From Lindsay Barrett: Just back from Monrovia

Liberia’s Presidential polls that will commence on Tuesday this week will very likely be among the most important of such exercises to take place anywhere in West Africa in recent times.

As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s constitutional tenure of two six-year terms draws to a close the region is watching the outcome with bated breath as it will test the resilience of the peace and stability that the regional community made enormous sacrifices to install during and after the long and brutal civil war that raged in Africa’s oldest republic from the early 1990’s until 2003.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Vice President Boakai

The revision and reform of the fundamental nature of the national polity that resulted out of the crisis and its resolution has created a new leadership paradigm in the nation. This has made it imperative that leaders throughout Africa take cognizance of the true values of the participants.

While the glamorous image of Liberia’s one-time world class footballer George Opong Weah has given his entry into the race the cachet of popular appeal his reputed erratic attitude towards political opponents and lack of administrative experience has been publicly exposed in the process of the campaign. As a result many Liberians have voiced fears over the possibility that Liberia will be plunged once more into turmoil if undisciplined leadership is allowed to regain ascendancy.

Opong Weah’s choice of the ex-wife of former rebel leader Charles Taylor as his running mate has caused many observers to question his real objective in seeking the Presidency. These are among the reasons why in recent weeks the rise of popularity and vocal sympathy for Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai has been the most exciting and visible trend in public opinion throughout the nation.

Many people have expressed deep sympathy for Vice President Boakai’s apparent devotion and loyalty to Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf and have pledged to support him even though there have been widespread allegations that she has not thrown her full weight behind him.

In a peculiar and uniquely Liberian development many commentators in the media there have rubbished Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s vocal pledge of support for her number  two man by claiming that they have evidence to prove that she is really supporting either Opong Weah or  the popular lawyer Charles Brumskine, It is however clear that their assumptions are based on speculation rather than on hard facts, and Joseph Boakai’s aspirations have gained major endorsements from the  legislative institutions of the state.

One of the most prominent female politicians in the country Senator Geraldine Doe who represents Montserrado County (where the capital Monrovia is located) has thrown her full support behind the Vice President, She was considered to be an important factor in the  growth of George Opong Weah’s  challenge in the past but this time around she has decided that Boakai’s experience and level-headedness is definitely more important for the maintenance of order than the glamorous but erratic style of the ex-soccer superstar.

She has also stated that while President Johnson Sirleaf’s support is a useful endorsement it is neither an imperative or absolutely necessary in the crafting of victory for the Vice President. Instead she exhorts her supporters to think first of the need for stable and experienced governance to be the outcome of the elections. In that case she says, Boakai will be the best choice for Liberia’s future.

The sentiment that maintains that Vice President Boakai will provide a safe pair of hands for the first democratic transfer of power to take place in Liberia since 1943 gained credibility when his supporters staged what has been described as the most exciting public rally seen in Liberia for several years.

This rally took place in Monrovia in mid-September and revealed a level of public support for the Vice President that took most of the other contenders in the race by surprise. Several of those who spoke at this giant meeting exhorted the electorate to remember the consequences of making wrong choices in leadership that past experience had exhibited.

They reminded the crowd that for twelve years the Vice President had been a loyal and supportive lieutenant to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and asserted that this showed that he was dedicated to peace and national unity.

The response to these exhortations raised the level of public support for Boakai to unprecedented heights convincing many analysts that even if the polls should go into a second round run-off the Vice President will be the man to beat.


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