- Thu, 05/31/2012 - 01:01
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Of the estimated 1.9 million eligible voters for the 2011 elections; 32 percent of first time voters are between the ages of 18-23 years according to the latest statistics from the Liberia Institute for Geo-Information Services (LISGIS).This is a significant percentage of the youth vote. To tap into this significant block of voters, it is crucial to understand and deal with youth activism.
Could this interaction be complicated by the fact that the Liberian youth and the political elites have fundamentally different notions of democracy? Youth and student activism in Liberia has significantly reduced over the past thirty years. While the youth movement may not have single-handedly led to the collapse of an authoritarian regime in Liberia, they certainly have played a meaningful role in undermining the legitimacy of past Liberian governments and precipitated their collapse. Remember the rice riots of 1979 and the eventual downfall of the Tolbert regime?
Did the ferocity of the response by the despotic Doe and Taylor regimes against peaceful protests slowed what was once a vibrant vanguard student activism? Importantly, what lessons can the Sirleaf administration draw from the past in dealing with student activism today? Liberian schools have always been a space used by political elites to advance their agendas. The contest for the youth vote is fierce especially in the 2011 elections. The engagement of the youth in the voter registration process in Liberia was seen by many as not only the right thing to do but sound politics given the size of the youth vote in 2011.
This is partly why the public expected the Sirleaf administration handling of the incident of Black Tuesday to be swift, decisive, and fair to all parties. Moreover, police brutality still touches raw nerves in Liberia and for good reasons. It is often forgotten that students have a fundamentally different notion of democracy and this difference could be grounds for tension between the administration and the student movement. Students see democracy as a way of transforming different sectors of society like the educational, political or socio-economic sectors.
This view is radically different from the conventional (read elitist) notion or experience of democracy in Liberia which is usually limited to the selection of elites and an election process that is hopefully free and fair. Liberia has failed to deliver on even this narrow elitist view of democracy if we can use our past elections as indicators. They are often neither free nor fair. The most recent elections have to be an exception to that rule. The delay in response by the administration creates room for the Black Tuesday incident to be used, or misused, to the political advantage of others.
Brumskine’s recent insinuation at Columbia University about the infamous Black Tuesday where he suggested that there were student fatalities is a glaring indication of this. The sooner the facts are out and justice is served, the sooner we can put this behind us. The government’s leadership in this matter has been weak; and whenever the public feels that it can not protect itself against the wrath of the state, we breed anarchy. We do not want to go there again!