The Illinois Great Rivers Conference and the Liberian Conference of the United Methodist Church have a deep and growing partnership. I became a deeper part of this relationship in February 2011, when I went with a group of new clergy to Liberia. The people of Liberia remain in my heart, and my heart has been troubled over the last few weeks.
Prayers for Liberia are needed. For months people have been looking to October 2011 as a major test of Liberia’s fragile peace. The wounds of 14 years of civil war are still fresh, and many of the major players in that war are still in positions of leadership in the Liberian government. The Presidential election of 2011 was basically a three-way race between current President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Winston Tubman, and Prince Johnson.
On October 11 the election saw a voter turnout of 71%. In that election, it was Johnson-Sirleaf (44%), Tubman (33%), Johnson (12%). Since no candidate won a majority of the votes, a run-off election was planned for November 8. After the election Johnson threw his support behind President Sirleaf, essentially ensuring her victory. Despite the fact that all independent election authorities called the elections fair and transparent, Tubman declared that there was mass voter fraud and disputed the results.
He advised his followers to boycot the run-off election and staged demonstrations across the country which intimidated people from voting. Some of the demonstrations became violent. Clashes between the Liberian National Police and demonstrators caused at least two deaths. The leader of the LNP recently resigned after pressure from President Sirleaf.
In the run-off elections, the turn-out fell to 38.6%, and President Sirleaf received over 90% of the vote. Tubman’s party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) continues to protest the elections. They have promised to make Liberia “ungovernable” if their demands are not met. They are calling for a second set of elections, and seem to be holding the nation hostage with threats of violence.
The situation remains fluid, but there seems to be some signs of hope. On November 29 there was a Peace and Reconciliation Jamboree. And the CDC seems to be falling apart. According to this news article, five influential leaders have been ousted. From what I have gleaned from different sources, these leaders were the most vocal and were the ones trying to organize the kind of rallies that so often turn violent. According to this story, the CDC has backed off of plans to have street protests.
All of these stories come from a source called allAfrica.com. It seems to be a credible source.
There is still relative peace, but the situation is fragile.
Brief summary of the primary candidates in the 2011 election:
Prince Johnson was a primary leader in the civil war. He gained much notoriety for capturing, torturing and executing President Samuel Doe. In the early stages of the war, he was an ally of Charles Taylor, but the two ended up bitter rivals.
Winston Tubman is an Americo-Liberian and was a member of the Doe administration. He was Johnson’s primary competition in the election after joining with George Weah. Weah was Tubman’s running mate, and was the runner-up to Johnson in the 2005 elections.
George Weah is probably the most famous Liberian in the world. In 1996 he won the FIFA Football Player of the Year Award, and was named the African Football Player of the Century. He ran for President in 2005, but lost in the run-off with Johnson.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been a public figure in Libria for three decades. She is a Harvard-educated financier, and worked for many years for the World Bank. Her international and business experience is second-to-none in Liberia. In 2011 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.