As Liberians vote in the fourth democratic elections, the people’s future, lives, hopes, and aspirations rest on the shoulders of one rugged, strong-willed woman: Davidetta Browne-Lansanah.
She is the fifth Chair of Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC) charged with the onerous responsibility of refereeing a high-staked 20-candidate election on a slippery democratic pitch with no room for blunders and excuses.
Such is the Goliath-like task ahead of Davidetta Browne-Lansanah.
NEC and Liberia’s democracy
Before diving into the personality of the NEC Chairperson, it is crucial to understand the composition of the vehicle– the National Elections Commission– in which she hopes to drive the people of Liberia to a destination of peace and progress.
The National Elections Commission was part of the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the 14 years of the Civil War. The NEC replaced the 1986 Elections Commission.
The NEC is an autonomous government institution, independent of any branch of government with powers to run elections in Liberia.
According to Chapter 2, Section 2.1 of the New Elections Law of 2014 the National Elections Commission, “shall be under the direction and management of seven (7) Commissioners appointed by the President of Liberia, who shall appoint one of them as Chairman and another as Co-Chairman. All of the appointments shall be subject to the consent of the Senate.”
Section 2.10 (c) of the same law gives the chairperson the authority to “apportion the Republic into administrative areas and assign a Commissioner to each area to oversee election activities in the area and advise the Commission on all decisions related to the area…”
After Liberia was ushered into a functioning democracy, albeit with its challenges, the mineral-rich West African state has had for itself many electoral chairpersons, superintending over elections across the country.
It has not been a smooth ride for some of them. In 2011, James Fromayan had to step down as NEC Chair after he was accused of bias by the then-George Weah-led opposition.
In a position where the chairpersons, by law, are expected to be independent but by convention are constantly accused of bias and bedding the party in power, the values of courage, fairness in a NEC chair and the boldness to make independent decisions cannot be underscored.
It is these values that may have prompted President George Weah to appoint Davidetta Lansanah as EC Chair in April 2020. Unsurprisingly, as part of her objectives as NEC chair, she intends to “work towards strengthening NEC’s core values of independence, integrity, professionalism and consistency.”
It will be her first election management, not the first female NEC chair since her appointment.
Who is Browne-Lansanah?
Madame Browne-Lansanah hails from Maryland County and holds double Baccalaureate Degrees in Public Administration and Political Science respectively, from the University of Liberia, and a Master of Public Administration Degree in Public Sector Management from the Cuttington University Graduate School.
She is a veteran broadcast journalist who worked many years in the field at the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), Star Radio, and the Talking Drum Studio (Search for Common Ground). The Acting Chairperson of NEC also worked for a decade as a National Professional within the UN System as a Communications Officer with UNOMIL and UNDHA/UNHACO and as an Associate Gender Officer, in the Office of the Gender Adviser (OGA) with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
Madame Browne-Lansanah, like other chairpersons like Emmett Harmon, Cllr. Frances Allison, James Fromayan, Jerome Kokoyah, and others, will lead Liberia to its next elected leaders as the second post-war female chairwoman of the NEC.