Campaign heating up in Liberia

Liberia holding elections 11 October

What are the signs of the upcoming elections on the streets of Monrovia?

–During the last few weeks there have been political rallies and demonstrations almost every day. In Liberia political manifestation is about showing ‘muscle’, in other words proving that you have the influence, resources and capacity to mobilize people into the streets. You can thereby signal that you are somebody who can get things done and therefore a suitable candidate for public office. The best is of course if you can mobilize enough followers to stop all traffic on one of the main streets of Monrovia, such as Tubman Boulevard.

What is the importance of ex-military networks in the elections?

– Making use of informal military networks has become a key strategy for the main political parties during the run-up to the elections, both in order to mobilize potential voters and to act as security outfits just in case the elections turn violent. Even though the civil war ended in 2003, many ex-commanders continue to befriend and have influence over their former fighters. By using the networks binding former commanders to their ex-fighters, politicians can distribute patronage to ex-combatant voters and mobilize them for political rallies all over the country. One can best describe these former commanders as brokers, facilitating transactions of political and economic services between elites and rank-and-file ex-combatants. There are also, unfortunately, some indications that the main political contenders also want to tie these individuals to their campaigns just in case the election results become contended and result in political turmoil. These military networks can namely easily be transformed into armed groups by politicians.

On your blog you write about hopes for more “sunshine” in Liberia. Will the elections have an effect on the lives of the Liberian people?

– Most voters, including ex-combatants and ex-generals, who end-up on the winning side will probably not get much sunshine on them. In the end, there is not much money and jobs to go around. You have to remember that Liberia is a poor country with limited state revenues. Even if some government officials also have access to unofficial economic resources, they are not enough to cover all those who have been promised a piece of the pie. It will thereby either be those who have already climbed the political ladder or those who have ‘special services’ to offer – such as ex-commanders who have become head of security for senior politicians – who can look forward to government employment and other benefits. The rest will probably be left in the ‘shade.’

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