Liberia: FOL Testimony
Date distributed (ymd): 970629
Document reposted by APIC

The following testimony was distributed on the Friends of Liberia (FOL)E-Mail Network on June 24. For more information on the FOL E-Mail Networkcontact Steven Keenan <sekeenan@ican.net>or

Friends of Liberia, 1616 North Fort Myer Drive, 12th Floor, Rosslyn,Virginia 22209 (Mailing Address: P.O. Box 28098, Washington, D.C. 20038).Tel: (703) 528-8345; FAX: (703) 528-7480; e-mail: Liberia@FOL.org.


U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS Africa Subcommittee
Holds hearing on the Liberian elections Time: 1:00 pm
Location: 2200 Rayburn House Office Bldg. Date -- June 24
PARTICIPANTS:
-- Howard Jeter - United States Special Envoy to Liberia, Departmentof State
-- Kevin George - President, Friends of Liberia -- Mohamedu Jones - ViceChair, Liberians United for Peace and Democracy

The testimony of U.S. Special Envoy Howard Jeter and LUPD Vice-ChairmanMuhamadu Jones will be distributed on the FOL email network when FOL isable to obtain an electronic copy.

Testimony
Kevin George, President, Friends of Liberia June 24, 1997
House Subcommittee on Africa

"The Liberian Election: A New Hope?"

Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to testify about Liberia's election.

Today marks the opening of the voter registration period in Liberiafor the election on July 19. The next several weeks will be a period ofboth hope and considerable anxiety as Liberians attempt to cross the delicatepath from war to peace and to democracy.

Liberians know that this election is a vital step in their country'stransition to peace and democracy. They are keenly aware of the challengesof the democratic process and the consequences of failure. The chaos onthe streets of Monrovia in April 1996, the fate of 200,000 dead civilians,a quarter of them children, or the dilemma of Sierra Leone, where a nascentdemocracy was recently overthrown are fresh in their minds.

In my testimony today, I will address why I believe Liberia's electionis a critical event. I will also outline the obstacles that must be overcomefor this election to be considered free and fair and the actions that Liberiansand the international community can take to strengthen the likelihood of a successful transition to peace and democracy.

Legitimate Elections are a Key Step

Most Liberians recognize that peace in Africa's oldest republic canonly be sustained if there is a strong democratic form of government. TheJuly 19 election is therefore a vital point where peace is tested by thereality of Liberians choosing one candidate over another. It is essentialthat the election be perceived as free and fair.

I emphasize that this election is among the first of many steps thatLiberians must take to consolidate the process of peace. Disarmament officiallyended in February, but there remains a tremendous need for the reintegrationof combatants back into society. A majority of the 800,000 Liberians waitingin neighboring countries told a visiting survey team that they will notreturn until they verify that the peace process is holding after the election.Security is their primary concern, but refugees also are concerned aboutthe availability of food in a country that is producing very little ofits own. A post-election Liberia must also resurrect its economy from oneof illicit wartime trade to a legitimate process that provides jobs, revenueand resources to a devastated country. The first step is to hold a free and fair election.

The Challenge of Holding a Free and Fair Election

Liberia's peace process now appears to have two components that arecrucial to a viable election: a degree of security and an independent electioncommission.

The warring faction leaders have not completely abandoned their armsor control over core groups of combatants. Arms caches continue to be discoveredby ECOMOG. There is also concern that warring faction leaders running forpolitical office have an unfair advantage in terms of access to parts ofthe country and resources to conduct a campaign. It is highly likely thatwarring factions could reorganize and arm if there is any letup in security.

On the positive side, however, ECOMOG's deployment in Liberia's citiesand major towns since March has provided a level of security in the countrynot present since the start of the war. The effectiveness of this peacekeepingforce is critical to maintaining order in both the campaign period andthe post-election period. The diversion of ECOMOG troops to Sierra Leonereduced troop levels in Liberia from 13,000 to around 10,000 at a criticaltime. The U.S. and other countries should help ECOWAS meet its need tobring more troops into the country and to ensure that ECOMOG has the resourcesto effectively detect and control threats to the peace.

The organization earlier this year of a new election commission, onenot controlled by the warring factions, is a second important reason infavor of a viable election process. It is not possible to predict at thistime whether the Election Commission, which only became functional in April,can meet the logistical challenges of an election in the middle of therainy season. It is now training and deploying election officers. Accordingto a VOA interview yesterday with Henry Andrews, Election Commission Chairman,he has no funds to pay them.

The crucial first test of the viability of this process will be theregistration of voters which begins today and ends on July 3. At this momentthe roads to three counties are impassable and material for the registrationprocess could only get to these areas by helicopter. There is the dangerthat voters in some areas of the country will not be registered unlessresources, mainly transportation, are quickly made available to the Commissionto fulfill its mission.

It is very important to remember that there are 800,000 Liberians whoremain refugees. There is a small stream of returnees cautiously enteringthe country. More would probably return to Liberia if there was sufficientfood and guarantees of security. UNHCR is not scheduled to start a formalrepatriation of refugees until September.

It is clear that the interests of Liberia's refugees have been overlookedin planning for the election. The only information many have about theelection is the occasional story they hear on the BBC, VOA or a partisancontrolled local radio station. This will be an election in which roughlyone-third of the population will be unable to vote because they cannot return home.

Support Liberians Need for a Peaceful and Democratic Future

Progress is being made by Liberians, against considerable odds, to achievethe conditions necessary for elections that were described in Senator RussellFeingold's April 24 letter to Secretary of State Albright and in FOL'sFebruary 7 Statement on Elections. Both documents are attached to thistestimony and I request that they be included in the record of this hearing.That letter of Senator Feingold, signed by ten other members of Congress,lists the essential conditions that must be in place before an electioncan be convened. These conditions include having an independent electioncommission, promulgating an elections law, conducting civic education,ensuring that voters and parties are registered, and that election commoditiesare in place and polling sites identified.

These conditions have been adopted by many Liberians seeking to measurethe viability of the electoral process. Some may argue that Liberia's July19 election cannot be postponed again even if the conditions for free andfair elections are not in place. I believe it is far costlier to the peaceprocess to hold an election when a short postponement would increase thelikelihood that it would be free and fair. If Liberia's Election Commissionfeels that the basic conditions for a fair election are not in place thenthe U.S. government and ECOWAS should firmly support a decision to reschedulethe election.

The U.S. government should reiterate that the date for the election,while important, is not as important as verifying that the conditions fora free and fair process are first in place. Once the election is held,and it is determined to be free and fair, then the international communityshould provide support through the appropriate channels to assist Liberiansto rebuild their nation. Furthermore, strong international sanctions shouldbe brought against any leader of the former warring factions that resortsto armed military force during the election process or interferes withthe functioning of a freely and fairly elected government.


This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the AfricaPolicy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the WashingtonOffice on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debatein the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa,by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information andanalysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.


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