Will Liberians go for Joseph Boakai tomorrow?
As Liberia’s President Ellen Sirleaf prepares to step down after 12 years in office, not less than 20 old and new candidates are racing to replace her. Out of these many lots are three major presidential contenders who might clinch the voters’ nod to be next occupant of the Liberia executive mansion in the forthcoming October 10, 2017 general elections.
The three major contenders include Joseph Boakai, 72, of the Unity Party (UP) and the Liberian vice-president since January 2006. George Weah, 51, of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). Weah is a former footballer who was defeated by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the 2005 election. Charles Walker
Brumskine, 66, is a Liberian politician and attorney. He is the political leader of the Liberty Party (LP) and came third in the 2005 presidential election. He is considered a visible opposition politician in Liberia, and he unsuccessfully challenged Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for the Presidency in 2011.
Essentially, on top of the threesome contenders for the October 10 presidential elections in Liberia is Joseph Boakai.Boakai was born on November 30, 1944 in Worsonga, Foya District, Lofa County. Joseph Nyumah Boakai has been severally described as a detribalized Liberian politician and a Christian who has been Vice President of Liberia since January 2006, serving under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He was previously the Minister of Agriculture from 1983 to 1985.
Boakai has been described as a politically untainted man of immense wisdom, people oriented, family-man, a peace maker, lover of tradition, intelligent, cool, calm and collected, humble, honest, consistent and a selfless gentleman. These lofty attitudinal and character virtues are variously used to describe Boakai as Liberia’s “Hidden Treasury”—affirming him as a distinguished yet unassuming gentleman yet to be discovered by Liberia.
He has had jobs in both the public and private sector. He worked for the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation in the 1970s. From 1983 to 1985, he served as Minister of Agriculture under President Samuel Doe. While Minister of Agriculture,Boakai chaired the 15 nation West African Rice Development Association. He later worked as a consultant to the World Bank in Washington and founded a firm dealing in agricultural equipment and consultancy. He has served as board chairman of the Liberia Wood Management Corporation and of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company.
However, there has been some finger pointing on political fault-lines attributed to Boakai by the opposition. Political accusations and counter-accusation are natural phenomenon in politics. The main ingredient of consolidating democracy itself most especially, during election period as this is to raise weighty, logical and evidence-based political arguments thereby raising the bar on performance as well as increase the quality of political and economic governance. In doing this, it is pertinent to avoid being blindsided solely by self-serving political interests in the bid to capture power. So far, the questions about certain failures and problems clogging the current Sirleaf administration as Boakai’s foibles appear to be mere sloganeering and ill-conceived.
For example, if Boakai was as clueless and useless to president Sirleaf’s political and economic agenda as maintained by the opposition, why was he re-nominated in the 2011 elections after his successfully run with Sirleaf in 2005?
On the challenges of fighting corruption, Boakai with an amazing and credible political background has vowed at different fora and platforms to fight corruption and rid the country off corrupt practices. In fact, miscalculating political truths and undermining the capacity of Boakai itself may now be a very challenging task for the opposition to sustain in the face of factual realities.
Additionally, Boakai has promised employment, financing for agriculture, better infrastructure, investment in education and health and the security of the nation. Though, all contestants have typically alluded and agreed to the same manifesto.
First, the opposition has come up with very weak campaign positions as it happened in 2005 and 2011. A definite lack of winning strategies absent in previous elections is being gradually played out again in this year’s election cycle. For instance, has the opposition conducted an assessment and come up with a report of the direct, indirect and actual contributions of Boakai to the current administration’s post-civil-war recovery efforts that has failed? The obvious answer is “NO”.
Secondly, from the beginning of her presidency, the Sirleaf-Boakai vowed to make reduction of the national debt, which stood at approximately US$4.9 billion in 2006, a top priority for her administration. At the time, the United States became the first country to grant debt relief to Liberia, waiving the full $391 million owed to it by Liberia in early 2007. In September of that year, the G-8 headed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel provided $324.5 million to paying off 60% of Liberia’s debt to the International Monetary Fund, crediting their decision to the macroeconomic policies pursued by the Sirleaf administration.
Third, in April 2009, Boakai worked with the Sirleaf administration to ensure that the government successfully wrote off an additional $1.2 billion in foreign commercial debt in a deal that saw the government buy back the debt at a 97% discounted rate through financing provided by the International Development Association, Germany, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom. The discounted rate was the largest ever for a developing country.
The country was deemed eligible to participate in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative in 2008. In June 2010, the country reached the completion point of the HIPC initiative, qualifying it for relief from its entire external debt. That same month, the World Bank and IMF agreed to fund $1.5 billion in writing off the Liberia’s multilateral debt. On September 16, the Paris Club agreed to cancel $1.26 billion, with independent bilateral creditors canceling an additional $107 million, essentially writing off Liberia’s remaining external debt. Sirleaf vowed to prevent unsustainable borrowing in the future by restricting annual borrowing to 3% of GDP and limiting expenditure of all borrowed funds to one-off infrastructure projects.
Sustaining the national political and economic recovery and putting Liberia on the global map as well as back on the path to consolidating unity peace, reconciliation and enhancing growth and development are not easy tasks. Sirleaf and Boakai subsequently assumed the twelve years post-civil war leadership of a shattered, despair and hopeless nation that was desperately yearning for almost everything including, peace, good governance, rule of law, basic social needs and better economic condition for citizens.
In 2006, Sirleaf established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with a mandate to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation” by investigating more than 20 years of civil conflict in the country. Boakai was in the middle of all the administrative processes of the commission. A feat President Sirleaf has admitted her administration has not performed well enough. Boakai has already reiterated his commitment to pursue unity and reconciliation if voted to power.
The daunting question now is whether the opposition can politically upstage Boakai and his running mate, the current House speaker, Emmanuel Nuquay in the next elections. To do that, the political opponents may have to look deep elsewhere and work to take away from the duo, their years of contributing to development in Liberia.
Also, the opponents should probably work at the possibilities of taking away Boakai/Nuquay years experiences, political expediency, factor of incumbency and popularity. What is also not hidden is the fact that Boakai has proven he is a man of his own. He has demonstrated he is an independent party man ready to pursue his own political agenda for the country once he takes power. He is most likely to consolidate on the gains collectively achieved under Sirleaf and work to improve the reconciliation efforts, uniting the country even as he strengthens the anti-corruption battles.
Lastly, it must be stated that as Liberia proceed on October 10, 2017, to the polls in what could be the country’s most hotly-contested and unpredictable elections yet, peace, security, unity and stability are paramount to sustain the entire country and successfully transit to the next political stage in the history of the country.
• Olatuyi, a development policy expert and executive director at Policy Consult, wrote from Abuja.
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