US Ambassador Challenges Liberians To Embrace Peaceful Elections

United States Ambassador to Liberia, Christine Elder, yesterday called on Liberians, especially the youth, to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner during and after the upcoming elections.

The US envoy’s admonition was contained in a special statement she delivered at yesterday’s opening of the fourth and final semester of the Young Political Leadership School (YPLS) in Sinkor, outside Monrovia.

She expressed gratitude for the growth and progress of the YPLS, adding, “Just over a year ago, the first group started, and today we celebrate the fourth semester.  It has been my great pleasure to meet each of these groups during their seminar, and many afterwards.”

“We’ve had high expectations for the school: what participants would learn, friendships made across party lines and the leadership that YPLS graduates would demonstrate in their own political activities, and we have not been disappointed,” Elder told her audience.

She reminded the over 100 students that this week is an opportunity for them to learn new skills and sharpen those they are already using in their political activities.

“You will discuss ways to reach your constituents, to effectively communicate and to debate passionately and respectfully. You will be challenged to think differently about those you might see today as political opponents. You will have to put yourself in their shoes and see issues from a different perspective,” the diplomat told the students and their mentors.

She cautioned them not to forget to seek the understanding of what they have in common, “and how you might come to consensus on issues that evoke strong feelings coming from different positions, but that are important for Liberia and your future.”

“This opportunity for fellowship is one of the most valuable aspects of YPLS. These skills are important not just in the political realm, but in your everyday lives, families and relationships.

“What you have to say matters, and how you say it matters even more. By practicing how to engage responsibly, peacefully and transparently in the political process, you will ensure that your voices are not only heard, but also heard by those in government and the international community,” she said.

Amb. Elder added: “And the stakes today in the 10 weeks before elections have never been higher. Peace is something that, once achieved, must be actively protected and preserved. UNMIL and international partners can’t deliver that to Liberia. Every Liberian must feel that burden and responsibility of protecting the peace.”

She reminded politicians to promote a sense of “Liberian-ness” above party or county, and have a peaceful process that is not based on “turns,” but on respect for the rule of law.

“Politicians must be conscious in their actions and their words to ensure that their words and deeds empower citizens to use their minds and voices, not knives and stones,” Amb. Elder declared.

Meanwhile, she assured Liberians that the United States remains committed to supporting the country through the upcoming historic transition, noting, “First, we are working closely with the National Elections Commission to ensure that the elections are free, fair, and transparent. Secondly, we are working with civil society as they inform citizens about their civic duties and responsibilities. Lastly, we are supporting domestic and international observers of the electoral process.”

Amb. Elder, Mr. Zarif, and the students

Similar sentiments were earlier expressed by Farid Zarif, SRSG of the UNSG, who is also the head of UNMIL.

The one week YPLS capacity-building semester will accordingly end on August 4, 2017. It brought together 100 young political leaders from various political parties, university student leaderships, youth-led organizations, youth candidates in the upcoming October elections, and young professionals who are passionate about improving democracy through effective youth leadership and participation.

NAYMOTE executive director, Eddie Jarwolo, who is in charge of the training, said despite the evidence that young people constitute about 65 percent of the nation’s population and that the ages between 18-32 constitute 55 percent of registered voters in Liberia, the dividends of youth participation in national decision-making and the political process are inadequate. To compound this malaise, the youth face increasing challenges ranging from the lack of basic social services to unemployment, multiple forms of inequalities and exclusion, among other setbacks.

The YPLS, he said, is designed to build the political leadership and organizing stills of young people who have chosen to pursue a career in politics and to transform their communities for the best.

The program intends to expose young people to electoral politics, the campaign process, public speaking, and leadership skills. In the coming one week, the students will learn about campaign communications, press relations, research, polling and voter targeting thereby preparing them for transformational political leadership to serve their communities.

The graduates upon completion of the exercise are expected to undertake a 12-week citizen engagement, work on campaign teams, facilitate community forums that bring voters face to face with the candidates, document campaign promises and serve as community leaders/volunteers.

About 230 youth have graduated from the YPLS since April 2016. Six graduates are legislative candidates in the ensuing elections and many others are part of their political party’s campaign teams. Other graduates are playing leadership roles in their communities and institutions.