Occupation: Candidate For the Presidency of Liberia (Part II)
By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
June 19, 2004
The phone rang three times. I was in the middle of a story, a new book by former Ambassador James Freeman that flows like the St.Paul River, from tales of a remote village in 1950s' Liberia to nightly escapades in Paris and to dehumanizing war displaced camps in Monrovia. I had started to read it the previous night but could not put it down. It went like a novel but it was his life story. He writes about the 60s', 70s, and 80s' 90s' and the new millennium in Liberia, from a very personal perspective. He writes about AB Tolbert, President Tolbert, and Samuel Doe, the Muslims and the Christians in Liberian recent history more than anything anyone has ever done. It is by far the best Liberian book I have ever read, fiction or anything else. So vivid and so honest, with no pedantry of any sort, it shows Liberia in its total nakedness.
The phone rang again and I looked at the small screen. It was my friend who thought he was destined to be president. I hesitated for a second, before the fourth ring and decided to take his call. Caller ID is probably the best invention in communication technology... after the cellular phone, which makes it absolute, because one can call from New York and pretend to be in Alaska.
"Hello," I said...
"Man, hello, how can you do this to me?" my friend said at the other end.
"What are you talking about? Who are you anyway?"
"First, you walked away without saying good bye and then I had to read our conversation on the web! I told you about my deepest secret and you go out there and spread on The Perspective for everybody to read!"
"What are you talking about?" I said, still holding the book. I had just read the part where Earnest Eastman who was in London at the bedside of Tubman had called Steven Tolbert in Washington to tell him that Tubman had died. And Steven Tolbert had remarked that Eastman was just an opportunist. Political soap at its best and I wanted to get back to it...
"I told you about my dream and the ritual sacrifice our people did for me and you put it out there in public! I feel embarrassed and really I did not expect this from you."
"Come, on, how can anyone tell the story was about you? Even my attorney asked me who it was and I said I couldn't divulge the identity. You are safe. How is the Madam?"
"She is fine, getting over this whole thing. When she read it at work, she knew it was about me and she became frantic. She said I am the only presidential candidate who comes from a place so close to Monrovia... So people would know."
"Listen, there are some 35 candidates and if I were you, I wouldn't worry and some of them probably would do something worse than drinking chicken blood. Everybody knows that anyone running for any office in Liberia goes to some type of juju man... I just hope you don't get into some of the rituals killings some people are involved in. You know that, don't you?"
"Why did you have to print that thing about the chicken blood? And Americans would think that we are savages and we do voodoo "
"Well, I thought it was kind of ... bizarre and a good story. Poro society or Cleo the psychic, it is the same thing! Everyone believes in some kind of magic and most politicians are superstitious anyway!"
"Now people will think that all Natives are blood-drinking dreamers who have no clue as to what is real and what is fiction."
"I am sorry. OK? I just thought it was a good
story and ..."
"You can't just write everything friends tell you? How can I be sure now that if I tell you something in the Executive Mansion it won't appear in the Inquirer or the News the next day?"
"Well, we have not reached that far yet. So what's up?" I asked him to stop the litany.
"We have to have some rules for this whole thing if we are to work together... I don't think you can just go out there and write anything I said to you."
While he spoke, I kept wondering what had gotten into my friend. He was talking about the Executive Mansion and our collaboration as if everything was decided; as if he was already elected and as if, because we have known each other I would work to get him elected and would work with him in the Mansion. This was the beginning of a good working relationship.
"So, what do you expect me to do for your campaign?" I asked.
"Well, we could start with an interview in The Perspective and then we could get it into AllAfrica.com. And from there, we could send stories to papers in Monrovia after our fund-raisers. You need to help me with my speeches... "
I interrupted him, remembering something I had just discussed with a lawyer friend on the Internet.
"Are you sure the money you are raising in the US is legal1?"
"What are you talking about? You mean the money people give me?"
"Yes, you know lot of Liberians who can afford to give you money are naturalized Americans..."
"So what's your point?"
"My lawyer friend said that according to our elections laws, it is illegal to use foreign money to campaign in Liberia... Can you hold one second? I have another call coming in..."
I clicked the ‘flash' button and listened to the other caller. It was another Liberian who had just heard a rumor and wanted to check with me. I returned to my presidential aspirant.
"Sorry," I said. "Now about these Liberian-Americans giving you money, how are you going to justify that?"
"Well, how do we know which Liberian is American or not? And in any case, that is less serious than those people who are using government money to run their campaign!"
"Well, that is another issue for people in Monrovia. We don't want to end up with a Liberian president elected by Americans! You could put a disclaimer or advise non-Liberians not to donate to your campaign..."
"Why are you raising this issue with me? Every presidential aspirant is going around raising money in America why should our campaign be different? Do you expect me to raise money in Liberia?"
"Why not? You are running for president in Liberia and if Liberians in Liberia cannot finance your campaign, we have a problem!"
"Who you're going to ask for money in Liberia to finance a campaign? When people see you they expect you to give them money, buy rice and take care of their medical bills... and you don't expect me to go to the Lebanese!"
"I heard George Haddad gave money to Charles Taylor and other candidates at the last elections? Why not? After all he is making money from Liberia and he is more Liberian than Lebanese anyway! You remember Dr. Kassas who went to Lebanon but ended up coming back to die in Liberia because nobody could remember him in his country?" I interjected.
"I will never, ever go Lebanese people for money! One of the first things I would do as president is to free our economy from the Lebanese bandits who destroyed our country and..."
For a few seconds, my mind wandered into the distant past. I remember the days when Samuel Doe used to drive up and block traffic on Randall Street to visit his "pappy" Dr. Kassas. That was the beginning of the total Lebonization of the Liberian economy. With the war in Middle East, many Lebanese flew into Liberia, adding to the thousands who operated stores throughout the country. Now, every Lebanese man has a list of ministers or government officials to contact for any number of reasons...
"Can you make it to our fundraiser this weekend?" My friend brought me back to reality.
"...We are charging $50 per person. Of course, since you'd be reporting on the event, you don't have to pay. And may be you can bring some friends ... there would good music and food and I will make a speech..."
"OK. Email me the address and I will see you there."
"I look forward to seeing you... Bye." He hanged up.
I dialed another phone number.
"Hello, it's me." I said.
"Did you hear? Someone just told me that Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman has passed away..."
"Yes, she died yesterday."
I put my book down, look out at the window. Dr. Sherman
was the only intellectual who stood up to the military gang of Samuel
K. Doe in the early days when everyone else was donning military uniforms
or naively singing the PRC tunes. Had there been a few more Liberians
of her stature with the same moral and political courage, we probably
would have never had the war. But that's another story. Now
the jackals are knocking on the doors of the Executive Mansion and
one of them could get in....
Excerpts from the Elections Law
1CHAPTER 7: ELECTION EXPENSES
No corporate or business organization and labour union may contribute to the funds or election expenses of any political party or any independent candidate, and any contribution made in violation of this provision shall, by the Commission, be declared forfeited.
S 7.2: Remittance of funds from outside Liberia to Political Parties or Independent Candidate: Restriction:
There shall be no remittance of funds or other assets to any political party or organization, or any independent candidate from outside Liberia, unless remitted or sent by Liberian citizens residing abroad. Any funds or other assets received directly or indirectly in contravention of this restriction, shall be turned over or transferred to the Commission within twenty-one (21) days of receipt to be kept in escrow in a designated bank, after thorough investigation has been made, such funds shall be turned over to the political party or organization or independent candidate to whom the money was sent if not in contravention of this restriction.