Liberians Converge On Constitutional Change

Partial View of delegates at the National Constitutional review Conference at Monday's opening ceremonies
Partial View of delegates at the National Constitutional review Conference at Monday’s opening ceremonies

History is being made. And it’s here in Gbarnga City, the capital of Liberia’s central and 4th most populated county. It is packer than usual. Since Sunday evening hundreds of delegates (including myself, representing the Press Union of Liberia) and observers are still flocking into the business-blooming dusty city for a very historic event. It’s a review of the 1986 Liberian Constitution.

Being held under the auspices of the Constitution Review Committee at the Gbarnga Administration Building, the National Conference is providing an opportunity for delegates to debate (reject or accept) recommendations for a constitutional change. Liberians want several provisions in the constitution amended and new ones added.

The recommendations are the results of wide-ranging national and Diaspora consultations during which Liberians proposed what changes they want in the Constitution of the new Liberia.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her keynote address Monday (March 30) described the constitutional review process as a mile stone in building stronger democratic governance in Liberia.

Muslim Youths holding placards with messages opposing any attempt to make Liberia a Christian state
Muslim Youths holding placards with messages opposing any attempt to make Liberia a Christian state

She described the consultations that produced the recommendations being discussed at the national conference as “intense and elaborate process” during which the Liberian people themselves decided on changes they want in their constitution.

Most of the recommendations, the President rightly observed, are either about ‘governance, rights issues and legislative actions.’ She hopes that these issues will be reviewed and finalized for legislative action.

Nearly all sectors of the Liberian society—comprising relevant groupings including a Diaspora delegation, pushing for dual citizenship—are converged here in Gbarnga to make inputs and their voices heard.

Women, advocating for 50/50 representation at all levels of governance with their male counterparts are here waiving and holding up placards carrying inscriptions calling for equal rights and treatment.

Muslims youth are outside the building also holding posters against making Liberia a Christian state as there are provisions in the recommendations calling for Liberia to be transformed from secular to Christian state, while another provision pushes for a national Muslim holiday in Liberia.

Diaspora Liberians are here craving for dual citizenship on ground that they remain Liberians no matter where they find themselves.

Besides, there are recommendations for the reduction of both presidential and legislative terms, as well as special rights and privileges for the empowerment and inclusion of people with disabilities. There are counter resistance to all these issues.

The air in and around the conference hall is tense. Indications are clear that contentious issues such as women’s demand for 50% equality with men in all aspects of state governance, recommendations for Christian state and Muslim holiday as well as the push dual citizenship will eat up much of the time.

By the end of Thursday, delegates would have decided what the new constitution would look like. Meanwhile, before then, let’s see how Tuesday goes as the delegates have been divided into groups to discuss thematic issues, under which each of these debatable subjects fall. Keep tune, I’ll be back…

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Author: D K Sengbeh

Danicius Kaihenneh Sengbeh (author of Sengbeh's Weblog) is a respected and renowned Liberian journalist, poet and writer with with journalism experience since 2001, of working both as a mainstream journalist and a communication/media consultant in Liberia. He is Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia (elected Dec 2013). He was Assistant Secretary General of the Union Dec 2011 to Dec 2013. He is also Editor-In-Chief of The Informer Newspaper—one of Liberia’s credible dailies. Before joining the Informer, Danicius had served as reporter, chief reporter, sub-editor and News Editor at The Independent Newspaper between 2002 and 2006. Before then, he was reporter at the defunct Patriot Newspaper and Kiss FM 2001-2002. Danicius is a UN Media Fellow and Liberia’s first UN Medal Award-winning journalist for his contribution to journalism and for being the second Liberian journalist in 15 years to qualify for and successfully attended the United Nations’ Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalist Fellowship Program in New York and Geneva, Switzerland in 2012. He earned a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Mass Communication and Sociology from the University of Liberia and a Diploma in Journalism from the International School of Journalism. He holds several awards and recognitions both in and outside of journalism, and carries dozens of certificates in journalism and communication from studies in Ghana, China, United States and Switzerland, among others. He volunteers as Chair of the Information and Communication Committee of his local Bardnersville community. He can be quickly reached via (+231) 886586531/777586531/777464018/ dakasen1978@yahoo.com

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