The 2017 elections are an important process to soberly reflect upon, considering where we have come from in our recent history, where we are as a country and where we intend to go within the rubric of better leadership, and providing a viable alternative to continue to advance the interest and wellbeing of our country when President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf leaves office. In the writer’s view, there are two basic strands of argument on which the debate for a successor to Madam Sirleaf spinning.
On the first strand, is the group that parades with the argument that the current cream of national political leaders which has been steering the affairs of governance for eleven (11) years should give way to a brand new slate of players or a new set of state actors to assume national leadership at the elapse of the reign of President Sirleaf.
The second strand of argument is the group which strongly argues the narrative of continuity within the context of maintaining stability of the state and building upon the gains of 14 years of unfettered peace beyond Madam Johnson-Sirleaf. Those who subscribe to this paradigm see the successor to Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf not from the perspective of the longevity of a political party in power, neither do they extract any relevance from the current state actors, but they argue that it is the substance of the person that should entitle him to be better suited to succeed Madam Johnson-Sirleaf come 2018.
Having noted these two strands of political argument, the writer avers that while these two shades of opinions are overriding, they do not circumvent the cogency of the fact that a future successor must be one that will rise to the occasion, to genuinely break away from the past tradition of leadership which has seen the country in a seemingly intractable web of stagnant underdevelopment, and a governance architecture that continues to produce few economically thriving individuals who amass the national resources for themselves while bulk of the country continues to flounder in poverty, neglect and despair. Liberians generally crave for a successor with the demonstrated commitment to promote the national interest above selfish and family considerations. In the true sense, to provide direction and a new kind of leadership that offers a valuable meaning to national leadership that is well knowledgeable about the contemporary governance issues of the country.
In this revised version, the writer endeavors to again unpack the pros and cons of the central argument contained in each of the two strands or views of who should succeed Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as Liberia braces itself for the third post-war Presidential and Legislative Elections on October 10, 2017; and in the end, the writer clearly positions himself in the debate and provides a well-informed justification in support of his argument.
CHANGE AT ALL COST THEORY
This group which also holds the hypothesis that the pendulum of leadership must swing at all costs, regardless who it is, argues that there has to be a new political architecture which must necessarily embed new actors to steer the affairs of the country. The proponents of this theory have argued that the new forerunners of the political theatre, would not necessarily require a record in public service or length of service in government, but that their fundamental prerequisite is that the next leader must profess that he/she has the country at heart and whether or not he/she has a track record is unimportant in their view. The bizarreness of their argument is that change of leaders must take place in 2017 anyhow even if it is premised on unrealistic and illusive calculations. They appear to present the impression that they are frustrated with the way the affairs of the state has been conducted for the last 11 years and counting, although some of them have been tacit actors in the corridors of governance machinery. Their dissatisfaction has not however clearly pinpointed whether the current government has governed well or not. In the mind of the writer, their advocacy for change is twirled on a convoluted zest for state power, propelled by an ill-conceived apathy for change – in other words, they argue simply for change of political leaders because the current group has been in power for nearly twelve years and it is time they exit the stage and be replaced by new actors. The proponents of the ‘change at all cost theory’ seem more resonated with mere ‘political adventurism’ and appear far removed from offering any tangible or convincing platform to correct the so-called ills they have pinpointed over and again.
In the mind of the writer, some of the progenitors of this strand of argument have not exhibited any semblance of coherence and consistency in terms of logically and analytically dissecting the issues which are at the core of socio economic stagnation of the country. Their hindsight and introspection over and again of where we have come from as a country, where we are going and the panacea they hope to offer if they assume the mantle of leadership has not been clear and convincing even during this campaign period. Most of their arguments about leadership is theoretical, a conjectural oration of the failures of the Sirleaf Administration which has circumscribed their proposition to near irrelevance and a perennial recitation of the political folklore the people have heard over and again.
Those who make a case for change of political actors or a total break away from the current team of actors on the national political stage have not demonstrated the slightest aura of cohesiveness to be of any political currency, rather, they seem disjointed in thoughts and composition as was exhibited during recent presidential debate on August 17, 2017 at the Paynesville City Hall. During the debate, Vice President Boakai was outstanding, insightful, succinct, clear and practical in his responses to questions posed by moderators on the economy, education, health care, reconciliation, security and infrastructure. On the opposition axis, except for Alexander B Cummings, the other presidential candidates, Cllr. Charles Brumskine and Mr. Benoni Urey did not emit the kind of serious command and knowledge of the issues to be able to win the support and confidence of the electorate. What was observed however was that the main opposition Coalition for Democratic for Democratic Change(CDC) Standard Bearer George M. Weah boycotted the debate, while many of his supporters argued flimsily that the debate was not important, with some interjecting the very lazy argument that pro-Brumskine supporters organized the event. Since his entry into politics in 2005, Weah subject-verb agreement has diminished, his public utterances are often marked by broken English and nothing but laughable. The CDC Standard Bearer’s diction is corrosive to any well-formed intellectual exercise. Senator Weah was recorded by a Legislative watchdog group, IREDD, as being unimpressive in performance and was described as a booboo (silent) law maker.
That being said, failed political marriages including the famous Ganta Declaration which was meant to develop a roadmap for an eventual collaboration amongst the opposition block in the hope of producing a single slate of candidates, crumbled a day after it was conceived. It was reported that money changed hands and someone actors in the opposition block ended being screwed up. What we have as an end product are 19 candidates challenging the candidate of the ruling Unity Party of Ambassador Joe Nyuma Boakai, who by accounts of recent polls is in a far lead amongst the rest of the candidates. The internal abrasions within the nearly 26 registered political parties have witnessed several alignments and realignments of eminent persons with different political parties, which seems to be generating some political capital for of the ruling Unity Party by the day.
In the true sense, a considerable number of candidates in the opposition block and their establishments have paraded themselves as a bunch of unserious minded individuals who cannot be taken seriously. They remain fragmented and have operated as figments of political imagination. Their un-collaborative stance and individualistic verbiage as opposition political parties has robbed them of the capacity to be formidable, and to be a viable political alternative. Their chance to make any meaningful political impact in the lead up to the 2017 elections is increasingly diminishing by the day.
Therefore, the short of the long is that since those who have propounded the ‘change at all cost theory’ have not been able to advance a reasonable nuance in the argument for change with a new political leader other than one already close to the helm of power, the writer notes that uncertainty looms as to which of these opposition politicians possesses or has the pedigree to carve a road map that encapsulates the concerns enumerated supra and to array the opposition in a single symphony of political amalgamation.
It has been keenly observed that a considerable number of opposition political candidates are a bunch of hustlers entrapped by the lust for wealth, and some with tantrums of youthful exuberance which indicate immaturity and lack of capacity to govern. It will be a serious political miscalculation if such unprepared and incompetent so-called youthful candidate were to set hands on political power in this country. As the writer has argued before, the quest to ascend to state power by most of the proponents of this argument is not driven by any nationalistic impulse or because they offer any viable alternative to political leadership, but to have an unhindered access to the national vault themselves to extract their portion of the national pie. These individuals who parade with slogans such as ‘CHANGE FOR HOPE’, ‘REAL CHANGE YOU CAN TRUST’, ‘A NEW ERA FOR REAL CHANGE’, are endeavoring to exploit the assumed popularity and or apparent financial prowess of their political godfathers to get within the proximity of state craft, which the writer notes if it were to be the case, would be a prologue to a mockery or a political tragedy or perhaps both. It is quite clear that at this stage, a bulk of these politicians do not have what it takes – ‘integrity’, ’experience’, ‘trust’ and ‘humility’, ‘competence’; to win the support of the ordinary voters. The writer has often argued that no matter how dismal or dissatisfying an educated person conducts the affairs of an organization, illiteracy will never substitute literacy; just as the unqualified cannot prevail against the qualified, neither can the unprepared prevail over the prepared under any normal circumstance, with the pending October 10 elections being no exception.
Assuming without admitting that Madam Sirleaf has dismally performed in terms of meeting the hopes and aspirations of the Liberian people at large, the writer argues that dissatisfaction with the current administration must not degenerate to a level of discounting the smartest minds the country has produced and to attempt to relegate educated people to the sphere of irrelevance. Attempting to contemplate otherwise will be venturing into a fool’s paradise, something which could be politically perilous and devastating. The option available to us is to identify a Liberian with the requisite integrity, education, qualification, trustworthiness, preparation, experience and with the courage and inner tenacity to provide the needed leadership after Madam Sirleaf.
Building Upon the Gains Argument
The stability of Liberia after the October 2017 representative and presidential elections is paramount in the calculus for continuity and the consolidation of our nascent democracy. As the clock ticks with about 40 plus days to the 2017 elections, the overarching issue to consider in the debate is - who can we trust with the stability of the country and continuity in our democratic advancement. By stability, the writer theorizes that the quietude and relative calm that the country has enjoyed since the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace of 2003, must continue to prevail and all and sundry must endeavor to keep the country in the ambiance of civility and within the realm of the respect for the rule of law. Stability is used here to infer that despite all the qualms people have raised with President Sirleaf, she has scored high marks in terms of the maturity and political levelheadedness with which she has kept the country stable, and has ensured that no administrative misjudgment or political heavy-handedness which has the propensity to disrupt the peace was attempted or condoned by this current administration. This does not imply that all has been rosy and glittering during this administration as there have been pockets of political vindictiveness and isolation of some opponents or perceived opponents of the Madam with the writer being one of such victims of lies and conspiracy theory which was propelled by the likes of Mary Broh who munched on a pointer provided by former NEC Chairman James Fromayan in which the President recalled the appointment of the writer as Deputy Minister of Information for Public Affairs. The writer points out however that he and the former NEC Chairman have, after the events of November 2016, smoked a peace pipe and have both resolved to let go of the past and to forge ahead.
That besides trust, the question of continuity of the state as an important issue in the 2017 elections cannot be overemphasized. As it is said in a Liberian parlance, ‘once bitten by snake, even a lizard will scare you’. This is true, and so it will be a serious miscalculation to entertain an argument of unnecessary political risk or to attempt to experience with a political neophyte in the process of choosing the replacer to President Sirleaf. Given her credentials, experience and accolades she has received from the international community although the writer disagrees with some of these accolades, the next President of Liberia must be of equal or comparable standing in terms of education, integrity, experience and exposure within the international fold. Towards this end, the writer argues that in the quest to find a suitable person to replace to Madam Sirleaf, one cannot look without the current political architecture, but must reflect deeply and take a careful look at the actors and identify the person within the current political configuration.
A replacer of Madam Sirleaf cannot be someone who needs mentoring in state craft or one that is a total stranger to the dynamics and art of governing a country. The next president of Liberia must therefore be a candidate with whom most, if not all actors from the other political spectrum of the country can easily accept or trust to do business with. In other words, a person that is seen as harmless by many, if not all; or a person that is regarded as a ‘consensus builder’. This is the stubborn truth and this argument is the most practical because the facts speak unequivocally that despite 14 years of the silence of the guns, Liberia still has pockets of fragility which, if an error were made to elect a non-unifying and politically intolerant leader, there is a high probability for a disruption and undercutting the gains that have been made.
Making a Case for Joseph Nyuma Boakai
It has been argued herein that a replacer of Madam President must be a unifier and a consensus candidate. The person must have the comparable experience, education, and knowledge of the art and workings of government. That person, it has been said must be tried and tested and able to keep the country sailing on the path of stability and to create the enabling environment for the nascent democracy to burgeon and to foster the development of the country. That person must also possess the attributes of integrity, political levelheadedness, unmatched soberness and political maturity. In the mind of the writer, the only candidate that wears these descriptions and that is best suited and qualified to stand in the stead of Madam Sirleaf is Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai. The writer accentuates that of all the 20 presidential candidates lined up for the October 10, 2017 elections, Joe Boakai is better placed to take the baton of leadership from Madam Sirleaf. JNB is a consensus candidate, principally owing to the fact that 19 Senators, 31 plus representatives, 10 of the fifteen(15)counties of Liberia, hundreds of different interest and pressure groups including the National Movement to Support Boakai (NAMBO), the North Central Alliance (NCA) Wings of Boakai, United Citizens for Boakai (UCIBO) to name but a few. A litany of religious and professional organizations has also endorsed him for the presidency of Liberia. Many of the adversaries have discounted these endorsements and termed same as either being stage managed or of no political significance, although the writer fiercely disagrees and posits that political capital will be accrued from these endorsements. The 2017 elections has introduced an unprecedented phenomenon- that in the first time in Liberian elections history, supporters of Vice President Boakai have been sowing seeds into his campaign. Several fundraising activities have being initiated across the country to raise money for the presidential bid of JNB, one of such was the Lofa Citizens for 2017 that recently organized a ‘Torborgee Festival’, among others. Many Liberians that the writer has engaged have intimated that Boakai is a good follower, and has been able to conduct himself responsibly as a loyal Vice President. Madam Sirleaf has described the Vice President in these words: ‘Joe is an honest, sincere and loyal partner’. JNB who has the catchy and convincing slogan – ‘Think Liberia, Love Liberia and Build Liberia’ picked House Speaker James Emmanuel Nuquay of Margibi County and of the Kpelle tribe as his running mate on July 10, 2017. JNB is a man with impeccable character, he is a nationalist who believes that Liberia should have the best comparable to any promising country out there. He is a selfless person, drawing upon his many years of philanthropy and his ardent belief in the dignity of labor. Aside of these, Joe Boakai brings to his credit in this contest, over 40 years of astute public service record, surpassing all of his challengers in the political marathon.
One of the most important factors that earns for Veep Boakai a huge political leverage is that he is coming in this race on his own merit; not as a perfect person though, but as a person that has the heart of a leader. He is patient, kind hearted but very firm in terms of decision making. He is a leader that hears all sides before condemning. The writer recalls that during the unfortunate time when he was arbitrarily dismissed and lied upon with all sorts of conspiracy theories from the National Elections Commission in 2011 and when his appointment as Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs was recalled in November 2017, ‘JNB’ was the most senior government official that granted him audience at least to hear his side of the story.
Many who support ‘JNB’ do not entertain the argument that the 12-year rule of Ellen will be a political disincentive for him. Boakai’s loyalty to his boss, and by extension to this country and the humble disposition he epitomizes accentuates that he will be the people centered leader that Liberia craves for. The writer further argues that of all the candidates, Joe Boakai cuts across the broader political divide. He is on record for saying that a Boakai-Nuquay led government will: connect the country with paved roads; boost self-sufficiency in food production and value addition; equip and modernize public health facilities to allow senior officials attend to critical medical treatment locally; modernize and improve public institutions of learning to allow for children of government officials to attend such institutions; and to empower institutions of law enforcement.
While the author does implore the so-called indigenous/Americo-Liberian argument as an incentive for the Boakai-Nuquay ticket, it cannot be ruled out in these elections. The author asserts that ordinary voters see the Boakai and Nuquay ticket as one of their own kind. In addition to being the most prepared and most experienced team, they have the indigenous blood flowing in their veins. At this juncture, the writer entreats a sentimental discourse that ‘JNB’ represents the trailblazing moment which offers the best opportunity for one of their kind to be elected to the presidency; a golden opportunity that no amount of dollar politics in whatever manner and form will deprive us of grabbing. We will capitalize on this opportunity and use same as a stepping stone for the equitable distribution of the national resources to benefit ‘the vast majority of the people’, something that has for too long eluded the interior of the country.
The NEC Debacle
Before concluding this article, the writer registers serious apprehension about the manner and form the National Elections Commission (NEC) has proceeded with respect to the voters registration roll. After a rather messy and rowdy exhibition or Provisional Registration Roll (PRR), the NEC has not convinced the public that the multiple illegal omissions and some illegal inclusions which marred the PRR have been corrected. What the NEC has done was to release voter registration figures of what it says are total registrants across the country amounting to 2,183,683 registered voters. The writer argues that these figures represent nothing if they cannot translate to natural persons who actually registered. In other words, the figures released as registered voters in the various districts and counties have not been authenticated as the real persons or voters that registered during the VR exercise. As it stands, there were traces of incompetence, gross dereliction on the part of the Commission during the exhibition which tends to impugn the credibility of the process, and made the exercise flawed and incompatible with best practice in the elections enterprise. As if the unresolved issue of the PRR is not vexing enough, the somewhat arbitrary and unfathomable public utterances on the part of the NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoyah to the effect that anyone in possession of voter’s registration card will be permitted to vote on Election Day is quite troubling and spells danger ahead of the elections, particularly when cases were unearthed about multiple voter cards being discovered with certain individuals to the extent that an arrest was even made in one situation involving a fellow that formerly worked in President Sirleaf’s office. These vexing and unaddressed issues remain a recipe for potential electoral violence. With about a little over 40 days to elections, NEC is yet to release the Final Registration Roll (FRR) something that is unprecedented with the 2005 and 2011 elections. As a former senior staff at the Commission, this question as to the delay with the FRR cannot be swept under the carpet. The writer suspects something sinister which may cause serious doubts and result to tension in the lead up to the elections. If this is not handled timely enough, it may be a time bomb that could plunge the country into serious election-related violence. It is time for a confluence of ideas to address these gaps and to begin to rebuild confidence in the electoral process. I cannot ever fathom the likely case of thousands of legitimate voters showing up on October 10, 2017 and will not have the opportunity to vote due to the fact that their images and or particulars are not captured in the NEC Voter Roll. What could happen on that day is a serious matter to generate and stimulate the debate on the issue around the FRR.
Throughout this article, the writer has argued that the two towering issues that are at the epic center for voters’ consideration during the 2017 elections will be about who we can trust Liberia with to build upon the gains of 13 years of uninterrupted peace on one hand; and change of leadership at all cost, on the other. The writer has indicated that considering the experience, credential and international leverage that President Sirleaf has received, her replacer must have comparable stature to sit in her stead. Against this backdrop, the writer argued that Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai is better placed and best suited to replace President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf come 2017, because he is tried and tested, and is a consensus candidate. The writer further maintains that ‘JNB’ and his running mate ‘JEN’ are the only candidates who draw considerable acceptance from across the broader political spectrum of the country judging from the whirlwind of endorsements they have received. The writer implored the argument that the continued absentminded or nonchalant posture of the National Elections Commission (NEC) regarding the Final Registration Roll is not healthy for the process and is potential recipe for confusion which could eventually trigger a plethora of electoral related stalemates. The writer posited that voters see ‘JNB’ as the most humble, obedient, loyal, neutralizing and liberal candidate in this race. The Boakai-Nuquay construct brings a quantum of political leverage on the table, they seem the most prepared and most experienced candidates with the true humble beginnings. ‘JNB’ and ‘JEN’ represent the moment and the best opportunity for a team of Liberians from the hinterland to be elected to the presidency and vice presidency and there is no turning back, but to take advantage of this watershed moment in the political history of Liberia. The writer harbors no doubt that ‘JNB’ and ‘JEN’ will be people centered leaders.
About the Author
Bobby Flomotokpa Weetol Livingstone studied law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia. He also read Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies, in the Hague, Netherlands. He is a keen observer of political events in his country and is very passionate about governance issues in the motherland. He is presently a lecturer and Chairman of the Mass Communication Department of the United Methodist University (UMU). He is an Attorney-at-Law and Legal Counsel at the Ministry of Justice.