The Unmasking of Joseph Nyumah Boakai: Ten Ways “Oldman”Boakai Showed He’s not a Leader – and Never Was.

By Wonderr K. Freeman, Attoryen, CFCS

Liberia is awash with talks about Joseph Nyumah Boakai’s pick of running mate. As the logic goes, once Mr. Boakai chooses his deputy, then the election is over. That’s the popular refrain, though pushed around without any “polling data” to back up this claim. I’m not one of those who think so. By the way, I have already made my views known in the article: The CDC Kleptocracy and Reign of Terror is Going Down – and Out. This article is, hence, not to assess the chances of Mr. Boakai’s candidacy. I have always maintained that Liberia has a “system” problem, and that changing the bad system or non-system is what will set Liberia right. But who will lead the charge of “changing the system” is the question that all Liberians must now answer. And right now, as Liberians search for leaders to step up to the plate, especially against the current disaster of a president we have, it is imperative to assess those putting themselves up for leadership and evaluate their leadership pedigree. It is important to ensure that we don’t go from the “frying pan into the fire”. So, it is in this spirit of our collective search for a leader that I write this piece on the elder statesman Joseph Nyumah Boakai, Sr.

Before I get into the Joe Boakai leadership credentials assessment, allow me to do a detour and take you down memory lane to show how Liberians have generally squandered precious opportunities to choose better leaders. As a nation, we have an affinity for fraudsters, crooks, celebrities, “boastorees”, “weaklings” etc. – at the expense of true leaders. And each time we make grave errors in selecting leaders, we pay a heavy price. Let’s go back to July 1997. Then rebel leader Charles Ghankay Taylor was on the list of candidates, but so was Ellen Johnson, Chea Cheapoo, Togba Nah Tipoteh, Bacchus Matthews, Cletus Wotorson etc. By then Taylor’s [criminal] record from his rebel days was well documented and widely known. Today, Liberians like to excuse themselves that Taylor “coerced” people. But that narrative is greatly exaggerated. It may be true ONLY for villages deep in the jungles, where the population is obviously negligible. At the time, I lived in Gardnersville, and voted UP; however, Charles Taylor was winning everywhere, even in BTC, home of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). Reason? When given the opportunity, Liberians have a hard time choosing decent people with good track record. As a people, we prefer “colorful” and “flashy” characters, even if their reputations are in the mud. As a nation, we all paid a very high price for that “kill my ma, kill my pa” mistake. Within six months Taylor was already back to his old ways – he ordered or condoned the killing two prominent Liberians in broad daylight on Liberia’s only functional highway. And that was just the start. What ultimately followed was an orgy of murders and violence unseen even by African standards.

Fast forward 2017 (20 years later), our current buga-dancing playboy-pastor was on the ballot, with Charles Taylor’s wife as his veep. One would have thought that a “Taylor” on the ballot would have been a turn-off, given the hell that Taylor put us through. On that same ballot were other well-meaning Liberians 100 times better than George Weah. Again, just like the Taylor case, Liberians freely chose the [Weah-Taylor] disaster. There were many signs that George Weah and his CDC goons was a disaster waiting to happen. Firstly, George Weah could barely manage a football team of 30 persons; there was always confusion in the Lone Star camp. Every business he ever started had failed. Even elevating him to Senator didn’t help; he turned out to be a “bo-bo” Senator.  But Liberians decided that they would rather have the disaster. And just like the Charles Taylor “kill my ma, kill my pa” song, Liberians developed a similar son for Weah – “he know book, he na know book, we will vote for him”. In fact, they had a useless theory that it was the book people (i.e. the educated people) that destroyed Liberia; so, what Liberia now needed was an “uneducated” person to take over. Just imagine. Sheer lunacy!  Some of us spoke against that crazy theory in the article “On behalf of the Book People”. But it was no use. Liberians wanted their disaster, and nothing was going to stop them. And just like Charles Taylor committing multiple murders in the first six months of his presidency, George Weah needed only six months to start looting the public treasury – building forty (40) luxurious condominiums at a go. Since then, Liberia has degenerated in all spheres of life, while George Weah continues to his musical career and his playboy-pastor lifestyle. Even our football stadiums were banned under our footballing president. Unimaginable!

Now, what has the Charles Taylor disastrous presidency and the Weah-Taylor ongoing disaster have to do with Joe Boakai’s candidacy? My answer is that it goes back to the question of leadership. What kind of person should be trusted with power in Liberia, because we all suffer very severely when the wrong choice is made. I believe Joe Boakai is a disaster, not from a violence perspective, as in the Taylor case, or from stealing and partying, as in the Weah case, but from “lack of leadership ability”, which will make us end up with disaster all the same. So, in this article, I assess Boakai’s leadership cred – using ten universally-acclaimed leadership metrics. And, as you will later find out and agree, Liberia may be headed for another round of disaster under a Joe Boakai presidency. So, sit back and go through my ten leadership metrics and see if you agree or disagree.

  1. Decisiveness: A leader is supposed to think a lot about his institution/country’s problems. But there is a time for thinking and a time for action. The problem is that Boakai spends all his time “thinking”. Something as simple as picking a vice presidential mate is difficult for Boakai. This is a blinking example of leadership failure – indecisiveness. People who support Boakai boast that he’s been in politics for 50 years. Good. Now, if you’ve been in politics for 50+ years, how come you don’t know by now which politician or technocrat can better help you win and govern? And if you think Boakai’s indecisiveness is just in this 2023, you are dead wrong. In 2017, Boakai took “forever” just to choose a running mate, and in the dying minutes, even the eventual choice was a bad one. He chose Emmanuel Nuquay – one of the budget mafias at the Legislature. An indecisive person is simply not a good leader. Of course, if Boakai was indecisive in 2017, and in 2023, what do you expect in the future?
  • Strategic Thinking: Being strategic means doing a thing, not because of the “present” benefits it provides, but because of the greater “future” advantages. Now, take the case of the “prosecution” of Alexander Cummings. The “prosecution” of Cumming was an evil plan cooked up by Urey/Costa. At the time, Boakai and Cummings were competing for leadership of the CPP. Boakai, not thinking strategically, was more than happy to go along with Urey/Costa’s evil plan. After all, what was bad for Cummings must be good for Boakai. Boakai even testified at the Cummings “faux trial”, showing his short-sightedness and inability to think strategically. Is Boakai any better off now after the Cummings’ trial? The very Urey/Costa team is now effectively blackmailing Boakai, in exchange for financial support. Of course, when Boakai collaborated with Urey/Costa conspiracy, he opted to dine with the devil, and dining with devil comes with consequences.      
  • Loyalty: A good leader must be deeply loyal to a set of principles, institutions, or his nation. What does Boakai believe in? What or who is he loyal to? If you analyze the breakdown in the Ellen-Boakai relationship, it’s hard not to come away with the feeling that Boakai has a loyalty problem. How in the world you’d worked with someone as principal deputy for 11 years without issues, then suddenly, in the 12th year, you say you were not respected and that you were just like “an old car parked in the garage”. Seriously, Boakai? After 12 years of globe-trotting, is that the pay for Ellen? Boakai would have demonstrated much better loyalty cred by embracing the “relative short-comings” of the Ellen’s era, as much as he was embracing the “relative successes”. Mind you, disloyalty breeds reciprocal disloyalty and even revenge. And, even though I don’t know Ma Ellen personally, I hear she’s a grandmaster at “paying back”. In politics, the general rule is that you remain loyal until you are crowned. If you show any sign of disloyalty beforehand, you may never be crowned. For reference, check out the Atiku-Obasanjo feud. Today Atiku is still losing – even after the 5th trial. Real leaders know the value of loyalty.
  • Integrity: Boakai is often billed as a person of tremendous integrity. But is he really a man of integrity? We are often informed that he did not steal from government when he had the power and the opportunity. Good. But did he prevent “stealing” when he knew it was occurring and/or had the power to stop it? Last time I checked, the Liberian VP presides over the Senate. And Boakai was presiding over the Senate when the Moore Stephens audit revealed that 95% of the concession agreements signed into law was illegal. I don’t quite remember Boakai complaining about bogus concessions. Even up to now, I don’t remember him accepting responsibility for the egregious harm done to the country. A leader of integrity will accept his failings, apologize, and make amends. Even today, Boakai is still unable to shun or denounce people who are stealing and harming Liberia. Last time I checked, he was on the same stage with Jefferson Koijee, praising Koijee as “hero” of Lofa and of Liberia – by extension. Having integrity means being truthful with oneself and honest to others. Does Boakai truly believes Koijee is a “hero”? If not, why willingly attend such a program? Of course, Boakai did it for the “votes”. But no leader of integrity will do a “thing” solely on the basis of votes.

Let’s take a quote from a true American hero, who never became president but uttered one of the most truly inspiring words ever recorded in presidential contest.

I will not take the low road to the highest office in this land. I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way.” — John McCain on Feb. 19, 2000, after losing the South Carolina Republican primary.

  • Love for Country: A good leader obviously must love his country. Boakai’s recent politically-close engagement with Prince Johnson puts his patriotism into question. The Americans charged PYJ will electoral corruption and warned political actors from dealing with PYJ. Cunning PYJ does the next best thing; He takes a backseat and installs a puppet. Now, I may be wrong, and I stand to be corrected, but dealing with PYJ’s puppet is just about the same as dealing with PYJ himself. A true leader would reason something like this: Yes, I want to be president. I want it real bad, but should I deal with PYJ and “annoy” the Americans and other Liberians calling for justice? This is not a difficult test at all – for a patriotic leader. A patriotic leader would rather go to Nimba all by himself and deal with the people of Nimba directly. But Boakai thinks that is a long road. Why not take the short cut, work with Koung (and PYJ) and get the votes. What’s Boakai’s position on justice for war crimes now that he’s in bed with Koung/PYJ’s party? Is this justice being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency? The Boakai-Koung/PYJ collabo is like telling Liberians who are calling for this justice to “go to hell”, essentially. Or, maybe Boakai’s personal “presidential quest” is far more important that the ongoing debate on justice for Liberia’s war-time atrocities?
  • Anti-Corruption Pedigree: What are Boakai’s views on corruption? Does he really abhor corruption? His supporter might say: surely sure does. But Boakai’s behavior in the Brownie Samukai’s corruption saga cast serious doubts on anti-graft stance. Boakai was head of UP when Samukai was indicted. A principled leader would have ensured that while corruption charges were hanging over Samukai, Samukai should not, under and circumstance, be placed on UP’s ticket as a candidate. Did Boakai do that? Of course not. The way Boakai and his UP people see it, “corruption is bad only if it is done by CDC people, and not UP people”. Boakai and his UP party casted their lot with the disgraced Samukai. In the end, Samukai was found guilty, and the guilty verdict was confirmed and affirmed. Yet the same Boakai is today promising to fight corruption. This is contradictory! He had the opportunity to show that he meant business on corruption, but as usual, Boakai squandered that opportunity. If he couldn’t show leadership on Samukai’s corruption case yesterday, what’s the guarantee that he will fight corruption in his government tomorrow?   
  • Positioning the Next Generation. Boakai and Ellen are of the same generation. After their 12 years of working together, it would have made more sense for them to retire together. At the time, there were many promising “younger” [UP] leaders equally qualified and experienced. The likes of Ngafuan, Gyude Moore, Kofi Woods, Gbehzongar , Konneh etc. come to mind. There were many others, of course. A true leader must know when to pass on the baton to the next generation. But Boakai, even after fifty years of being in government, is still not done. And because in Liberia, elders are deferred to, “younger” candidates will not emerge until he [Boakai] takes a bow. Moreover, he and his UP people refused to learn their history lessons. Liberia has a very youthful population, in 2017, and certainly now in 2023. Selling a septuagenarian to the youths was tough in 2017, and it’s ever tougher now that he’s an octogenarian. So, he lost then and will lose again. As an octogenarian, he is old and frail, but the oldman just won’t take a bow. Some people are still of the false hope that somehow Liberia’s youthful population will suddenly fall in love with this octogenarian. I disagree. Even more, I find this power greed so distasteful. His generation was the Ellen, Tipoteh, Matthews, and Sawyer generation. Why is he suppressing the rise of the new generation of leaders? How can a new generation of leaders emerge when the old generation refuses to bow out. Another blinking leadership failure, no doubt!
  • Clear Vision/Plan: Boakai has been running for president for the better part of six years. I’m yet to come across a written plan of what he wants to do and how he will finance it. For his supporters, Boakai’s fifty (50) years of government service is all that is needed. I beg to differ. I think all candidates need to publish written plans as to what they wish to do and how they intend to finance their plans. There are many ways to fail in leadership, but a failure to plan is one of the surest ways. For those who have seen Boakai’s written development plan, I encourage you to please publish it online, so we all can see it and digest it. A written down manifesto is also a veritable accountability tool. Better plans, better leaders! But it seems, like George Weah, all of Boakai’s plan is in his “very good” heart. I prefer a good plan any day.
  • Ability to Control Subordinates. Mr. Boakai (i.e., both in 2017 and now) has shown that he is simply unable to control his subordinates. Sometimes the way Costa speaks and acts, it’s not hard to imagine who will run the country if, by some misfortune, Boakai ascends to the presidency. It was much the same in 2017. In 2017, for those who remembered, Boakai was not yet given the crown, but his aides and loyal party faithfuls were busy lambasting and haranguing Mrs. Sirleaf ; while  Boakai was mute throughout. Now, people would rather ask why didn’t she [Ellen] support her “own” vice president? But her own vice president said nothing and did nothing as the new UP leadership declared war on Ellen. In the end, Madam Sirleaf diverted her support and we all know how that story ended. We are now in 2023, but the same movie is being replayed – with Costa and others pretty much in control of the narrative. And Boakai, he’s probably leading from his hideout. If Boakai is currently unable to control his subordinates now, where is the guarantee that as president, he will suddenly muster the balls to control his subordinates? Blinking failure, it is!
  1.  Transparency & Accountability. The supporters of Boakai say he’s a paragon of integrity and accountability. Yet, we see him knee-deep in the gutters with the likes of Urey/Costa and Koung/PYJ. The Americans had made it clear what they think of PYJ, but Boakai thinks he know better than the Americans. We see Boakai flying on private jet organized by Urey/Costa, “paid for by foreigners”, even though Liberian law forbids foreign [cash and material] support. Flying a “private jet” paid for by foreigners is prima facie evidence of violation of our elections law. To date no one knows who paid for the private jet and what they want from Boakai in return. Lately Costa/Urey faction of UP/ALP collaboration were very open about flying Boakai to Ghana to source fundings. Who are those doing the funding and what do they want from Boakai/UP remains a mystery. Yet the same two-face Boakai tells us that he will fight corruption in government. It doesn’t get any more hilarious than this. How about you coming clean on who’s funding your foreign fund-raising trips (to Ghana and Nigeria) and what you are promising them in return? If you are promising to run a transparent government, wouldn’t it be much preferable if you are transparent with your campaign finances?

The signs of Joseph Nyumah Boakai lack of leadership abilities and lack of principles are blinking for all to see – even for the blind. Liberians were similarly warned before they elected George Weah – that it would be a disaster. And just like how it took only six months for Charles Taylor to commit murders, it equally took only six months for George Weah to start stealing. I’m not accusing Boakai of acts committed by Taylor or Weah. But recall, of course, Boakai presided over the Liberian senate when greatest number of bogus concessions deals were signed into law (Moore Stephens audit). It’s little solace to say… oh, he didn’t do it himself. Well, he was present and did nothing to stop the illegal activities. I think a Joe Boakai presidency will be just a replay of his Senate days. He will not be doing the unlawful acts himself, but his weakness, indecisiveness, lack of principle, amongst other leadership deficiencies will allow for other nefarious actors to cause the same harm. The recent Costa outbursts and the PYJ/Koung wheeling and dealing are just the tip of the iceberg of the things to come. This October 2023, Liberians will have a clear choice. They can choose leadership, principles and integrity and give Liberia a chance to prosper. Or they can repeat the mistake of choosing someone wicked like Charles Taylor, and/or someone clueless and roguish like George Weah, or someone who is neither Taylor nor Weah, but who is so weak, indecisive, ineffective, old, and frail, that the wickedness and looting will continue anyway. The choice is ours. My job is done, and I rest my case.

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1 Comment
  1. Vito Weeks says

    Well stated, Mr. Brooks. I’ve known Mr. Boakai most of my life. We were in high school together; I helped run his campaign for student government president. He is a good man. But not the choice we need now. And he’s beyond in years, even before considering other attributes. Liberia deserves better after Weah!

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