An Introspective Look at the Liberian National Election (2017)

By Theodore Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 9, 2017


VP Joseph N. Boakai

As a new national election season gets underway in Liberia, all parties, citizens and stakeholders must realize that a lot is on the line; perhaps it is fair to say everything is on the line. The upcoming election and the administration chosen following the EJS era will probably be the most important to glue together the nation’s tapestry, especially its fragile peace that hangs in the balance. That is the optimistic perspective. However, on the other hand, if we blow this chance and choose recklessly, there is a potential to plunge our nation back onto the edge of the abysmal pit of self-destruction. George Santayana, a Spanish-American philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist left the grim reminder on the wall: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Our responsibility now is to pay heed and remind ourselves about what’s at stake; what lurks in our most recent past is dark and ominous.

It has been observed that there is yet to emerge an overwhelming favorite or front-runner in the up-coming race. Perhaps it is a good thing since this could denote an opportunity to choose freely instead of a pre-determined individual thrust and super-imposed upon the electorate, the people.

It is also notably true that there are quite a number of qualified candidates in the upcoming race. Each brings to the table his or her own brand of qualifications, or track record.

The first purpose of this piece is to warn my fellow countrymen that we do ourselves harm if we jump to preconceived conclusions about these candidates. The best way forward is to approach each candidate with an open-mind and be willing to take each candidate seriously, even if we already have a preferred candidate or party. We do ourselves a disservice by applying a parochial or myopic approach to this very important pending event. It is foolhardy to prematurely choose a candidate and refuse to listen to the rest because of a narrow set of criteria. After all, we are not about to choose a paramount chief or other provincial leader; we are about to choose a national head of state. Therefore, our instincts to act must not be limited to tribal, regional or provincial sensibilities. I’m not asking you to ignore such preferences altogether. I’m simply appealing to you not to limit or lock your choices without considering others. Rule of thumb: Demand your preferred candidate to prove that he is worthy of earning your vote and trust. Let him demonstrate that he’s better than the other candidates and that he’s willing to treat you like the viable contributor and stakeholder you are, instead of taking your support for granted.

Secondly, I’ll like to debunk a popular, yet erroneous, assertion that a vice president in an outgoing administration should not be given the opportunity to ascend to the helm of leadership. There are those who noisily assert a VP should be thrown out with the outgoing administration, because he has squandered his chances. That is not always true. The wisdom of our folks debunk this viewpoint through an idiomatic expression: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

What we have to take under consideration is the nature of the presidency in Liberia. Although we claim to be a Republic with three co-equal branches with checks and balances, in reality, the presidency is imperial in practice. The president is the face of the government who takes all leadership initiatives solely. He or she is thereby credited for successful policies; consequently, the president must logically be held solely responsible for the administration’s failures or shortcomings. It is completely illogical to hold the VP liable for the failures while denying him credit for the successes. This is a theoretical example of double standard! If the VP has been treated as a “figurehead” and allowed to function in ceremonial capacities, not as a constitutional co-partner in leadership, then why judge his perceived failures or successes by the barometer of the outgoing administration?

I think it is logical to argue that just because the VP has not openly demonstrated strong leadership initiatives during the term does not mean he is lacking; it simply means he was not given the chance to equally shine alongside the president.

Let history be our guide as we recall the presidency of William V.S. Tubman, whose stay in office was perhaps the most memorable in the modern history of Liberia. After serving as VP to Tubman for nineteen consecutive years, William Richard Tolbert ascended to the presidency at the death of Tubman.

Now, what was remarkable about the Tolbert vice-presidency? Nothing. Absolutely nothing! For almost two decades, Tolbert served in the role of the traditional figurehead assigned to such mundane duties as ribbon-cutting ceremonies and attending funerals. Was he ever known as a firebrand or a leader of any particularly great qualities? Did he demonstrate any degree of charisma or radicalism? No, he was simply Tubman’s VP who took no interest in rocking the boat, or making waves. He never ever gave the impression of having an opinion that officially differed with the president’s; he was the consummate team player.

As we look back retrospectively, are any of us willing to deny that Tolbert was indeed a leader in his own right? When the appropriate time came, didn’t he firmly seize the wheel of the helm and steer us boldly and bravely in his own style? Can anyone, friend or foe, deny that he charted a new course for the nation? History again, being our guide, will attest that he anxiously scrapped and departed from policies his predecessor had championed, while he set in motion a number of new policies. The man who had been seen as a mere figurehead became a bold and charismatic leader when the appropriate time came.

This brings me to my third, final and most important point: I do support the candidacy of Hon. Joseph Nyuma Boakai without any reservation, though I remain open-minded, as I have advised. I must not hesitate to make one thing perfectly clear, and that is that this statement is not written in blood. Could there be something that could persuade me to change my mind in the future? Certainly. But knowing what I do know about the VP’s public life and performances over the years, and most recently from his authorized biography, I am comfortable to thrown him my support, for whatever it’s worth. I believe he is a man of honor and integrity; a man of humble beginnings and a fellow patriot.

Again I must stress that I have never met VP Boakai, neither have I ever been contacted or persuaded by any member of his campaign staff, or other partisans, to issue this endorsement. I do so freely, with no strings attached.

In addition, I must add here for the sake of record, of all the other candidates in the race --- or gearing up for the race --- the only two candidates I’ve met are Senator Charles Brumskine and Dr. J. Mills Jones. I met Senator Brumskine on two brief occasions; I do think he is a fine man in his own right and I do wish him well. Dr. Mills Jones, is a fellow graduate of Bishop Ferguson High School in Cape Palmas and I have met him in passing at Maryland County Association functions and alumnae meetings here in the United States; I do wish him well also.

I have never met Messrs Cummings and Urey; neither have I ever met the legendary football star turned senator, Hon. George Weah, though I admire the latter greatly. Over the years, and recently, I have been approached by their supporters in one fashion or another, but I have never been convinced to join forces with them. There may be many others whose names I do not divulge here because I do not know their statuses. Be it as it may, I want to state here with clarity and emphasis, that I do support the gallant efforts of these great men (and women in the wings) who are standing up to be counted. May they be rewarded for answering the clarion call for national leadership.

Writer’s Note: I have read with great pleasure the authorized biography of the Vice President, titled “From Foya to the Capitol: His Excellency Joseph Nyuma Boakai Sr., Vice President of the Republic of Liberia”, written by Dr. Sakui Malakpa, and available at  It is an impressive read, aptly and succinctly narrating the life story of a humble son of the soil, a public servant and a dedicated family man. Please check here soon for a full review of the book.

For comments or questions, please contact the writer of this areticle at

Sylvester moses
First of all, we thank the brilliant essayist and writer, Mr. Theodore Hodge, for another eloquent, resonant, and measured take on the pending 2017 presidential race. Indeed, when Theodore writes on any subject, no one expects anything less than a well - written, accessible, logical, and persuasive exposition.

If most of the leaders of this unsafe and confused world had half his communication skills, they would have understood each other better (and empathized), and the world a safer place for it. Unsurprisingly, one only need to read his brief appraisals of our would - be presidents, especially Vice President Bockai, to appreciate the sincerity of the man.

Not to mention that it is a rare quality in our boot - licking society where flattery is mistaken for affection or loyalty.

For us we have only administration for his gifts as a writer, and pray that others recognize them too. And with no intention to brag, we are intimately familiar with the works of writers as ancient as Homer, and modern like Woody Allen: unequivocally, Theodore Hodge is a rising star in the craft.

Thank you again, brother.
Sylvester moses at 09:15AM, 2017/01/09.
Sylvester moses
Typo - an atrostophe 's' should have followed the name of our vice president in the second paragraph to indicate a possessive case. Well... one can't help making that correction since the comment is also about the writing skills of Mr. Hodge.
Sylvester moses at 11:08AM, 2017/01/09.
Theodore T. Hodge

Thank you, Mr. Moses. Flattered to be mentioned alongside such notables. If you keep flattering me like this, I'll have no option but to keep tinkering at the noble craft.
Theodore T. Hodge at 11:14AM, 2017/01/09.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Theodore Hodge, yes, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And this is why the Liberian people have chosen NOT TO REPEAT what happened after Tubman:

Tolbert an emblem of the TWP TYRANNY changing the presidential term from 4 years to 8 years as a strategy to serve his personal interests and the interest of the tyranny,torturing and killing mine workers for carrying out strikes, opening fire on protesters exercsing their democratic rights, making life harder for the poor indigenous, etc. etc.!!Renaming every city and institution after himself and his family!!! Is this what you term "charted a new course for the nation?" The Liberian people do not want a thing like Boakai! PERIOD!!!

My friend, NO THIRD TERM FOR ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF´S CABAL whose legacy is nothing but massive corruption, killing, and investing billions of US DOLLARS OF STATE FUNDS abroad as is now the case with Boakai´s underling Sebastian Muah. According to you the VP is a figurehead, but the Liberian Constitution provides otherwise.

I am sure you will say Robert Sirleaf as senior adviser to his mother was or is a figure head after siphoning billions of dolars from state coffers! I am sure, you will say also that "the supporting cast" ...Sawyer, Tipoteh, Fahnbulleh, Boakai, etc. etc. are figureheads.


Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 03:23PM, 2017/01/09.
Sylvester moses
You better do, Brother Hodge, it's your calling.

When as an English Literature honor's student at FBC in 1974, I dared the works of Soyinka for a dissertation, he wasn't known outside academia, except in Nigeria. And, before that project, along with two Sierra Leonean literary giants, I was interviewed by the Late Lee Nicholls for a VOA Program "Conversations with African Writers" for some still unpublished poems.

The information is volunteered to show that the "noble craft" was once a passion, and I admire those who possess great talents.

In the fourteenth stanza of his best poetic output entitled "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", 19th century English poet Thomas Gray makes an observation which speaks to unknown greatness such as yours in the following:

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfarthom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
And waste it's sweetness on the desert air"

Well, you get the drift, and it would be a tremendous loss if that fate should befall you. We can't let that happen - no way, bro.

Sylvester moses at 04:39PM, 2017/01/09.
Sylvester moses
By the way, on the presidential race, you have already made a strong case for an independent assessment of Joseph Boakai. Don't revisit that issue. For like in the US presidential race, pundits can pontificate till hell freezes over, in the final analysis, the Liberian electorates are the final arbiters of who becomes president.

Whether Boakai, Weah, Urey, Brumskine, Jones, Cummings, or whomsoever, that's left with the vast majority. For heaven's sake, let the majority will prevail.

As observers we can only help the process by vigilantly ensuring that they vote without hindrance, and the ballot boxes aren't later damaged or thrown in some forest, or the ocean. Simply put, free, fair, and ethically - conducted presidential elections are definitely the insurance policies against violence, and chaos.
Sylvester moses at 07:42PM, 2017/01/09.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
And lest we forget, Mr. Hodge; is Tolbert BUILDING AN ARTIFICIAL LAKE for himself and his family while the nation starves what you believe is "charting a new course"? Not to mention his poor calculation in foreign policy which drove reliable economic investments from the country!
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 10:11PM, 2017/01/09.
Theodore T. Hodge
Mr. Zoedjallah, perhaps you misread or misunderstood the point I was making. My point was never to praise Mr. Tolbert's leadership or to defend his varied policies. My intent was to demonstrate that after remaining dormant and complacent for almost two decades, when he finally rose to the occasion, he became quite assertive and forceful, perhaps even charismatic; he became a different kind of leader than the gentleman the nation knew as VP. The transformation was truly amazing and striking.

I also need to remind you that the history we need to remember and not repeat, is the history of senseless bloodshed that almost led to our demise as a nation. Are we willing to go back to those dark and gloomy days just to assert our political rights? Are we willing to "cut off the nose just to spike our face"? I know that is not what you advocate, my dear friend. Good day, Sir.
Theodore T. Hodge at 08:18AM, 2017/01/10.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Mr. Hodge: Hitler, Lenin, Sadam, Quadafi, Amin, Osama, and even our own Charles Taylor, were "quite assertive and forceful, perhaps even charismatic"!!!

When one makes a point, he or she is By all implications, fundamentaly soliciting the acceptance, agreement, and support, of others regarding the idea view or opinion he or she is making! Thus, THE SPIRIT or ACTUAL "INTENT" of "the point" he or she makes, made, or may be making, is that "the point" ( eg.Tolbert as President) serves as a proof vis a vis the matter under scrutiny or at least discussed!

the debate here is whether:

AFTER a VP Joe Boakai THE MOST principal adviser to the President (within a corrupt and very despotic and wicked tyranny) "has remained dormant and complacent" for 12 unbroken years, the very VP would do any better as President.

Accordingly, our comment has nothing to do with you praising or not prasing Tolbert. Rather, our comment has to do with YOUR INTENT which is in totality IS TO PERSUADE, CONVINCE, AND INSPIRE,people that Boakai would be a dynamic president, despite his (Boakai´s) role and status when the very Boakai has proven to be the utter and complete opposite or reversal of dynamism; not to talk about Tolbert´s administration you used as proof inspite of these hereunder:

(1) his (Tolbert´s) poor calculations in foreign policy which drove reliable economic investments from the country,

(2)BUILT AN ARTIFICIAL LAKE for himself and his family while the nation starved!

(3) Changed the presidential term from 4 years to 8 years as a strategy to serve his personal interests and the interest of the tyranny!

(4)As a policy, tortured and killed mine workers for carrying out strikes,and opening fire on protesters exercsing their democratic rights, making life harder for the poor indigenous, etc. etc., and

(5) renamed cities and institutions after himself and his family!!!

So you see Mr. Hodge, I have not misread nor misunderstood the point you were making, but rather debunked your "POINT" and its "INTENT"!!!

As for "your talk" about "the need to remind" us about "the history we need to remember", you turn your argument on its own head, since, giving a third term to the very gang or its foot soldiers, undercover operatives, or allies who or which plunged the nation into a "senseless bloodshed that almost led to our demise as a nation" automatically makes clear THE UNFITNESS OF BOAKAI!

Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 04:25AM, 2017/01/11.
Theodore T. Hodge
Thanks for the excellent points raised; I have no intention to enter into a debate regarding issues unrelated to issues I've raised. Here,my main point is to inform my readers that I do support VP Boakai's candidacy. I am not expected to find a rope to hang him just because you've single-handedly sentenced him to execution even before indicting or convicting him. I am not aware of any criminal charges of which the VP is guilty. Is the principal crime against him here "Guilt by Association"? To arbitrarily convict and disqualify him without any proof or the chance to defend himself against such charges will be a travesty of justice; obviously, some of us find it difficult to act within the established framework of Law and Order. What good is a democracy if we are unwilling to act within established guidelines of law?

Again, the purpose of my article is to state my preference for the candidacy of Hon. Joseph Boakai for the upcoming presidential election. It is a right to which I'm entitled and one I've chosen to express unequivocally. I am under the impression that ours is a democracy, even with its flaws and shortcomings. I do concede the same rights to you and any other citizen. You have equal rights to agree or disagree with my choice. Additionally, in the case that you disagree, as you do now, you have a right to put forward the name of your preferred candidate and endorse him or her accordingly. What you are not entitled to is the right to silence on sanction me.

Please put forward the name of your preferred candidate and tell the public why he or she is your choice; that would be the only debate in which I'll take interest. Now, that's the friendly challenge I hereby propose; the rest is immaterial and irrelevant. Thank you again for your time... and I must admit that I've enjoyed interacting with you over the years; I hold you in very high esteem. Good riddance!
Theodore T. Hodge at 08:38AM, 2017/01/11.

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