Liberia is seven years away from civil conflict but the situation in the small West African nation is far from stable. In 2011 the Liberian people will once again go to the polls to elect a President. In 2005 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, made history by becoming Africa’s first female leader. In the ensuing five years her government has faced a host of seemingly insurmountable problems ranging from destructive beetle infestations to a series of scandalous governmental corruption scandals.
President Sirleaf has not officially announced that she will be running for a second term in 2011, although as the standard-bearer of the Unity Party she will undoubtedly be encouraged to seek a second term. During her first campaign the country was still reeling from the effects of a devastating civil war. The country was ready and willing to embrace her message of peace, inclusiveness and optimism. This time around, with six years of post-conflict development projects behind her, the election will be more about issues like jobs, corruption, health and education and less about the soothing charms of ‘Ma Ellen.’
New Media and the Liberian Election
In mid-2000 the campaign for President of Liberia will begin to heat-up. President Sirleaf will have announced whether she will run again and the other candidates and their respective parties will have announced themselves.
Currently the Liberian media is not prepared to cover the election adequately. Media houses lack basic resources for the day-to-day coverage of events so the prospect of covering a major election is daunting to say the least.
Likewise, there is likely to be a great deal of international interest in these elections due to the notoriety of President Sirleaf and the implications that this election will have for democracy in West Africa. Currently there are no archives or repositories of material related to Liberia that foreign journalists and researchers can find quickly. Whether it is abstracts and commentaries regarding Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy or the output of the highly controversial Truth and Reconciliation Committee, both of which will have a bearing on the election, there is no one place that interested parties can go for relevant information and data.
Another constituency that is very significant for the election is the Liberian diaspora. Over 250,000 Liberians live in the United States alone with several tens of thousands also living in Canada and Europe. These Liberians are passionate about their country, are a major source of funds for candidates and this time, unlike in 2005, they will be able to cast ballots.
They will require information to support both their political donations as well as their voting.
Having a portal on the internet to gather all relevant documentation in searchable formats will be invaluable, as well as having a place for the reporting of election related news and commentary. The goal of the New School project will be to create such a portal.
The portal will exist under the name of ‘Liberian Elections 2011′ or some other easily recognizable designation. Developed and maintained in the U.S. but recieving a constant stream of inputs from Liberia and elsewhere, it will have an archive of relevant documentation that is abstracted and searchable. It will have links to every relevant news organization and it will commission its own reporting from on- the- ground reporters in Liberia and also from individuals in the United Nations, major NGOs and supporting national governments.
The site will have one or more blogs related to the election with opportunity for feedback from Liberians. The site will also have a ‘What’s True?’ section that will attempt to sift fact from lies, misstatements and rumor. It will also attempt maybe a first for West Africa in having live, election day Twitter reports from election monitors and observers.
Work on the portal will be led by a time of graduate students from the New School as well as a supporting team of students from the University of Liberia. The project teams will design the site, finance the budget, develop a prototype and make all the necessary connections with news and information partners.
Once the design of the Portal is developed, representatives from the Center for Democracy and Development and the University of Liberia will start a fund-raising drive to fund the overall development so that it is operational before the end of calendar year 2010.