Youth keep the peace in Liberia’s electionJan 11, 2018
West Point is Monrovia’s biggest slum. It’s a rabbit warren of side streets thrumming with street hawkers, women sit on stools flipping flies away from dried fish, people pick through wheelbarrows of used clothes for sale, kids play football in a dusty square, and young people hang around with not much to do.
West Point’s youth are vulnerable. They face violence, ill health, exclusion. But they’re wise. They know what they want and they know what isn’t working for them. When the election came around, many of them were excited to get the vote out. They knew they had a part to play.
“I talked to my friends, families, including my parents. I told them that violence was not good and they should be willing to accept whatsoever results that will come from the elections for the good of Mama Liberia and our future,” said Angeline Nyumah, a young woman from West Point who often visits the Women’s Health and Development Centre in the heart of the community.
“I even met a woman on Kru Beach (a notoriously violent area in West Point) who never wanted to vote because she never had money to transport herself to where she had registered to vote. I transported her and told her to go and vote anyone of her choice and avoid violence,” Angeline said.
Angeline was one of twenty youth trained by the West Point Women’s Health and Development Centre under UNDP’s Gender and HIV project. With funds from UNDP, West Point’s youth were trained to see the warning signs, defuse simmering anger, and put an end to it. They talked to their friends, strangers, parents. Everyone listened, said Jophina Baysah, 18.
“Some of the people didn’t want to listen at first, but when I kept encouraging them and talking to them, they eventually listened. Yes, they listened to us and they promised to cast their votes without violence,” Jophina said.
It was the first election that was largely peaceful in Liberia, said Valerie Coleman, a Women’s Centre worker. It wasn’t always that way, she said. In past elections, vans would round up West Point youth to cast votes or cause trouble in far-away counties and polling stations. For a few Liberian dollars, they’d kick up trouble. But this time, nothing.
“For small money, they were ready and willing to go. But, for this election, the story was different. Because of the training and awareness, young people were made aware of the risks involved in being transported to different places to register and vote. No young person was seen trucked from West Point this time,” Coleman said.
On 26 December, Liberians across the country went to the polls electing former footballer and current senator, George Weah. He was said by local media to be popular with Liberia’s young people. With over 60 percent of the votes, Weah will be inaugurated on 22 January and will be part of the first peaceful handover of power from an incumbent president to an elected president in over 70 years. He replaces President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who spent 12 years at the helm.
The kids say they didn’t care if their candidate won or lost, it was more important to stay peaceful and accept the results.
During a round table discussion on their election experience, 20 young people explained that they understand the importance of keeping the peace and accepting whoever wins. If you’ve got a friend who wants candidate A and I want candidate B, said one young person, then that’s ok. We’re not going to fight about it, she said.
They know that violence simmers just under the surface. West Point is rife with violence, particularly against women and children. Women and girls are raped at an alarming rate, but they don’t head to the police first. Their first stop is the Women’s Centre, said Mercy Borbor.
“Most women prefer taking their cases to the Women Centre over the police. They feel that the Centre would help and guide them in accessing justice and the police wouldn’t do. Sometimes, people are denied justice with the police because of bribery and lack of awareness (on access to justice). So, they would prefer coming to the Centre for assistance. They will guide you and show you the steps in getting justice, from the police to the court,” Mercy, 18 said.
The workers at the centre help ease the fears of the survivors and show them through the legal process. It’s a daunting task and they say slowly survivors are picking up the pieces. There’s more to do each day, but staff remain proud of the work they do.
UNDP’s Gender and HIV project engaged with over twenty young people to become emissaries of peace. This they could do. Struggling to stay in school, these kids are at risk of violence, girls say they’re facing harassment and sexual violence daily.Contact
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