Liberia: Boakai, Cummings, Gongloe Must Put the Country above Self-Interest

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Elections have consequences and the high level of illiteracy rate in Liberia left voters to vote for a candidate’s popularity–a footballer–than substance. There were no presidential debates on issues of the economy, unemployment, education, water, electricity and healthcare.

Instead, voters were mesmerised with useless football slogans that had no practical reality on a country coming out of a brutal civil war that destroyed the economy.

It is worth noting that 75 percent of the voting population in postwar Liberia had not finished high school during the 2005, 2011 and 2017 elections. The 14-year war had robbed them of getting an education. How do you expect the voters to judge a candidate’s ability to navigate the critical issues of education, the economy, unemployment, water, electricity and healthcare provisions?

Weah, the onetime high school dropout-turned professional footballer told the poor voters he came from their ranks with his rag to riches story as the best football player in the world in 1995. But playing football is not the same as running a country. Experience is the best teacher and Liberians are learning the hard way now under Weah.

Mr. Weah who squandered his reported $80 million he earned from professional football, when running for the Liberian Senate declared his assets as “broke man” but only to embark on a Hollywood type lifestyle a few months after he became president in January 2018.

Multi-mansions and apartment townhouses were being constructed, a church and a radio station, a reported $30 million new presidential jet plane was on standby to ferry him to Europe to watch football matches and not even the FBI that was invited to Liberia to search for missing LD$16 billion found any trace of the money. Weah’s playbook was just beginning.

Then there was the US$25 million that also went up in smoke. While he and his “Boys” are eating steak and salmon and drinking Hennessy, Liberians were and are stilling singing the Blues eating dry rice and farinna. In their miseries, President Weah told them they “are living a better life ” under his presidency than under his predecessor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, another corrupt leader.

So here we are again talking about another presidential elections after wasting six years under Weah and the opposition, instead of uniting into one front, is divided: Mr. Joseph Boakai of the former ruling Unity Party seems to be beholding to a Charles Taylor lieutenant Benonoi Urey and are in court to smear Alex Cummings, a newcomer to the dirty Liberian political game. Mr. Boakai should let Urey go because of his ties to Taylor. Urey will handicap Boakai’s campaign and the Americans will not accept a Boakai-Urey ticket. That is a no winner.

Mind you, Alex Cummings is perhaps the richest Liberian in the race not in government and flush with his millions$ he rightfully earned in the United States working for Coca-Cola. Politics and campaigns do require money, big big money which Boakai doesn’t have now. And Ellen will not give Boakai a dime. She hates her loyal VP for 12 years.

Mr. Boakai’s best chances to the presidency is to reach out to Cummings for a deal: “be my Vice President and I will serve just one term at my age and turn it over to you if we win. Or, still, be my VP and I will retire after five years on health reasons.” Very attractive. Winning is everything.

Or still, Cummings or Boakai could reach out to Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe from vote-rich Nimba County for the Dream Ticket. Or still, all three could reach a compromise to form a united opposition against Weah and his CDC. This, I believe, is the subtle message that is coming from the US Ambassador when he shook hands with VP Joe Boakai last week.

Mr. Boakai does not have any money to mount a good campaign and Ellen doesn’t want Boakai in the Executive Mansion. My friend Tiawon Gongloe’s message on corruption and the rule of law is impactful but he does not have money to run a full fledged campaign. Hence, the three need to start talking now….and even try and recruit Cllr. Kofi Woods. Both Gongloe and Woods resigned from the Ellen-led government on fundamental policy differences.

Because of our tradition, let Boakai head the ticket with an agreement that he serves only one term or five years and resigns because of his age. If they agreed on the VP choice, Cummings or Gongloe, then the other will become VP once Mr. Boakai retires. Anything short of these suggestions, Weah will be re-elected and we will keep singing the Blues, again.

Unless Boakai, Cummings and Gongloe want another six miserable years of the Weah presidency, then let them go their separate ways for a Weah victory. Elections have consequences and if Boakai, Cummings and Gongloe can put country above one’s interest, then they should heed my advice and start talking now. Just a thought and not a sermon.

Jerry Wehtee Wion
Retired Liberian Journalist and
Political Commentator
Washington, DC, USA

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