Return to Liberia: Election Observer
"We are rich beyond belief."
John Kucij, FOL member speaking of Americans.
I was part of a contingent of thirty observers chosen
by The Friends of Liberia, one of the major groups observing presidential
elections of Liberia. The elections were an essential part of the process
ending the seven year civil war in Liberia.
Half of my time in Liberia was spent in the capital, Monrovia. Monrovia
was a shell. The nicest buildings had been torched and many offices had
squatters living in them. You could not send or receive mail in or out of
country. The electrical generation plant had been destroyed. There were
no traffic signals, and driving in Monrovia was eery at night as it was
The other half of my time was spent in Tapeta, one of the more remote sites.
The bonus for me was that Tapeta was where I had been a Peace Corps volunteer
22 years ago. I had not been back to Liberia since then. I traveled there
with Huy Pham, a fisheries volunteer in the mid eighties, and our Liberian
driver, Samuel Sahn.
The trip to Tapeta was an experience in itself. It was rainy season and
the last 65 miles of our trip was on unsurfaced roads that had not been
maintained the last seven years. It took us four hours to drive that 65
miles with a good four wheel drive vehicle.
During the week before the elections we drove to a number of villages to
check the polling sites and meet with election, and town officials.
The day of the election we were awakened at 4:00 in the morning by neighbors
preparing to go to the election. We arrived at our first village before
the polls opened at 7:00. When we got there we witnessed what every other
election observer around the country saw. Long lines of people at each polling
site. Voting rates were 90 % + of those registered.
The election experience was moving and the comparison between elections
in Liberia and the US is stark. The people at the front of the lines had
been there since before 4:00 in the morning. Everyone walked, some for miles.
Many were dressed up for the occasion even though it was rainy season and
the line was outdoors. There was no apathy. No excuses why voting didn't
matter or was a waste of time. To a people denied democracy for 10 years,
voting was treated with great respect. If we in America showed the same
appreciation for just one election I'm convinced there would be major changes
The winner of the elections was Charles Taylor, the most prominent warlord.
He won by 72% in the country and 99% in the Tapeta area. Taylor now has
a huge task of rebuilding a country. Will he be a "Mandela or a Mobuto."
Let's hope he chooses the former.