MONROVIA – The President of the OMNIA Institute for Contexture Leadership, Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, has expressed concern over election-related violence in Liberia and has cautioned Liberian politicians not to use the youth to ferment electoral violence.
Liberians are poised to go to the polls later this year on 10 October to elect a horde of legislators, a president, and a vice president in the country’s general and presidential elections.
In an exclusive interview with Smart News Liberia (SNL) on Monday, 4 September 2023, Dr. Premawardhana, who is visiting Liberia for the first time, asserted that electoral violence is terrible for democracy, warning Liberian politicians not to use young people, who he said are most often used to instigate election-related violence.
“There are some young people who are more prone to violence, I don’t know enough about Liberia’s election violence yet, because I am new to Liberia. But I do know about Nigeria,” said Dr. Premawardhana, who intoned that Nigeria and Liberia being West African States, there probably may be some commonalities in how election-related violence is carried out in both countries.
Exploring the Nigerian scenario, he stated that he knows that in Nigeria, some politicians use young people to create electoral violence, pointing out that this is really a very bad thing to do.
By using young people to stage election-related violence, Dr. Premawardhana, a former Director for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, noted that what politicians who do this are teaching young people is that, violence is okay, and that such politicians are also creating havoc among citizens, and within the communities, so that people will not trust the election process, emphasizing that this is terrible for democracy.
Dr. Premawardhana, who, at the invitation of the Concern Christian Community (CCC) is in the country to among other things conduct a training of trainers for some 20 Interfaith Peacemaker Teams, who will then train others on strategies of peace-building, with a specific focus on reducing election-related violence, emphasized that as people who value democracy, Liberian politicians should preserve as best as they can, the tradition of teaching citizens that election process can be trusted.
“Interfaith Peacemaker Teams at best, are citizens coming together, citizens exercising their rights, citizens saying these are our needs, and telling politicians here’s how we want you to act – and it’s well worthwhile for politicians to listen to these democracy goods and be able to say this is the way I should conduct myself,” he stated, adding; “If you do that, Interfaith Peacemaker Teams become really good vehicle for people to get elected because these people will vote for the best politicians that they have…”
He expressed the hope that all politicians, especially political leaders in Liberia would work to reduce violence during the conduct of the 2023 elections.
“And by violence, I know that not too many people get killed, but many people get hurt, properties get burnt [destroyed], people will go on looting, doing nasty things, I hope that amount will be reduced, and that there will be a level of election’s integrity that happens,” Dr. Premawardhana stressed.
He disclosed that with reduced electoral violence and election integrity, the OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership, located in Chicago, Illinois, USA, along with its partner, the Concern Christian Community of Liberia headed by the former President of the Interreligious Council of Liberia, Bishop Kortu K. Brown, will then be able to go to the next level of peacemaking in Liberia.
“So that we can say to the communities, we’ve been able to accomplish this much in such a little time, now, let’s work together to create more economic development,” said Dr. Premawardhana, who observed that lot of people are going hungry in Liberia, and that issues of bringing more economic developments to communities within the country, including how to bring some special way of organic farming so everybody gets to eat can be pursued.
“How do you find employment for young people – you know there are lots of young people? Some 60 percent or more of Liberia’s population are young people. Now, lots of those people don’t have jobs. So how do you make that happen and how do you create opportunities for young people to have jobs and do some entrepreneurial things? Those kinds of things we have to think about and know what the next steps are going to be,” said Dr. Premawardhana, who pointed out that peacemaking is not just about stopping violence, but that it includes building justice, building the economy, building up individuals and institutions in the communities that they become strong, and when they become strong, people can’t just overrun them.
Meanwhile, with a wealth of experience in interreligious dialogue and cooperation, Dr. Premawardhana, a former Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches, USA, while in Liberia, is expected to engage with various stakeholders, conduct a comprehensive four-day advanced training program for Interfaith Peacemaker Team leaders in Montserrado, Bomi, and Grand Cape Mount Counties respectively.
Dr. Premawardhana, who is in Liberia representing the OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership, brings a message of peace for all Liberians, a community-based strategy for peace-building and training opportunities for volunteers for peace in Liberian communities, will also conduct a two-day training session for 10 or 12 trainers of Interfaith Peacemaker Team (IP Team).
The OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership, which was founded in 1976, focuses on countering religious extremism and combating religion-based oppression, domination, and violence, partners with one of Liberia’s oldest faith-based relief and peace-building organizations, the Concern Christian Community, in building community-based IP Teams to help address issues of violence in the communities and enable communities to be self-reliant.