By Barclay Nennen
The disruptive (meaning that he did not emerge from the political class or culture) Weah Presidency is about midway through its six-year term. A midterm election has proffered the biggest of jolts and sent thinkers pondering over just what may have happened, how and why it happened so soon. More will be known when the final data from NEC is available to allow for exhaustive, segmented analysis. In the meanwhile, NEC’s reports are progressive and until then let us take a stab at what we have all just been through, with the CPP outperforming the ruling CDC by miles, a rarity in our body politics to happen to a first term party.
A combination of CPP and independent candidates are now poised to occupy most of the new seats in the Liberian Senate. To date, available data is projecting that the Coalition for Democratic Change, will win three seats, two of them retained or won by crossovers, Augustine Chea of Sinoe County and Zoe Pennue of Grand Gedeh; and the third in Maryland by a long time NPP stalwart and Maryland County power player. Grand Kru is still in dispute, but it was earlier projected to be won by Independent Nimene Batekwa. The contestation is not from the apparently defeated CDC Dr. Peter Coleman but from a shadow sympathizer of one of the influential members of the House of Representatives from the county. That means, not a single chest-beating “original” Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) fielded candidate won a seat in the just ended by-elections. But for the coalition, (which they are not altogether happy about) CDC would have won zilch, which would be even more demoralizing if not traumatizing. This is instructive to all players.
Following twelve years of unchecked and uninterrupted misinformation and distortion about the Unity Party Government achievements and continuous riots and protests from 2006-2017, the Congress for Democratic Change, which later became the Coalition for Democratic Change, managed to convince the majority of voters to risk everything on a soccer celebrity, clearly lacking in everything presidential – a man who during the campaign could hardly articulate his own vision for the country beyond offering “hope for change” on the one hand and some days “change for Hope” or “Hope is a Lie” For years he and his charges did not only provoke the Sirleaf government but disparage the enormous gains made by the Unity Party government and positioned the populace to expect more should they trust them with state power. The people gambled.
Ultimately, the citizens, including those who were doing relatively well under the UP regime, obliged and agreed they were indeed powerless under the UP government and needed a saviour. They put their energy in all things CDC to prevent the Unity Party, the CDC-created bogeyman, from retaining state power. The CDC prevailed, because in addition to the unchecked misinformation, third-term fatigue, a rift had emerged in the Unity Party and some stalwarts crossed over to the opposition CDC. The Coalition for Democratic Change pounced and rode anti-regime sentiments and infighting all the way to the Executive Mansion, howbeit, with a huge baggage of expectation.
However, it would literally be only hours long for the sloppiness and years of CDC seething to be laid bare. The true intent of the CDC to dismantle established institution and systems would manifest itself few hours after the inauguration when on the evening of the very day, President Weah announced the dismissal of all UP appointed officials across government and appointed Human Resource Managers, who were not executives at the various entities, to take charge until otherwise ordered. The move deprived the CDC of a proper turnover. The stage was set to wreak unimaginable destruction of the public service never seen. In some cases, Weah appointed deputies were left acting and exercising unchecked managing director powers for months as he struggled to appoint agency heads; members of the board of directors were replaced with some grossly incompetent cronies of the president and his closed lieutenants.
The decay and institutional death of the public service was well underway as incompetent and inexperienced ministers and heads of agencies became indiscriminate and fearless in the public discharge of ineptitude with unchecked alacrity. No sooner public service was just a placement centre and the disproportionate salary harmonization was “invented” and intended to accommodate mostly unskilled partisans who are not were schooled, totally unfit for public service positions. This has caused many at public ministries and agencies to have employment without jobs. These folks only show up around payday to find out if the salary is being disbursed for payment into their accounts. The few who are left to work are left constantly demoralized. Silent discontent has been brewing as productivity suffered. Professionals have been ostracized simply because, as one Weah top minister and confidant put it “we will not be foolish like the UP government to give jobs to the opposition to empower them to take us from power …. We will keep them jobless and powerless to challenge us”.
Clearly, the stage was set for the party decline as a panoply of events simply overwhelmed the ruling CDC cult — the party lost track of the low hanging fruits (quick impact projects) — one misstep followed another and public policy failures mounted. Grandiose promises were never kept, and imprudent undertakings died just as they were announced. The citizenry was growing anxious by the day, but the CDC chiefs fed on the battle cry energy from the small band of zealots, aka, “militant”, under the sycamore tree and became deaf, truly believing the “masses” would not get tired of their sufferings.
We are reminded about the following: the promise of the coastal highway has remained in the inaugural speech three years on; Liberians will not be spectators in their own economy – Lebanese friends of the president control majority of government contracts/projects; the LS16 Billion debacle; there is the ill-advised failed ETON and EBOMA loan deals that were pursued against public advice from the opposition camp; there is the unexplained issue of the US$25 Million mop-up exercise that remain unclear; there is the issue of the LD$ 4,000,000,000 that was authorized to be printed and allegedly printed but never put in circulation (only T5 had new L$500 banknote throughout the campaign and not even the banks did. The issue of the US$25,000,000 COVID-Relief fund and the whole wahala with WFP implementation remain contentious. You can hardly get a few hundred people in the city to tell you they received any relief. Forget the other 14 counties.
To compound the already prevailing harsh economic situation in the country is the creeping sense of general insecurity: the mysterious unresolved and unexplained deaths of four auditors shocked the city – Allison from Central Bank, Albert Peters and Gifty Lamah from LRA and anther LRA employee whose head was sliced as well as Emmanuel Barthan Nyeswa from the IAA. These were followed by the death of a police commander in Grand Gedeh who the government said shot himself – a claim that has since been disputed. And the government’s response to all this was that all the citizens should purchase Close Circuit Television (CCTV) for their own security. Nothing could be more insensitive and unintelligent amid what should be a series of national tragedies requiring plain leadership.
CDC considered the young voters as their franchise, equated love for George Weah the football legend “world best” as a permanent state even in the face of prevailing suffering and insecurity in the country. The party then proceeded to ask the voters to take campaign bribe, feed off expensive billboards with the face of the President behind every candidate and pretend to be filled when they were hungry, pretend to be happy when they were sad, pretend to be sharing in the spoils of the party governance when it was only but a few living in opulence while civil servant salaries were inequitably harmonized – the voters simply said NO. Alex Cummings and the other leaders in the collaborating parties asked the Liberian People to simply shout with their votes. The masses responded to the CPP request.
Most interestingly, the CDC government, besides its glaring failures and palpable incompetence, it served as a catalyst for the formation of the coalition and cohesion of the CPP (Collaborating Political Parties) which appears to have come to stay and grow from strength to strength. CDC government antagonized and ostracized everyone, not CDC, simultaneously, particularly folks from its nemesis Unity Party and considered them “haters’. Every criticism of public policy action was dubbed hate, thus leaving no room for the exchange of ideas or a place for critical views. The party has been intransigent in its ignorance and incompetence. The majority had no alternative since they had all been similarly labelled and banished and harassed, they had common issues and therefore a common opponent, hence, the collaboration to unseat the scourge that is CDC from power, restore sanity and merit to governance and deliver equity.
This is the long and the short as they say in Liberia or the backdrop against which the political party leaders were seized of the fierce urgency to fashion the appropriate vehicle to rescue the country from a marauding band of misfits pretending at statecraft with disastrous consequences. The CPP was formed. ALP- Urey would chair the CPP, but the baton was turned over to ANC head Alexander Cummings at a critical time on the heels of the all-important senatorial by-elections, to steer the Coalition of Political Parties (CPP) to the much-desired victories and place a marker about the true intent of the CPP concerning the up-coming All IMPORTANT 2023 elections – to rescue and elevate Liberia to greatness. This is for lack of a better way to not appear to steal or quote Donald Trump -Make Liberia Great Again. The mandate was clear – the intent unmistakable – the focus, layered — so all that was left was the organizational and the leadership skills to deliver. Alex Cummings had all the tools and the grease to steer this ship clear off troubled waters for the Liberian people to quietly enjoy and savor their moments across the country in various ways.
A nifty Cummings, (now a household name) aided by Boakai, Urey (the political leader of Liberty Party Nyonblee Karnga was bogged down in Bassa and determined to keep the winning garment on) and a host of CPP executives, who would soon move beyond making policy speeches – both critical and advisory to an inept and bigoted government that is clearly irrationally exuberant about its performance…. ala George Weah with his “I have achieved more in 3 years than any other president” in the history of this nation”. We certainly have many history books to read to get to this one.
Cummings and his team with an eye on 2023 would focus on the big reachable electoral prizes – Montserrado, Nimba, Bong, Bassa, Lofa Margibi and the western counties of Cape Mount, Gbarpolu and Bomi. This is not to say the other southeastern counties of Maryland (Cummings home), Rivergee, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe and Grand Kru were less important. But the shrewd financial experts and corporate genius would soon bring to bear a full power of his experience to allocate scarce resources to winnable races, with the view of battling pure CDC candidates all over the electoral field, even if it meant such would allow an independent candidate to win. Some did.
Cummings and company also understand alliance building and feel the CPP is less threatened by independents than by CDCians in the upper house. The Cummings CPP game plan would work to near perfection as the coalition won the big prize of Montserrado (a county the CDC had boasted and even falsely claimed as their stronghold and therefore was about winning at all cost); and vote-rich counties of Grand Bassa, Bong and Lofa and the western Cape Mount counties. The CPP also won in Rivergee county. If the CPP can similarly run the table with these counties in 2023 presidential elections, victory will be assured, and the presidency wrestled from the CDC.
Sources confide that Alex Cummings muted that he and his team are most pleased with the victories in Montserrado (the so-called CDC base) and Grand Kru (the president’s home county) … two counties President Weah wanted to win desperately. His CPP strategy worked in knocking the president off his perch. This reminds me of Al Gore in the 2000 United States elections. He could have won his home state of Tennessee and won the elections, but he lost his home state and went to battle for Florida where Jeb Bush (brother to George bush) was a sitting governor. I hear after losing both Montserrado (his so-called stronghold) and Grand Kru (his home), President Weah is reportedly fighting tooth and nail to win in Nimba through Prince Johnson supported MDC Jeremiah Koon. The irony cannot be lost on anyone. That may require him dropping yet another single on the Liberian billboard after the latest “Mr. Liar Man”. Funny.
Notwithstanding these wins, the CPP faced some challenges in other counties. It is in a tight race for vote-rich Nimba County as counting continues. The mission in Nimba was hampered by a combination of issues – lack of funding, competing candidates (Taa Wongbe, Adolphus Dolo and others) that siphoned votes from CPP’s Edith Gongloe in the Mano belt; and the Prince Johnson factor that still looms large over Nimba, particularly in the Gio belt. Jeremiah Koon is also a strong candidate with his own solid standing in Nimba. I am told a visible frequent presence of CPP stalwarts campaigning alongside Edith in the county would have changed the dynamics, but that is Monday morning quarterbacking. Something to study. The CPP suffered defeat in Maryland county going against a long time NPP power player in the county, but it was able to win the Grebo-dominated Rivergee county. The coalition also lost in Grand Gedeh to the darling of the county, Zoe Pennue. The Sinoe County loss remained unexplained.
What does the CPP triumph mean for CPP looking ahead of 2023? Simple. The COALITION, collaboration, merger, marriage any kind of coming together IS A MUST. The CPP MUST HOLD. The CPP held together and won bigly. The CDC disregarded its coalition and lost equally bigly. The importance could not be starker. Cummings and company have their work cut out for them.
There is a history to this. The CDC and all opposition parties contested against the ruling Unity Party in 2005 and 2011 and lost on both occasions. The power of incumbency. The CDC formed a coalition with the NPP and LPDP and a few other parties in 2017 and contested against a divided Unity Party and won. Fast forward to 2020, the Congress for Democratic Change disregarded the Coalition for Democratic Change, rule as a single-party government upon assuming power, went to the 2020 elections as the Congress for Democratic Change, and lost big time. CDC could hardly find candidates wanting to contest under the party banner. Historically, the CDC is a 30 to 35 % party, meaning it has not, cannot and will not win an election standing alone. The same could be said about other parties as well. I guess it is a hard time for CDC to stop overestimating its popularity and support and govern for everyone. They can either double down on the failed isolationist tendencies or accept their failures and broaden the governing coalition. I cannot guess which way they will thread even if I wanted to try
The same can be said about the parties in the Coalition of Political Parties: UP, lost standing alone – ALP, LP, ANC – all lost when going it alone. Therefore, the need for the coalition cannot be overemphasized. Cummings and his team will now have to do a post-mortem of the just-ended elections and learn the hard lessons, lest they be misled that the vote for Dillon and other CPP candidates were just a vote for CPP candidates. Granted, some were, but most voters in these elections voted against the CDC, not necessarily for the CPP given their preference for the return of sanity to public service and years of progress. It is important to understand this and keep that winning block together as the CPP fashions the way forward.
Advisedly, any attempt to see a weakened and demoralized CDC as a reason for any member party to feel emboldened enough to break the coalition and go it alone will be an exercise in failure and a waste of all the efforts already exerted. It is half time. Both the CPP and the CDC have lessons to learn and opportunities to recalibrate. The one that does it quickly and better will likely prevail come 2023. Cummings tasted defeat … stayed around and is learning the terrain. He appears poised and better situated to lead going forward. The pressure from ALP Urey on the government must continue and as a matter of course, Joseph Boakia, the erudite statesman, must become more engaged and remain vibrant. Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence must remain vocal in the Senate, maybe even contest for the leadership; and Darius Dillon must now shine a brighter light since he is now a full-term senator and not the “vacation job” senator CDC had hoped and failed to make him. Nyonblee, Darius, Prince, Samuka, and other CPP candidates must move with immediate haste to form a powerful block in the Senate in collaboration with independents like Snowe, Nuquay and others. Such collaboration must seize leadership of the upper house and control the agenda for the benefit of the Liberian people. All must continue to demonstrate leadership and consistency to keep the coalition in the limelight and relevant. They must dominate the political and policy space and occupy every communication channel that reaches our people.
Pointedly, among the many things to guide against are the aura of inevitability, overconfidence, complacency, misreading the results, failure to maintain and expand the coalition, arrogance, and failure to read the tea leaves and listen, among other things. There should be no scheming too. Simply put, this is not a time for the CPP to rest on its laurels or feel invincible because of midterm elections victories. The CPP is simply not unbeatable, at least not yet. It is time for the actual work to begin to organize across the country sooner and better; to recruit good candidates that can win elections and to get everyone buy-ins and focused on the goal.
The CPP won a political battle in these elections and not a political war. The war, if I may, is in 2023. The greatness of any nation lies in its ability to repair its faults. The Liberian people have demonstrated that they are quite capable of doing the repairs by using the ballot box and repudiating the incompetence of the CDC government. As the great Civil Rights icon John Lewis put it, “democracy is not a state, it is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build it. The burden has fallen on us all, particularly on Cummings and the CPP. We must never take anything for granted or expect anything to be inevitable, especially in the face of an obstinate inept government. Success takes tireless efforts and determination. That is what is required to make this democratic experiment rooted and gains solidified.
Elections 2020 was about “it’s the people stupid”. Elections 2023 is a fortnight away – it is now Cumming’s and the coalition to lose if they so choose. But they have a clear chance because if anything, the CDC inflated confidence is shaken, and the aura of inevitability has dissipated. May our democracy continue to grow from strength to strength.
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