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Uniforms present perceptions and distinctions, just as schools or football teams wear different uniforms to distinguish themselves from others.
A given set of uniforms leads to perceptions, so that one looking at the Nazi uniforms reaches a conclusion. A police uniform carries the perception of peace, or a peacemaker.
So when the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Secretary General Acarous Gray decided to wear military uniforms at a press conference last week to threaten the National Elections Commission (NEC), he had one message to send: his intent to use force and to intimidate.
Here in Liberia, since the 1980s up to 2003, the military uniform has represented fear, arbitrariness, lawlessness, murder, rape, etc. The military uniform means the opposite of democratic engagement and the triumphalism of naked force. Thus a political party that opts for military uniform as its symbol, in the manner the CDC Secretary General has done, leaves not doubt that democratic engagement is dead, with force and its attributes as the options.
Hence, the CDC is now militarized party, poised seizes power by military means, that is it can, and it cannot. It is too feeble, petty and disorganized to benefit from Nazi tactics.
Defending his action, the man said there is no law forbidding anyone from wearing military uniforms, for that matter any uniform, including police, Immigration or SSS uniforms. And he said he would do it again because it is his right.
But the action goes beyond the law and right. It dwells on perception. The intent here is to sell the perception of violence, rebellion, force and intimidation because soldiers are not policemen. They use force and are used to fight wars. Thus the military uniform represents that mindset, that force is preeminent.
He said on radio in defense of his Gestapo uniforms that he had no weapon, except his so-called intellect. But does one need military uniforms, or any uniform to exercise intellect?
It is clear that the military uniforms were used as signals and symbols for intimidation and for good reasons because the uniforms, with the Liberian context, represent destruction, disorder and death.
From 1980 to 2003, the military uniform has stood as symbol of arbitrary death and state disintegration and what Mr. Gray and his party want to make known is their preparedness for disorder if power is not yielded through chaotic party split.
Selling the CDC as a feared gang prepared to recede into violence with its paramilitary attachments began in the last elections when the party security hands wore military uniforms. In Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, they were spotted in military uniforms.
But, if fear is the intent, then the CDC has failed even before it can begin to dream of capturing power via force. This is because the landscape that made men who wore military uniforms—Samuel K. Doe, Charles Taylor and others—to succeed is no more.
The evidence is Mr. Taylor’s ordeal. Apart form that, the International Criminal Court, soon to have a Gambian woman as Chief Prosecutor, is extending its wings on violent African politicians. In this, leading Kenyan politicians, including Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, will soon stand trial for their roles in electoral violence that caused thousands of death.
Men like Acarous Gray have nothing to lose by throwing periodic threats that far surpass their capacity to implement. But threatening to hold society hostage for the failings of their party only exposes their unpreparedness for democratic governance.
It is the bitter power struggle within CDC, with its elected chair Senator Geraldine Doe Sherif, who, along with the party secretary General, had to sign the document nominating their candidate. Now, it is one thing for the love affair between Mrs. Sherif and the party owners to end, but she remains the officially recognized Chair without whose signature the document is invalid. And according to NEC, the CDC was 3 days late in meeting the requirements.
Mr. Gray hit a hard rock when the House plenary reminded him the legislature is not a court, and evidently the wrong place for his complaint.
It is a court issue, and the only court with jurisdiction over this issue is the Supreme Court.
The CDC has benefited from sweeping the rules under the carpet in the past. Now CDC believes that it’s privileged to violating the rules and be allowed to play the game because of its use of violence, which is feared. A clear example is the list of preconditions it presented for the October and November elections, with nonsensical demands such as the state paying for its poll watchers, amongst others. It has gone back on the drawing board, believing it is invincible and therefore suffering from the same disease that Charles Taylor suffered from.
But that the party is showing its feeble fangs of disorder this early is a blessing. The point is that should reserve its fear tactics, such as wearing military uniforms, for its gullible members. Fear is no longer useful in politics. Fear is self-defeating.