By Kewellen Dolleh
Let’s face it, Vice President Joseph Boakai’s snail-pace style of walking and talking is annoying as it mimics the pace of Liberia’s infrastructure development under President Ellen Sirleaf. And more worrying is the fact that the Liberian people are impatient and dissatisfied with the Sirleaf-Boakai administration. You name it: poor infrastructure, a broken educational system, a blatant lack of healthcare delivery system, massive unemployment are among many reasons why most Liberians will find it difficult to vote for Vice President Joseph Boakai--come 2017. As it stands, it’s a tough deal for any incumbent, isn’t?
As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's tenure draws to an end and with the country lagging behind in everything basic for the people, it will be fair for Ellen Sirleaf to pack her satoga and leave with all her officials. But, to add salt to injury, Vice President Boakai of all Ellenites wants to continue the same mediocre governance. Will the Liberian people buy into it? Will the apparently fragmented Unity Party clique stick together behind the vice president?
Joseph Boakai is set to be the standard bearer of Sirleaf’s Unity Party. Compared to the other 22 plus people who are running in 2017, Boakai may be said to have lots of advantages. He can galvanize a strong support base among the ruling elites for an obvious reason—many of those people have already been entrenched in the system and don’t want a change. He can also bank on the support of a network of traditional leaders in the counties strategically to lull in rural voters. Many of these rural folks are concerned about peace and stability. Boakai is also the longest serving government official among all the potential candidates. He worked in the agriculture sector as LPMC station manager in Lofa County amidst the financial boom of the early 1970s under President William R. Tolbert. He was a key strategist behind President Tolbert’s Farm-to-Market Road and Mat-to-Mattress projects. Boakai is arguably the most educated among the few native Liberians running for the presidency. The fact that he did not play any key role in the ethnic cleansing that characterized the 14-year long war could be an advantage—making him attractive as someone who can draw the support of the native majority.
Nevertheless, some people are angry with Joseph Boakai, presumably because of his passive and uncritical approach to issues of grave national concerns. While this could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on what one makes of it, it is part of the baggage that the vice president Boakai carries to his campaign. Apart from this, the vice president is yet to put a finger on the support of his boss, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-- although she ostensibly demonstrated her rather tacit support during the last convention of the Unity Party in Gbarnga. The other hurdle is the Congau-Native divide, a debilitating factor which may take so much from him as he comes close to becoming the president of Liberia.
By the way, should anyone make buzz about the Congau-Country people power play at this time of our democracy? Well, in reality it makes a lot of sense; and make no mistake about it, the Liberian society is still polarized along Congau-Country lines. The divide is already playing itself out as the 2017 general elections draw near. A sources close to key Ellen officials has disclosed that the Congau or Americo-Liberians are not happy with Boakai, native Liberian who may succeed their ally Ellen Sirleaf.
According the sources, key Congau politicians have made their opposition to a “native becoming president emphatically clear, and they are doing everything possible to thwart Boakai’s ascendency to the presidency.” For example, Benoni Urey, a key Congau presidential candidate, has openly shown his distaste of any power transfer to Boakai.
“I will use every resource at my disposal”, he asserted in a press conference early this year, “to stop any power transfer to Boakai.”
The source, who also claimed to have been present in a secret meeting of an elite group of Americo-Liberians in Monrovia, further disclosed that the elites were furious with President Ellen about the possible turnover of government to a Native Liberian Joseph Boakai is a Kissi from Lofa County.
“They summoned the Oldma and asked her”, the source said, “are you going to be the one to turn the country over to these country boys?”
According to the source, President Ellen Sirleaf made it equivocally clear at the meeting that she was only supporting her vice president on the surface but that her real support is rather with Charles Brumskine, an avowed Congau hawk who is aligned with the so-called Americo-Liberian clique and interest. Brumskine is said to have promised not to prosecute the President for corruption.
Another source close to a top Ellen aid also hinted: “President Ellen in recognition and in a show of loyalty to the Liberty Party standard bearer bought 73 brand new Toyota pickups and 500 motor bikes for the 73 districts within Liberia for Brumskine’s Liberty Party to, demonstrating how serious she is.” In return, Ellen will stand clear of corruption charges during a possible Brumskine administration. He said Brumskine has promised under oath to cover up the outgoing President Sirleaf.
Asked why Ellen prefers Brumskine over Boakai, the source said the main reason is that the Congau and/Americo-Liberians do not want a ‘country man” in power.
“He’s not one of us and his name sounds odd and troubling to most Americo-Liberian/Congau elites--unlike Charles Brunskine. The second reason, Boakai’s alliance with top native Liberian kingmakers like Senator Prince Johnson of vote-rich Nimba County who is making efforts to re-awaken traditional leaders. The maverick senator is rallying concerted native effort towards electing another native Liberian to the presidency.
And that is a troubling signal for the Congau people, says the source. He further said:
”These people believe in a divide-and-rule policy instituted by their forefathers to suppress native Liberians. If the tribal people are united it is a different story but the Congau don’t want that”. Boakai might win if he has other support connections, but the sources were not aware. “As things stand”, source within the Boakai campaign bluntly said, “the papay na get shit in his pocket to run anything”.
Tight-lip informant also said Ellen Sirleaf with the stolen millions of dollars at her disposal is refusing to lend any helping hands toward Joseph Boakai “because of the disrespect for the old man”: Even if Boakai crosses over the financial obstacles, she has other strategic hurdle in place. The Elections Commission has been placed in the hands of a team of fraudsters who will frequently thwart a Boakai win should the vice president passes the financial test. “The election will just be a waste or bluff and that Brumskine has already been handpicked to succeed Ellen as next President”, our sources hinted.
According to our sources, another possibility is to buy out the two potential kingmakers. Senator George Weah and Prince Johnson one of whom could decide the fate of the next election--if it were free and fair. But the two lawmakers, though, are native Liberian have different personalities. On the one hand, there is “Senator Prince Johnson, a principal minded man who wouldn’t fall for the crap of Ellen while on the other hand Ambassador George Weah is money hungry individual that can be bought by the highest bidder at any time.
A close confidant of George Weah says that there have been several talks with George Weah about mergers and that Weah has already sold the CDC to Ellen and Brumskine for an undisclosed amount which say is in the million. So, even if he was running as CDC's standard bearer it will be a big bluff and showmanship.
This time around, though, they are not paying him in full because he could eat the money and flip-flop anytime. And, he is not eating all the money by himself.
“There is a lot of big mouth CDC people that will not allow him to take all the money and just fool the kids around like he did in the past two elections”, a source said, “Weah, has already realized that he is not going to keep all the money as usual.” A source also disclosed: “The first two millions and Weah's confidant was dished out to all the CDC top hierarchy” adding: “Everybody got their fair share so nobody can say George Weah eat the money.”
As huge amount are changing hands, Boakai is left in the cold and confused about what he can do now to survive. He needs to do something but he doesn't have years but months to change course. His fear is that he doesn't want to upset his relationship with Ellen thinking that she is going to reconsider her decision in time but people who know Ellen say said: “That Lady is vindictive. She don't forgive but Boakai has been playing a subservient role all along. It will be shocking to see him in an attacking mode.”
Now, for Boakai to succeed he will have to stand and fight even if means stirring things up for his base. He also needs to prove to his supporters that he's a fighter after playing a subservient and celebratory role in this administration. He has been so subservient that Liberians have dubbed him a sleeping vice president.
Another option is to pick a fight with Ellen and play the ethnic or Country vs. Congau card, to gain the support of the majority by building alliance with Prince Johnson and key native Liberian politicians against the congau boys. Some observers believe that even if Boakai refuses to play the ethnic card, the Congau guys will play it anyway to divide Liberians to their advantage like they did with the George Weah purported statement: “that he will wipe the tears of the Grand Gedeh people” to upset voters in Nimba County.
If winning the Presidency is Boakai’s goal, then the only shot for him Boakai is to fight head on; but if winning is not his worry, then he must maintain his current passive status and be at the mercy of Ellen.