Monday, July 14, 2008

Empower and Engage

Liberia was one of the first African republics with a Declaration of Independence and an operating civil society. However, a military coup led by Samuel Doe against indigenous marginalization marked the beginning of a 10 year indigenous military rule. In 1989, Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NFPL) overthrew Doe’s repressive and corrupt government. Later Taylor’s own repressive intimidation tactics initiated a civil war in Liberia. He was given legitimacy and elected in 1997 following a cease-fire, but the international pressure due to continued violence resulted in Taylor’s resignation in 2003.

Eddie Jarwolo, current Reagan-Fascell democracy fellow at NED, seized the opportunity that in 2005 during the presidential election presented to launched an initiative with the National Youth Movement for Transparent Elections-Partners for Democratic Development (NAYMOTE). This organization “provides young Liberians opportunities to participate in decision-making processes, governance, leadership, and community service.” Jarwolo’s civic education campaign sought to increase the participation of young Liberians in the elections as NAYMOTE’s strategic approach enlists youth, including disabled individuals and ex-combatants, to be civic educators. This tactic not only engaged youth in the political process but also empowered them to shape the future of Liberia while educating their peers. The campaign effectively utilized the media to stress the importance of voting and youth empowerment.

Mr. Jarwolo’s initiatives responded to the lack civic studies during the war. In 2006, the Liberian Ministry of Education began to once again integrate civic education into the school curriculum. Mr. Jarwolo believes that “civic education can provide a link between education and action, empowering actors with skills and methods needed to effect change.” Post-election NAYMOTE’s activities include launching youth networks in other countries, establishing democracy clubs at the local level, organizing citizen’s forums and student debates, airing radio programs for youth, and utilizing other media.

Of particular interest is NAYMOTE’s initiative of “finding common ground through sports.” Following the elections, Liberia was strongly divided so NAYMOTE launched a Peace Tournament of kickball and football to bring people from various parties together. NAYMOTE’s efforts of teaching youth the value of democracy promotes tolerance, advances decision-making skills, and contribute to an enlightened society. In spite of widespread support for civic education, Liberia’s National Master Plan, created in 2007, suffers from a lack of both capacity and funding. Although there are high expectations in Liberia for the leadership of President John-Sirleaf, security remains fragile, corruption is rampant, and there is still a lack of government accountability. In response to these challenges and more, Mr. Jarwolo suggest that organizations on the ground in Liberia, “avoid unrealistic expectations about what democracy can deliver, but focus instead on what it should deliver and how to assure that it will.”

Following Mr. Jarwolo’s presentation, Dave Peterson (the senior program director for Africa at NED) briefly discussed some of the issues raised in the lecture. He praised the following successes of NAYMOTE:

- its emphasis on political neutrality

- its emphasis on empowering the indigenous civil society

- its inclusion of ex-combatants which allows redemption and reconciliation

- its empowerment of marginalized groups

- its effective use of the media

Dave Peterson believes that NAYMOTE brings experience, teaches values, and establishes a strong presence in Liberian civil society. Mr. Jarwolo’s organization’s successes serve as a compelling example of civic education.

Sponsor: The National Endowment for Democracy
Date: July 10, 2008
Time: 12-2 p.m.
Representative Attending: Jessica Walker

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