As Liberians go back to the polls to choose between Joseph Boakai and President George Weah on Tuesday 14 November 2023, many might think about the outcome as unpredictable and rightly so. A high-level observation of the results suggests that the two are neck-and-neck in the minds of Liberians and the winner of the second round will not be a surprise if it went one way or the other. The data backs this notion. Former Vice President Boakai won 7 out of 15 counties in Liberia, with President Weah winning 8. In Key ‘battleground’ counties, like Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Cape Mount and some would argue Gbarpolu, the largest margin is about 6% in favour of Boakai. In fact, whilst for some, including me, it was a shock to see Weah lose in Montserrado, the difference between the two candidates was only 0.41% in Boakai’s favour. The totality of the votes nationally gave President Weah a 0.39% lead over is rival, translating into a 7,126-vote lead nationally.
By Fidel Budy, [email protected], Contributing Writer
Before moving to my main point of writing this opinion, let us address some of the anomalies. It is a fact that many of us were shocked to see the name Edward W. Appleton, Jr in third place nationally and in a lot of county results too. ‘Cousin Appleton’ as he is now affectionately known in Liberia opened questions that prompted a Liberian academic to call on researchers in Liberia to conduct research into the ‘Appleton’ phenomenon to try and answer the many questions; one of which will be, where did this guy come from? Another anomaly was the fifth-place finish of the ANC’s Alexander Cummings. If no one in Liberia knew about ‘Cousin Appleton’ prior to the elections, no one thought that Mr Cummings would have performed as poorly as he did. Alongside these anomalies are other conclusions that have been drawn from the outcome of the first round. For example, Dr Robtel Pailey recently offered her opinion on the similarities between a Boakai presidency with that of U.S. President Biden in terms of their ages, previous service as vice presidents, being seen as having safe hands and so on.
For me, I draw a worrying conclusion from the results. The results suggest that Liberia is a starkly tribal society wherein our civic and political decision-making are guided not by our allegiance to the republic but to individuals from similar tribal or reginal backgrounds as us. Some would argue that results from Grand Cape Mount, Montserrado, Gbarpolu and Bong counties undermine my notion. I can accept that. However, the make-up of these countries has been significantly transformed by the civil wars in Liberia and economic activities. I argue that Gbarpolu is the only anomaly in this case. That is because whilst former Vice President Boakai’s performance in the county could be simplified as the county having been a part of Lofa before, for President Weah, one could argue that the Emirates Hospital built in the county might have helped his case. However, for Grand Cape Mount and Bomi counties, the make-up of these counties was significantly altered by the resettlement of many Liberians from other parts of the country during the civil war, but also because of the Guthrie and then Sime Darby large oil palm concessions in Bomi in particular. For Grand Cape Mount, mineral mining is the economic activity that attracted many other tribal groups to the county.
If we focus on the remaining counties, we see that Boakai won in Lofa, his home county and Nimba the home county of his running mate and key supporter Senator Prince Johnson. George Weah won in Grand Bassa, where it is agued that his mother had tribal connections. Rivercess has a similar tribal make-up as Grand Bassa, so I argued that his ‘mother’ connection handed him that county too. Grand Gedeh is the home of our former president Samuel Doe, who many say President Weah considers a father figure and him a son of the county. Sinoe and Grand Kru are dominated by the Kru speaking tribal group and this is evident in the 66% and 71% margin wins in Sinoe and Grand Kru respectively for Weah over Boakai. Maryland and River Gee, I argue aligned themselves with Weah because of the ‘southeast’ tribal or regional association with either Grand Kru, Sinoe or Grand Gedeh.
There are a lot of nuances in the results of the first round of the elections. Scholars and political pundits will be unpacking them for years. However, what is clear is that the map of the results of the first round of the elections suggests that after 20 years of relative peace in Liberia, there remains a stark tribal divide, something that contributed to the civil war in Liberia and could have the potential of undermining the continuation of a ‘stable’ democracy and the peaceful transfer of power in Liberia. Whoever wins on Tuesday will have a divided country to lead and this is the major challenge for us all.