MONROVIA – Last Tuesday’s Lofa County senatorial by-election won by Cllr. Joseph Jallah, an independent candidate backed by the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), certainly brought a lot of intrigue and some political lessons and perhaps, regrets, to the fore.
The CDC was very determined to outsmart the Unity Party whose stronghold had traditionally been Lofa. However, not many observers saw the possibility of this happening – it came as a shock to many.
In all previous elections since the end of the civil war in 2003, the Unity Party has remained dominant in the county’s body politics, having won more legislative seats and voted overwhelmingly for former president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the 2005 and 2011 presidentially elections respectively – thanks to former Vice President Joseph Boakai’s nativity factor. In 2017, the Unity Party again showed its supremacy in Lofa when Boakai, a son of the soil, headed the ticket.
During the first round, Unity Party obtained 91,324 votes, representing 78.5% of the total valid votes cast, with the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) getting 8,194 votes amounting to 7.0%.
In the run-off, which was contested between Boakai and George Weah, things did not improve for the CDC, with the Unity Party getting 79,258 votes representing 84.2% and the CDC getting 14,860 votes or 15.8%.
Similarly, Mr. Brownie Samukai, a stalwart of the Unity Party which was at the time in a collaboration with the CPP, won the 2020 special senatorial election with 31.8% (20,431 votes) among 11 candidates. The CDC’s candidate Tengbeh, George Tamba (CDC), came fourth with 7,679 votes representing 11.95%
From the surface, it appeared like all the odds were in favor of the Unity Party for the victory of the by-election for a couple of reasons including, the standard-bearer is a well-respected son of Lofa, Lofa has always been the UP stronghold and the Brownie Samukai sympathy.
One would have thought that the Unity Party would have won overwhelmingly but shockingly, the UP was humbled by the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change whose agents had been undertaking some massive developments in the county and carrying out engagements. Of course, Lofians being a traditional people, may not be carried away by these material developments, but these developments unarguably played a massive role in the voting process.
The Unity Party’s loss in Lofa reflects just more than what the CDC is doing in the county – it’s a reflection of a party that is losing touch with the people and an opposition party that can no longer stand by itself – without collaboration.
Political pundits in the county say the people of Kolahun District no longer see Amb. Boakai as having their best interest in the politics of the county. In their view, Amb. Boakai has failed to strike a balance in the politics of the county.
The ruling party’s officials hailing from the angry Kolahun district tapped quickly into the noted deficiencies of Amb. Boakai made significant inroads in the district while CDC officials from Boakai’s hometown ran with massive work in Boakai’s backyard and challenged his hold of Foya District.
In Kolahun for example, several individuals from the ruling party CDC come from that part of the Lofa and for the past four years have consistently gone home and engaged in several projects.
The Comptroller and Accountant General of the Republic who also serves as the Secretary-General of the ruling establishment, Janga Kowo, made almost monthly visits to Kolahun and adjacent towns for the past four years attempting to change the political narrative in the district that gave Ambassador Joseph Boakai one of the highest votes in the 2017 election. There are reports that the CDC Secretary-General led the construction of an elementary school in the village and intervention in several projects and awarded scholarships to locals.
The CPP Effects
When the CPP was formed, its sole purpose was to form a united front that would work in unison to ensure that the Wead-led government is not retained in the 2023 elections. Made up of the major opposition political parties – the Unity Party, the Liberty Party, All Liberian Party and the Alternative National Congress, the CPP proved to be a force that shook the Weah-led government during the 2020 special senatorial by-election.
The CPP at the time won six of the 15 counties compared to the ruling CDC which won only two seats, the remaining were won by independent candidates. The CPP’s strength was even more visible with the massive victory in Montserrado County which has always been the stronghold of the CDC. During that election, Abraham Darius Dillon, who represented the CPP would the election with 61.3% compared to the CDC’s Thomas Fallah who had 35.76%.
For that moment, Liberians who believed that the ruling establishment was doing less to improve the lives of the ordinary Liberians, reduce or eliminate corruption, improve governance, health care, and education, among others, had a sigh of hope that with the CPP, there would be a better alternative in 2023.
These hopes and aspirations of Liberians for 2023 were thwarted by the falloff in the CPP.
It Was Boakai’s Prerogative
The crisis in the CPP started a couple of months after their massive victory in the December 2020 special senatorial election. At the time, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence was completing her term as Chairman of the CPP, and Amb. Joseph Boakai was preparing to take over the mantle of leadership.
The crisis started when ALP’s Benoni Urey accused Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) of tampering with the Framework Document of the CPP. Cummings was accused of inserting a clause in the Document. Cummings dismissed the allegation.
What was even more appalling to supporters of the CPP was the fact that the ALP with the backing of Joseph Boakai, allowed the CDC-led government which they as CPP intended to remove from power through the 2023 elections, to prosecute Cummings.
The case was later dismissed by the government after nearly six months of running in circles in the Monrovia City Court.
Due to an allegation that could not be proven in court, the Collaboration broke down – under Amb. Boakai’s watch and he even played a part by supporting and testifying in the case against Cummings.
Moriah Yeakula, former Chief of Office Staff of Mr. Cummings in a Facebook post noted that while there might not be a CPP reunion, there is the need to put egos and sense of the entitlement aside and find a way to coordinate opposition efforts.
She noted: “One monkey CAN spoil the show. UP lost Lofa by less than 800 votes and ANC partisans “lil” votes could have taken UP over the hump as it did 2020. So let’s treat every opposition “monkey” as important and valuable. We, especially ME, have rubbed it in enough and I hope UP gets the message; and we can all now move on. We have too many issues to fight together instead of fighting each other. This doesn’t mean we can’t criticize each other when necessary and we should, but let’s not forget the bigger picture- saving our people from the shackles of CDC and providing the necessary change to improve their lives.
Even if we do not go back to status quo ante, we need to co-exist peacefully and let the Liberian people choose.”
Also weighing in on UP’s defeat, former chairman of the party, Wilmot Paye recalled a reconciliation drive initiated by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who mandated Amb. Boakai, Vice President at the time to spearhead.
“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,” he stated.
He further disclosed, “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.”
He disclosed that the Voinjama forum which should have seen the brokering of peace in a colorful fashion ended in a deadlock. “Frustrated and embarrassed, the Vice-President left the over-crowded Voinjama City Hall,” Pay recalled.
Paye: “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.”
Paye wondered why the Unity Party would go to an election relying on past glory – something which, according to him, “makes no strategic sense at all”.
Paye believes that the ‘poor’ the judgment of the Unity Party to select Kortimai as the candidate emboldened the the CDC’s confidence in the senatorial by-election.
“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,” Paye opined.
He also believes the ‘CDC victory’ will increase the battle for the votes in Lofa – the biggest county in the country.