It has been a while since my last post. I got a little overwhelmed with the writing and decided to take one week’s break. As usually happens with such things, life intervened and the short break became a long one. I moved houses in this time, internet connection was very poor at the new place, then I went to India for a month etc. etc. Now that I am back from India and have upgraded the internet connection, it is time to start writing again.
Liberia has moved along in the last two months. The new president took oath of office last week which makes it opportune for me to update you on the election activities since my last post on the topic – Monkey vs. Baboon . In the first round in October, the monkey, i.e the incumbent president – Nobel Laureate Mrs. Ellen Johnson, finished first getting 43% of the vote while the baboon, i.e. the main opposition party led by the ever popular soccer star George Weah, finished a very strong second getting 33% of the vote. Various election monitors which included some of my colleagues certified the process to be generally fair. However, the baboon claimed various irregularities in the election and demanded the resignation of chief election commissioner. The CEC played into their hands when he sent the opposition party a letter stating that they had gotten the highest number of votes (which was factually incorrect). He promptly got fired for his mistake. However, this incident added further fuel to the fire and the baboon eventually decided to boycott the runoff election.
The day before the runoff election our office closed early. I had just moved into the new apartment and did not have food or cooking gas. I didn’t have any money on me either. So, I walked to the bank but it turned out to be closed. I was very surprised and wondered why. A short while later, Ab, our driver came to deliver my bag. He told me that there is a demonstration going on near the president’s residence and the roads are being closed and the traffic was jammed up. That explained why the bank had closed so early. Around 7 pm., I got a call from Emmanuel, my running buddy, who supports the opposition party aka. the baboon. He was hysterical and shouting on the phone, ‘Koppel, she trying to be Charles Taylor. She shooting at unarmed people. People dying, Koppel, people dying.’ I turned to the radio. Apparently, the crowd had started stoning and rushed the riot police. The riot police quickly got overwhelmed and someone from the supporting UN military units started firing. The crowd quickly retreated and during it’s retreat burnt and looted a gas station. Some opposition sympathizers said that some people were chased on to the adjoining beach and were shot there. I don’t know if this was ever verified. Different sources put the death toll between 1 and 7.
Later in the night around 11, I was channel surfing on the radio when I suddenly got to a station which was making pleas for help. The announcer was saying,’ There are armed men at our door. They are holding us hostage and trying to get in. Please help. Tell the police or UN if you can.’ After making the announcement, the station went back to playing music. It was unbelievable and I was thinking to myself, ‘how can you go back to playing music after that announcement?’ A short while later the station went off air. I assumed that the armed men got inside and feared the worst. An hour later, I got a text message from my office that one of the radio stations, a different one from the one above, was on fire. I went to bed with visions of getting up in the night with sounds of violence around me.
Next day, the radio stations announced that the voting was going on peacefully though the turnout was low. I searched for any news on the station which had gone off air but there was no mention of it on UN or BBC. Finally, I heard that 2 radio stations and 1 TV station had been shut down by the government last night for broadcasting inflammatory reports and images. Apparently, the armed men at the station’s door were policemen !!!
The election day and the next passed off peacefully. As I had no food, I subsisted on boiled eggs for 2 days. Later, the government announced an inquiry into the pre-election violence. The inquiry blamed the opposition for conducting the demonstration when electioneering had already ended. The radio stations and TV station took the government to court for closing them. The court chastised the stations but allowed them to start broadcasting again. Over the next few weeks, the opposition aka baboon carried out multiple demonstrations including one with coffins of their dead comrades but thankfully there was no violence. Normalcy returned gradually.
Since the opposition had boycotted the runoff, the monkey won the runoff easily. The baboon kept making threats to disrupt the inauguration. Talks were held between the government and the opposition. Finally just before the inauguration day, the opposition accepted the election results and the legitimacy of the president elect. The baboon declared,’ we will take any job for the sake of peace and harmony in Liberia’. The president has been including opposition members in her administration. With some give and take and some far sighted actions on the part of both the monkey and the baboon, Liberia has dodged a bullet. I think both the monkey and baboon deserve some credit for this and may be new names as well. I wonder what they will call themselves in the next election.
The slow march to peace and democracy continues.