The UNDP through its election project has played a significant role in supporting the successful planning and delivery of elections in Liberia since 2011. During the implementation of the 2017 Legislative and Presidential elections, there was nevertheless a strong commitment to enhance the rules of engagement, processes and institutions and allow for a peaceful transition that offered the scope for a greater and more equitable representative voice and participation.
In Liberia, about 65% of the population is comprised of young people between the ages of 18 – 32, making up an estimated 55% of eligible voters. As such, the role of young people in contributing to governance, inclusive political processes and in particular a peaceful electoral process, in Liberia cannot be underestimated.
Provided that the history of youth engagement in the post war electoral processes in the country have not been properly managed in the past, there was a need to harness youth energy during the 2017 electoral process, so as to avoid easy exploitation of youth and youth groups by political operatives; a condition that may have led to destabilization of the country when results or conduct of the 2017 elections were seen to be biased or unfair.
Within the above context, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Liberia secured funding from the United Nations Peace Building Fund (PBF) for the project “Enhancing Youth Participation in the 2017 Legislative and Presidential Electoral Process”.
The overall aim of the project was twofold (i) increase leadership and participation of young women and men in electoral and post electoral mechanisms and processes for peacebuilding at all levels and (ii) increase capacity and skills of young men and women to monitor, prevent and mitigate electoral violence including gender based.
The Peace-building Fund (PBF) worked with and complimented the efforts of the current and on-going 2015-2018 Electoral Cycle Project, more specifically the election basket fund administered by UNDP. Funding under this Basket Fund is provided by donors such as-European Union, Sweden, Canada, Japan, Norway etc. for different interventions of the elections process etc.
Precisely, within different outputs of the electoral project and in direct collaboration with field based staff and partners of the election project, the youth and election project actively engaged youths in diffusing potential electoral tension and violence at community levels which significantly reduced the number of reported incidence of youth related violence during the 2017 Presidential and Legislative elections.
The project was also instrumental in transfer of skills and knowledge on conflict prevention and non-violent resolution strategies through training for youth in local communities that are prone to violence around election period.
The enhancing Youth Participation in the 2017 Legislative and Presidential Electoral Process project also incorporated gender specific initiatives focusing on using young women and actors in preventing and addressing instances of SGBV and other forms of violence perpetrated against young girls as a direct result of electoral practices as well as raising awareness on the UNSCR 2250 (youth, peace and security) and 1325 (women, peace and security).
In this regard, five National United Nations Volunteers (NUNVs) were deployed in July 2017 in order to support the Liberia National Elections Commission (NEC) during the national elections held between October and December 2017.
The volunteers were based in the five most strategic counties of Liberia (Grand Gedeh, Bomi, Bong, Grand Bassa and Montserrado. They provided technical support to NEC in order to build capacity as well as enhance the skills of young people so that they were able to proactively participate in the electoral process.
More specifically, the volunteers supported NEC in mobilizing and sensitizing young people on the importance of maintaining peaceful elections.
Abraham Kanneh, one of the national volunteers has more than three years of experience in youth mobilization and electoral support. He served as Youth Mobiliser under the peacebuilding programme.
“I served as one of the five national UN Volunteers recruited to facilitate and coordinate the mobilization and sensitization of young people in Liberia during the 2017 national elections. We also worked to incorporate gender specific initiatives focusing on using young women and men in preventing and addressing instances of SGBV and other forms of violence perpetrated against young girls as a direct result of electoral practices as well as raising awareness on the UNSCR 2250 (youth, peace and security) and 1325 (women, peace and security),” Kanneh explained.
The volunteers collaborated with the National elections Commission (NEC) field-based staff and partners to actively engage young people in diffusing potential electoral tension and violence at community levels.
Also, the volunteers significantly reduced the number of reported incidences of youth-related violence during the electoral cycle.
Besides the court proceedings filed by at least two political parties on the process, the elections were successfully conducted with no incidence of violence especially from the youthful population.
On 26 December, Liberians across the country went to the polls electing former footballer and current senator, George Weah during a run-off election.
He was said by local media to be popular with Liberia’s young people. With over 60 percent of the votes, Weah along with his Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor both from the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) were inaugurated on 22 January 2018.
This democratic exercise was 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.
In the annals of Liberia’s history, UNDP’s Elections Project including the complimentary role played by the “Enhancing Youth Participation in the 2017 Legislative and Presidential Electoral Process” will be referenced as major contributors to the democratization process of Liberia.