Peaceful Elections Project, Liberia, January 2018

Bridging Community Tensions Through Dialogue

Purdue Peace Project graduate research assistants Meghana Rawat and Jennifer Ptacek recently returned from a trip to Liberia where they met with community members across Bong, Margibi, Montserrado, and Nimba counties to learn more about the 2017 elections.

Last year in July, we visited Bong and Nimba counties in Liberia and were greeted by energetic local citizens working together using performing arts, sports, and peace marches to facilitate dialogue and spread the message of peace ahead of the crucial 2017 presidential elections. The world watched in late 2017 as Liberians managed their own elections and witnessed a transition in power for the first time after the end of their civil strife, as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stepped down and handed over the office to now President George Weah. We reached Liberia in January a day after the inauguration of the new president and on our long drive from Monrovia to Nimba we were met with posters congratulating the president and his speech displayed on LED screens in the main town. Liberians were celebrating!

We traveled to four counties of Bong, Margibi, Montserrado, and Nimba to meet with our collaborators, working groups within each of these counties of the Pen-Pen Peace Network (PPPN). The Purdue Peace Project (PPP) has been collaborating with local citizens to prevent political violence in Liberia since 2013, with our initial project bringing together pen-pen riders (motorcycle taxi drivers), police, and community members in Montserrado who formed what they called the PPPN. The PPP’s collaborations have since expanded to three additional counties to prevent violence related to the 2017 elections. In each county, the PPPN group is formed by a coalition of community members, market people, police officers, and pen-pen riders who have been voluntarily working together to spread the message of peace.

During our January 2018 visit, we spoke with community members within each county to learn more about the PPPNs’ peaceful elections campaign, their experiences during the elections, their challenges, and their hopes for Liberia. We learned that the elections were largely peaceful and despite a few delays in the process that kept some of them on the edge, they were hopeful. The community members across all four counties echoed their experiences and hopes for Liberia – “Liberia is our only home, and we are ready for peace.” The young and the old were together, despite party affiliations, to see peace and progress in Liberia.

The work of the PPPNs in all four counties was lauded. One pen-pen rider could not stop smiling as he described how he coached their football (soccer) team and won a trophy, and how he now does not hesitate to talk to police officers, his friendly opponents whom he looks forward to playing in another match. Another community member, a market woman, described how attending a PPPN-organized town hall meeting made her feel that her voice was being heard in the community and that there was a place for dialogue.

In support of our collaborators’ effort on the ground, we had monitored the elections closely from afar until we visited Liberia in person to speak with the communities after the presidential inauguration. It was gratifying to listen to the impact of local peacebuilders in all four counties from the community members themselves. For a final push heading into the general elections and before the delayed runoff elections in December 2017, members of the PPPNs continued raising awareness through peace marches, radio talk shows, town hall meetings, football matches, and promotion of an upbeat song they had developed to encourage Liberians to move forward together. The impact of these activities to bring people together was reflected in the communities as those we spoke with agreed that they were listening and paying close attention to differing views. Through their discussion of the problems facing their communities and nation, possible solutions, and hopes for progress, their message was clear: “We are putting Liberia first.”

Learn more about the Purdue Peace Project’s work in Liberia and its impacts by visiting: https://cla.purdue.edu/ppp/projects/liberia.html

-Authors Meghana Rawat and Jennifer Ptacek are graduate research assistants with the PPP.

Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907 (765) 494-4600

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