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News from Liberia's elections

24 October 2005
On 11th October 2005 Liberia had their first free and fair multiparty elections in their 150 years of existence as an independent state. Since 1980 when President William Tolbert was murdered and his government overthrown, Liberia has seen has had very little peace. Two presidents have been murdered, each and every Liberian has one way or the other been displaced, hundreds of thousands, ending as refugees across West Africa, tens of thousands of young boys abducted, trained and turned into killings, then unleashed on their own people, hundreds of women abducted and ganged raped. It took Liberians 14 years of mayhem, 14 peace agreements, and the total destructions of the country’s entire infrastructures, 10,000 UN Peace agreements and the support of the entire international community for Liberia to cast their vote on their first free and fair elections.

The women of Liberia had been in the front to ensure peace, with demonstrations, prayers, training and finally in Accra in 2003 actually refused the war lords to come out rooms’ negotiations until they come to an agreement. As women they had not only suffered like every Liberians, but women had been systematically been targeted.

During the voter registrations women’s group in Liberia like WIPNET, the Liberians women’s initiations actually had special programs and support to encourage women to register including providing child care support and help to look at the businesses of women to enable them visit registration centre to register. They campaigned effortlessly with the National Transitional Government and legislation to have a quota share for women, but failed. They were compensation by making sure the National Electoral Commission had an equal Representation for women including the Chair.

They had two women presidential candidates amongst the 22 candidates. During elections day women came out in full force, old, men, disabled, and pregnant. They came with crutches, their stick, benches, but came to vote. They made 50% of the registered voters. Standing there watching these women who had lined up since midnight, patiently waiting to cast their vote, I could just not control my tears. Women with young babies came took position by putting benches and stones, went home to wait until the babies woke up, feed them and bring them along.

Women were well represented in the contest for the Senate and the House, but with the lack of resources very little gains were made. At least two women were Vice Presidential candidates. The electoral system was also not very good for women. It has been proven that the proportional representation system is not only good for post war elections but also good for women.

The best news from Liberia is that there is a high probability that Africa’s first woman president will be elected on the 8th November 2005. None of the 22 candidates was able to get the 50 + 1 votes to win outright. This means that the first two candidates will have to go to a run off. The final results in Liberia show that George Weah and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf qualified for a run off on the 8th November. I will be there to monitor and will be holding my breath for Ellen to win.

Our greatest problem as women in countries of conflicts is that men caused war, lead the wars, negotiate the peace, handle the reconstruction resources and process and then lead the post war development. We become victims and beneficiaries or recipients of what they feel are good for us without consultation. How do we change that? Peace is negotiated by warring factions to share the spoil. How can we change that?

I was once looking at television on the cable satellite and the heads lines were the Darfur negotiations in Nigeria – all men, the signing agreement East Africa Community organization in Kenya - all men, and the refugees from Darfur in refugees camps in Chad in very deplorable conditions- mostly women and children. This symbolically explains our fate and conditions as women.

Whenever I meet men politicians in Africa, I tell them Africa is in the mess in which it is because it had been run by men. They have destroyed our continent.

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