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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Liberian villagers answer your questions
Villagers in Sinje

On the day before elections in Liberia, our reporter Joseph Winter spent time in the village of Sinje putting your questions to local people.

View a 360-degree panorama taken in Sinje village

During the country's 14-year civil war, Sinje was captured and fought over by a succession of different rebel forces.

Joseph charted the day in the village, as well as asking residents how they were trying to rebuild their lives after years of fighting.

Read below to see how the day unfolded.

Joseph Winter 2116 local time (2116 GMT)

Our visit to Sinje was cut short by a torrential thunder storm, brewed up by the day's heat.

Sheets of rain began to fall just as Sinje's Muslims were making their evening prayers before ending their fast.

Women in Sinje
Women arriving to spend the night in Sinje in order to vote on Tuesday

As we drove back to the capital, Monrovia, our car's headlights picked up the steam rising from the road where the raindrops hit the tar boiling after the day's sunshine.

Regional electoral officials also arrived in Sinje to make sure everything was in place.

Meanwhile after the heat and before the rain started, the boys had a game of football in the school, which tomorrow will be packed with voters.

People also started to arrive from surrounding villages ahead of the elections.

As the polling station is in Sinje, they preferred to spend the night there.

Varney Fahnbulleh alone had at least five people staying with him.

All seems set for Liberia's big day on Tuesday.

Joseph Winter 1800 local time (1800 GMT)

The day is starting to draw to a close, the shadows are getting longer and people are looking forward to breaking their fast. The UN troops are starting to have their dinner. They have finished repairing the bridge.

Question from Augustine Golafale, Seattle to the villagers, 1720 local time (1720 GMT)

What is the general mood in Liberia? Is it one of celebration or anxiety, fear, or confusion?

Massa Soni
Massa: Different people are feeling different things; some are celebrating, others worried, afraid or confused.

Hadii: I think people are happy about the elections and the whole campaign.

Kulah: I am happy but there is also a fear underneath.

Chief Momo: I will not be happy until I know the results of the vote. All the 22 candidates want to win and they have supporters. The losers might cause trouble.

Question from Stephen Johnson, Cambridge, UK to the villagers, 1715 local time (1715 GMT)

What piece of technology or design has made the most difference to your lives in the last five years?

Momo Freeman
Chief Momo: They are trying to build a radio station here but it is not yet working. Mobiles phones do not work but we have been promised the network will be switched on next week.

Kulah: The Unmil people who have brought peace are the best thing to have come in the past five years. Unmil have also brought electricity and drinking water to the village. Now I am going to go and start cooking dinner because I have been fasting.

Hadii: Televisions, DVDs, sound systems and satellite television have all arrived in the past five years. People come from surrounding villages to watch live English and Spanish football here.

Question from Axel Addy, Silver Spring, MD USA to the villagers, 1700 local time (1700 GMT)

Many feel that this historic occasion is the most inclusive election exercise in Liberia's history. Do you feel that the National Elections Commission and the political candidates have done a good job in educating all Liberia throughout Liberia about the election? Do you think this election will be fair?

Hadii: I believe it will be free and fair because there are people who have been trained running it. There has been lots of voter education here every day and night. People here know how to vote.

Question from David Roe, Nottingham, England to the villagers, 1646 local time (1646 GMT)

If George Weah wins the election tomorrow do you feel that this will be of a benefit to the country in terms of him being a person that is well known overseas by millions of people? Do you think this will help him to get the aid you need from other countries more so than any other candidate?

Momo Freeman
Chief Momo has come back from helping with the bridge: If Weah is elected, his fame and international contacts will help the country.

Hadii: I don't think Weah's fame will help him get aid. Whoever wins has to get the international community to help.

Abraham Balo
Kulah's son, Abraham Balo: If Weah is elected, he can bring development to Liberia. He has already helped us and will do more as president.

Question from Harrison Mathies, Monrovia, Liberia to the villagers, 1626 local time (1626 GMT)

I am a true son of Sinje, Ma Kula is my grandmother and Abraham is my uncle and I also felt the heat of the war initially in Sinje before escaping death to Monrovia.

Who is capable of leading us to a better future?

Harrison's mother, Mama Massaquoi: I am sick and for the past four months, we have not heard anything from our son. Since he is asking about the elections, he can send some money so I can buy drugs. As for the elections, I have not decided yet who to vote for. But I will vote. I am sure one of them is good.

Kulah: Women are becoming more involved in making decisions in the village. Before, when the men held public gatherings here, they told us women to stay behind. If we went, they wouldn't let us say anything.

Now, we have seen women who have become educated. So we are getting involved in discussions and development projects. And within the family, things are also changing.

Village life in Liberia

Before whatever the man said would go but now both husband and wife take decisions together.

But men are still more powerful. There are still some homes where the man's decision is final.

One problem faced by women here is domestic violence. This happens a lot when older men marry young girls and use violence to control them.

Question from Harue, Osaka, Japan to Chief Momo, 1601 local time (1601 GMT)

My country is very very far away from Liberia but I will be looking forward to hearing about a peaceful outcome to your election after the long civil war. Are you ready to vote? And what do you expect from the newly elected president?

Momo Freeman
Chief Momo: I am not expecting money from the new president - we already have that. I am expecting education for our youth, food - we should be able to produce our own food. And drugs so if get sick, we can get better. And roads, so we can get our produce to market.

Joseph Winter 1417 local time (1417 GMT)

Sinje villagers with Jo under the shelter
The shelter kept Jo and the villagers dry during the rain shower

The cool breeze brought rain clouds and a short shower. The wind has now died down it is getting very hot and sticky.

Luckily before the rain started, the villagers had built us a little shelter.

It was astonishing, fast, simple and effective.

Just four wooden poles stuck in the ground, with a tarpaulin stretched over the top and we were protected from the rain - and the scorching sun which occasionally peeps out from behind the clouds.

UN military engineers from Pakistan are helping to build a road across the river, to help transport election materials for tomorrow.

Namibian peacekeepers and the villagers are helping. Varney has come back from the funeral but as a craftsman, he is helping them.

Some of the other UN peacekeepers are browsing in the markets, looking for DVDs.

Question from Donald Mumba, Kitwe, Zambia to the villagers, 1353 local time (1353 GMT)

Do you have enough registered voters in your village eligible to vote and make a difference as per your wish?

Abraham Balo
Kulah's son, Abraham Balo: Yes, we have lots of registered voters... enough to vote someone in and enough to vote them out.

I am a teacher and I went round explaining to the villagers how important it is to vote. Now even illiterate people, like my mother, know about the elections and why it is important to vote.

Question from Zaccheaus S Coker, Sierra Leone to the villagers, 1344 local time (1344 GMT)

What mechanism are you putting in place to make sure that the politicians keep to their campaign promises and are not merely politically canvassing?

Hadii: People have come here and made lots of promises.

If they do not keep them, we are watching them and we will change them next time.

Abraham Balo
Kulah's son, Abraham Balo: This doesn't relate to the presidential elections but the senators and the MPs.

Instead of them calling people into a mass meeting, we asked the candidates to come themselves and answer our questions, instead of making campaign slogans.

We told them that if they don't keep their promises, we will vote them out next time.

Question from Swaray, Alieu, Kentucky, USA to the villagers, 1339 local time (1339 GMT)

What are you, the citizens of Sinje, doing to help yourselves as a community?

Abraham Balo
Kulah's son, Abraham Balo: We have almost finished building a market hall, so our people can earn some money. We have started building rooms for teachers at the high school.

And we have divided up a swamp so we can grow rice there. Then we could grow rice all year round, not just in the rainy season.

Hadii: In our own weak way, we are trying to help bring peace by bringing the youth together and helping to rebuild Sinje.

We also try to fill in the potholes that appear in our dirt roads. We have also built two huts to act as a youth community centre.

Question from Shuttie FN Libuta, Kitwe, Zambia to the villagers, 1251 local time (1251 GMT)

My fellow Africans, is tribal affiliation your guiding line to candidate qualification?

Hadii: A person's tribe is not important for me.

Kulah's son, Abraham Balo: For me tribe is not important.

But many people here are illiterate and tribe is important for them.

Question from Augustine M Konneh, Toledo, Ohio, USA to the villagers, 1240 local time (1240 GMT)

I guess my question to all Liberians and specifically to the people of Sinje is what have they have learnt over the last 15 years and how will it impact their decision when they vote on Tuesday?

Imam: I have learnt a lot. There was too much hatred - we are the same people. We should not repeat those mistakes of being greedy for power.

We should all forgive each other. I was tied up and beaten for eight hours but I forgive those who did that. I have also learnt to look after myself and my family, to be self-sufficient.

Now I have the power to vote for a leader. I will vote for a leader who is capable of reconciling the Liberian people.

Abraham Balo
Kulah's son, Abraham Balo: People said the war was meaningless but this is not true. Our politicians have been using the nation's resources to build big houses and educate their children.

This has been going on for 158 years, since Liberia was founded. While the majority of the people are suffering, and the youth are on the street. That is why we wanted Charles Taylor to start the war and help us.

We all went behind Mr Taylor and in 1997, he won a landslide in our last elections but then he betrayed our trust.

Other people went abroad and regrouped and recruited our youth to come back into the country, because they wanted to become president. Our brothers in America also came back and wanted to be president, instead of joining new parties.

I am going to use my vote for a leader who is not corrupt, who is internationally known and can represent this country anywhere in the world and who can reconcile with our sister countries, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea.

Joseph Winter 1230 local time (1230 GMT)

A cool, refreshing wind has blown some clouds across the sky, which is now covered.

The slight fall in temperatures is a relief for those who are fasting and unable to drink to cool down.

There has been a steady stream of people going to and from the market all morning, many young girls, balanced huge loads of things to sell on their heads.

The music is still blaring behind me - mostly fast, furious Congolese rhythms, with the occasional American R 'n B track thrown in.

Question from John Lloyd, Tonbridge, Britain to the villagers, 1215 local time (1215 GMT)

Where do you hope to see Liberia in 10 - 20 years time in relation to its position in Africa?

Massa Soni
Massa: If we produce a good president, we will be prosperous in 20 years. But if we do not choose wisely, we will remain poor.

After 20 years, there will be more houses made from bricks, instead of mud and sticks. We will have electricity, modern stoves and piped water.

Hadii: In 20 years, Sinje will be a modern city, with tall buildings.

We will have advanced schools and we will have computers.

Imam Nuah: Liberia will have developed, after being destroyed in the war.

Our children will be educated. Our lives will be much better - there will be jobs.

Kulah: I pray that I will still be alive in 20 years.

I hope we will be an industrial nation, with our iron ore being processed and my great children working on computers like you [Joseph Winter] are and we can produce our own food.

Kulah is tired as she is fasting so she has gone to rest.

Joseph Winter 1206 local time (1206 GMT)

People are selling small, yellow bananas in the village and the Unmil troops are all wearing their blue peaked UN caps as they walk around.

Question from Karsaul Josiah, USA to the villagers, 1157 local time (1157 GMT)

As a fellow Liberian who was able to escape the war in 1996 to the United States, what inspiration can our people get in helping gather the Liberians in the United States to help them instead of relying on other nations to help us?

Massa Soni
Massa: They should bring development and bring investors.

Chief Momo has gone to help the UN peacekeepers renovate a bridge and has been replaced by Imam Oumary A Nuah.

Imam: The Liberians abroad should come and invest in our agriculture. We have natural resources, such as diamonds and gold.

Those Liberians abroad should help extract those minerals, instead of letting foreigners do it. All of those people who have come back have not helped us - they just want to be president. Let them be productive.

Question from Asumana Pelima, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the villagers, 1100 local time (1100 GMT)

I am a Liberian from Lofa county and so I passed through Sinje every time I travelled to and from Monrovia. It was a beautiful town and the people are very hardworking and polite. We often stopped to buy bush meat and palm wine from roadside vendors.

To the four villagers profiled in this article, what do you expect our next president to do for Sinje?

Momo Freeman
Chief Momo: For the people of Sinje, I want a vocational school. We already have the building but we need teachers to train the youths to do a useful job.

Varney's son, Hadii: I need development within the town, advanced schools and also medical care. We have a clinic but it is too small and sometimes they run out of medicines.

Abraham Balo
Kulah's son, Abraham Balo: There is already a polytechnic university under construction just outside Sinje but no work has been done for several years. That project should be resurrected. The youth are just on the street. If they are not productive, there will be problems.

Question from Armindo Silva, Sao Tome, Sao Tome and Principe to the villagers, 1030 local time (1030 GMT)

Living in a very young democratic country, I would like to know how you all feel going to vote for the first time since the war?

Momo Freeman
Chief Momo: I am very happy to vote for the first time after the war to elect a good president. This election is different from the one in 1997 because now the security is much better and there are more candidates this time - 22 is too many.

Unfortunately, Varney has gone to the funeral of his 21-year-old nephew, who died yesterday. They are not sure what killed him but suspect malaria, which is prevalent here, especially during the rainy season. His son, Hadii will be answering questions on his behalf.

Varney's son, Hadii: This is the first time I will vote to choose my leader. I will be very happy tomorrow to do that tomorrow in a peaceful manner.

Kulah: The only happiness I have is that Liberia used to be a peaceful country with our neighbours. I will not be happy until these elections bring in a government that restores peace.

Joseph Winter 0930 local time (0930 GMT)

Stand selling fake Arsenal shirts and Nigerian DVDs
Nigerian DVDs and fake Arsenal football shirts on offer

The sun is beating down on Sinje and the surrounding hills after yesterday's heavy rain. The rainy season is drawing to a close and people here say it may not rain again for a couple of days.

The village is sleepier than when we came on Thursday because that was the day of the weekly market. Nevertheless, many stalls are open, selling a variety of local foods, such as cassava leaves to make local sauces, peppers and other vegetables.

Some of stallholders are trying to attract customers by blasting out music at top volume. One stall is selling Nigerian DVDs and a fake Arsenal football shirt.

Nearby is a video club, where people can watch the DVDs. These are also being played as loudly as possible to attract customers. The United Nations peacekeeping mission (Unmil) is very active here, after the village's troubled history.

There is a checkpoint at the village's entrance, manned by Namibian troops.

Unmil vehicles are driving back and forth to their camp, surrounded by razor wire, while the peacekeepers walk around chatting to the villagers and going to the market. But there is no tension, everybody is very relaxed ahead of the polls.

Most of the people here are Muslims and are fasting for Ramadan. They woke up around 0500 to have something to eat before going to the mosque to pray.

Then they went to work for a few hours before they become too tired.

Some are building a new hut for teachers at the high school, while others have gone to work in their fields. Campaigning for tomorrow's elections has finished and a local election commission official said he was all set for the polls.

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