October 3, 2005
Carter Center Picks Whitworth Professor for
Whitworth College Professor of Political Studies John C. Yoder will have a front-row seat Oct. 11 when Liberians vote in an election that may change the course of a country that has endured 14 years of civil war and political corruption. Yoder, who has studied Liberian political and social culture for two decades, has been invited by The Carter Center to participate on a team that will monitor and report on the elections.
"I'm a political scientist, and this is an opportunity to be directly involved in what I research, write and teach about," says Yoder, who was a Fulbright Scholar in Liberia in 1986-87 and returned as a Pew Scholar in 1999. "Perhaps more importantly, I really care about Liberia. I'm part of a group of Liberian and U.S. scholars who hope some of the dysfunctional patterns there can be changed through lasting political and economic reform."
Yoder and a group of about 25 U.S. and non-Liberian Africans, led by former President Jimmy Carter, will travel to Liberia on Oct. 4 to monitor balloting for president, vice-president and members of the Liberian legislature. The team's four responsibilities include conducting interviews to evaluate the fairness of election campaigns, observing polling sites during the election itself, monitoring transportation, and counting of the ballots and producing a report on whether the election was free and fair. The report, Yoder says, will likely determine whether the Liberian people and the world community regard the new president and government as legitimate.
Yoder says he believes the Carter Center selected him for the election-monitoring team due to his writings and his long-term connections to people and institutions in Liberia as well as to Diaspora Liberians in the U.S. who are working with the Governance Reform Commission. He is also the author of a groundbreaking book, Popular Culture, Civil Society and State Crisis in Liberia (2003, The Edwin Mellen Press), in which he challenges popular prescriptions for Liberia's political problems. Yoder argues that widespread political patronage, a practice encouraged by ordinary citizens, represents as great a threat to long-term prosperity in Liberia as violence and autocratic governments.
Since dictator Charles Taylor was exiled as part of the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Accords, Yoder points out, the culture of political patronage and civil strife have continued unabated under the caretaker government. However, he says he is encouraged that the two leading presidential candidates - Harvard-educated economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and George Weah, a former international soccer star - are both running on platforms of serious economic and government reform.
Yoder sees three possible outcomes to the upcoming elections. The worst scenario would be violence or clear evidence of election fraud that would undermine the new government. A second scenario would be a clean election but a new government that is not inclined or not able to challenge Liberia's political culture of patronage and favoritism. A third and best scenario would be a clean election and a new government that enjoys popular support for real and lasting reform.
"I'm more optimistic than I would have been five or 10 years ago, so I think the third scenario is more likely than the first one," Yoder says. "But a recent Liberian poll shows that only 20 percent of voters are strongly concerned about political corruption, so there's still a long way to go to change the values and habits of the political culture in Liberia."
Yoder holds a Ph.D. in African history from Northwestern University and has taught at Whitworth since 1980. His research and writings have focused on African mythology, history and politics. In 1987-88, he held a Fulbright fellowship to teach African history and politics at Cuttington University College and the University of Liberia. In 1999, he conducted research in Liberia under a grant from the Pew Foundation.
Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college enrolls 2,400 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.
John C. Yoder, Professor of Political Studies, (509) 777-4432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or email@example.com.