The Invisible Reality of the Liberian Presidency: Why a One-Time Presidential Tenure Will Be a Game Changer in the Body Politics of Liberia?


Liberia has experienced its fair share of overrated politics of deceit due to self-interest in desperation of retaining political power and influence. The political system, especially the two-term presidential tenure of six years continues to reinforce such growing self-interest as the result of elected presidents making frantic efforts to complete their ambitious plans that get abandoned by their successors – case in point, Vision 2024: Taylor, Vision 2030: Ellen, and Pro-poor Agenda: Weah.

By Joseph Jimmy Sankaituah & Jerry Beyan Tarbolo, Jr

In the efforts to retain power and influence, the country and its citizens suffer the most. This perpetual political fight between those in ‘position, opposition and no position’ in the words of the 172nd Independence Day orator, Madam Leymah Gbowee, has continued to affect the capacity of the Liberian people to work together for the good of their country. To minimize this fight and give whosoever is elected to the Presidency the confidence to do the Liberian people’s job, the invisible reality of the Liberian Presidency needs to be tackled head-on. 

In order to adjust the system and provide redress for the above-mentioned imperceptible reality, each elected President should be given a constitutional one-term of ten years. Hence, there should be laws and systems in place to monitor, assess, and evaluate the administration every five years without going through the rigor of a campaign for re-elections. The Senate and House of Representatives should be empowered by the constitution to play that role from time to time. It is worth nothing; however, that without a law and or policy in place to regulate the conduct of the presidency, the risk of this proposal is high. 

The opportunity to achieve this critical, yet doable proposal unveiled itself on March 30 – April 2, 2015, when the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) of Liberia assembled citizens in a five-day conference held in Gbarnga, Bong County. The CRC presented key recommendations for amendment to be held through a referendum. Key amongst the proposed amendments included: (1) reduction of the presidential tenure from six to four years; (2) Senatorial tenure from nine to six years; and representative from six to four years. 

The CRC, however, did not consider the realities as mentioned supra. While we recognized that the CRC was tied to its Term of Reference, it would have made a strong case for the reform of the political system in light of the imperceptible reality which is entirely missing in their proposed amendments. Consequently, there is a need to rethink the proposed amendments made by the Constitutional Review Committee considering the cost of regular elections and the benefits that citizens get from time to time. It is disheartening to note, however, that families vote during elections and yet their condition remains the same until the next elections in which they are expected to vote. 

Why a One-time presidential Tenure Will Be a Game Changer in the Body Politics? We contend that the proposal for a one-time presidential tenure provides leverage for the presidency to focus on its developmental agenda for the minimum of 10 years. This proposal will help avert the seemingly political disruptions such as patronage and mobilization of resources for a second term presidential bid. Additionally, it reduces the burden of developing a vision, which goes beyond their tenure that might get abandoned by their successor. The facts are shown as very recently with the immediate past administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that worked on developing an entire plan for 15 years called “Vision 2030”, which exceeds her tenure and is apparently modified upon the inauguration of the Weah’s Administration. 

President George M. Weah’s inauguration on January 22, 2018, saw another effort for the development of yet another grand agenda called the “Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development” which made several modifications to the Ellen’s Agenda For Transformation (A4T), a five-year plan driving the “Vision 2030”. The A4T got ended by 2017; thus, leading to the development of the Weah’s Pro-poor Agenda. The irony here is that the intent for the Pro-poor Agenda to become the prototype of the A4T is just not possible because the priorities of the current government is just not the same as that of the immediate past administration, and at such, the objectives and activities would be dramatically different. The policy outputs and outcomes of the current administration is certainly not going to be the same as the previous administration thereby promulgating the logic that the “Vision 2030” might be retiring in the annals of history at some point in time. This is one of the clear manifestations indicating the need for the extension of the presidential tenure to a minimum of 10 years not renewable. Since in Liberia every president elected has his/her vision and plans, it is but reasonable for that president to ensure that the implementation of his/her plan and or agenda is ended to its logical conclusion over a period of at least 10 years.

It is important to note that the extension of presidential tenure to 10 years provides the opportunity for one to implement his/her policies and programs at least adequately. We have seen situations where stable political leaderships have produced very remarkable achievements in some countries. Paul Kagami of Rwanda is a classic example of tenured extension where he received 99% of the votes in a referendum in August of 2017. Today, post-genocide Rwanda is becoming a developed nation-state. Another example is Ghana’s Jerry John Rawlings, who spent over a decade in power, laying the foundation of what Ghana has become today.

This article is also planked strongly on the logic that the extension of the presidential tenure would yield the needed benefits in cost reduction. The regular six years two-term presidential tenures, if evaluated carefully in monetary term has some drawbacks on the national purse. Hence, reasoning from the Kaldor’s criterion reinforces the authors believed that the Liberian society would benefit in terms of time and cost. 

Finally, it is important to note that this article may have introduced some radical suggestions that some might be averse to because the theory of change proposed might not resonate with many who are fixated on the status quo. Consequently, the thrust of this article is premised on the foundation that TENURE STABILITY in politics of today can yield greater political dividend as oppose to tenure instability (where politicians are boxed into elections as regularly as possible) without taking into consideration the realities that distorts progress. Now, therefore, it is about time to try new ways to make Liberian politics work for the good of the Liberian people after 172 years of regular elections without the correspondent dividend that transforms the lives of citizens. The 10 years one-term tenure might just play the magic to the satisfaction of Liberians who have struggled to find answers to their governance and leadership challenges.