The 2017 Walhalla: Who Deserves The Votes?

Liberia a tiny country with a population of less than four million people is battling out with politicians who only desire is to become president through ‘empty promises’ to those would be electorates.

Already eighteen presidential candidates with eighteen political parties as so far declared their intent to the National Elections Commission (NEC) an institution responsible to oversee all electoral activities in the Country.

Recently the National Elections Commission said more political parties are still making preparation to show face, many are wondering as to where Liberia is heading with the growing number of political parties.

With the huge number of political parties and presidential candidates queuing out for the 2017 presidential race, electorates are already expressing reservations as to who to actually cast their ballots for with the countless numbers of presidential candidates and political parties.

Even though Liberians have not reach the playing field of the 2017 general and presidential elections, local airwaves and various print media outlets are most often rhetorically featured speeches of those opting control of the Country presidency.

Many of these guys now preaching messages of peace, while others are on the castigating highway of the Country; condemning others who are in the driving seat of the nation’s leadership.

As Liberia moves closer to the 2017 presidential elections, many Liberians desire real change and a better future. However, the question of deciding which candidate to vote into office might be simply a matter of party affiliation for many.  Other Liberians, however, particularly those who have the country at heart and are demanding a real change from the past, might cast their votes based on specific characteristics they look for in their candidate of choice.  

Dozens of names are coming up with current Unity Party vice Standard Bearer and Vice President of Liberia, Ambassador Joseph N. Boakai as one of those to declare his intent for the presidency come 2017.

Other prominent Liberians who have decided to throw their political fishing net into Liberia’s political waters for this one seat, the presidency include: George Weah of the CDC, Dr. Joseph Mills Jones, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, Benoni Urey, Simon Freeman, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, Jones Nhinson Williams, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, Alex Tyler with dozens of others in the making.

Local entertainment centers in Monrovia and its environs have already been choked with discussions on who becomes Liberia’s next president after President Ellen Johnson shall have ended her term.

The Standard Bearer of the leading opposition political in Liberia, the Congress for Democratic Change, George Weah who was considered iconic and a political idol during the 2005 elections has gained his political status in preparation of the presidency. His glory was grossly due to his passionate and resounding statement “love for country” but more importantly, his popularity as a football legend of all times.

Secondly, he is seemingly been guided by the wrong people. First he started out as a presidential candidate, and six years later became a running mate to the lesser known Winston Tubman. The implications for all this flip-flopping is that Manneh’s credibility and popularity are by themselves taking a downward slope like his decisions. So it is gradually becoming obvious that Manneh, by nature of his own character, will likely be the king maker of his own dilemma.

At an institutional level, the Congress for Democratic Change represents one of the most disorganized and immature political houses in the country. Few characteristics: the CDC speaks disjointedly on national issues, is quick to suspend members for negligible reasons, expels members that take up issues with the Party and even give ultimatums to associating members. All of these negativities no doubt are the pathways to political failure. Politics is about numbers, reconciliation and respect, but the CDC sees it differently.

Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, a man of great intelligence and integrity, a former student leader par excellum, and a man of great public service recognition. Ngafuan has good standing within the chambers of the youth population, especially the various universities. His candidacy is a clarion call to rid Liberia of the “old school never die politicians” and replace them with hard working and integrity driven characters. As doyen of the Cabinet, he has managed to extend his tentacles at the international level. Meeting with presidents and diplomats has enabled him to sell his ambition quietly.

However, in spite of the distinctiveness of this emerging leader, the question that begs answer is: “Which party will carry his load and give him that needed support”? Probably if he works hard and wins the confidence of Her Excellency, he could be the next standard bearer of the Unity Party. This task is not impossible, especially in the Unity Party. Mournfully, like in my opening statement, the history of a ruling party winning three successive elections is skewed around the world. However, if the question: “Is the people stupid” is answer in the affirmative, then Like Ellen, Ngafuan would be in the line up to remake history.

Accordingly, Ngafuan is seemingly the craftsman of his woes. Close friends say the comrade is low on interpersonal relationship, and surrounds himself with people he can easily manipulate. There are still others who maintained that Ngafuan has been too slow in helping some of his closest friends from BWI and the UL with jobs based on their qualifications and expertise. If these allegations are true, then it is also very hurtful as well. The best thing to do is to start rebranding himself by seeking reconciliation with his colleagues.

Charles W. Brumskine has carved for himself a legacy as the authoritative voice of the Bassa People. His popularity swelled during the ending days for former president Charles Taylor. Even though he had no party of his own by then, he was hailed as the consensus national alternative to Charles Taylor. But all of that changed when the political playing field became so leveled.

The ghost of the besmearing accusations of Brumskine’s role in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is quietly dissipating into the unknown. However, his problems are far from over. Many, mostly those that have not come into close contact with him have accused him of being a proud fellow with branded arrogance. Yet still few others despise him for being too well dressed even during casual engagements

Brumskine’s poor showing in the 2011 elections due to what partisans attributed to the lack of money may speak decisively to his return on the political Broadway. Importantly, Brumskine’s political career could be in serious jeopardy if Senator Findley wins the senatorial seat in Brumskine’s backyard (Grand Bassa County).

At the Party level, Liberty seems very responsible as compare to CDC. The order of public speaking is uniformed and less aggressive. The Chairman of the Party has been able to carefully maintain an order in policy and analysis of national issues. What remains a greater challenge is how these fine attributes of a well-organized and moderate Party can help transform Brumskine into a fine and submissive candidate. But importantly, LP also needs to rebuke the devil of “lack of money” and call on the gods of “more money” if they should make any meaningfully impact in 2017.

Joseph Mills Jones a very good man wanting to move Liberians out of the dungeon of entrapped poverty, and has not expressed his interest for the presidency yet. However, there are signs on the wall that his ambition is gravitating towards that line. His monetary approach at poverty alleviation has earned him a big space in the hearts and minds of the downtrodden masses. In the voters’ paradise, what you see is not always what you get. The recent legislative act calling on officials of government interested in contesting for elected positions to resign is a test of his continuous goodwill to the underprivileged and destitute. If he continues unabated he could be a serious contender in 2017.

For many Mills could be the best with the rumor that he has picked a woman running mate (Jewel Howard Taylor) is yet to be confirmed. Will he join the Unity Party or the Congress for Democratic Change in the coming future? Mills may certainly not have the luxury of time on his side.

Benoni Urey appears to be a quiet man with fewer words. His entrance into the political sphere raises questions about his real intentions. Most Liberians know Benoni for two things: Former Maritime Commissioner, a shareholder in the LoneStar Cell communication, and an agriculturalist. So his pronouncement came as a surprise to many. Urey chances are great, especially as he has announced his intentions sooner than expected. His trailblazing all over the country is gaining traction gradually.

The Friends of Urey, most of who came from the National Patriotic Party to establish his own political party, the All Liberia Party are working overnight to sell him quickly to the Liberian people. Selling Urey is less difficult in the less conscious parts of the country that once enjoyed and still reminisces the days of former president Charles Taylor.

Jones Nhinson Williams, a Liberian who once studied for the Catholic priesthood but had to abandon the vocation after the brutal murder of five American nuns and the servitude and abuse meted on Liberian women and children by warlords, who were backed by some Liberian politicians.  

For many he is capable of creating a better Liberia for all, and for someone who will not accept “business-as-usual” politics.

The talk around the nation is that Liberia needs someone who is not power hungry, and that has more than his competitors to offer the country in terms of fostering national unity and reconciliation; and in spurring innovation and economic prosperity.  

Williams, according to most Liberians including former class and schoolmates with whom he studied in several Catholic seminaries, represents these characterizations. First and foremost, Liberians across the political and tribal spectrum consider him as very intelligent, exceptionally educated, visionary, practical and innovative. Even his schoolmates from St. Dominic’s Catholic high school in Bomi County remember him for his brilliant ideas and his ability to realize them. In addition, he is admired and highly respected in international circles. He appeals to both Liberian Christians and Muslims alike, and is perhaps the only non-Muslim potential presidential candidate that is highly trusted, respected and liked by the entire Liberian Muslim community.

According to people familiar with his activities, Williams’ disdain for and fierce opposition to bigotry, greed, corruption, tribalism, religious intolerance, and insatiable taste for political power sets him apart. It is important to note that he turned down being interim president of Liberia in 2003 during an international strategy meeting in Rome when some members of the international community recommended that he should take on the responsibility of interim president after Charles Taylor had agreed to step down.

Williams was also instrumental in the selection of Gyude Bryant as Chairman of the Liberia National Transitional Government during the 2003 Accra Peace Talks in Ghana. Upon Bryant’s selection, Williams called and cautioned him about corruption and good governance during a phone call through the current Liberian ambassador to the African Union and Ethiopian, Ms. Vivian Wreh in the presence of Harry Greaves, current Senator Varney Sherman among others.  

Later, Bryant and some of the key actors at the Accra Peace Talks urged Williams to serve as Liberian ambassador to the United Nations, but he turned the request down on grounds that he wanted to keep his promise of ensuring that all Liberian refugees who are scattered throughout West Africa and beyond be able to return home.   

Williams, who is highly regarded in international circles as the moral conscience behind the international will and support in removing Charles Taylor from power and in stabilizing Liberia, could have chosen any of the Liberian government positions in 2003, but instead he was more concerned about Liberia becoming a more secure and democratic nation, the return of Liberian refugees, and the safety of all Liberians irrespective of tribe, sex and social status, in addition to the provision of social support, counseling and skill-building capacities for ex-combatants. He personally influenced the appointment of Dr. Moses Jarbo as head of the National Commission of Disarmament, De-mobilization and Reintegration as well as urged the late General David Bropleh to leave Norway to assist with the disarmament process.  He did not just stop there, he also wrote the blue print or policy documents for the disarmament process and handed them over to the Executive Director of the Commission.  Those blue prints included focu
sing on the psycho-social dimension of the ex-combatants. In addition he provided pro bono advisory services to the commission through its senior leadership.

Liberians who have been refugees say Williams is also very compassionate. He has a humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something to alleviate those sufferings. He demonstrated these qualities in Monrovia during his pastoral year while pursuing the Catholic priesthood when he was assigned at the then Don Bosco Homes where orphans and street children were being cared for.  

Later, he pursued human rights advocacy and peace building initiatives as well as offering to personally mediate between various Liberian factional leaders during the April 6, 1996 fighting by traveling under heavy gun fire to see the late General Roosevelt Johnson at the Barclay Training Center military barracks, and by visiting with Charles Taylor at his Congo Town residence among others. Before the April 6, 1996’s factional fighting in Liberia, he taught a customized discipline: situation ethics and social science at the AME Zion Community College (now AME University) as a way of teaching peace education and responsible citizenship to Liberian students.  Moreover, he asked the University not to pay him.  Around this same time he also provided Palava hut lectures at the University of Liberia to students when he served as acting rector of the Catholic minor seminary that was located on St. Patrick’s Catholic High School campus.

While in Guinea, Williams challenged the United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ field offices in Guinea and the Ivory Coast regarding the harsh treatment Liberian refugees were receiving. He partnered with Counselor Benedict Sannoh (Liberia’s current Minister of Justice and Attorney General) in conducting a research and fact-finding mission on the plight of refugees in Guinea. With help from international friends and some Liberians, including Mr. T.Q. Harris who was then in the United States, he organized relief programs that provided food and other types of support to Liberian refugees in Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. He also organized resettlement for hundreds of Liberian families to go to Australia, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the United States while assisting those already in those countries to obtain asylum and other legal recognition. One of Williams’ strengths lies in converting his knowledge of international understanding into wisdom to help and benefit his fellow Liberians and he con
tinues to do so even today in myriad ways.

There are also many other Liberians who respect Williams as a man of integrity.  They believe he can be trusted because he possesses and demonstrates strong moral and ethical principles. He keeps his word and does not make promises he cannot keep.  They also see him as a self-confident individual, a person who believes in people and himself, always willing to see the good side of others. For example, there are some young people in the Catholic priesthood today who were inspired by Williams when he worked as a major seminarian in some Catholic parishes around Monrovia.  He has an ability to inspire and lead people to action which has motivated so many people to achieve their goals, as well as get others on board on to work on behalf of important issues.  This impressive ability in Williams is highly recognized by the Liberian Muslim community with which he built a very trusted and mutual relationship over the years.  While many view him as a strong and motivational leader, there are those who say they admire h
im because of his flexibility as a person.  He has a strong appreciation and understanding about the give-and-take aspects of politics, as well as the importance of interaction and relationship building.  He knows how to find common ground.  In fact, he is credited as the glue in holding together three opposing tribes: Krahns, Mandingos, and Gios/Mano and others during the popular uprising that pressured Charles Taylor until he left power.  Williams has a good listening ear and likes to carefully listen to the arguments on all sides of an issue before deciding what it will take to reach consensus on behalf of all parties involved in any dispute.  He is also very good at recognizing criticisms and setbacks, and very willing to learn from them and move forward.

Internationally, Williams is one of the few Liberians and perhaps the only potential presidential candidate who better understands job creation policies and business employment dynamics. He has worked with job creation institutions at senior policy and managerial levels in developed countries, and is knowledgeable in financial and strategic management. As head of the U.S.-based Jewish Family Services International Refugee program (the first and only black person to serve in this position), he used his position and influence to aid African immigrants around the world and to highlight the issues of hunger, economic migration, and the condition of the internally displaced in Africa. Since 2003 he has primarily focused on assessing conditions and working toward solutions that would allow all Liberian refugees in West African countries to return home.  

Despite his financial criticism of and opposition to bad governance and corruption by most African regimes, he has and continues to communicate with international institutions and western governments on support for Liberia and other African countries in general. He was vital in U.S. and Western support during the Ebola crisis.  His work and actions included highlighting the issue of Liberia to U.S. and Western leaders.  Apart from making financial and other contributions to a number of community groups and organizations that worked to combat the deadly Ebola disease, he was also one of the key persons behind the need for the international community, especially the European Union and the United States government, to hold corrupt Africans accountable for the theft of public funds and resources.   

Of course Williams is not beyond critique.  Some people believe that his track record of instituting and support change, while allowing others to assume leadership was not a good thing for the country. They cite his support for change in 2003, his support for the interim government under Charles Gyude Bryant, and his support for Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at the behest of former Unity Party’s chairman Gayah Fahnbulleh as some examples.  This makes it difficult for some people to believe that he will really run for political office, given his largely disinterest in politics.  

Williams was born in Pleebo, Maryland County, South Eastern Liberia, and is from the Grebo ethnic group from River Gee County. A son of a Cavalla Firestone worker and a market woman, he studied philosophy, cultural anthropology and related social sciences in Catholic seminarians.  He holds a graduate degree in international management and public policy from New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in addition to many other academic achievements. He sits on several organizations boards and chairs the Board of Directors of the U.S. humanitarian organization, Invest In Family.   He is married and has two daughters

Kwame Clement a former news reporter and currently a Washington D.C based super lawyer is speculatively in the running for the Liberian presidency as well. History been told, Kwame was the first and possibly the only candidate that defeated the Student Unification Party in an ULSU elections in the early 80s.

Politically, not much is known about him, and as a matter of fact he has been out of the country for a long time. His appearance on the political stage will be rather strange for both his name and his social or political standing. Tina Fey could be correct when she states: “Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue.”

In terms of institutional affiliation, Kwame is said to the progenitor of the Alternative National Congress (ANC). The Party itself is riddled with political leftovers from the CDC, including the curly Chairman. As a recently registered political party, the ANC will have to work overtime to create an image based on trust, credibility and integrity.

Finally, though speculatively a Liberian but with a ‘Kwame’ (Ghanaian name) at the center stage of this newly break-away Party, many Liberians will be wondering whether the country is so much politically bankrupt as to look the “Ghanaian way.” But like I said, anything is possible in Liberia because the question: “Is the Liberian people stupid” has not been answered to the contrary, overtime.

Joseph N. Boakai may not be the tiresome old man that many Liberians think he is. While the President has not out rightly announced her support for a two-term vice president, there are signals that he may be the “Jose Mourino” of UP.  Joe Boakai has a commanding authority within the rank and file of UP with a right hand of support from its chairman, Varney Sherman. Furthermore, Joe Boakia, it is rumored has more support in the Lofa and Margibi (Firestone Belt). Importantly, his base in Monrovia is gradually swelling in the Kissi Community, including the Chicken Soup Factory area.

The flip side of Joe Boakai is that his successes may turn into failure if the UP government shows nothing for its 12-year rule. Secondly, age may be another impeding factor, though he looks weary and overwhelmed by fatigue, there are rumors that JB will be 69 years of age come 2017.

So if JB decides to run, Ngafuan will have to make way for his uncle. But even if JB is the Ellen-anointed, Liberians may not want to see one Party taking up 18 years of their precious time. And more noticeably, it is only rumored that JB is likely to be chosen by Ellen, and as a matter of fact the implication could be more devastating for his campaign. Remember Bill Clinton and Al Gore?

There are more names like Kofi Woods, John Morlu, Prince Johnson, Simeon Freeman, Alex Tyler and the list of political jugglers. Ruling them out of the package may as well be a bias approach. After all, Ronald Reagan says: Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards; ft you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.” In Liberia, if you disgrace yourself as a presidential candidate, you can further disgrace yourself by hustling for a superintendent or an assistant ministerial position.

So those that are unelected should not just consider themselves as total failures even though most of them already know their potential and outcomes of their participation in the coming elections. And like Chris Hedges said: A society without the means to detect lies and theft soon squanders its liberty and freedom.”

We can only hope that the right decision is made by simply electing the right people into power. For redeeming the time requires characters with trust and credibility. Characters that will lead us down the road to redemption, and not characters that will lead us down the road to perdition.

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