Friday, October 7, 2011

The Civil Liberty Issue

“Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” In one of His teaching section at the beginning of His ministry on earth, Jesus Christ told the people that gathered around Him at the time that the ONLY path to human interaction is the engagement process. The freedom to talk to your boss, leader, or master about the issues that are affecting your survival makes living better. Jesus Christ enhanced the discussion of freedom by the saying “for everyone who asks will receive, anyone who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to those who knock.” In the 21st Century anyone one can argue that the choice to open the door depends on the person within. Well, let me inform you that even if all of the positive responses that are contained in the Jesus’ lesson were negative in our world of today, at least there would have been an interaction which is a demonstration of the civil liberty of the individuals involved.
Like the many issues that come up in our media landscape and certainly died natural death either with action or inaction from the government or the citizens, the subordination of the civil liberties of the Liberian people to any other plan that any government may have in mind should not go unchecked. According to the media, the Standard Bearer of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), Cllr. Winston Tubman is quoted as saying that “civil liberties and press freedom are not a priority for the Liberian people.” Cllr. Tubman said Liberian people need roads, hospital, good working conditions with better salaries, and other social services. I am certain that the “Liberian Leader” in the making received over whelming applause from his partisans instantly when he made the statement. Minutes after the speech, I asked some CDC partisans where they would prefer the road to pass in their town. This is what they told me, “we will tell the government the kind of road and hospitals that we need.” There and then I knew that even the CDC partisans including those who applauded Cllr. Tubman did not understand what it meant to subordinate their civil liberties to the construction of roads and hospitals.
As a young man growing up in Monrovia, I still remembered that we had only one radio station; the state owned ELBC which later on became LBS because of its local networks in the various counties. There were three newspapers including the government newspaper. So when the Catholic Church of Liberia established a radio station which could hardly go beyond Monrovia in the 80s, the political playing field was deemed level by some advocates of the freedom of speech. Though the terrain in which that freedom was conducted constrained several politicians and civil liberty campaigners, the fact that there was a free and independent space, people felt comfortable. Twenty years on, our civil liberty has been threaten by one of the candidates who want to lead this great nation in this 21st Century. If civil liberty and press freedom are not a priority, what else will be?
For a nation that has transition from just one radio station to over 45 radio stations 30 of which are community radio stations and more than 19 newspapers with a blend of visual complements from five television stations, a step backward will be resisted by all well-meaning Liberians including some CDC partisans at the polls. The journey from one radio station to where we are in terms of freedom of speech and the press cannot be wasted or thwarted by any Liberia leader.
I am sure by now Cllr. Winston Tubman has remonstrated and justified the statement to his Vice Standard Bearer, Ambassador George Weah and other party executives quietly. What remains to be seen or heard is whether the learned Counselor slipped in delivering his campaign speech or he intentionally meant to say that our civil liberties as a people didn’t matter to him if elected. I am raising this concern because political speeches are shrouded with deniability. One politician may say something here and there and few days later it is denied with such clarity that even those who bring it to public sphere feel guilty. I hope we can have Cllr. Tubman confirmed or denied that he made this statement with “clear heart” like we say here in Liberia. On Wednesday, October 5, 2011, the Secretary General of the CDC challenged the media to provide any prove of the utterance of Cllr. Tubman on the civil liberty issue.
Surprisingly, on October 4, 2011, CDC Free Thinkers issued a statement in one of the local dailies condemning statements made by the party’s “compromised Standard Bearer, Cllr Winston Tubman.” The group indicated that Cllr. Tubman’s statement “runs contrary to the philosophy and objectives enshrined in the CDC Constitution.” The CDC Free Thinkers’ release further threatens “immediate expulsion” of Cllr. Tubman. Don’t be surprise if the CDC through another group denounced the Free Thinkers. Beside the CDC Free Thinkers, other groups including the Liberia National Union (LINU) have voice out their fear of the man who wants to lead Liberia. Surely Cllr. Tubman’s statement was made on grounds that he has the liberty to speak freely. A liberty and freedom made possible by this administration. How can he say “civil liberties and press freedom are not a priority?” “The statement is disturbing,” says one politician.
I am similarly thinking about what Ambassador Dew Tuan-Wleh Mayson of the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) will say when he hears that his fellow contestant has promised to subordinate the civil liberty of the people to all other national concerns. I am wondering whether those billboards printed by the NDC which carried the images of President Johnson-Sirleaf and Vice President Boakai in various sarcastic forms would have been printed if Cllr. Winston Tubman was president of Liberia. Surely, those billboards demonstrate the presence of civil liberty and press freedom in its highest form.
A young Liberian, Patrick Saah described the performance of this government as “overwhelming and tremendous.” He cited the moving the country's annual budget from 80 million to 0.5 billion, economic revitalization by the immense debts waiver and signing of concessions agreements worth 16 billion United States Dollars, amelioration of salaries from US$15.00 to a minimum of US$100.00, the exposure of corruption and the effort to fight it through the establishment of GAC, LACC, and the passage of the whistle blower act as a great success on the part of the government. According to Mr. Saah, civil liberty and press freedom has been accomplished by this government. Unlike in the old days when we were told to buy “tiger generator”, the presence of electricity is all over Monrovia. Judging from where I sit and looking at Mr. Saah’s description of the government’s performance record, I strongly think that Cllr. Tubman misjudged the cry of the Liberian people. Indeed if the people are crying for roads, hospitals, and other social services, the cry is about moving things upward not downward which the denial of civil liberty and press freedom will do.

Enough of the civil liberty and press freedom talk. Like Cllr. Tubman who I believed slipped in denouncing civil liberty and press freedom during one of his campaign speeches, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskin, in exercising his rights to speak freely also slipped by saying Liberia under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf ranked highest among the most corrupt countries in the world. Cllr. Brumskin’s assertion has already been denounced as false and misrepresentation of the facts by many Liberians and government functionaries. It is difficult to piece together all of these negative massages that are coming from other political parties in the wake of the General and Presidential Elections and draw a clear line as to what they want to achieve. For example, every time one wrong message is sent forward, the contesting parties other than the Unity Party seem to be shooting themselves in the leg.

Seeing it Differently, I am convinced that the people of Liberia have changed a lot in the past six years. In 1997 the election was characterized by several slogans such as “there are more bad people than good people” or “you killed my ma, you killed my pa, I will vote for you.” In 2005, the message changed with a little twist. While the enlighten Liberians were saying, “shine your eyes,” the rest of the people, mostly young Liberians were saying, “you know book, you not know book, I will vote for you.” When the 2011 elections campaign was declared opened, the Unity Party surprised the entire nation with its major campaign slogan, “ugly bamboo wait small, the monkey is still working.” With less than 5 days to the election many Liberians, especially the other political parties are still finding it difficult to counteract this slogan. The slogan, “corruption, da her area,” has been twisted by the Unity Party in a resounding way such that if one was to insert any of the developmental achievements in place of the word “corruption,” the UP will stand tall. Similarly, in 2005, the contest was between the young people and the old people. Right now, the line is in the middle of the young people with the old people wooing a lot of them to the UP and other parties beside the CDC.

This is the election of the intellect, not color, flags, party insignias, or individuals. If anyone wants to take cue from this statement, he or she needs to review the result of the National Referendum, especially proposition number two which had the highest vote in NO category. Whether we like it or not, those who will be cueing up on October 11, 2011 will be doing so, based on the visible evidence of the things around them rather than the things that are yet to come including “civil liberties and press freedom” which might be CRUSHED if the CDC comes to power.

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