Liberia: Embracing Uncle Sam’s Visa Restrictions for Democracy Underminers

US SECRETARY OF STATE Michael Pompeo in a statement last week declared that there would be serious consequences for anyone engaging in election-related violence.

SAID MR. POMPEO: “We will watch closely the actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process and will not hesitate to consider consequences – including visa restrictions – for those responsible for election-related violence. As long-time partners to the nations of Africa, we care about the region’s democratic trajectory and are committed to working constructively with international and regional partners.”

THE US SECRETARY OF STATE also noted that the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and association are at the heart of a functioning democracy. “Adherence to these democratic norms and to the rule of law allows all citizens to engage in political dialogue and support their choice of candidates, parties, and platforms.”

THE TIMING of Secretary of State Pompeo’s statement is key. Several countries on the continent are heading to the polls this year in either Presidential or parliamentary/legislative elections.

IF THE PAST few elections seasons are anything to go by, it is clear that the strongly-worded message from the US should send shivers down the spine of politicians looking to rig elections.

IT IS NO SECRET that majority of African politicians have the tendency of flying to the US and other countries seeking medical treatment and checkup.

IT IS OUR HOPE that with the threats of visas’ restrictions, politicians and decision makers will reevaluate how they approach handling of electoral processes.

THIS WAS EVIDENT LAST JULY, when the US State Department announced the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigerians who undermined the February and March 2019 elections.

IN TAKING THAT DECISION, the Department of State emphasized that the actions announced were specific to certain individuals and not directed at the Nigerian people. It also reflected the Department of State’s commitment to working with the Nigerian government to realize its expressed commitment to end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights.”

THE THREATS COME as some countries in the West African region have already begun to experience issues ahead of crucial elections.

LAST WEEK, Ivory Coast’s top court cleared the path for President Alassane Ouattara to seek a contentious third term even as protests turned violent in several cities and fears grew of a repeat of the conflict that claimed 3,000 lives in the West African country a decade ago.

SIMILARLY IN NEXT DOOR GUINEA, President Alpha Condé will be a candidate for a third term in the election scheduled for October 18.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT BY his party is already generating tension amongst Guineans.

IN LIBERIA, the buildup to the December 8 Senatorial Midterm elections has been marred by tension amid rapidly growing concerns over the cleaning of the voter roll.

THE COLLABORATING Political Parties (CPP) announced last week that it would begin a series of protests beginning October 28 in reaction to the Supreme Court’s refusal to instruct the National Elections Commission to clean up the 2017 Voter Roll. “This protest will continue until our demands which include but are not limited to cleaning the Voter Roll, Cancel and properly re-do the fraudulent voter roll update, and other issues of national concern, are addressed,” the CPP stated in a press statement.

THIS IS WHY the threats of visas’ restriction is key. However, the US and other stakeholders must go a step further and announce the freezing of assets and imposition of sanctions on governments who deliberate try to influence the outcome of elections.

THIS WAS CLEARLY the case last year when the U.S. sanctioned three top election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo for alleged corruption tied to the long-delayed presidential election. All three are senior leaders of the DRC’s National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) and are accused of embezzling funds that were supposed to have been used to carry out a timely democratic vote. “We stand with the Congolese people who went to the polls on December 30 but remain concerned about a flawed electoral process which, following the presidential election, CENI continued to obstruct the democratic process and failed to ensure the vote reflected the will of the Congolese people,” Undersecretary of the Treasury Sigal Mandelker said.

THESE MEASURES ARE KEY to averting crises like what has unfolded in Mali which has been mired in an escalating political crisis marked by large anti-government rallies and failed mediation attempts by regional leaders wary of further instability in the country. Political tension simmered following the re-election of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in 2018, in a poll that opposition parties said was marred by irregularities.

THE FRICTION rose earlier this year after a dispute over the results of a parliamentary election prompted tens of thousands to take to the streets to demand Keita’s resignation. The demonstrators accused Keita of failing to fix the country’s dire economic situation and contain a years-long armed campaign by various groups that has killed thousands and rendered vast swaths of Mali ungovernable.