Remarks by Gabriel I. H. Williams, Journalist and Author

National Youth Movement for Transparent Elections (NAYMOTE)

On the topic: “The Role of Youth In Choosing Good Leaders"

Held at the Dave Peterson Electoral Research Center in Monrovia
September 27, 2005

Mr. Executive Director and other leaders of NAYMOTE

Fellow Discussants

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

    I am honored by your invitation to serve as the lead discussant at this roundtable discussion, which is focused on the theme, “Youth Vote 2005.” I am expected to expand on the topic, “The Role of Youth In Choosing Good Leaders.” I would endeavor to share some thoughts with you as we engage in this discussion which is aimed at exploring practical ways to raise young people’s interest and participation in politics and to identify key issues in aspirants’ platforms that meet youth needs to vote consciously.

    Before getting to the substance of my remarks, let me first of all thank the Almighty who has sustained us and saved our country from total destruction, following 25 years of brutal dictatorship and bloody civil war.

    We are very grateful to the international community, namely the United Nations, Economic Community of West African States, United States, European Union, and the African Union for the intervention to save our country from total destruction. With such massive international presence and support, there is no doubt Liberia is going through a major transformation for a better future. The October 11, 2005 presidential and legislative elections present a glorious opportunity for this country to forge ahead and regain its place not only as a leader in Africa, but as one of the greatest countries in the world. It is my hope that we Liberians would take advantage of the tremendous international good will our country now enjoys to build a peaceful and prosperous society, with opportunity for all the citizens, especially the young people.

    Our international partners deserve commendation for taking a firmed position that forced the transitional government of Liberia to sign the Governance Economic Management and Assistance Program (GEMAP) agreement, which is intended to help bring about accountability and transparency in the management of the country’s resources and to contain the endemic and system corruption and inefficiency that have reduced Liberia to a failed state. I would place the disgruntled few who have opposed GEMAP into two categories: those who lack proper understanding of what this international agreement is about and those who are protesting the loss of their privileges under the predatory system that has sustained them.

    I would urge the international community to go further by auditing the transitional government at the end of its tenure, in the wake reports of widespread and uncontrollable corruption within this government.  I would recommend that the audit and investigations particularly focus on the ministries of Finance, Commerce, and Lands Mines and Energy, Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), the Maritime Bureau, Forestry Development Authority, National Port Authority, and the Central Bank of Liberia. The looting of public resources would be ended only when perpetrators of such crimes are made to account.   

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have been in Liberia for about two months since my arrival from the United States, where I have resided for over a decade after I left the country due to death threats as a result of my role as a journalist. Besides a few media interviews, this is my first public appearance to address myself to some of the issues of national importance, such as the importance of choosing good leaders for our country, which is the subject of this forum. Let me also note that I am not here in my capacity as a consultant with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, one of the international organizations involved in this electoral process assisting Liberians to develop a democratic foundation. I am here as a Liberian who has been actively involved in the process of moving our country forward.

    Since my arrival in the country, I have noticed many interesting things. Among them are the numerous posters, billboards and banners with various messages and slogans that are posted in various parts of Monrovia. One of my favorite banners, which coincidentally were made by NAYMOTE, reads: “To have good leaders you must be a good voter.” The thrust of my remarks, therefore, would be on how the election of good leaders depends on good voters.

    There are numerous characteristics associated with good voters, first and foremost being active participation or involvement in the political process. Once the people are empowered through a participatory democratic process, it would be difficult for any dictatorship to impose its rule against their will. People are empowered by joining organizations and involvement in activities that they believe would reflect their aspirations, while at the same time holding the government or public leaders accountable for their actions.  

    The responsibility for choosing good leaders rests with the entire citizenry, including the youth. The better informed and enlightened the citizens are, the better they are prepared to choose good leaders. To have good leaders, the Liberian people, including you the youth, must give very serious consideration to the importance of electing candidates with the proven ability to provide public services, which include electricity, pipe-borne water, health and educational facilities, better road conditions and housing.  Liberians must also give very serious consideration to electing individuals who will prioritize their security and safety, and not those who will turn the state military and other security forces into death squads and instruments of terror to suppress and enslave them, as have been the case particularly in the recent past.

    During the brutal civil war, tens of thousands of young people were armed, drugged and turned into killing machines to slaughter people and destroy the country. They were under the control of individuals who promised them a better life. We know that this is a promise betrayed, as most former combatants, some with amputated limps and other forms of deformity have been neglected and abandoned by the warlords and factions that conscripted them. Many of the ex-combatants, including the deformed, are hanging around barely surviving by begging for alms.  It is about time that the young people consider the fact that they have been used and abandoned to a future of hardship and destitution, while the fat cats that fooled them are living in luxury with their families from the millions they have looted.  

    Mindful that the young people, who are reported to constitute a little more than 50 percent of the electorates, desire a better future for themselves, I wish to appeal to them to use the power of their vote to bring about a change that would ensure a better future for them and the country at large. Don’t let the former rebel leaders and their supporters fool you again by giving you a few dollars or some rice to encourage you to vote for them. Don’t let the discredited politicians, who have collaborated with warlords in the destruction of this country, to fool you by letting them to buy your vote for little or nothing. Your vote is worth much more, and that is a better future for you and your families. You deserve to be given the opportunity to go to school or to acquire skills that would enable you to become productive members of society.  This is also an appeal to Liberians not to sell their votes to political misfits for money or for rice.

    Even though the pending elections are crowded with all kinds of presidential and legislative candidates, which underscore serious problems for voters in a society where an estimated 85 percent of the people are illiterate, good leaders can be identified from this crowded field by learning about the background and track records of the candidates. In the search for good leaders, the Liberian people, particularly you young people, have to take into consideration the levels of education, proven work experience, and integrity of the candidates, and make a determination as to which of them appear better prepared to bring about the changes and progress that you desire. You can learn more about the candidates and their plans for development from their platforms, and also from the series of debates, numerous campaign rallies, and other political events that are taking place across the country.  Through series of programs on school campuses and in the communities similar to what we are attending, the youth can also be conscientized about the political process and the importance of your votes in changing the future of this country for better or for worse. You young people must vote for good leaders who have the capability to build schools and other modern infrastructure that would lead to the creation of jobs for you and the entire population. If you are well educated and qualified, you will be able to accomplish any goals you set for yourselves in life.   

    To fix a very broken country like Liberia, we cannot afford to have someone as president who has no conception of how to run a country. We cannot afford for the Executive Mansion to be turned into a classroom to teach the head of state, as was the case following the 1980 military takeover, which eventually plunged the country into years of wars, which have impoverished, embittered and exhausted our nation.

    It is also important that the Liberian people, which include you young people, elect leaders with the integrity to enjoy national and international respectability. It would be a terrible mistake for Liberians to vote for known war criminals and incompetents, as was in the case in 1997, which caused Liberia to be turned into a massive criminal enterprise.  In the fullness of time, those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in this country will be brought to book for their actions, whether or not some of them who are candidates get elected. We understand that many of these known war criminals and their supporters are trying to get elected to prevent any attempts in the future to hold them and other perpetrators accountable for their crimes. They will soon realize that the culture of impunity that has emboldened them is over, and that justice will be served. No matter what those who bear responsibility for the destruction of our country do to hold on to power, my only assurance to the Liberian people is that we are seeing the last vestiges of a dying evil order.

     I strongly support any future efforts by the international community to assist Liberia in the setting up of a war crimes court. I believe that the setting up of a war crimes court should be a national security issue of the highest order, if we are to end the culture of impunity that has emboldened criminal elements, who have been catapulted to national prominence and rewarded with political power and wealth by their involvement in the destruction of innocent lives and this country.

    Indeed, after more than a century of misrule and decades of bloodshed and destruction, Liberians now have the greatest opportunity to move Liberia in the right direction towards lasting peace and progress by how they vote in the October 11 presidential and legislative elections.  The responsibility is yours to vote right, and that is to vote for a better future for you.

I thank you.   

Gabriel I. H. Williams

Mission trip to Liberia is ‘a dream come true’

                                                                                                    by : Erin Shea  -  09/26/05

Beverly Walker prepares two cloth murals to take on her mission trip to Liberia. She embellished world map cloth she found at Fabricland. Walker intends to take two of the maps and have all those involved in the mission trip sign them.

Nearly 15 years after she first imagined traveling to Liberia to do mission work, Beverly Walker is finally getting her chance. “I am so excited,” Walker said. “This is just a dream come true for me.”

In 1990, at the height of the Liberian civil war, Walker dreamed that the United Methodist Church would send a container of supplies to those caught in the strife. She woke her husband, Joe, a retired United Methodist minister, in the middle of the night to share her plan.

Operation Liberia soon became a reality and turned into something far greater than Walker ever could have imagined. Members of the church’s Oregon Idaho Conference sent 14 loads, which was more than 200 tons of materials — including hospital beds, wheelchairs, sheets, pots and pans, and medical supplies — to the country.

Walker’s enthusiasm for the project grew, and she soon began planning a mission trip to the area. However, in 1992, she was stalled by the ongoing war. Fighting prevented her from making the trip again in 1995. Then, in 1996, she had a stroke, and her dreams of visiting Liberia had to be put on hold. The effects of the stroke were so severe that Walker couldn’t talk or write. The former English and speech teacher essentially had to relearn to speak.

Walker had a second stroke in 1999. Although she still longed to travel to Liberia, her husband, who had visited the country on several occasions, said the medical care was not up to par, and asked that she not travel so far, fearing that she might have another stroke.

In January, Walker’s doctor gave her a clean bill of health, and she quickly set plans in motion to make her dream a reality. She will lead a team of nine retired teachers and clergy members to Liberia, where they will spend nearly three weeks in a village near Camphor Mission. “I’m just very excited to be able to go to Liberia,” Walker said. “After my strokes … I couldn’t even say Joe’s name. Prayer works. I am just really pleased I can be there.”

A United Nations peacekeeping force is in Liberia, making the political climate more stable than it has been in recent years. There is some concern about the coming post-war election, but in general, conditions are improving. However, some changes still need to be made. Walker said many of the schools in Liberia have been operating only sporadically, and several have been completely closed for 14 years during the extended civil disturbance.

Walker and the other volunteers will work with teachers, many of whom have only an eighth-grade education, she said. “I think it’s really important that we see and hear where they are and offer suggestions,”  Walker said. “Education is so important, that to have the opportunity to help the teachers be better teachers is really exciting.”

The group also will do some clergy training for Liberian religious leaders. The trade language in Liberia is English, which will make the journey easier, Walker said, adding that 30 other languages are spoken in the country.

The members of the group, who paid for their own travel, each will carry two large suitcases filled with gifts for school children and educational resources for the teachers. Walker collected a number of books, a multi-region DVD player and several children’s DVDs, solar-powered calculators, several pastor’s stoles and other items to share with the locals.

“People have been so generous,” Walker said. “It’s fun. We get to go and say, ‘These gifts are from friends.’”