Monrovia – Lusine Kamara is quietly making a case as the sleeper of the 2023 Presidential race. Over the course of the past year, mammoth crowds of supporters have thronged Kamara’s All Liberia Coalition Party rallies in numbers rivaling the top three candidates, the incumbent George Manneh Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change, former Vice President Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party and Alexander Cummings of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
By: Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
ALCOP and Kamara boasts a constituency only a handful in the 20-field presidential race lack, a base, vote-rich Lofa County – and a strong religious group, the Muslim voters.
ALCOP is creation of a Liberian Mandingo, the late Professor Alhaji G. V. Kromah, who established ALCOP with the firm belief that the party is for all Liberians, despite its perceived tilt toward Muslims.
While ALCOP did not field any presidential candidates in the 2017 elections, it did allow partisans and supporters to back the presidential candidates of other political parties. “During those elections our partisans gained valuable experience and insight into political campaign. They have developed skills and become accustomed to the ups and downs of politics. Those years have also made them hungry and thirsty to apply the very skills acquired on the mobilization of the ever-growing number of supporters the party.”
During the 1997 presidential elections, ALCOP’s founder Alhaji G.V. Kromah won 4.02% of the vote, the party won 3 of 64 seats in the House of Representatives and 2 of 26 in the Senate. Kromah ran again as the party’s presidential candidate in the October 11, 2005, elections, winning 2.8% of the vote. The party also won one seat in the Senate and two in the House of Representatives.
The Muslim, Lofa Edge
In Liberia, an estimated 12.2 percent of the population are Muslims, according to the 2022 Census, which puts the country’s population at 5.2 million, an increase of 50.4 percent when compared with the 2008 census result which put the population at 3.5 million.
Ironically, only 2,471,617 Liberians will participate in the October 10 presidential and legislative elections, representing one Million Two Hundred Thirty-seven Thousand Two Hundred Fifty-seven (1,237,257) Females and One Million Two Hundred Thirty-four Thousand Three Hundred Sixty (1,234,360) Males,” according to the National Elections Commission.
In recent Liberia history, the Mandingo and Muslim communities have repeatedly raised concerns about the non-inclusion of their communities in the election administration and political party structures. In ALCOP, many political observers say, that voting bloc have a voice that should not be underestimated.
At the end of the 2017 Presidential and legislative elections, the Carter Center reported that: “The marginalization was cited as a key cause of the obstacles and misunderstandings the community faced in the voter registration process and candidate selection process, The Carter Center received reports that Mandingo and Muslim Liberians faced discrimination and struggle with equal access to the process.”
Separately, the National Democratic Institute in its report also highlighted the issues facing Muslim and Mandigo voters. While the Liberian Constitution prohibits any form of discrimination based on ethnic or religious background, the electoral law includes specific provisions addressing parties’ use of language or slogans reflecting a particular ethnic group in the campaign and considers such acts as election offences.
The NDI reported in 2017 that in Montserrado County for example, the interreligious council noted some instances of derogatory and hate speech against Muslim candidates by supporters of candidates and candidates themselves. The Interreligious Council noted that before the nomination period, a group of “radical” Christians engaged in a campaign to avoid the nomination of any Muslim vice-presidential candidates.
During the 2017 campaign period, the NDI mission observed derogatory comments about the Muslim community from radical Christian pastors. The Council of Churches urged voters not to vote for Muslims candidates in the House, raising the specter of the “Islamization” of Liberia and marginalization of Christians. One presidential candidate, United People’s Party MacDonald Wento, evoked the “Muslim threat” and pledged to declare Liberia a Christian state if elected. Muslim groups and citizens participated actively in the electoral process. However, they faced several barriers.
The push for a strong Muslim party is not without its challenges. In 2017, Muslim representatives of the Interreligious Council and citizen observers noted that, in cases where women refused to remove their headscarf, they were not allowed to register.
The interventions seem to have paid off with few incidents reported in the buildup to the October elections.
In 2017 however, NDI received direct testimonies of instances of discrimination against Mandingo voters. “According to these reports, in several instances in Montserrado and Lofa counties, Mandingos faced discriminatory treatment based on their distinct names and had to undergo a more thorough process to prove their Liberian nationality with documents. In Lofa County, registration officials denied registration to some Mandingo women and accused them of not being Liberian citizens. The National Mandingo Caucus Youth Council raised concerns to the NDI mission about the disenfranchisement of high numbers of Mandingo voters on election day in several districts of Montserrado Counties where Mandingo candidates were running and the community forms a majority of voters or a substantial part of the voter list.59 According to the complaint filed with the NEC by the defeated incumbent Sekou Kanneh in Montserrado District 2, hundreds of Mandingo.”
The primary Muslim ethnic groups include the Vai, Mandingo, Gbandi, Kpelle and other ethnic groups.
Most of the time you walk in the street, you feel sorry for the people – people are not happy, businesses closing. Is that the condition you want to continue to stay in? No! Let us remember that we are part of this country, part of the development of this country. We must be part of the decisionmakers of this country to reduce poverty, so we can provide equal opportunities, we should provide hope, we should provide a better future of our children. This is about the future. We have an opportunity now that we should join, we should think about ourselves, think about self-respect, think about dignity – and vote right, vote for theLusinee F. Kamara, Standard Bearer, All Liberia Coalition Party (ALCOP)
ALCOP ticket and support us
Historically, Liberian Muslims have followed a relaxed and liberal form of Islam that is heavily influenced by indigenous religions that were integrated into Islam when it came to Liberia in the 16th century with the collapse of the Songhai Empire and Mali.
Islamic religious practices vary in cities and towns across the country. Younger Liberian Muslims, particularly in the cities along the coast, tend to be more secular but still practice Islam in everyday life.
In rural areas, Liberian Muslims are more conservative in dressing modestly, performing prayers and attending religious studies. The practice of Islam in Liberia has been compared to Islam common in Senegal and The Gambia.
ALCOP’s Standard Bearer, Kamara, is a popular son of Lofa and one of the group’s intellectuals in Liberia. The party is popular with a large chunk of the county’s population, including the major parts of the Gbandi land, the entire Quardo-Gboni district, in Foya the party is known, and the party is hugely attractive the Zorzor belt, amongst other regions of Lofa County. Lofa is battle Ground County in these 2023 election, as no party more than ALCOP has exclusive control over its electorates.
ALCOP insists that it neither belongs to, nor relies on, the support of only one segment of the Liberian society. “Rather, the party is broad-based political entity, established for all the people of Liberia, without any distinctions or differentiations. All nationals of Liberia from all walks of life; from all the geographic zones and regions of the country are equal in the party and are indeed the strength of ALCOP, Kamara says. “Right now, in 2023, the party’s Vice Standard Bearer is a Gola man a university professor and a Christian from the church. Our Campaign Spokesman is also a university professor and a Deacon in the Church. ALCOP’s founders and partisans believe that a party is for people who believe in similar vision, not for a particular group of citizens because of their identity to the exclusion of other citizens. When a party is structured to consider only one group of people or a particular segment of society as its strength, it creates the tendency of those people considering the party as an exclusive property. They become prone to the saying “This is our time,” instead of saying this is the time for shared prosperity and equal opportunity.”
Born in Bong, Rooted in Lofa
Born in Gbarnga, Bong County, Kamara, 69, Kamara’s father, the Alhaji Faboli Kamara was a businessman and farmer, while his mother, the late Haja Mahawa Bility was a housewife.
Kamara grew up helping in his father’s store, taking care of sale, purchase, records of the branches his father was supplying. He later went on to open his own small table/wallet market in front of the store. As a child of promise, while helping with those tasks in the store, Kamara spent six years attending early morning Quran learning circle before going to the store to assist his father.
Additionally, he took care of his father’s rubber and coffee farms with a combined workforce of about thirty to forty persons.
He completed Senior High School education at the Lutheran Training Institute (LTI) in Salayea, Lofa County in 1973 – 1975 and enrolled briefly at the Cuttington University in 1976, but matriculated at the state university, the University of Liberia, where he obtained B.Sc. in economics in 1980.
He has previously worked as Director of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) and in 2010 served as Vice Chairman of the Liberia Chambers of Commerce
In February 1997, Kamara became Speaker of the Transitional Legislative Assembly of the Republic of Liberia. He served from 2003 – 2006 as Minister of Finance of the Republic of Liberia.
Kamara’s career is not without its blemishes. In the aftermath of the NTGL period, he and several members of the interim government were arrested after being named in the ECOWAS audit report as liable for the disappearances of millions of dollars of tax between October 2003 and January 2006. Shortly following the arrest, a number of those arrested obtained bails and got out to await charges, indictment, and prosecution. In December 2006, Kamara and the other officials arrested were released, having been arrested earlier and charged with “theft of property” by government. They were released after their defense team led by Cllr. T.C. Gould filed a criminal appearance bond of about US$9,714,842.26.
‘Maybe and Maybe Not’
Despite the party’s affinity with the Muslim base, Kamara is coy about its influence in how well the party will perform. “Maybe and maybe not. The party has strong appeal among Liberian Muslims and some non-Muslims of Liberians. It may be too ambitious to claim that one political party has absolute control over the votes of a particular religious community. That would be a political party system based on religion, which is unconstitutional. ALCOP is like any other party. If Muslims are supporting CPP, UP and CDC, why will one think that Christians are not also supporting ALCOP? If CDC or UP do not exclusively have a lock on the non-Muslims’ votes, no party can claim to have a lock on the votes of an entire faith-based community.”
The party’s first chairman was Charles Bayoyoway, a Bassa man, its first Vice Standard Bearer was Rev. Cecelia Gofa Doe.
For Kamara, the party’s appeal is not just for Muslims but for all Liberians. “Most of the time you walk in the street, you feel sorry for the people – people are not happy, businesses closing down,” he says in a campaign video making the case for a potential ALCOP leadership. “Is that the condition you want to continue to stay in? No! Let us remember that we are part of this country, part of the development of this country.”
Kamra asserts that it is important for ALCOP to be a part of the decisionmakers of Liberia to reduce poverty. “So, we can provide equal opportunities, we should provide hope, we should provide a better future of our children. This is about the future. We have an opportunity now that we should join, we should think about ourselves, think about self-respect, think about dignity – and vote right, vote for the ALCOP ticket and support us.”
This is why Kamara believes that ALCOP, as a political party, has a very strong appeal to all the constituencies in Liberia. “Our supporters are always considered to be serious and hardworking people in the country. This image is good for our political project, since it would be a bad image and a minus for our political campaign, if our supporters were viewed by the generality of Liberians as lazy and troublesome people.”
Not Losing Sleep Over CDC Link
ALCOP’s renaissance on the presidential circuit this year is also generating buzz of a different kind, that the party is actually a plant for the ruling CDC, looking to muddy the waters for former Vice President Joseph Boakai in vote rich Lofa County.
The regimes that governed Liberia since the 1997 and 2005 elections up to now, have also helped awaken the political consciousness of our supporters, which factors make ALCOP the sleeper in these elections. Waking up from sleep and resting gives the sleeper fresh energy, zeal, and commitment. That is why ALCOP will pull massive surprise at the October 2023 pollsLusinee F. Kamara, Standard Bearer, All Liberia Coalition Party (ALCOP)
It is a chatter the ALCOP hierarchy is aware of but quickly dismisses. “Those who think so are very wrong. They are just guessing – and guess work is far from the reality,” Kamara says.
The party argues that its standard bearer is a former Finance Minister, former Commerce Minister and former Speaker of the House of Representative who is an accomplished businessman, who is not poor, who is not hungry or in need of government support to live.
Ali Sylla, who previously worked as Head of the Mission Embassy of Liberia, in Doha, the State of Qatar and now campaign manager for ALCOP says, Kamara is already living big time. “As such, ALCOP has only brought him to win these elections and become the next president of Liberia. ALCOP has brought him in the race to win the presidency and apply his skill and vast experience to uplift the dying spirit and integrity of the presidency of Liberia and bring prosperity to this country for the good and wellbeing of all Liberians.”
Sylla argues that this is the objective of ALCOP. “Some people really got upset to see ALCOP fielding a candidate in these elections, because such people have always taken our voters to other political parties for meager benefits. Such could be the label they want to pin onto ALCOP as a smear campaign against ALCOP, the rising star on the Liberian political landscape. Some are hurt by this, and they are plotting lies and deceits to take away from us by branding ALCOP with such cheap political propaganda. Don’t listen to them. ALCOP will not lose sleep over that.”
Eyeing Second Round Forecast
Not losing sight of the outlook of the presidential race, ALCOP is hopeful of defying the odds and the political convention by breaking into the top tier of the presidential race. “Our forecast in these elections to see ALCOP make a soft landing in second round of the elections. This is because the people of Liberia have, since 1847, relied on different people to provide them the competent and responsive leadership that will redeem them from constant poverty and suffering. These expectations have not been met by the past governments in a sustainable manner. As such, Liberians are looking into the direction of ALCOP as the alternative solution to their unending plight and predicament. The party standard bearer has no match among the excess candidates. Liberian people who know this will choose ALCOP above the rest. ALCOP is standing a better chance than most political parties in these elections.”
The party is hoping to convince Liberians that it is not only in the race to win, but to fight for a chance to give Liberians a better tomorrow.
Says Kamara: “We are in this to improve the condition of Liberians nationally. The Liberian people deserve better living standard than the current nightmare they are encountering. The alarming rate of poverty and insecurity; amidst an increasing incidence of drugs abuse needs to be stopped. The gloomy future that is hanging on the horizon if nothing is done to prevent our nation from perishing needs to be replaced with hope for realistic redemption from the neglect, national pretenses, and abuse. The regimes that governed Liberia since the 1997 and 2005 elections up to now, have also helped awaken the political consciousness of our supporters, which factors make ALCOP the sleeper in these elections. Waking up from sleep and resting gives the sleeper fresh energy, zeal, and commitment. That is why ALCOP will pull massive surprise at the October 2023 polls.”