For quite some time now, I have observed, with keen interest, the Liberian political system. In my capacity as Director of Civic and Voter Education at the National Elections Commission, I interacted profoundly with various actors across the political spectrum including political parties, electorates, donors/partners, civil society organizations, local and traditional leaders, youth groups, and the media. Also, when I left the Commission in 2015, I unsuccessfully contested the seat of Electoral District #3 in Montserrado County in the House of Representatives during the 2017 Legislative and Presidential Elections. While it is undeniable that our democracy has come of age, the truth is that the political system is replete with weak political organizations, unenlightened and disadvantaged electorates, and corrupt and recycled politicians. The system is convoluted, toxic, and corrupt. It is a sustained and undesirable reality that has become an entrenched culture. Hence, we have a very long way to go in curing this protracted political ailment in order to attain a viable political system. The reason for all of this is simple, the system is dissolutely, dissipatedly, dishonestly, immorally, and wickedly rigged. The irony is that we paid so dearly for this rigged system. Since our independence in 1847, we craved multiparty democracy for more than 133 years at the expense of the lives of many of our compatriots while others faced subjugation, deprivation, and disenfranchisement robbed them of the rights and privileges to their own country.
Notwithstanding, following the violent coup d’état on April 12, 1980, in which President William R. Tolbert, Jr. was gruesomely murdered, the first-ever multiparty election was held on October 15, 1985, following intense pressure from the United States for then junta (the People’s Redemption Council) leader, Samuel K. Doe to return the country to civilian rule in the aftermath of five years of junta rule. Although the process was teleguided by his (Doe’s) junta, however, four Liberians for the first time, Doe himself of the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), Jackson Doe of the Liberia Action Party (LAP), Classroom Teacher William Gabriel Kpolleh of the Liberia Unification (LUP), and Edward B. Kesselly of the Unity Party participated in the October 15th polls. By then, the United States government used to provide direct budgetary support to the government, unlike the current process which goes through development or implementing partners. So, the United States Congress threatened Doe’s PRC government that it would withhold 90 million dollars earmarked for the next fiscal period if the election was not free and fair. That threat was ignored as Doe stole the election and was announced the winner (The New York Times, 1985). That fraudulent election ultimately set the stage for the civil war that devastated the entire country. It violently took down Doe’s government, brutally murdered him as Tolbert was slain, and destroyed more than 250,000 lives over a 14-year period, 1989-2003.
When relative peace was in sight, the struggle for political leadership ensued in the aftermath of the war. The scramble for power witnessed the birth of the deep-seated divide amongst the so-called career politicians whose deception, greed, and bad influence have characterized the corrupt nature of the country’s politics. As a direct consequence, democracy in Liberia has never been about building political institutions/parties or uniting on the basis of a defined ideology or a viable leadership concept to benefit the country, but rather, selfish politicians satisfying their insatiable quests at the expense of the masses. The privileged few continue to rip the country off of its resources, use their ill-gotten wealth to remain the central figures of our body polity, become the identities and financiers of political parties/groupings, keep the masses in an impoverished and underserved state and continue to rule them. In essence, their grip on the political system has culminated in a terrible cultural trend of undermining and preventing the right leaders to lead at the right time. The domination of the political life of Liberia by these crafty and recycled politicians presents a serious challenge to promising and emerging leaders with the potential to transform the system and make leadership about the people. Each time rising and progressive leaders set out to correct the system and make a difference, many of them fall prey to the very corrupt system and sadly, they too eventually become convicts. However, there are still a few upright and resilient individuals with an undiluted focus who are still fighting to undo the corrupt system and inaugurate a viable political culture where there’s free and fair competition of ideas. That’s the true essence of democracy, a space with the tenets of fair play, equality, and justice.
To begin with, the 1997 Election is a classy example of how greed and insatiability have beseeched our political system. From the horrific experience of the civil war, every reasonable person knew that electing rebel leader, Charles Taylor of the defunct National Patriotic Party (NPP) in 1997 would jeopardize the relative-earned peace and reignite the war. So, a semblance of hope was supervened when politicians initiated what was then considered the Alliance of Political Parties. Seven Political Parties including the Liberia Action Party (LAP), Liberia People’s Party (LPP), Liberia Unification Party (LUP), National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), True Whig Party (TWP), Unity Party (UP), and United People’s Party (UPP) initiated the Alliance. To the dismay of the public, the talks broke down amid allegations of vote-buying during the intense competition for the head of the ticket. In spite of the urgency that imposed itself as sufficient reason for politicians to unite in forming a ticket against Mr. Taylor (the perceived common enemy at the time), their attempt failed thereby giving Mr. Taylor an overwhelming victory (Lyons, 1998). Those insensitive and greedy politicians failed Liberia at such a crucial time when the country desperately needed them. Their failure handed Mr. Taylor the win that triggered another round of bloodshed. They all have blood on their hands.
Conversely, the story changed for once following the 2005 Legislative and Presidential Elections. Thanks to the genius and craft of a one-in-a-generation kind of woman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the contemporary goddess of Liberian politics. She learned her lessons very well from the 1997 Alliance fiasco which alienated her and so, she consolidated her powers. Madam Sirleaf left no stone unturned in the lead-up to the 2011 Elections. She quickly proposed and led the dissolution of the three traditional political parties-LUP, LAP, and UP in order to form what she termed as the “Grand Unity Party”. She knew exactly that collaboration in the form of a coalition or alliance where the constituent political parties maintain their identities, structures, and systems would fail, and securing her second term would be jeopardized. This theory was tested in 1997 and was proven right. Thus, the only option was to undo the structures, identities, and systems of mainly LUP and LAP because the UP was already a given as a way of weakening their leaders and subjecting them to negotiations without any position of strength. That was indeed a master craft only a political genius would hatch. As a matter of fact, she had the resources and influence. Getting the buy-ins from the leaders of LUP and LAP was as smooth as melting a well-made butter cookie by the saliva. So, her second term bid was guaranteed by the unanimous voice with which the new so-called “Grand UP” spoke.
So, on April 1, 2009, representatives of the three Parties (LUP, LAP, and UP) signed the merger document at the Monrovia City Hall at an elaborate event (Executive Mansion, 2009). The objective was to paint a historic picture that would reflect the reduction in the number of political parties as a major step toward strengthening our struggling democracy. The truth of the matter is that such intent was far removed from Sirleaf’s ulterior motive of effectively mobilizing powerful campaign machinery for her reelection in 2011. The articles of the merger were signed by President Sirleaf herself, Vice President Joseph Boakai, Dr. Charles Clarke, and Mr. Henry Fahnbulleh for the Unity Party; and Cllr. Varney Sherman, Sheba Brown, and Professor Willie Belleh for the Liberia Action Party, while Mr. Isaac Mannah and Mr. Cletus Sieh signed for the Liberia Unification Party. As engineered by Madam Sirleaf, the merger strategy worked, the new UP remained united and coherent until Madam Sirleaf’s second term was secured by her reelection in 2011.
Once Madam Sirleaf had accomplished her aim of succeeding herself, the so-called new UP was no longer relevant. Some leaders of the dissolved LUP and LAP were temporarily accommodated in her government, booted out in the short run, and replaced with family members and newfound allies, the real wheeler-dealers in the corridor of power. Those were the very commercial and political schemers who siphoned or stashed away with millions in state resources while many disadvantaged and loyal partisans of the UP languished and were condemned by the public’s court with a guilty verdict for the very excesses of the President and her crew of vampires. The sad truth is that President Sirleaf dumped the UP and operated her government in consonance with her family members and cronies. She became the princess of favoritism and nepotism. The UP became a toothless bulldog that sat and waited for crumbs to fall at the foot of its own table. The fallout was devastating, embarrassing, and one that ignited the existing disquieting era within the Party.
In all of this, Madam Sirleaf knew quite well that her actions had a far-reaching effect and some leaders of the UP like Cllr. Varney Sherman, Mr. Wilmot Paye, and their likes would definitely repay her with the same measure or even more. She also knew the obvious, her committed and supportive Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai was the only one with the political pedigree in the opposition to challenge Weah and possibly defeat him. All he needed was her honest support to fully rally the Party to victory. Unfortunately, doing so would amount to “digging her own grave” as a Boakai administration would give her own partisans who she neglected, hurt, and embarrassed the authority and legitimacy to revenge in the form of aggressive prosecutions for her excesses. Her family members and cronies were also at risk of being prosecuted for their reported economic crimes contained in hundreds of audit reports by the General Auditing Commission (GAC).
The truth of this matter is that Madam Sirleaf is not afraid of Mr. Boakai. In fact, they both know each other just as a brother and sister from the same womb know each other. They were longtime friends and earned each other’s respect and trust. That was in fact, the basis for her confidence in asking him to become her running mate and eventually Vice President. So, you see Boakai is actually a victim of the fear Madam Sirleaf has for those in his orbit whom she has suppressed, denied, and hurt so badly. It is obvious that as long as she’s alive, it’s going to be difficult or impossible for her to support the former Vice President. In order words, she’ll always do her best to undermine his campaign anytime he becomes a candidate for the presidency. So, in 2017, Madam Sirleaf went above and beyond to stop him from becoming president. She did that by neutralizing him. The President weakened the UP by withholding support, blocking potential support from some of their (Ellen and Joe) mutual friends in the West Africa region, masterminding the departure of several executives and loyalists from the UP, and committing them to the opposition CDC, and diverting resources to bolster the CDC’s campaign against her own Vice President and Party.
Despite all her excesses, Madam Sirleaf still commands a considerable amount of respect in the country and the outside world. Her presidency is still being regarded as a success story of women’s leadership. So, it’s implicit that she’s Liberia’s ambassador without borders (at large) whose views about the country to the global community are highly unquestionable. This explains the leverage that Madam Sirleaf has over her contemporaries. So, she has the choice to use such power and influence in a way that benefits the entire country or use it to the disadvantage of her contemporaries, particularly her critics and perceived enemies. Certainly, the latter is her choice and has been at play all along evidenced by her years of obstruction, undermining, wheeling, and dealing.
Although Madam Sirleaf is shady, crafty, and sagacious, nonetheless, she’s not a superwoman to singlehandedly manipulate, obstruct, and keep our politics in the present convoluted and corrupt state. She has so many enablers who themselves are shady and crafty. They’re political mercenaries with a history of undermining, obstructing, and derailing the political system and processes with higher recompenses. One such notorious mercenary is Musa Bility. Musa is an avaricious, shady, and cunning politician and businessman combined. Here’s the interesting ring-Musa circumstantially belongs to the Liberty Party but interestingly, he’s a trusted ally of Weah, Snowe, Madam Sirleaf, and now, Mr. Cummings. Please don’t get me wrong, there are other known political mercenaries but this cited ring is Musa’s comfort zone. Think about that for a moment in the context of various political obstructions and derailments in the last decade. Of course, Musa is one of those key instruments of obstruction but not in isolation from his benefactors.
Musa’s ascendency in the Liberty Party was strongly protested at various levels but his charm was irresistible. Many partisans became very uncomfortable with Musa’s sudden rise in the Party but were frustrated that the national leadership caved into such a potential danger. His maneuverings and manipulations were all aimed at one thing, to gain legitimacy to be able to mobilize support for his friend, Weah in 2017 in a possible run-off that eventually happened. That is why with or without Brumskine’s consent or approval, endorsing Weah was a long-term plan cast in stone. Musa succeeded against the will of many officials and members of the Party. Simply put, Musa engineered Liberty Party’s controversial endorsement of then-candidate Weah during the 2017 Presidential Run-Off Election against candidate Boakai. Again, Musa’s action wasn’t in isolation, it was in consonance with Madam Sirleaf. The scheme was part of the overall strategy to keep her former Vice President neutralized. Musa smartly co-opted Harrison Karnwea, Brumskine’s running-mate, and Ben Sanvee in order to give the endorsement relevance. Musa was hired and he delivered but left his Party profoundly fractured. The reason was simple, Musa has a circumstantial membership with the Liberty Party. He doesn’t really care about the welfare, growth, and success of the Party. Instead, his ultimate interest is to have a political springboard that can facilitate his schemes, and sadly Liberty Party is that springboard.
Musa’s unethical and immoral conduct was disgracefully unearthed by FIFA, the world football governing body. In 2019, FIFA banned Musa for 10 years after he was found guilty of misappropriating FIFA funds, offering and accepting gifts and benefits, and conflict of interest (Palmer, 2019). FIFA investigation unraveled Musa’s numerous improprieties including misappropriation of funds to entities he owned or those connected to his family. This includes money from the “11 against Ebola” campaign launched by FIFA in 2014 to help combat the spread of the deadly disease across Liberia and the West Africa region. The campaign featured top players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar who promoted preventative measures against the virus. Funds from FIFA Financial Assistance Program, received by the Liberia Football Association (LFA) in 2015, and other payments were also said to have been diverted. As devastating as this account is, Musa doesn’t care because his ultimate goal was to gain legitimacy to be able to tap into FIFA’s resources. His mission was not about improving sports in Liberia and transforming the Liberia Football Association (LFA), or the fame that comes with being a FIFA executive. Musa’s eyes are always set on the money, a key attribute of political mercenaries.
The 2023 political season is fast approaching and Musa is wasting no time. He has already fired his first shot and this time it is not only the Liberty Party that is crumbling in the aftermath of his strike. The Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) which was fast becoming a potent political force to unseat the current rookie president (Weah) and his government was also significantly fractured. The CPP might not stay alive in the wake of Musa’s stab. His sword vertically and horizontally pierced the heart of the Liberty Party and the CPP. The writings were on the wall in bold letters. Many pundits forecast the danger that lurked consistently and cautioned the CPP to guide against the same but those counsels felt on death ears.
The removal of Steve Zargo and ushering in Musa was simply the legitimacy that Musa sought to enable him to strike. It was the greatest mistake and regret of the political leader, Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and Senator Darius Dillion, and other executives who acquiesced and endorsed Musa’s ascendency to the chairmanship of the Party. In particular, Senator Dillion has the lion’s share of the blame for the charismatic and compelling justification he hammered in Musa’s favor following blistering criticisms for Musa’s ascendency to the chairmanship. That was an incomprehensible move by Senator Dillion given the multiple accounts of Musa’s immoral and unethical conduct. One thing to note also is that Musa was not alone. The process was heavily supported by his benefactors. Musa couldn’t undertake such a massive scheme without an endgame. The short of the long is that Boakai is up against the state machinery firmly supported by Madam Sirleaf. The classic edition of Madam Sirleaf’s 2017 playbook is currently at play. The first shot was to weaponize the Liberty Party purposely to disintegrate the CPP and neutralize Boakai. The CPP fast became a threat to a Weah second-term bid. In fact, a Boakai-Cummings ticket would be a tornado that could boot Weah out possibly on the first ballot. That’s why I can’t still understand why Cummings has not realized that Boakai is his easiest path to the Presidency that would transition the country and eventually make him President. Absolutely, Boakai doesn’t represent the future of Liberia and he himself knows that but the fact is that he has the highest political capital in the opposition right now. When supported with a common front, the opposition can unseat Weah and after the short-run, take it over from Boakai and put it on the right trajectory. In essence, Boakai should be seen as a transitional president.
This is all playing out very well for Madam Sirleaf and Weah. Weah is now breathing some fresh air and feels hopeful compared to a few months ago when all hopes seemed to have gone. Make no mistake, Madam Sirleaf is not interested in a future Cummings leadership. Unfortunately, Cummings is also being weaponized in the form of support to his presidential bid to disintegrate the CPP and further neutralize Boakai. It’s a big ploy. Madam Sirleaf is very safe and comfortable with Weah’s leadership. She has no legal troubles, and her family members and cronies are enjoying the spoils from her government without any form of accountability. She will go above and beyond to protect Weah’s government and ensure that he succeeds himself. Right now, Cummings is conflicted by accepting the endorsement from Musa’s faction at this time of a major conflict in the Liberty Party. This will leave an indelible scar on his campaign and impose serious trust questions on his leadership credibility. His rejection of the so-called endorsement and subsequent encouragement of Musa to return and pursue a lasting resolution of the conflict would have demonstrated great leadership.
From all indications, the CPP divide has deepened profoundly and the constituent political parties no longer trust each other. The picture is grimy and one that looks like another missed opportunity. This is exactly what Madam Sirleaf and Weah wanted and Musa fully and successfully delivered it. It is becoming clearer by the day that Cummings will run on the ANC ticket and Boakai will also run on the UP ticket. That means, the Musa fashion will support Cummings and the Dillion and Nyonblee fashion will support Boakai. It’s obvious, the All Liberia Party (ALP) of Mr. Benoni Urey will support Boakai. If this scenario plays out, I foresee a possible repeat of 2017 with Boakai and Weah facing off in the Run-Off. Musa will support Weah and Cummings might likely not declare ANC support for any of the two candidates (Weah and Boakai) as he did in 2017. Partisans of the ANC might have to make their individual choices. Given the insane rhetoric that has beclouded the CPP internal politics, many ANC members might choose not to participate in the Run-Off Election. With Madam Sirleaf’s unflinching support, Weah will invest heavily in buying other political parties and interest groups over. Of course, Musa will be hired again and who knows? He might just deliver as usual. For Boakai, chances are that Cllr. Gongloe, the ALP, the Dillion, and the Karnga-Lawrence fashion of the Liberty Party will support his candidacy. Will that be enough to pull a win against Weah in a possible run-off? I can’t say but that’s the optional path that seems to be a little clearer in the absence of a CPP arrangement. Let me be clear, nothing is cast in stone but this projection is near possible.
Executive Mansion. (2009, April 1). UP-LAP-LUP Merge. Retrieved from Executive Mansion: https://www.emansion.gov.lr/2press.php?news_id=1129&related=7&pg=sp
Lyons, T. (1998, May 1). Liberia’s path from anarchy to elections. Retrieved from Brookings: https://www.brookings.edu/articles/liberias-path-from-anarchy-to-elections/
Palmer, D. (2019, July 24). FIFA bans Bility for 10 years two days after he pledged CAS case against them. Retrieved from RSS Inside the Games: https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1082543/musa-bility-banned-ten-years
The New York Times. (1985, October 16). Four Liberians run for president in the nation’s first multiparty election. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1985/10/16/world/4-liberians-run-for-president-in-nation-s-first-multiparty-election.html
Josiah F. Joekai, Jr.
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