Bankbook Voting Will Not Transform Liberia

By Joe Bartuah |

Once again the election euphoria has returned to the streets, cities, towns, villages and slums of Liberia. Politicians are again making fabulous promises—promises that many of them conscientiously know, they have no desire of fulfilling. Many of them won’t even attempt to fulfill those promises, yet they are basically hypnotizing, mesmerizing the electorate with flowery words in their attempts to hoodwink them into casting their votes for them. This is not the first time in the 18 or so years of our post-conflict democratic experiment that politicians are ceaselessly making promises, but again, many people tend to be forgetful about earlier promises that were not fulfilled. This is because generally, a lot of people are either carried away by the deceptive spectacles of campaign euphoria, and as a result, they tend to be short on memories.

As many people have already indicated, the October 10, 2023 presidential election is the most consequential election in post-conflict Liberia, because its outcome will definitively determine whether Liberia moves forward as a vibrant participatory democracy with accountable, law-abiding leadership, or continues to be a dormant, nominal democracy in which pervasive corruption thrives to the detriment of majority of the people. In anticipation of such a high stake election, I strongly believe that rather than continually reveling to the sounds of loud music at campaign rallies, Liberian voters should take some time off, search their souls and ponder over the crucial voting decision each of them will be making on October 10, 2023.

Before going to the polling centers on October 10th to cast your vote, ask yourself as to why is Liberia persistently counted as one of the poorest, one of the least developed countries in the world? We often brag about being the oldest republic in Africa, but besides our longevity as a nation, why are we not achieving in terms of basic human development? Such introspective queries are necessary in order to guide our voting decisions on October 10th. As a society, as a people, what do we desire most? What do we yearn for?

I guess many of us wish for social justice and social equity in our society; many of us yearn for a Liberian society in which everyone—including the President of Liberia and his or her government officials, the Speaker and the lawmakers, the Chief Justice and all the judges as well as everyone else will scrupulously abide by the rule of law. Of course, everyone adhering to the rule of law also means that if somebody commits crime, whether highly or lowly placed, such a criminal suspect is tried in a court of law, and if found guilty, such a person is penalized based on what the law says. It also means no preferential treatment or selective justice, because an accused or a suspect is related to, or is a crony of some top government officials.

It goes without saying that in the absence of a society’s adherence to the rule of law, corruption thrives and crimes abound, becoming a debilitating drag on society. Unfortunately, my fellow compatriots, that’s exactly the pathetic situation prevailing in our country as we to the polls on October 10th, to elect a new batch of leaders who will lead Liberia in beginning of the second quarter of the 21st century. Because our rulers generally behave like they’re above the law, or simply don’t care about what the law says, they do as they wish in flagrant violation of the law and we all bear the adverse consequence.

In a small country like Liberia, just about the size of the state of New Jersey or the state of Maryland, we don’t even have roads connectivity; many towns and villages don’t even have motor roads. In this 21st century, many rural dwellers are still desperately toting their severely sick family members in hammocks, wheelbarrows or in some instances, on their shoulders to get to the nearest clinic or health post during medical emergency. Most of our clinics and hospitals don’t have medicines and basic medical equipment or accessories. The Liberian society is a callous survival-of-the-fittest scenario, whereby a very few people have had to travel to Ghana, India and the U.S. for medical treatments while the vast majority of our destitute people, who have no means, pathetically sit and wait for their premature death, even as government officials cruelly brandish their stolen wealth without catering to our public health institutions.

In other words, the pathetic story of Liberia is a story of chronic failures, amid inordinate, insatiable amassing of wealth by government officials. President George Manneh Weah set the pace in 2018 when he massively constructed 47 luxurious buildings for himself in the very first year of his presidency as hundreds of thousands of Liberians groans in those poverty-stricken slums. As Counselor Tiawan Saye Gongloe has repeatedly been saying to all Liberians who care to listen, national leaders are role models for their people. Because George Weah came to power and selfishly prioritized himself over the Liberian people, so all his government officials and even members of the Legislature followed his very bad example by seeking their own interests, instead of working assiduously to bring much needed relief to the poor masses.

To be clear, the Weah regime did not introduce pervasive corruption in the Liberian society; this cancerous disease has been corroding the fabric of our country for decades, if not centuries. However, Weah and his cohorts took corruption to an irredeemable level, because they arrogantly believe that they have conquered the Liberian people and so, the Liberian nation and whatever contained therein are their personal property, which can use as they wish. Folks, it’s against this gloomy backdrop of abject leadership failure that we’re going to the October 10th presidential election so that together, we can make Weah and his cartel a one-term president.

In as much as electorally kicking out Weah from the Executive Mansion is very important, so, too, is his most suitable, his most capable replacement or successor who will actually get the job done. At this stage of Liberia’s miserable under-development, our country needs a transformative, an energetic leader with the requisite moral and intellectual capacity to break with our ugly, undesirably corrupt past, and chart a new, vibrant course for holistic national development. Our country deserves a principled, credible leader whose presence at the Executive Mansion will exceptionally exude national and international respectability of our country. It’s such power dynamics in leadership that often translates into international goodwill, catalyzing economic regeneration and national development.

At this critical juncture, Liberia absolutely does not need a “hold-your-nose”, or a business-as-usual president to replace George Weah who will be continually sleeping on the job president to succeed the historic under-performance of George Weah, because doing so will be like the continuity of the current cartel. It is simply not prudent to replace one set of ineptitude with another set. In spite of the enormous needs for Liberia to redeem its image within the international community, some of our seemingly shortsighted compatriots have been making condescending comments about Counselor Tiawan Saye Gongloe, the  most viable, promising candidate in the October 10, 2023 presidential election.

For a very poor country like Liberia, we heed a leader with exemplary track records, who can readily be welcomed with open hands by our international partners. Liberia needs a president who has actually earned the trust of the international community. Let me cite one example. On May 14, 2022, Counselor Gongloe arrived in the U.S. on a private visit at the invitation of the Gongloe Global Movement. That was just about six months after announcing his candidacy to be the next President of Liberia, and on June 2, 2022, he met with officials of the African Bureau at the U.S. State Department.

That was a major diplomatic breakthrough by a private citizen from a country which has some of its key officials under sanctions of the United States Government. I’m aware that current our Foreign Minister virtually became a persona non grata when he was Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations; at least two of our Senators and even a presidential affairs minister are still under American sanction. Moreover, as president, George Weah was never invited to the White House. Against such poignant diplomatic embarrassments, if as a private citizen, Gongloe was able to easily meet with top U.S. officials, just imagine when he eventually becomes the President of Liberia, he will certainly break down barriers and unshackle Liberia from its quagmire of diplomatic pariah status and its under-development.

Despite the bright prospects of a possible Gongloe presidency, some of our compatriots are unleashing a sort of bankbook discrimination against the most credible and trustworthy candidate in the imminent presidential election, Counselor Tiawan Saye Gongloe. “The man aint get money; the man la poor man’s lawyer” are some of the cynical comments. The good thing is that none of them is saying that Gongloe—the economist-turned-lawyer is unqualified, incompetent or incapable for the job. I haven’t heard any of Gongloe’s critics say that he lacks the character, moral rectitude, integrity or capacity to get the job done. For all those who want to continue with the corrupt status quo, or are desirous of staying in the loop with a business-as-usual candidate, or a president that will be ceaselessly sleeping for them to steal, their default criticism of Counselor Gongloe is that he doesn’t have money, as if they intend to sell their votes to the highest bidder.

That’s what I refer to as a bankbook discrimination. It is ironic that in a country in which 99.9 percent of the citizens are so destitute, barely surviving far below the excruciating poverty line, some beneficiaries of the status quo are talking about voting for people with the biggest bank account, or candidates who are perceived to be rich, rather being principled to vote for a candidate who has consistently demonstrated his unshakable commitment to fundamental democratic precepts and adherence to the rule of law.

The harsh reality is that we have all been victimized in the past by the naivety of bankbook voting, whereby majority of the people cast their votes for a candidate perceived to be rich at the time without paying any attention to a particular candidate’s shortcomings. From my perspective, bankbook voting is inherently deceptive; it’s a sort of electoral mirage or a farce, because I tends to create a false premise or an illogical rationalization. The presumption is that when we elect a super-rich person, or somebody “who got money”, all of our problems would be solved. The Liberian experience has shown over and over that it’s not often the case, because many so-called rich people tend be egregiously insatiable and profoundly corrupt. In other words, the more people get richer and richer, the more they want to steal.

Historically, some of the most impactful leaders who heroically spearheaded the transformation of their respective societies were not necessarily the richest in those societies. Winston Churchill was not the richest man in Great Britain when he triumphantly led his compatriots out of the Second World War, neither was his trans-Atlantic comrade-in-arms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt the richest in America then. What if the South Africans had said that because Nelson Mandela was not a rich man in 1994, they won’t vote for him? Perhaps that great African country would not have been put on a transformative trajectory of holistic human development. Was Kwame N’Krumah the richest Ghanaian at the time of his election in 1957? I have lived long enough to see a brilliant young man—Barack Obama, who was not the richest in America–elected President of the United States, and he pivotally transformed the nation’s healthcare delivery system in an exemplary fashion.

Fellow Liberians, this is my ultimate take on the October 10, 2023 presidential election: Let’s go for what we all desire one way or another, but we have historically been lacking—a principled, unshakably patriotic and farsighted leader with a steely integrity who exudes national and international credibility in helping us remove our seemingly formidable national deficiency—CORRUPTION. As Counselor Gongloe has been saying, Liberia is like a patient in an intensive care unit and so, it needs the best available doctor. When a person is sick, the doctor prescribes a medication based on the diagnosis. For example, if a patient has migraine headache and you prescribe a diarrhea medication, it obviously won’t work. Even though what was prescribed is a medicine, the reality is that not all medicines can cure every disease. If some has an ear infection and you prescribe eye-drops for the person, it obviously would not work.

In the same vein, “opposition” is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. As the George Weah regime has patently demonstrated through their litany of failures in the past six years, not all opposition politicians are up to the presidential job. It goes without saying that replacing an incompetent president with a weaker link, who has no known commitment to transformative public policy will not resolve Liberia’s perennial problems, because it’s like treating the superficial symptoms of a life-threatening disease, rather than the actual cause of the disease. Liberia has a specific problem at this point in time, which urgently needs a specific prescription. Our national problem is CORRUPTION, which is fueled by our partial or non-application of the rule of law. And so, fellow Liberians, please join the Gongloe Global Movement let’s stamp out pervasive corruption and trash it into the dustbin of history to ensure Liberia’s comprehensive development.

When some tell you Gongloe is the best presidential candidate among the rest, “but the man aint got money”, tell them that your vote is absolutely not for sale. When they tell you that they have known Gongloe for decades as a staunch human rights and good governance advocate; when they say they are aware of the eminent lawyer’s epic commitment to fundamental democratic precepts, but he doesn’t have money, tell them that you rather vote for a visionary, a transformative leader with the requisite physical and intellectual capacity to fast-track Liberia on a comprehensive developmental trajectory, instead of replacing one set of pro-corruption cartel with another set of feeble cartel.


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