Presidential Election in Liberia: Haunted By Ghosts of Past Politics


By Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 28, 2005

The presidential election in Liberia is scheduled for October 11, 2005. There are already as many presidential candidates as there are political parties - and counting! The recent entry into the presidential race by the soccer laureate George Weah, has polarized Liberians in their discussions about the competencies for providing presidential leadership in the post war era. The issues primarily revolve around character, education and experience in attempting to answer the question of what qualifies a person to lead a nation; in other words, whether or not possessing all of the above competencies is at all necessary in order to be able to provide executive political leadership. Those who oppose George Weah’s candidacy, for instance, maintain that Liberia’s problems are more than acute and should not be entrusted to a man with little formal education, and no public service or managerial experience whatsoever to lead a nation let alone to manage a postwar political economy as ours. Of course, empirical evidence affirms an integral relationship between the political process and the public management process. Therefore, anyone who does not have the minimum education and experience necessary to lead our nation should not attempt the race simply because politically speaking, election is a popularity contest. In politics, unlike in soccer, there is a greater degree of reliance on education and experience than on stamina.

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Yet, in my view, the greater issue confronting us in the forthcoming election does not border on education or experience alone, but also on the cardinal issue of trust. The two most important realities that will continue to propel the George Weahs of our world into the mainstream of presidential politics are the crisis of public distrust of politicians and the lack of authentic leadership in Liberia.

Crisis of Public Distrust

Liberia today is a failed state that has become virtually a protectorate of the United Nations. Hence, ordinary Liberians frequently vent their frustrations by pointing fingers at the “book people” who make up our political class, for all of the country’s problems. Truly speaking, the fault of Liberia’s political class is not in their education, but in their character. Therefore, each must be judged according to his track record considering what he has done to, or failed to do for, his country. From time in memorial, Liberia’s political leaders have never felt morally responsible for the common good of their society. They have always behaved as though they are not accountable to the citizenry or to any institution but only to themselves. The one-party system which lasted for nearly a hundred years, established a culture of national disloyalty punctuated by political double dealing and personal self-aggrandizement –“So say one, so say all!”. From the traditional True Whig Party swindlers and their families who stacked millions abroad while feeding on our public treasury, to Samuel Doe’s millionaires and Charles Taylor - the paymaster of the wages of crime - and his inner circle of pirates, this tradition of “politicks” - breaking promises, lying and stealing with impunity - has repeatedly undermined all prospects for real national economic development and social progress throughout our national life. Indeed, as if they had never traveled abroad to see and learn how other leaders care for their peoples and societies, a considerable number of our well-educated political leaders repeatedly conspire with crafty alien businessmen, financial fugitives, academic drifters, and gravy-seeking nonconformists who have no political commitments of any kind, to undermine social and economic growth in our country. Worse still, public enterprises and institutions that are entrusted to highly educated and technically competent individuals always end up cash-stripped because of conscious and intentional mismanagement on the part of these individuals, resulting in run-away unemployment for people who are perpetually in conditions of necessity. When you say one thing but behave or act in the opposite manner, you create a credibility gap and ruin your own character because the people can no longer trust you. In time, they can no longer believe whatever you say no matter how well you mean it; and they eventually stop following you. Our political class has no loyal following today because the people have grown distrustful of them; and so all kinds of people in this world can dream of the presidency and other challenging positions of trust despite their own weaknesses. We Liberians are self-evident that when a society becomes distrustful of its leaders, even fools come to power.

Lack of Authentic Leadership
The civil war did not cause the problem in Liberia. It is the problem in Liberia that caused the civil war. Today, after nearly twenty years of carnage and human suffering, the guns appear to be silent (God bless ECOWAS!) but regrettably, the problem that caused the civil war - the lack of authentic leadership - is still plaguing Liberia. Authentic leadership begins with belief in one’s own self-worth and transcends to the level of social awareness that impels the individual to pursue high ethical standards of trust and openness; and to demonstrate responsible behavior in selecting courses of action through creative thinking while persuading and inspiring others to follow and even to surpass. Throughout our history, the greater number of those who comprise our political class has never demonstrated this sense of self-worth and social awareness in the true context of a “wholesome, functioning society” in Liberia. The True Whig Party was so purposefully determined to perpetuate Americo-Liberian oligarchy that power sharing was never on its agenda; and it therefore never bothered in honest to groom future leaders. Instead, it shrewdly adopted a divide-and-rule process of selective engagement –befriending the tribal chieftains and undermining their influence by pitting one against the other and pitting them against the educated natives.

Regrettably, the greater number of those leaders who made it “through the cracks’ -the likes of Jackson F. Doe, James Gbarbieh, Liberty, Farngalo, Fahnbulleh, et cetera, - are either no longer among the living or “waiting for God”. Indeed, since the days of William Tolbert who, much to the resentment of the ruling Class, tried experimenting on transformational leadership through a policy of inclusion, authentic leadership in Liberia has been in limited supply, to say the least. Yet, for a nation that has been plagued by poverty, ignorance and disease from the first day it was founded, there can be no higher expression of nationalism than providing authentic leadership.

Our leaders also never had a vision for nation building – and the Bible teaches that where there is no vision, the people perish. Hence, the lack of national vision, disloyalty and self-aggrandizement all brewed and stored up social tension which eventually culminated into political instability and war in which nearly a million of our people perished; and the rest of us are still drowning on dry land at home or languishing as refugees and economic hostages around the world. Authentic leadership comes only through responsible individuals who have a vision for and commitment to the collective interest of their society; and who have a track record for providing accountable leadership. Consider the roster of “leading” candidates in the ensuing election. Which one of them, in your clear conscience, do you believe is truly committed to national economic development and social progress in Liberia? Which one of them has the track record that commands the respect, trust and following of ordinary Liberian voters given a level playing field? Truly speaking, Liberia is in dire need of authentic leaders who have the vision to deliver us from this vicious circle injustice.

The road to the Executive Mansion passes through the hearts and minds of those who reside in the abandoned palava huts in our villages and the forsaken zinc shacks in our cities. Instead of seeking to make a magic formula out of “book” or high sounding educational qualifications as a means to attain political power, each member of Liberia’s political class must search his soul to put Liberia first and bring himself to atonement with society by a therapeutic process of apology expressed in attitude, words and deeds. For some, this will mean simply resolving to use their education to be of service to our people rather than preying on their ignorance; for others, the process must involve some measure of indirect payback –mostly of the ill-gotten wealth – through investment of capital for capacity building initiatives and for projects in favor of developing schools, medical centers, water systems and even electricity in their own home towns, villages and communities. In order to earn the trust of those the political class aspires to lead, they must reach out to the people with the kind of responsiveness that will “make the devil shame” so that together, we can all chart a future for the new Liberia.

About the Author: Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae , B.A., M.A., M.P.A., LL.B., is the author of Proposition 12 For Decentralized Governance in Liberia. He is presently a senior staff analyst in the City of Philadelphia Personnel Department. He served as Deputy Minister in the Interim Government of National Unity led by Dr. Amos Sawyer. His e-mail addresses: