Liberia: Thoughts On The Lofa County By-Election


I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the just-ended Lofa County Senatorial By-election. My thoughts are informed largely by the local dynamics which the UP (probably) failed to accept, or at least pretended, didn’t exist at all.

By Wilmot Paye, Former Chairman, Unity Party

While we may all have some knowledge about events in Lofa and elsewhere in Liberia, there are certainly those with a more competent knowledge gained from long years of experience. Everyone may participate in general discussions about poltics. But not everyone understands electoral politics.

I probably would not have the confidence with which I can now discuss electoral politics if I didn’t have sixteen(16) years of active participation in the organization, execution and supervision of political campaigns across Liberia.

And for Lofa County in particular, the various stakeholders know our involvement in that county’s politics, having worked closely with UP Lofa leaders from as far back as 2004.

Beginning in that year, we worked with Madam Vabah Kazaku Gayflor, Hon. Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, Hon. Galakpai Kortimai, Prof. Lavela Kortimai and Mrs. Kortimai, Hon. Francis Carbah, the late Tarnue Moses Y. Mawolo, and scores of others.

I became even more involved with Lofa politics in December 2010, just two(2) months following my election as Secretary-General of the post-merger Unity Party.

I assisted and supported the former Vice-President of Liberia in brokering the historic Lofa Peace Pact of 2011. The VP spearheaded this important milestone. Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had instructed him to do so. He therefore asked me to accompany him to the county. Then,
Galakpai Kortimai was Superintendent of the county.

All six (6) ethnic groups of the county(Kpelle, Lorma, Mandingo, Gbandi, Mende and Kissi participated. The commissioners of all districts were required to sign the Peace Pact.

On the day of the signing ceremony however, representatives of only four(4) districts signed. Three (3) districts refused to sign. We discovered later that despite being the Superintendent, Galakpai Kortimai had influenced the Lormas not to sign, introducing new preconditions. This annoyed the other districts and their leaders.

Thus, the Voinjama event which should have been a colorful one ended in a deadlock. Frustrated and embarrassed, the Vice-President left the over-crowded Voinjama City Hall.

Later in the evening, I advised the VP to cite the Superintendent, members of his administration, and other key Lofa stakeholders, including Hon. Francis Carbah and Dr. Liberty for consultation.

In that meeting, I said that the Superintendent was responsible for the deadlock, and should therefore be made to ensure that the others signed before the VP left Lofa the next morning.

I insisted that if those that refused didn’t sign The Lofa Peace Pact as required, I would submit the Party’s observations to the President who was also the Party’s Standard-bearer. I knew the VP wouldn’t do so probably because of his role as Chief Elder of the county. Everyone welcomed and supported my recommendation.

The Lofa Peace Pact was eventually signed, and so we left Lofa County for Monrovia the next day.

Why am I raising all this? I raise it because that action eroded the trust the UP had in Kortimai. He showed no loyalty to the Party, even though he had served as UP County Chairman prior to the merger of 2010.

That explains why the UP didn’t welcome Kortimai’s 2014 senatorial bid. Being a Lorma, and Sumo Kupee the incumbent also being Lorma, the Party didn’t think it would be a wise decision.

But Kortimai ignored the advice and still contested in 2014. This contributed to Kupee’s defeat by Steve Zargo, the Liberty Party candidate.

Zargo’s victory was a signal that the UP’s domination in Lofa County was under threat. So it seemed the UP was slowly losing its stranglehold on the county.

As a result, the Liberty Party now had two(2) seats in Lofa County: the late Eugene Fallah Kparkar representing District#1, and Steve H. Zargo as one of the two senators, respectively.

This left the UP with 1 senator and 3 representatives: George Tengbeh, Fofee Baimba, Clarence Massaquoi and Mariamu Fofana.

Moses Kollie had already gone to the LPDP.

In 2017, Galakpai Kortimai joined the CDC, which was no surprise at all. Now, for the same Galakpai to resurface in 2022 as a UP candidate didn’t make any strategic sense because his inconsistency would obviously anger many in the county. Moreover, Kortimai left a negative legacy in the county. As Superintendent, he was viewed as a divisive leader. This view was especially strong among the Mandingoes, Gbandis and Mendes.

After considering this background, let’s come to the just-ended by-election.

What went wrong for the UP during the recent by-election?

The Party’s campaign message, as conveyed by its Standard-bearer, was clear: “DOUBLE THE VOTES YOU GAVE TO BROWNIE SAMUKA”. This, in my view, was the rallying call. It meant that the Party would work to deploy its entire machinery and resources throughout the county.

It also meant that the campaign would do all it could to win most, if not all, of the votes that Samuka obtained in 2020. So how did this play out?

Samuka won Vahun in 2020. Though he won Foya, George Tengbeh who also hails from Foya, obtained more than 3,000 of the total valid votes cast there, not enough to help Tengbeh retain the senatorial seat, but albeit enough to serve as a warning to the Boakai base in Kissiland.

Samuka also decisively won Salayea, Voinjama and Zorzor.

Although Joseph Jallah too won massively in Gbandiland, he performed poorly in Foya and Vahun. So, it was clear that the mathematics at that time rightly favored Samuka. It was therefor impossible Jallah to have have won in 2020.

I am a supporter of neither side in the just-ended Lofa by-election, even though I certainly do have an excellent relationship with many of the most relevant and influential local players. But I would however have advised the UP otherwise. I believe the Party was not strategic in its choice of candidate.

In the first place, it was risky to gamble with a candidate that came fourth in 2014 against a more consistent opponent.

Recall that Jallah came third in 2011, second in 2014, and second in 2020, respectively.
Obviously, Galakpai Kortimai was therefore not a proper match for a candidate with such outstanding records as Jallah.

Moreover, Jallah was the only “Gbandi” candidate. The UP therefore didn’t consider that the winner would eventually be decided by a simple majority. How couldn’t the UP leadership have known all of these relevant details prior to embarking on its campaign.

In fact, if the UP’s campaign message was, as stated earlier, “Double for Kortimai the votes you gave to Samuka in 2020” then the Party needed to have worked harder in order to win everywhere that Samukai won.

But I believe they weren’t thinking strategically at all. It seems that they relied on Joseph Boakai’s one-week trip to the county. And that trip came just about a week before Election Day on June 28, 2022. In other words, the UP leadership might have, probably out of ignorance and lacking the wherewithal to plan strategically, concluded that once Boakai shouted “Vote Kortimai” voters in Foya would simply obeyed in queue, even if it is at the eleventh hour. Of course, it never worked like that before for the UP, contrary to some have tried to portray outside of Lofa County.

It was back-breaking work during those years of electoral “success”. And yet, in all fairness, this success has slowly been going away mainly complacency has taken over. Unfortunately, the key operatives within Boakai’s inner cycle have been more preoccupied with securing a place for themselves at the table than with working to make Boakai win next year.

Besides, elections in Lofa County are driven by certain local dynamics, not sentiments.

In fact, electoral dynamics change from one election to another. That’s why they are called dynamics, in the first place.

I have been in it since 2005. I was a strategist in 2005, on the side of the pre-merger Unity Party.

Beginning in May 2004, I worked with Madam Vabah Gayflor, Hon. Galakapai Kortimai, Hon Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, Mrs. Lwopu Kandakai, and others.

Fortunately, many of these people are still around and can validate my account.

It is advantageous to value the critical significance of strategic thinking and planning when preparing for any electoral contest. Relying entirely on past electoral glories, even if the time interval is short, as in the just-ended by-election, makes no strategic sense at all.

Those who work beyond sentiments will always have open minds. They will definitely succeed in electoral contests. But this attitude seems to have been missing in the UP’s plan for the Lofa County by-election.

Also, did anyone in the UP leadership expect that Zargo, himself a Lorma going for reelection next year, could have worked assiduosly for Galakpai, another Lorma, to win? How, and why would he do so?

Moreover, did anyone believe that Zargo didn’t know that a Galakpai win meant that Zargo’s 2023 reelection bid was doomed? Wow! This is interesting.

Nobody seems to be thinking, at least strategically. It looks like in the minds of some people, JNB is only awaiting inauguration in January 2024. Is it that simple? I hope so.

And how about Clarence Massaquoi, a Gbandi? How could nobody in the UP leadership not have known that it was impossible for Massaquoi to campaign in District#3 against Jallah?

Had Massaquoi done so, his political career too, young though as he is, would have ended on June 28, 2022. His own Gbandi people would have punished him next year. Was that what people in the UP expected? “Fun shall never die, yaah”.

Also, what about J. Cole Bangalu, the UP National Vice Chairman for Elections and Inter-Party Affairs? Isn’t he also a Gbandi from Kolahun? Did he go there to campaign for his “Candidate”? I doubt he did.

And how could Cole have done so when his own biological father was all over in Gbandiland openly supporting Jallah and campaigning for him? Might his father’s action have been a revenge for his son’s rejection at least three (3) times now by the UP? (2011, 2020, and 2022)

Will it be out of place to assume, without being disrespectful to anyone, that there might have been a certain level of dumbness among those that should have advised JNB correctly? What in the hell were those people doing all that while? Were they celebrating a 2023 “victory” that is still fifteen(15) months or so away?

It also beats my imagination that a political party would choose its candidate from a region as polarized as Zorzor without first considering the implications.

Firstly, why would a Sumo Kupee that lost in 2014 even attempt a comeback in 2022? If Kupee truly wanted to make a serious comeback, why didn’t he begin in 2020?

I am not sure Kupee had any desire to make a comeback. No, he couldn’t. Here is what I think he actually wanted to achieve: a revenge on Galakpai Kortimai.

In 2014, Kortimai contested against Kupee, thereby contributing to his own Zorzor brother’s defeat.

So you see, Kupee’s message to Kortimai in 2022 is, “How can it be good for you in 2022 if it wasn’t good for me in 2914?”.

So you see, if there is anyone that the participation of Sumo Kupee, George Samah, and Momo Cyrus (all of them Lorma) would hurt, it was UP candidate Galakpai Worzie Kortimai.

Based on these known facts about Lofa County as well as the changing local dynamics, I do not think the UP was strategic in its decision to select Kortimai. The Party leadership blundered, and big time too!

Their poor judgment, in my candid view, has emboldened the CDC in Lofa County. This has energized President Weah’s Lofa allies, all of whom are young. And in their calculus, Boakai, though still revered as an elder for purely cosmetic traditional reasons, poses a direct threat to their own political future.

This, I believe, will intensify the battle for the political soul of Lofa County in the months before the 2023 elections. The next likely casualities of this battle, I am afraid to say, may include Francis Nyumalin, one of Boakai’s most trusted political advisors whose counsel, based on what I know, the near octagenerian leader apparently listens to the most. In fact, it is Nyumalin’s advice which has now isolated the Gbandis from Boakai. I do not see how this can be resolved, when and who can broker any such deal.

And armed with the support he received from Vahun and Salayea, as well as the overwhelming support from his own Gbandi people, Joseph Jallah may become the kingmaker in 2023. After all, which true politician will not seize such a moment?

In short, a man with at least eight(8) years left in The Liberian Senate has nothing to lose next year, even if he chose to act otherwise. Jallah may not even entertain any conversation about a Lofa presidential that attempted to destroy his (Jallah’s) political ambition in 2020.

Even though some fanatics may try to downplay what now looks like a changing voting pattern in Lofa County, supporters of Joseph Boakai should now have reason to rethink their strategy for 2023.

Lastly, I doubt if Steven Zargo will gamble to combine Boakai’s campaign with his own reelection bid. It would be a pleasant surprise if he did so next year and still expected to win. That probability seems to be very remote.

Likewise, Clarence Massaquoi, unless it can be determined and established that Boakai has the gravitas to turn the changing tide around dramatically.

I mean no harm, please. But if this offends anyone, my sincere apologies.

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