Driving out of Monrovia, southwards, it is easily observed that most infrastructural improvements are largely limited to the capital. They are trying to refurbish the road to Buchanan, but there is still a long way to go. People complain about the slow pace. In Buchanan, which used to be the second city of Liberia, very little has changed since I was here five years ago. The main thoroughfare is still extremely potholed and must be carefully navigated by drivers and pedestrians alike, at night the place is spookily dark. In Buchanan just as in Monrovia there are numerous posters and banners with election messages; almost all of them for the Unity Party (UP) and with the face of President Johnson Sirleaf. However, when I talk to people in the streets here, a clear majority seems in favor of the opposition party CDC.
I spend about four hours under a cotton tree where predominantly young men are sitting chatting. It is only politics. I follow their discussions (and I try to steer them into what I am interested of, yet with limited success), the debates are loud and heated, fuelled by generous amounts of palm wine. Here it becomes pretty clear that a majority intends to vote for CDC because they are believed to be more “grass root”. Young people believe that UP is an elite project. In fact CDC is trying to ride on the fact that UP is spending so much money in the campaigning. CDC comes out as the political underdog for the social underdogs. It comes out pretty clear in the discussions of the errors of the National Election Commission (NEC), around which most of the debate centers. There is a widespread belief that the NEC is a UP lapdog (not just under this cotton tree). Thus when almost the entire opposition initially stated it would boycott the results of the first round due to alleged fraud – it should be noted that international election bodies have found little proof of that – many people found it very plausible as NEC is perceived being pro-UP. When NEC subsequently in a letter addressed to the CDC (later circulated in the media) erroneously announced CDC the winner of the first round only to hours later retake and give it victory to UP, this only further fuelled anger towards NEC. In fact the fight against NEC has been CDCs key campaign strategy after the first round with a threat to boycott the second round if the NEC head James Fromayan does not step down. Fromayan did step down on Sunday, but CDC has still not officially announced their participation in the second round. Yet it is a fact that CDC the fight against the establishment of NEC is part of their strategy of being perceived as the underdog and it is clearly boosting their popularity. For a party with much less resources it may well be the only way to compete with the wealthy UP and the resigning of the NEC head must be perceived as a victory for the party.
Stirring up discontent among ordinary citizens is probably the only chance for the CDC – and still it is a very small one. However to Liberia it is a risky path, as whipping up discontent may also lead to outbursts of violence and threats of the same – Monrovia has already seen some minor skirmishes. Under the cotton tree in Buchanan everybody agrees that they don’t want to see violence, but on the other hand they hate feeling cheated by a Liberian political elite still too far away from them and their frail realities.