September 13, 2005


After Shattering Civil War, Liberians See Hope at Polls (Sudarsan Raghavan, 9/13/05, Washington Post)

[As Liberia] prepares for a historic post-civil war election next month, a new hope is prevailing. After years of building wealth and sharing it with impoverished relatives back home, Barnard and other Liberians across the United States want to influence the outcome of the campaign.

Many of the Washington region's estimated 10,000 native Liberians view it as nothing less than their homeland's last chance for peace and stability.

"They feel very passionate, because they realize the future of their country depends on this election," said Bishop Darlingston G. Johnson of Bethel World Outreach Church in Silver Spring, where a third of the 3,000 congregants are from Liberia.

Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves who named its capital after President James Monroe, and it was a reliable U.S. ally during the Cold War. But starting in the 1980s, a succession of despotic and corrupt leaders brought two decades of disorder. By the time international pressure forced warlord Charles Taylor into exile in Nigeria in 2003, Liberia's government and civil society were in shambles.

Taylor's exit spawned a peace deal and caretaker government, bolstered by 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers. The Oct. 11 election is the next step.

No provisions exist for absentee voting. A Liberian living abroad must go back to register and then return to cast a ballot. So most immigrants in the Washington area will not vote.

And yet, Liberia's main presidential candidates have held fundraisers and town hall-style events across the region. They've canvassed other parts of the United States as well and created slick campaign Web sites.

The reason is such statistics as this: $600 million wired into Liberia, much of it from the United States, between 2000 and 2003, according to the Aite Group, a Boston financial services research firm.

And this: 80 percent illiteracy in Liberia and poverty rates just as high, the United Nations estimates.

So candidates are appealing to Liberian immigrants to contribute to their campaigns and persuade relatives back home to vote for them. It's the latest example of how elections in developing countries have become transnational affairs, as technology connects immigrant to homeland as never before.

"If you supported Liberians during the war, you will have influence, you can make an impact," said Gayah Fahnbulleh, an adviser to candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former World Bank official.

The 22-candidate field includes Liberian soccer legend George Weah and Charles W. Brumskine, a lawyer who lives in Northern Virginia.

"This is the time to start a revolution," said Barnard, a mother of three.

The accountant and gospel singer paused, then added softly, "A peaceful revolution."

President Bush's threat Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2005 7:38 AM
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