chapter  5
Tolerance of dissent
Pages 18

Opposition, tolerance and dissent are important facets of democracy, yet most societies face real challenges in realizing such principles, and this is especially true for many African states, as well as being a severe challenge after war. Pluralism, or the tolerance of others’ political stances, and more formalized, the existence and toleration of a political opposition, have been placed front and center in Western conceptualizations of democracy (see among others Dahl 1971; Schlemmer 1999; Finkel et al. 1999, p. 205f; Bratton 2006, pp. 11-13). While these concepts are not synonymous, they are intrinsically linked. Democracy demands respect for both people and ideas equally; tolerating others as equal members of the polity also entails tolerating their opinions and right to expression (Bohman 2003, p. 95). A true democrat is said to tolerate a diversity of opinion, and accords the same political rights to his/her friends and foes. However, this ideal is rarely fulfilled; principles and practice often diverge, even for the average democrat (Sullivan et al. 1982, p. 259; see also Sullivan and Transue 1999, pp. 633, 635; Weldon 2006, p. 337). In this chapter, the linkages and reasoning concerning these issues are explored among ex-combatants in Liberia. How should one understand, and evaluate, their hesitations concerning the embrace of an active opposition, and an open public debate?