Democracies can really be violent. Mozambique is a case in point; Botswana is not; and a more recent example is Liberia, a more recent and demonstrative case.

When I left Botswana in March this year after my second visit, I was still marveling over what a peaceful, civil place that country is. Botswana achieved independence without a civil war, revolution, insurgency, or anything like that. Independence without violence? Multi-party elections and known no violence to persuade the British to leave? What kind of democracy is that!

Actually, the Portuguese left Mozambique without so much as a fight, but then again there was that extraordinarily destructive civil war between the Frelimo and Renamo parties, a nasty brotherly fight that claimed the lives of more than a million people. They had a democracy, so they fought each other after the colonists left. (Okay, they started with one party rule by Frelimo, but who says that a democracy has to have two parties?) We see this story again and again and again: India and Pakistan, for example, were formed after indigenous groups really went after each other – kind of like opposing liberation groups in Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt today.

A colleague of mine at Wayne State University and I are now embarking on the third course in the Wayne State University African Democracy Project. We have chose Liberia. It is focused on national elections, as was the Mozambique course in 2009.

Why Liberia? There are many reasons. First, democracy is not new to Liberia. One might argue that Liberia has always been a democracy and one can just as easily argue that it was never a true colony in the tradition of British, Portuguese, French, and Dutch Africa. (Incidentally, Botswana was not a colony either. Technically, it was a protectorate of Britain. After diamonds were discovered, Britain really protected it!) Liberia was settled by freed slaves and other black free men from the United States who, on their own volition and at the urging of others, left the U.S. to find a place back in the homeland. Then there were other Africans who, on their way to the “free” world to become unfree, were liberated by the British from slave ships and dumped – not back in their homelands, but onto the nearest shoreline in what is now Liberia. This mixture of free and freed, liberated and castaway, formed what became collectively known as the Congo people of Liberia. They basically took over the free people of Liberia to create the first and only colony formed by people (not citizens) of the United States of America. (Of course, this depends somewhat on how you look at what Teddy Roosevelt did in Panama to get the canal. But let’s not go there.)

Why Liberia? Because the people are much like us and, furthermore, wanted to be like us. For heaven’s sake – they formed the True Whig Party! The Liberian flag – except for missing 49 stars and two stripes – looks exactly like ours.

Why Liberia? Among other reasons is the simple notion that it is there and is what it is. And the connection of Liberia to “us” is that we never let slavery and slaves get too far away from our shores, our minds, or our souls. There is a kind of spiritual kinship between Liberia and us. Charles Taylor, a latter-day freeman in an American jail, mysteriously escaped and went back to Liberia to wreak havoc on the country and its people, but that puts me way ahead in telling this story.

Let’s just go with the idea that Liberia, democracy, violence, and America are inseparable. Mary Moran’s book about Liberia, The Violence of Democracy, may help us to understand why these concepts are inextricably linked in Liberia.

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