Liberia News Agency’s (LINA) former boss, J. Nagbe Sloh, has always resented the tendency by callers to phone in during radio talk shows to express disappointment in his utterances. He has robustly retorted in this manner; “I didn’t tell you I was coming to the studio to be your spokesperson. I talk my own, so talk your own.” I take pleasure in Mr. Sloh’s saying because at this critical time in our election history, I expect each of us to talk our own, as it relates to nonviolence.Martin Luther King, Jr., puts itsuccinctly, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Whether it is violence against an officer by exuberant partisans, whether it is violence perpetrated by partisan X against partisan Y, whether it is violence against the paraphernalia (things, equipment, etc.) belonging to a party other than ours, don’t be mute on matter as such. Keeping the peace we all have yearned for over the years is to avoid violence, whether verbal or physical, because when violence raps at the door of the nation, it does not ask for political or tribal identity, it does not ask if you are literate or illiterate, it does not ask whether you are poor or rich and it does not ask whether you are young or old. Whichever side you stand, remember that thoseon the other sideof the divide are Liberians and whoeverwinsbecomes a leader for all.
In a political contestation like ours, the best and rightful thing to do is to be the trail blazer for peace by the way we individually conduct ourselves and the affairs of our political groupings. In these elections, three categories of people have formed the segmentation of our political demographics: the incumbents (seated representatives and except for the offices of the presidency and the vice presidency which are open) whom I have chosen to honorifically call political leaders, challengers of the incumbents and the voters. I try to phantom what is the expected role of each segment in this demographic triangulation that will lead us to the finishing line on October 10, 2017.
The Political Leaders: Elevating this point of the discussion from the background of the security sector, it is a maxim that whatever goes wrong within the unit the commander is held liable. Transposing this to the political playing field, we expect our political leaders to bring pearls of wisdom to the contestation rather than merely charging supporters with such phrasings as “this is our time to rule or govern,” and “we will accept no result other than victory.” In what seems a commercialized political game scheme, economically powerful individuals (politicians) are pursuing their followers and objectives as may be permissible by the depth or might of their pockets or purses.
Now is the time, as political leaders to know or attempt to know your audiences. Pause for a while and come to think about this: Are you dealing with an ideological audience, commercialized audience or simply a swinging audience? Agree with me or not but, I think I may not be alone on this assertion. There will be partisans, supporters or sympathizers, who may want to impress you like battle-hardened generals, aggressively dealing with others not sympathetic to your cause. While their actions may seem just and powerful as far as your interest is concerned, the unintended consequences may work against the unity and anticipated objectives of your campaign. This brings me to a quote from an anonymous writer that “Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.” I demand in every possible application today that political leaders use nonviolent tactics to navigate the aspirations of the voters. As a political leader, if you haven’t thought of this, this is the time to carve an endearing bond among the entire citizenry, not only your followers. As political leaders aspiring for national leadership, the burden is yours to shift the tone of our national conversation from violence toward civility and nonviolence. In my mind, nonviolence remains the only acceptable norm for building a community of peace and justice. As a leader, what strategy have you employed to increase your numerical slice of our voting population? The success of your political endeavors rests with the right organization of thoughts and intentions and using the right means to win supporters over. I am therefore charging political parties and their leaders to ensure that they woo not only identifiable but also trustable people in charge of their activities who will be the drivers of the cause for which state power must be entrusted to them.
The Challengers: In his master piece entitled, “The Nonviolence Handbook”, Professor Michael N. Nagler, cautions that “If we cannot live with an injustice, we can risk our lives to correct it.” Banking on Professor Nagler’s idea, I demand that if we cannot afford to live with violence, now is the time to raise the pitch of our voices for peaceful election. We hear challengers speak of the incumbents as having "done anything for their constituencies, as miserably failing their people, as failing to make laws to impact the lives of the Liberian people, etc” and therefore they are suitably qualified to take on the echelon of power to deliver their people. I will ask some hard questions here because like the Chinese proverb goes, “There is no way one crosses a river and at the same time feel sorry for the stones.” We will step on the metaphorical stones which are the hard questions to be asked. What neo-liberal paradigm are you bringing to the political dialogue at this time that Liberians (voters) have not heard before? What exhaustive benchmarks have you brought to this race that will outweigh your competitors? It has now become a recitation for every challenger for the representative seat to say the incumbent has failed in law making, oversight and representation, but are you also aware that constituency development is one cardinal responsibility of a law maker and if you are aware, what strategy have you developed in this regard? Given a best-case scenario, what strategy is in place to manage the expectations of your supporters if you win? In a worst-case scenario, how do you, as responsible leaders intend to equally manage the emotion of your supporters if you lose? As responsible political leaders, you are under obligation to ensure that orderliness remains the guiding instrument within your ranks. Freedom, nowhere in the world can be sustained without the framework of order. How do you, as political leaders, using the practice of adaptive leadership, create what Roland Heifetz, et al (2009) refer to as “creating a holding environment-all those ties that bind people together and enable them to maintain their collective focus on what they are trying to do?”
The Voters: The voters in any electioneering process are the power holders who decide who goes where. As voters do you consider the quality of your choice? Remember, when a decision is poorly made regarding who represents any of the 73-electoral districts; that poor decision brings a national liability to bear on the entire country. So, do not change for the sake of change, neither should you maintain an incumbent merely for continuity. People must be either rewarded or punished for their good or poor work following careful evaluation in the constituency they seek to represent. As voters, let us not allow the madness of tribalism or ethnicity control our actions and decisions during this campaign season and ultimately leading us to the casting of ballots. The issue of ethnic politics should be thrown out of the windows because we have seen the best and worst sides of actors from all sides of the political divides. Digging deeper into ethnicity, we arrive at a final point only to bow in shame that characters from all sides are guilty as economic and political victimizers of the very people under their stewardship. Who then is puritanical to preach ethnic politics? Far be it from us at this time. Instead, may I rally the voters to insist that our politicians speak to us with precision regarding their platforms, insist that their objectives for the offices they seek are measurable and time tagged, insist that their messaging be clearly understood and further insist that if the characters of candidates do not appeal to you, reject them.
In short, each of us, but more prominently, political leaders at this critical time have the responsibility to stabilize this nation by the way they conduct their political affairs and if we falter, will hold none, but ourselves responsible for the outcome of our decisions. The voters, too, are equally charged with voting the quality of leaders who, in the end, will be expected to provide selfless leadership that will move this country forward. Whatever the case, at the ballot box, each of us will be brought into the force field of making critical decisions even at the risk of errors. I talk my own, now is yours.