In Liberia, young people commit to non-violent elections

A man collapses, tears on his cheeks

In Liberia, young people commit to non-violent elections

A man collapses, tears on his cheeks. At his side, his neighbor holds the murder weapon in his hand. This scene is the image of violence for the young Liberian who drew it and will vote for the first time on Tuesday October 10. In a classroom at this school in Buchanan, about 150 km east of Monrovia, young people between the ages of 18 and 25 stood up, each taking turns, to illustrate with marker what they fear above all else. : the return of violence.

In Liberia, a country ravaged by civil wars which left 250,000 dead between 1989 and 2003, the peaceful conduct of presidential and legislative elections is a major issue. The death of three people on Friday in the northwest during clashes between supporters of the two main political forces, as well as the declarations of certain leaders, heightened concern.

“What is violence? », asks Nehemiah Jallah, 24, at the origin of this local initiative aimed at promoting peace. Eighty young people are facing him, sitting behind their small wooden desks. “Violence is when you force someone to do something,” one responds. “It’s when we seek to do harm,” notes another. Everyone is wondering about the attitude to adopt in the event of cheating during voting. Despite the honking of car horns on the neighboring road, the cries of a newborn in his mother's arms and an orchestra passing by for a funeral, the young people are passionate about the discussion.

“Young people must stay away from all forms of violence. When violence escalates, homes are destroyed and innocent people are killed, explains Nehemiah Jallah. I don't know which party you support, but vote peacefully, don't be violent. Too many elections around the world end in violence. Let's keep our country at peace. » Organizers plastered posters around the room preaching nonviolence: “Vote for peace in Liberia. Say no to violence”, “Respecting the rule of law will save our democracy”.

A former warlord turned senator

More than 60% of Liberia's population is under 25 years old. “Politicians try to use you because they know you are more vulnerable,” explains Lawrence Sergbou, who describes himself as a youth activist. The history of Liberia is punctuated by violence. During the civil war, militias used child soldiers, he recalls. The violence destroys all hope of development, he judges. “When we look at social networks, listen to the radio, see the history of the country… Yes, I’m afraid,” he confides. We have lived in peace for twenty years and we don't want it to stop. »

Despite the atrocities of the civil war, with its massacres, mutilations, rapes and acts of cannibalism, no trials have to date been held in Liberia. Some former warlords still play an influential role in politics. One of them is Prince Johnson, who was videotaped sipping beer while his men tortured President Samuel Doe to death in 1990. He is still a senator. At 71, he formed an alliance with Joseph Boakai, former vice-president (2006-2018) and one of the favorites in the presidential election. He threatened a popular revolt if the ruling party manipulated the elections. Shortly after, candidate Boakai suggested that it would be “the end of this country” if the election was stolen.

Former football star George Weah, president since 2018 and seeking a second term, promised “peaceful, fair and credible” elections. In April, all the competing parties signed, under the aegis of the UN and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a commitment to refrain from violence and to resort to to judicial institutions to resolve electoral conflicts.