By Gerald C. Koinyeneh
A diaspora group, the Gbarpolu County Association in the Americas (GCAA), has strongly condemned the recent wave of violence and intimidation meted against residents and the leading candidate in the county’s senatorial race in Norman Town, District #3.
In a press statement issued by GCAA through its executive members, the organization called on those behind the unlawful act to “cease and desist”, and called on the authorities to ensure they are apprehended and face the full weight of the law.
“We, the Board of Directors, Executives, and members of GCAA, call on those responsible for causing harm and distress to others of our citizens in this election, to cease and desist immediately! We also call on all peace-loving citizens of Gbarpolu and residents of Norman Town in particular, to remain calm as the authorities reinstate law and order in the affected areas to ensure the conclusion of a free, fair, and transparent election for our people,” said GCCA through the statement signed by its officials including the heads of Secretariat and Board of Directors.
Gbarpolu County, located in Western Liberia has been making headlines recently for all of the negative reasons when an influential chief, identified as Paramount Chief Magill Wuluah, on Election Day, seized the ballot boxes assigned to the Precinct in Nomodatonau Town, called Norman for short, located in District #3, near the border with Sierra Leone.
The action of Chief Wuluah led the National Elections Commission (NEC) to suspend voting at the Precinct with code #45039, which comprises four polling places and 2,021 registered voters.
The election there was rescheduled on December 15, 2020, but on the eve of the polls, the powerful all-male traditional Poro society, allegedly acting on the orders of Chief Wuluah, attacked the leading senatorial candidate, Botoe Kanneh and her supporters and stopped them from entering the town, while her nearest rival, Rep. Alfred Koiwood of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) was already in the town canvassing. Rep. Koiwood currently represents the county’s First Electoral District at the House of Representatives of the 54th Legislature of Liberia.
Gbarpolu County’s Superintendent J. Keyah Saah has also been accused of threatening local officials that they would lose their jobs if they do not vote for Rep. Koiwood.
The unlawful incidents have sparked widespread condemnations from civil society and human rights organizations, with some calling on the government to ensure those behind the violence and intimidation face the law.
The GCAA, an influential organization, comprising of natives of the county based in the diaspora is the latest to join in denouncing the “wanton brutality” meted against Madam Kanneh and her supporters.
According to the group, the news of traditional leaders tampering with the conduct of an election which is constitutionally mandated, and not as an impartial arbitrator as expected, but as perpetrator of some of the dastardly acts carried out on citizens of the town, was of greater and disturbing concern to them.
In the landmark statement, GCAA, through its President, Teaker M. Harris, along with its Board Chairman, Rev. Methuselah Dixon, said elections are basic tenets of democracy that serve as opportunities for people to choose between competing members of their communities- those they believe can best provide the kind of leadership the community seeks to foster its aims and objectives.
“No citizen needs to therefore shed blood or be killed in exercising that democratic franchise of electing the right leaders for their community. We, The Board of Directors, Executives, and members of GCAA therefore, condemn in no uncertain terms, the resort to violence, manipulation of the election process, suppression, and abuse of the human rights of our people by any group(s) associated with the ongoing election,” the organization denounced.
In the communication, also signed by the GCAA’s National Secretary, Joshua Dogba-Yassah and Frederick Dixon, Secretary of the Board, the diaspora group called on the leadership of the county to deploy the necessary security personnel and measures in Norman Town and throughout the county, to quell any further disturbances and provide the necessary peaceful atmosphere and assurances for the citizens to exercise their constitutional rights in choosing the leaders of their choice in this election freely, fairly, and peacefully without coercion or intimidation of any kind.
Election Suspended Again
Meanwhile, in the wake of the violence, the NEC has suspended the rescheduled election of December 15, 2020 in Norman Town. Madam Kanneh has reportedly been rescued by a coalition of pro-women organizations, who alleged that two of her female supporters were raped while in police custody.
“The women experienced “horrific forms of human rights abuses.’’ They were ordered to stand in the sun with their arms raised for hours without food. Madam Kanneh’s brother, Cllr. Boakai Kanneh, head of the Law Reform Committee, was also beaten while in police custody,” the women group advocacy group said.