Monrovia — As Liberia prepares for its landmark presidential and legislative elections in 2023, the United States Government has launched a new US$16 million Elections and Democracy Activity (EDA) project.
The EDA is sponsored by the U.S. Government through USAID and is implemented by the Democracy Institute (DI), a politically independent public policy research organization based in Washington and London.
The EDA is intended to help Liberia consolidate the gains and succeed in strengthening its democratic order through institutional support and direct civic engagements with the populations.
Speaking at the launch of the project on Friday at a local hotel in Monrovia, United States Ambassador to Liberia, Michael A. McCarthy hailed Liberia for the gains it continues to make in building its democracy through the holding of regular elections since the end of the devastating civil war. A true demonstration is the recently held ‘free and mostly peaceful’ Special Senatorial Election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, he said.
However, he pointed out that a strong democracy provides its people more than just the right to vote in elections.
“As critical as they are to stable democracy, free and fair elections alone do not make a democracy,” he said when he officially launched the project.
“The quality of any democracy depends on the active participation of all members of society – including women, youth and marginalized populations – transparent institutions, effective accountability mechanisms, a free press, an independent judiciary and outlets for civil society to actively engage elected officials on issues that matter to their families and communities.”
He said evidence shows that democracy leads to greater economic growth and the alternative, and that the quality of democracy can improve the inclusiveness of that growth and deliver better outcomes and better public services to all the people of a country, including the poor,” he said.
Liberia, the oldest democracy on the African Continent suffered bloody coup and back to back civil wars that claimed the lives of an estimated 250,000 people. At the end of the war, Liberia made history by electing Africa’s first female president. Since then, it has held a series of both presidential and legislative elections successfully.
The U.S envoy said “Liberia’s recent history teaches us too well that tolerance is vital to the functioning of any true democracy.
Liberia’s democracy, like all democracies, is strong and resilient only when Liberians are willing to tolerate views and beliefs with which they disagree only when they recognize that the ties of blood, history and culture that bind Liberians are greater than the differences that divide them adding that Liberia belongs to all its people no matter their tribe, religion or county of origin, he said.
He also said as part of the program, USAID and Democracy International will work with the Ministry of education to reintroduce civic education curriculum into primary schools.
“This is important because nurturing Liberians leaders of tomorrow depends on the understanding of the roles and responsibilities of citizens and elected officials.”
He expressed enthusiasm over the project and said, not only will the project work closely with the National Elections Commission (NEC) and support election observation and voter education, it will also work to increase political participation and leadership among women, youth, and others whose voices are too often left unheard.
Ambassador McCarthy said since the war ended, Liberians’ commitment to voting in democratic elections has been admirable; adding that following his arrival to Liberia, he was told voters in rural areas walked several hours to and from their polling centers to cast their votes. And he looks forward to seeing such commitments in future elections.
He noted that in a region where democratic progress is slowing, if not outright receding, the example Liberia sets for its neighbors as a mainstay of free, fair, and peaceful elections is all the more important.
Speaking further, he said the US$16 million investment in Liberia from the American people paid for with U. S. taxpayers’ money demonstrates the continued spirit of partnership between the two countries; nothing that the program reflects the core American belief that stronger democracies around the world are not only good for the citizens of those countries, but for the United States as well.
Also speaking at the program, the Mission Director of USAID Liberia, Jim Wright said the EDA program will build on previous USAID support to the National Election Commission, local observers and grassroots organizations to carryout voter education.
Mr. Wright stated the goal is to cement previous gains and ensure that Liberia can, independently administer peaceful, credible elections. He added the new program will also support the political participation of women and youth. It will do so through candidate and leadership training, and through targeted mentoring and skills-building for female legislators. In this way, the program aims to support the next generation of Liberian leaders, preparing them to govern ethically and in the interest of their constituents, he said.
Addressing the elected officials, he noted that they have a critical role to play in supporting the objectives of the program. “You hold the key to assuring transparent domestic election observation, which serves to reassure the public that the process is credible, or to call out irregularities when you see them, and to raise concern directly to the National Elections commission, so that they can be resolved.
Civil Society partners will directly support the introduction of civic education in schools through PTAs, and also through complementary interventions involving community radio and peace clubs.
In addition, he said the civil society leaders will also work to identify and support women political aspirants so they can take up leadership in the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary.
“USAID believes strongly in the importance of removing barriers that prevent women from realizing their full potential. We seek to empower Liberian women and girls with the skills and confidence they need to attain top leadership positions,” he said.
The event was graced by top diplomats, government officials including the NEC Chairperson, Madam Davidetta Browne Lansanah. In a brief statement, Madam Lansanah thanked USAID for the support and wish DI well on its implementation of the project.
DI’s President, Eric C. Bjornlund joined the ceremony via video link from Washington D.C., while the EDA Chief of Party, Mr. Xav Flowers led the team in Liberia.