As the 2017 General and Presidential Elections draw near, the need for civic education, awareness and active engagement of the citizenry in all aspects of the electioneering process is pivotal to a violence free and successful elections, and ultimately to sustaining of Liberia’s young and emerging post-conflict democracy. The role of civil society in this process is important and needs not be overemphasized. Civil society has the responsibility to promote understanding of all the processes leading to the conduct of the polls, the guidelines and laws governing these processes, and not least to facilitate participation of, interaction or dialogue amongst all stakeholders and actors, to advocate for and ensure participation for the rights of all actors, ensuring that the interest of no actor(s) or group(s) are compromised for the other(s).
It is in consideration of the above that the Initiative for Democratic Alternative (IDA) – Liberia recently launched its nationwide community discussion forum, tagged “Community Talk.” The first edition of the forum was held on Saturday, June 4, 2016 in Suakoko, Bong County. The event was organized in collaboration and partnership with the Cuttington University Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution and other local and international civil society actors (organizations) including the Foundation for International Dignity (FIND) – Liberia, The Carter Center (through the auspices of the Bong County Office), and the Community Development and Research Agency (CODRA), Bong County. The event was held at the Cuttington University Main Campus, Suakoko. The one day public dialogue, which brought together fifty (50) participants including students from Cuttington University, the Bong County Technical College (BCTC), and secondary schools in and around Suakoko was themed “Youth, Political Participation and Decision Making” and sub-themed: “Preparing for 2017 Elections in Liberia: the Social Responsibility Question – Promoting Youth Participatory Governance.” Essentially, the Suakoko Community Dialogue was geared toward strengthening the participation of young women and young men, mostly student leaders, in political decision making and governance processes in their schools and at the communities, to enhance their skills to prepare them for creating massive civic awareness on the electioneering processes, and most specifically equip them with the knowledge they need to serve as peer educators in educating and helping other young people to make informed political choices.
The event was very interactive and provided an opportunity for open discussion among participants themselves on the one hand, and between facilitators and participants on the other hand to discuss about some of the challenges faced by young people and how they can make informed political choices or vote the right leaders in the 2017 elections.
Among others, the program comprised remarks and various presentations on key thematic areas on elections, youth participation and democratic governance and the role of civil society from IDA-Liberia staff, representations from partners institutions and special guests (invitees). Presentations included: The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Promoting Youth Participation and Democratic Governance – Mohammed Dukuly, Community Development and Research Agency, CODRA Liberia; Political Context and Emerging Issues for Youth Participation and Decision Making in Liberia (Youths, Electoral Violence and Democratic Governance) – Aaron Juakollie and Lena Gerbur, Foundation for International Dignity (FIND); The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Peaceful, Free and Fair Elections and Youth Participation in 2017 – The FIND Perspective – Aaron Juakollie, FIND-Liberia.
Keynote remark was delivered by a leading Liberian political historian, Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu, Director of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, who gave a brief historical reflections titled: “Liberia’s Socio-Political History: Where Are We Coming From?” Dr. Guannu charged participants to “look carefully into the past,” and “rewrite Liberia’s history correctly,” adopt the lessons from the history, so as to avoid repeating the pitfalls of the past. He called on the Government of Liberia to commit additional resources to the process of ensuring that Liberians author Liberian history, and implore the youths to study hard, concluding that, “if you (a young person) want to be president, know how to spell president, if you want to go into the house, learn how to spell house.”
On behalf of IDA-Liberia, Raymond Da-boi – who is also a research fellow at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Cuttington University – offered welcome remarks, officially launched the nationwide discourse, and kicked off the deliberations at the Suakoko Community Talk. In his welcome statement, Mr. Da-boi encouraged participants to be actively involved in the deliberations and to contribute during the plenary as well as working or small group sessions so as to make the forum as interactive and so that the whole group will tap on the rich body of knowledge from participants. He gave an overview of the purpose of the event, lauded IDA-Liberia partners for their support towards the successful hosting of the event, the youths and all participants for “sacrificing” their Saturday to participant in the program, and to the Director, faculty, staff and students of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution for agreeing to host the event in the premises of the Institute, and to IDA-Liberia country and international staff for their dedication, efforts, energies and material resources put into the preparation for the program amidst serious challenges. Mr. Da-boi stressed the importance of the public dialogue and how it fits within IDA-LIBERIA programmatic areas. He revealed that the program is intended to create a platform to serve as a public discourse on the role of citizens, particularly youth in political governance and in sustaining Liberia’s emerging democracy and in how they (youths) can contribute meaningfully to national development, adding that the program will be rolled out in the remaining 14 political sub-divisions of the country. Accordingly, he added that the Community Talk is a part of IDA-Liberia’s Citizen Engagement and Policy Reform Program, which is aimed at convening policymakers, service providers, citizens and other development stakeholders to play an influential role in policy development, adoption and implementation to participate in discussions about issues in their community, and to facilitate a process to bring electorates and elected officials on a platform to form an agenda for development, in a bid to make elected officials more accountable to their constituencies (electorates).
In his concluding statement, Mr. Da-boi asserted that “by and through Community Talk,” IDA-Liberia envisions a process of creating and facilitating a platform for active citizens’ involvement in the creation of new context specific knowledge that highlight local content and realisms, and formulation and implementation of policies at various levels. He cautioned that “civil society actors who are facilitating these processes should be knowledgeable of the issues and dynamics involved in these processes,” so they would be more apt to offer cutting-edge solutions in addressing the gaps through effective advocacy and to be able to learn and integrate new ideas and methods so as to improve on their services.