Debunking Distortions and Lies about Liberia’s 2023 Presidential Election Options

Flashback: Liberians stand in queues as they wait to register to vote. (Photo: Darlington Porkpa)

.... There is a current false and distorted narrative that Liberia’s [2023] election is simply a matter of making one of two unpalatable choices – it’s either Boakai’s UP or Weah’s CDC. This is a terribly dystopian view by people hell-bent on creating this false narrative that, as regards October 2023 presidential election – Liberians face a binary choice – an either-or situation. 

In 1980, in his famous “Redemption Song”, the Jamaican reggae legend, Bob Marley sang the lyrics: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.”

 This song, was seemingly based on the speech of another renown Jamaican and pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey (1937), who said in [Nova Scotia, Canada]: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.” 

These two “immortals” remain an eternal source pride for Africans globally. They may be long gone, but through their works, they have a word of advice for Liberians as they contemplate who should be their next president. 

There is a current false and distorted narrative that Liberia’s [2023] election is simply a matter of making one of two unpalatable choices – it’s either Boakai’s UP or Weah’s CDC. This is a terribly dystopian view by people hell-bent on creating this false narrative that, as regards October 2023 presidential election – Liberians face a binary choice – an either-or situation. 

This is a brazen attempt by a segment of the Liberian political class who want to reinstate their sordid past of state plunder and impunity. This segment then is desperately seeking “mentally enslave” their compatriots with their false narrative. I think Liberians ought to reject this binary-choice argument as nothing but distortions and lies. 

In this essay, I will attempt to debunk many of the false assumptions and often outright lies currently being peddled with the intent of imposing a binary choice on Liberia. I shall culminate with a closer look at the options being imposed. 

I shall debunk it for what it is – as pseudo-intellectualism, false assumptions, and brazen lies, being spewed to scare Liberians into believing that they have only two bad choices and no better alternatives. What follows is an enumeration of the many distortions, lies, and political caricatures that I shall dismantle with facts, history, law, logic, and ordinary common sense.

  1. We just need to win this thing in the first round, no need for second round.

The is the new slogan for those who want to impose their will on Liberia saying: we must win in the first round. There is no need for a second round. The Liberian constitution article 83(b) is our safety valve to sifter candidates. The framers of our constitution knew that in a “young” democracy putting together a coalition is an arduous matter, so they created a two-round election process. 

An aspirant that wins in first round has no greater mandate than another aspirant who wins in the second round. If anything, the second-round person has an even better claim – given the higher percentage. Madame Sirleaf won her both elections in the second round. Our current president did likewise. How come now winning an election in the second round is a not good enough? Of course, the crux of the matter is that, the proponents of this distorted reality don’t want a debate about their candidate’s ideas, platforms, and track record(s), because their preferred candidate has nothing apparently to offer. Consequently, they are now resorting to creating a false sense of urgency, so that their preferred candidate can avoid competition, debate, and scrutiny. 

It’s so sad that instead of discussing substantive issues and platforms, political commentators and other talk show hosts are busy debasing the discourse with who should come first or second on a ticket. This is ridiculous! Liberians must insist on discussing the issues and track record. We must compare and contrast all candidates’ platforms and track record, and then make a decision. We should not buy into this false urgency hype.

  1. Mr. Joseph Boakai is already in the lead.

Quite hilarious! Is Joseph Boakai really in the lead? How? And where’s the evidence? When asked for evidence, these people resort to the same Liberian talking points – “oh… you can’t feel it”? “Everybody’s talking it”. Or, “that’s what God said”. 

Meanwhile, some of them live in America, Europe, and other parts of Africa where people conduct opinion polls to assess the strength of candidates. In Liberia, the pundits, who say Boakai has it “in the bag”, provide no evidence, no data. Everywhere else in the world, people use opinion polls to assess the pre-election strength of candidates. 

Yet, our Liberian “pundits” don’t seem to be interested in any data, nor evidence. They just sit in their homes and make wild claims. This is so disappointing!  Last, I can remember, a senatorial candidate, who was fully supported by Mr. Boakai and an army of UP partisans were defeated in Boakai’s hometown, Lofa, including in Foya. How is it that such a “leading” candidate loses in his own hometown? 

Only in Liberia, I suppose, a candidate can lose his hometown and still peddle the false narrative that he is, in fact, the “leading” the race, and others parrot this same falsehood without question. Liberians, if somebody tells you Boakai is already leading; ask for the evidence? If there is no evidence, no proof, then reject the claim.

  1. Oh…George Weah is So Popular, If Every Don’t Rally Behind Boakai; Then Weah Will Win.  

This is an outright lie by people so desperate to return to power. George Weah political base was, is, and has always been in Montserrado County. In terms of vote count, in Montserrado elections, he’s way behind Darrius Dillon (back-to-back). In fact, he’s ranked 4th – even behind Geraldine Doe Sheriff. 

President Weah received back-to-back defeats in Montserrado at the hands of Senator Dillon – in his base. You don’t have to believe me. Go to NEC website and find out for yourself! In presidential races, Weah repeatedly lost elections until he merged with NPP. 

His lack of leadership abilities has caused the coalition to fracture significantly, so he’s now resorting to “buying” endorsement. If he is so popular, why is he desperately “buying” endorsement here and there?  But the Boakai people are creating a frenzy, so that the Liberians will rush into a decision that they will forever regret, as they are regretting now by making George Weah President. The Liberian people need to assess all candidates on their merits, not on false assumptions and lies. Let everyone compete and let then people decide. Why all this hurry to take a short cut.? Why? 

  1. Other Candidates Must Back Down and Be Second to Mr. Boakai.   

This is one of the most shocking of their snobberies. Senator John Ballout is the leader of this group. I find it so illogical and ironic that Mr. Ballout is using his constitutional right (i.e., free speech) to ask others to abandon their constitutional right (i.e., to run for office). Why do Boakai and his surrogates think that their constitutional right is somehow greater than other people’s constitutional right? This is unbridled arrogance. That last time I checked, article 11b of the Liberian constitution was still intact.

All persons, irrespective of ethnic background, race, sex, creed, place of origin or
political opinion, are entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the
individual, subject [ONLY] to such qualifications as provided for in this Constitution. (Emphasis are mine.)

  1. Oh… a coalition is the only way to win the presidential election.     

Another lie! Charles Taylor won his election without coalition – and by a landslide too. In the 1997 election, the coalition candidate, Alliance of Political Parties (APP) of Cletus Wortorson came a distant 4th out of 13 parties. In the 2005 election, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won without a coalition. Again, there was a coalition candidate, Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia (COTOL) – of H. Varney Sherman. 

COTOL, a four-party coalition, came 5th out of 22 parties. So where is this deliberate lie coming from that the only way to win Liberia’s presidential election is by a “coalition.” A coalition is good, but if the coalition candidate is a loser, then, of course, the coalition will end up like the APP in 1997 or COTOL in 2005. These are historical proofs that in Liberia a coalition is not necessarily a slam dunk in elections. 

People should stop trying to force a “coalition candidate” down their throats of other aspirants. This is not to take away the fact that Mr. Weah won with a coalition (CDC). But let’s be being honest with ourselves, the record of coalition in Liberia is mixed – at least 2 past instances of [coalition] failure and 1 instance of success. By this record, a coalition is not necessarily a guarantee of a win. So, this statement is false, as the historical fact and contemporary reality are inconclusive. 

Secondly Liberia is a young democracy, it is still far way off from a two-party system. We went from 13 parties in the 1997 election to 23 parties in the 2005 election. Lately, we had 16 parties in 2011 and 20 in 2017. This means an average of 18 parties per election cycle. For people to start creating the narrative that somehow, in 2023, we will suddenly have 2, or 3 parties is sheer dishonesty. 

What is the likelihood that a country that usually gets 18 political parties in a contested election, will, all of a sudden, drop to 2 or 3 parties? Close to zero! But if you listen to the Boakai/UP people, it’s like those who are not bending down backwards to Boakai have a problem. And why should they bend over backwards to accommodate a man who has said on multiple occasions that he and his Unity Party squandered so many opportunities? Why give in to a squanderer? It doesn’t make sense!  

  1. There is no need for debates, track record or written platforms; Let’s just go by whatever name we hear ringing in the market and on the radio.  

Of course, in electing Mr. George Weah, that is exactly what Liberians did. What is the result of that popularity contest? As a former soccer star in a football-crazy nation, Mr. Weah was the most popular candidate in the “history of popularity.”

How much have we benefited from Weah’s popularity? Have we not learned any lesson(s) from this grave mistake? Liberians are still suffering from their 2017 mistake. What’s the logic now in telling us to use the same “popularity” yardstick we used in voting for President Weah? What sense does it make to make the same grave error twice in a row? As far as I see, Liberians need to take months scrutinizing all candidates to make the most informed decision. My common sense tells me this is the best way forward! 

  1. Liberia’s only real option for October 2023 is: Boakai’s UP or Weah’s CDC

To me, this is like choosing between squanderer #1 and squanderer #2. The people who are trying their best to impose the doomsday binary-choice scenario on Liberia do not call it the choice between two-squanderers. They present it as the “only choice” available to Liberians. 

Mr. Boakai openly and regularly admits to having squandered Liberia’s opportunities – including just a few months ago on his favorite talk show, The Class Reloaded. The other squanderer does not call himself as such but has acted and continues to act in a manner that can only best be described as “squandering opportunities”. Talking about Mr. Boakai and Mr. Weah squandering opportunities? Let’s dive in a bit.  

  1. Squanderer #1: Joseph Boakai and his Unity Party  

In discussing Joseph Boakai and UP in the context of squandering, it’s hard to decide which squandered opportunities to start with – whether it’s the messy educational system, the failure to reconcile Liberians, the runaway corruption or the dysfunctional healthcare system. 

But I’m choosing to go with one thing that Boakai cannot fully pin on his former boss (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) – the 66 bogus concession agreements, signed while he was the Presiding Officer at the House of Senate. Recall that under the Liberian constitution chapter VI, Article 15, the Vice President shall be President of the Senate and shall preside over its deliberations. It is an incontestable fact that 66 out of 68 concession agreements – in the extractive industry sector – signed under Mr. Boakai’s “watchful eyes” were in violation of Liberia’s laws. 

Mr. Boakai, as Presiding Officer of the Senate, was watching when 97% of all concession deals were sealed in contravention of our laws (Moore Stephens Audit, 2013). To date, Mr. Boakai has never acknowledged nor addressed his role in this economic carnage against the Liberian people. He and his Unity Party would rather us not talk about the [66] bogus concession deals. Yet, the fact remains that he was the Presiding Officer, so he bears the greatest responsibility for this grave harm done to Liberia. Sorry JNB, on this one, there is no way you can pin this one Madame Sirleaf alone. 

Boakai’s surrogate, ex-Senator Ballout, while appearing on the recent talk show, even has a new theory – that Squanderer #2 is to be blamed, since he is now President and has the power to investigate but has so far failed to do so. This is coming from a former Senator, an “honorable” man. 

This is a shocking display of arrogance. No humility whatsoever to admit wrongdoing and seek forgiveness. Yet, Senator Ballout, having signed a number of these bogus concession deals himself has the audacity to tell other aspirants that they should back off for Boakai. Really Ballout? Back off in favor of a self-described squanderer? 

In your view, Senator, is this the best that Liberia can do? Lest we forget, the Moore Stephens Audit (2013) covered the vital “extractive industry sector – including concession deals in agriculture, oil, forestry, and mining (p.4). These sectors have the potential to generate millions of dollars in taxes, foreign exchange, including employing thousands of Liberians. 

The implementation period ranged from about five years to about sixty-five years. So, even as I write Liberia is still suffering from these bogus deals. Liberians were denied jobs and other economic benefits, as the direct results of all these bogus concessions deals. Let’s take a quick glimpse of few lines from the Moore Stephens’ audit and see how badly people like Senator Ballout and Mr. Boakai compromised the country’s interest in the agriculture sector, a sector that Mr. Boakai often brags about as his expertise. 

The MOA and the NIC did not provide us with any procurement plan as required by Section 77 of the PPCA and the FDA stated that no procurement plans were prepared or submitted to the IMCC and the PPCC for approval. Therefore, it appears that the concession award process was conducted without compliance with this requirement. As a consequence, we maintain our finding. Finding #5, Moore Stephens Audit, p.48.

Neither line Ministries nor NIC could provide us with any written document proving that IMCCs have been appointed in accordance with Sections 80, 81 and 82 of the PPCA. Therefore, we maintain our finding. Findings #8, Moore Stephens Audit, p.53.

Recently, Mr. Boakai appeared on a Liberian online talk show, The Class Reloaded” to clarify what he meant by “squandering opportunities”. This is a partial transcript.

…when I talked about squander, perhaps they thought money. But we had the opportunity for the first African female president, she was the darling of the world, we could have used that effectively…and that’s what I’m talking about…There were lots of things we could have done… Joseph Boakai on The Class Reloaded Talk Show, 2023

Even in 2023, Mr. Boakai still presents “squandering opportunities” as something that [only] Ellen Sirleaf did. His conscience doesn’t prick him that he presided over the signing of 66 bogus concession deals, most of which are active and still affecting Liberia. To date, Boakai has yet to apologize to Liberians for his role – as Presiding Officer of the Senate. 

With no apology, he, and his Unity Party people, must think we Liberians can be fooled twice. Now with all these historical facts, how can people in their right frame of mind insist that Liberians should not listen to all aspirants but must necessarily accept squanderer #1, because he’s better than squanderer #2? What if Liberians are not interested in squanderers at all? Don’t we have a right to choose a non-squanderer? Liberians must reject this distorted narrative. Given what we know about squanderer #1, it is even more imperative that we listen to all candidates before making our decision.

  1. Squanderer #2: George Manneh Weah and his CDC Coalition

Squanderer #2 does not call himself a squanderer; he calls himself “Liberia’s Best Prezo Ever”. Of course, he’s simply incapable of grasping the gravity of his office – that the health, security, prosperity, and general well-being of Liberia’s 5.2 million people lies in his hands. 

He presides over an orgy of violence, corruption, impunity, and utter misrule. Under his regime, our football stadiums are banned, our passports are sold to the highest bidder, government auditors died mysteriously, investors are “shaken down”, critics are assaulted in broad daylight, while Mr. “Best Prezo Ever” remains silent and unconcerned. He rather spends his time dancing “buga”, “preaching” about PYJ, and singing about Mr. “B” and Mr. “C”. This is nothing short of squandering precious opportunities. There can be no better description than to label him as squanderer #2. He’s earned the title, 100%.

Amidst this sad reality, I find it ludicrous that our political pundits and commentators present the October [2023] election as some kind of doomsday scenario where Liberians are limited to only choosing between squanderer #1 and squanderer #2. This is an utter caricature of the political reality, and Liberians must reject this attempt to mentally enslaved them. Citing Bob Marley again I say: “None but ourselves can free our minds”. We are in no quandary. 

We have a wide array of competent Liberians to choose from. Let’s embrace and celebrate the fact that we have a wide array of competent aspirants. We must explore and investigate all our presidential aspirants, not box ourselves in a corner. To me, October 2023 represents a golden opportunity to put Liberia back on track – for good. Why squander this golden opportunity? I may be wrong, but to me, it makes no sense to give squanderers a second chance. This is tantamount to being fooled twice. If we allowed ourselves to be fooled twice, then, of course, this time the shame will be on us.   

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the Daily Observer newspaper.