Liberian Elections: What do current SOAS Liberian students hope for its future?


On Tuesday 10 October 2017 Liberians go to the polls to choose their new President and members of the House of Representatives.

The outgoing President is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, of the Unity party, elected first female President in Africa in 2005 and re-elected for a second term in 2011.  Amongst presidential hopefuls are Joseph Boakai, Vice-President since January 2006; George Weah, former professional footballer; Charles Brumskine lawyer and Senator; and MacDella Cooper, US-educated philanthropist.

The Liberian constitution has a two-round system of voting to elect its President.  The 73 members of the House of Representatives are elected on a first-past-the-post system.

SOAS alumna Dr Robtel Neajai Pailey (Washington Post, 4 October 2017) writes:

The elections next week are perhaps the country’s most hotly contested since the advent of multiparty elections in the 1980s. In what has been called a referendum on Sirleaf’s two terms, these elections include more than 1,000 candidates representing 26 political parties, with 20 candidates vying to replace the president.

Fonteh Akum, SOAS PhD, now working at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, analyses the challenges facing the country as it reaches an historic milestone, ‘Liberia’s first presidential transition through democratic elections since the end of the 14-year civil war in 2003’.  In his article ‘Liberia’s next president has a mountain to climb:  will the October elections deliver a leader who can reconcile a sceptical nation?’ (29 September 2017, he assesses Johnson Sirleaf’s record in office and what this means for the Unity Party and other contenders.  Akum writes that, along with the need to tackle corruption and improve livelihoods:

Liberia’s next president will need to prioritise an inclusive, meaningful and comprehensive national reconciliation process that cuts across social, economic and political programmes.

What do current SOAS PhD students from Liberia hope for its future?

Ibrahim Al-Bakri Nyei (SOAS Department of Politics and International Studies):

This election is a milestone for the country as it signals the normalization of constitutional democracy and a final breakaway from a violent past. No matter which party wins, voters are more concerned about sustaining the peace and improving socio-economic conditions and stabilizing the economy – a major shortcoming of the current administration.

Jacien (Jay) G. Carr (SOAS Department of History):

What do I hope for Liberia going forward?  A concerted effort to establish a real social contract between the government and the governed.  This will eventually cement a symbiotic relationship in which the government is funded by, and accountable to the Liberian taxpayer.  Over time, this will contribute to the reduction of Liberia’s dependence on foreign aid.  I would also like to see sustained investment by the government in Liberians regardless of their socio-economic status.  This should extend to the local economy as well.  Foremost among these considerations should be the access to good primary and secondary education, healthcare and policies that encourage rural entrepreneurship.  Lastly, I hope to see more transparency in Liberia’s security forces.  These institutions are accountable to the citizenry.  Liberians should never again be afraid of those entrusted with their protection. 

Further information

Liberia is in West Africa, neighbouring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. Its capital is Monrovia.  The population is over 4.5 million.  Over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, with English as an official language.

SOAS degrees

Liberian Elections

  • Robtel Neajai Pailey  in The Washington Post (4 October 2017)
  • Fonteh Akum, Senior Researcher, Peace and Security Research Programme, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Pretoria (article posted 29 September 2017)


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