Thursday, August 18, 2011

Professor Alaric Tokpa outline his Campaign Purpose for the Liberian Legislature

By:Sam K Zinnah
Clayton, Delaware

The man who was once seeing languishing behind bars as one of the many political prisoners in the notorious Belle Yallah prison is likely to return as a representative of that part of Liberia.
Ever since his ascendancy to student politics in Liberia, Mr. Alaric Tokpa has had great interest in creating some form of good political governance through peace, unity, accountability and transparency not only at a student level but national level as well.
Few months ago, Professor Tokpa declared his intention to challenge Unity Party Incumbent Representative Dickson T. Yarsiah in Gbarpolu County Electoral District # 2. Professor Tokpa’s declaration is widely accepted and supported by citizens and residents of Gbarpolu County electoral district # 2. One elder said “this is long overdue, we will do all we can to support you”. Few days after declaring his intention, a website was launched by some of his many supporters in the Diaspora.


Born unto the union of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Tokpa on August 2, 1958, Alaric Tokpa came to prominence as a national student leader in the early 1980s and has since captured public attention as a consistent advocate for progressive social change in Liberia. From 1978 to 1979, Alaric served as Chairman of the Student UHURU Movement (at the William V.S. Tubman High School), the leading secondary school political party organization in twenty century Liberia. In that role, he agitated for the release of political prisoners (i.e. university student leaders, leaders of national political organizations – All Peoples’ Freedom Alliance, Movement for Justice in Africa, Progressive Alliance of Liberia) who were accused by the government of William R. Tolbert for organizing the rice uprising of April 14, 1979 in which about a hundred protesters were killed by the police. This led to a near encounter between students of Tubman High and the Guinean army in Sinkor, Monrovia. The neighboring Guinean army had been called into Liberia to back the insecure government after the mass protest.

In 1980, the year in which non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia overthrew the Tolbert Government in a bloody coup d’├ętat, he entered the University of Liberia and was immediately elected Assistant General Secretary of the Student Unification Party (SUP), the most prominent university student political party in Liberia to date. In 1981, he was elected General Secretary of SUP. In the same year, he became General Secretary of the Liberia National Students Union (LINSU). Through hard work and painstaking endeavors, he and his colleagues gave LINSU prominent places in the All Africa Students Union, the International Union of Students and the World Federation of Democratic Youth. And through his able and selfless leadership of a vibrant secretariat, the regional unions of LINSU were organized and effective opposition to the excesses of the military dictatorship was mobilized in the 1980s. In the absence of national opposition political parties to the military junta, the national student movement played the leading role of opposition to the military government and is on record for inspiring the campaign for military disengagement from politics in Liberia. For his part in the latter campaign, Alaric was to suffer prolong neglect and humiliation; but, because of that experience, he earns a special place in the Liberian political class today.

The banning of student democratic political activities in December, 1981 was mainly aimed at preventing him and his colleagues from eventually taking the leadership of the powerful University of Liberia Student Union which the dictatorship feared. Yet, this was to intensify his opposition to the draconian policies of the military dictatorship. Alaric led the advocacy and struggle for the unbanning of the student movement. Because of this, Alaric (then General Secretary of the Liberia National Students Union) was sentenced to the firing squad (January 1982) among four other national student leaders. That he and his colleagues were reprieved did not deter him from active opposition to military rule.

On suspicion of participation in the “underground publication”, REACT against the military, he and five others were subsequently banished to the maximum prison at Belle Yallah where he spent a year (1985) of hard labor. The truth is that he was a part of the defiant “patriotic pamphleteering” campaign, but the national security system could produce no proof. In reality therefore, his latter imprisonment was a continuation of punishment for opposing the oppressive policies of the military government, and also for his part in the campaign for democratic transition and military disengagement from politics. But he carries no malice or grudge due to past suffering and even thinks that prison life (because of the very small part he played in the struggle for the emancipation of his people) was a rewarding experience that money can never buy.

When war started in late 1989, Alaric was a master student at the University of Ghana. Upon graduation from the University of Ghana in 1990, he did just what many others could have avoided. He returned to Liberia in the midst of war and actively participated in the peace movement through the Campaign for Freedom and the Liberia Advocacy Group, which brought together the major civil society organizations in the country.
But no sooner did the notorious warlord, Charles Taylor come to power in July 1997 than it became clear that the country needed to go beyond the election of autocracy and democratize. In June 1999, Alaric launched the effort to form the New DEAL Movement, which is the only political party that organized and registered in Liberia under the oppressive administration of Charles Taylor. Today, Alaric is nationally acclaimed as the Founding Chair of the New DEAL Movement, Liberia’s only social democratic party which has led the efforts to bring together Liberian opposition parties under the banner of the National Democratic Coalition (NDC). Moreover, it is interesting to note that Alaric has continued to excellently blend the academic with the politician.

Accordingly, Alaric is former head of the political science department at the University of Liberia where he currently lectures as Assistant Professor. He has also studied and held teaching positions in Ghana and the United States. After the Liberian civil war (1989 – 2003), Alaric served as Civic Education Administrator (2006 – 2007) in the training of the new post war army, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and was frustrated by the extent of executive imposition on the Liberian legislature in disregard for constitutional purview. In addition, he has provided consultancy for civil society organizations (i.e. Liberia Democratic Institute, Green Advocates, Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy) and INGOs (i.e. United Nations Development Program, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the Irish International Charity - Trocaire) in the areas of training and research. Also, he is the National Investigator of Afro barometer in Liberia. Afrobarometer is a comparative series of national public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, markets and civil society in Africa.

Alaric has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Liberia and holds a Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) in political science from the University of Ghana. He is currently pursuing PhD research (at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia) on Diaspora studies and thinks that the Liberian Diaspora has an important role to play in the reform and development of the Liberian homeland.
Alaric has remained consistent in the advocacy for concrete democratic change and believes that government should go beyond textbook economics and pay close attention to the basic needs of the people in order to be relevant. A believer in human rights, gender equity and economic justice, Alaric also supports the notion that nature has rights. His selflessness and long years of struggle for the democratization of Liberia has given him enviable connection with and Influence over the youth and grassroots communities. An adherent of the positive values in democratic politics, Alaric has the added advantage of being a descendant from the chieftaincy in his native homeland. He is therefore well schooled in the practice of consensus democracy.
Alaric is well known, connected and respected in the Liberian political class, civil society, business community and lager society. Ironically, despite his humility and widely recognized ability to serve, successive governments have hesitated to invite him into national administration due to his persistent advocacy for human rights, economic justice, social democracy and uncompromising stance against wide spread corruption.

Alaric has seen the rise and fall of several governments in Liberia. He therefore believes that until government refines itself, cling to democratic principles, and pursue people-center policies, instability and a vicious cycle of violence will continue to characterize Liberian politics. Thus, the core content of his electoral campaign for the representation of his people will be informed by town hall meetings, focus group discussions, and a survey of public opinion on the way forward. In view of its relative autonomy of executive prerogatives, he thinks that strengthening the legislature is a significant point of departure in the quest for governmental reform in Liberia.

Campaign Purpose for the Liberian Legislature (House of Representatives)

Vision: Improve social economic conditions and create better future for the children and residents of District Number Three, Gbarpolu County and Liberia as a whole.

Mission: To work hard for people-centered governmental policies and better public service delivery as well as the mobilization of the popular participation of district residents in decision making, implementation and the pursuit of development activities.

Current Aim: To secure support for electoral success in order to provide exemplary legislative service that will improve the quality of the Liberian legislature and positively impact executive and judicial functions for the purpose of bettering the conditions of the Liberian people.

Major Objectives
• To fight bad laws and support the formulation of good laws.
• To promote human and peoples’ rights as well as the rights of nature.
• To collaborate with other potential legislators for the purpose of promoting government reform and the improvement of public service delivery.
Specific Objective
Use mandate of people and legislative authority to mobilize residents of District # 3 in Gbarpolu County to find for themselves answers to five basic concerns:
1. Building of consensus on general needs of district
2. Building of consensus on the way forward
3. Achievement of agreement on how to make progress
4. Collective formulation of ideas on what can be done to improve conditions
5. Attainment of commitment on cooperation for the improvement of conditions

National Context

Since the establishment of the Liberian state in 1847, the legislature has essentially functioned as a subordinate of the executive branch of government, despite its constitutional powers and oversight of executive institutions. In post war Liberia, the uncritical attitude of the legislature toward executive appointments, the approval of bad concession agreements and the growing dissatisfaction with the national budget process as well as patterns of reconstruction, development, employment and public service delivery threaten to undermine the building of post war peace and stability. The situation is exacerbated by the high level of corruption and abuse of power in government.

Even though official documents capture the context of the national problem, they are severely limited in the construction of the required strategies for addressing them. For example, the development priorities outlined in the Gbarpolu County Development Agenda (roads, health facilities and educational facilities) and the four pillars of the National Poverty Reduction Strategy (consolidating peace and security; revitalizing the economy; strengthening government and the rule of law; rehabilitating infrastructure and delivering basic services) leave no place for the participation of the people in post war reconstruction and development. Like other county development agendas, these two national and regional programs are limited because they completely ignore the capacity of a post war people to participate in the conversation about themselves and contribute to the improvement of their own lives. Generally marginalized and dispossessed, the people of Liberia are treated as passive recipients of development assistance, at best, and neglected subjects, at worst. Therefore, in view of the urgent need to improve the security of the state and the state of security, the change of government orientation is imperative. Except by introducing violence into the political process (which should be avoided), the legislature is well suited to inspire such a change.

Moreover, a major problem of governance in Liberia is the lack of standards, the absence of suitable policy and institutional frameworks, the attachment of low value to creative, homegrown solutions, and the unequal distribution of national opportunities and possibilities. There is the need for laws, statutes and policy alternatives to reverse the trend.
With its oversight responsibilities and relative autonomy of executive prerogatives that usually demean well meaning government functionaries, the improvement of the quality of the legislature has the potential to positively impacting the nature of the executive branch of government and induce hope in the population. These are the main motivations behind Alaric Tokpa’s quest for legislative representation.

Local (District) Program

• Support, promote and explore every possible means for the construction of motor roads, health centers, quality schools and general market.
• Pay close attention to women, children and youth concerns as well as improvement in the economic conditions of residents.
• Support human rights protection and the promotion of social and economic justice.
• Encourage popular participation in dialogues on development.
• Help protect integrity of environment and cultural rights of indigenous residents.
• Pursue implementation of government policy agenda for district.
• Promote transparency and accountability.
• Explore ways to generate productive employment opportunities for young people.
• Find means for the training of teachers and health workers.
• Support and promote respect for the interest and concerns of teachers, health workers, midwives and other public servants.
• Organization in-service training for teachers and health workers.
• Support adult literacy and night school programs.
• Support improvement of human security and rule of law for all.
• Promote peace, unity, and sports.
• Instill idea of hard work and voluntarism in youth.
• Inspire involvement of district residents in self-help initiatives.
• Initiate district youth brigade for cooperative venture in housing


• Seek support for and promote cooperation for massive housing program and the improvement of agricultural production.
• Encourage the proper structuring of the local market system and improvement of general market locations.
• Help identify micro loan scheme for market women and encourage local savings mobilization.
• Support small business education.
• Find means for the construction of children playgrounds.
• Seek scholarship support programs for needy students.
• Map community resources and ensure community participation and interest in business negotiations.
• Encourage social service delivery by government and development partners.
• Find ways to bring community radio and telephone communication to district.

National Agenda

• Work for the review of bad laws and the enactment of good laws.
• Take initiatives for the institutionalization of non-partisan collaborative relations and cooperation for the promotion of progressive legislation, policies and collective actions.
• Support the protection of human rights, the rights of nature and the rights of the defenders of human and environmental rights.
• Promote the legislation of stiff penalty for human rights violation and abuse.
• Support advocacy for the promotion of social and economic justice.
• Support comprehensive attention to the burning concerns of women, youth and children as well as improvement in the economic conditions of the Liberian people.
• Support improvement of security and rule of law for all.
• Support and promote respect for the interest and concerns of teachers, health workers and other public servants.
• Support the promotion of accountability and transparency as cardinal government policy position.
• Mobilize agreement over the need for constitutional review.
• Work to improve the budget and public expenditure tracking processes.

• Mobilize for the allocation of more budget support to areas of national priority needs (i.e. education, health, teacher education, health education, national road construction, agricultural production, clean water, electric power, transportation, communication).
• Support national investment in hydro electric power generation.
• Promote national investment in domestic agriculture and farm to market roads for increased production and improved trade.
• Support national investment in water transport for international trade.
• Pay particular attention to improvement in the quality of legislative oversight responsibility of executive and judicial government institutions.
• Strive for concession agreements and business investments to serve the best interest of the country and the Liberian people.
• Promote the idea of national investment in the construction of uniform educational and health facilities across the country.
• Support government investment in low cost housing programs.
• Support government investment in public works and mass employment.
• Strive to improve the quality of legislative representation in the

international system.

• Support for government investment in the installation of a national think-tank of Liberians with interdisciplinary background.
• Support the documentation of Liberians and the financing of planning for future development.
• Support policy reforms for improved governance.
• Promote legislative reform and ethical training.
• Support judicial reform, the election of judges and the election of local government officials.
• Advocate for legal proceedings and stiff penalty for corruption, abuse of official prerogatives and misuse of public resources.
• Advocate for government devotion to domestic revenue generation, budgetary expenditure on national priority needs, and the alignment of public expenditure and foreign assistance with national priority needs.
• In the event that the exploitation of oil begins in Liberia, advocate for public participation in the debate on the future use of oil money.

International Initiative

• Engage Liberian Diaspora in dialogue on the way forward.
• Search for development partners and mobilize assistance for district.
• Work with Liberian Diaspora to identify partners for development assistance.

Principles of General Policy

• Focus on close attention to women, youth and children concerns and rights.
• Promotion of unity, hard work, development, transparency and accountability.
• Involvement of District residents in decision making process.
• Involvement of citizens in planning the future of the district.
• Mobilization of citizens for voluntary contribution to district development.
• Support for the empowerment and improvement of local and traditional leadership.
• Support for the protection of the environment, forest resources and cultural heritage.
• Devotion to reversal of rural-urban migration trend.
• Pursuit of government and development partners for attention to District.

Core Principles of Service

• Unity and Hard Work for Development
• Consultation and constant dialogue
• Accountability and transparency
• Hard work and perseverance
• Self-evaluation and upholding of focus
• Humility, respect and teamwork
• Multi-partisan cooperation in the national interest

Motto: The time has come.