Lesson to Liberia: the Rise of Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

.... When Sunak was born in 1980, our then-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was around the Liberian Finance Ministry hierarchy. Forty-two years later now. The next President of Liberia should consciously promote the rise of well-prepared competent and impeccable character people to positions of responsibility. It is time we allowed those who own the future to take charge of it.

Mohammed A Dukuly

So, Rishi Sunak is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Sunak is the first person of Asian origin to become the PM of that great country.

After the end of the Second World War, Winston Churchill, the great Prime Minister of Britain, was very reluctant to receive Mohandas Gandhi at 10 Downing Street, dismissing him as a “half-naked kafir.”

Gandhi, the leader of the Indian Independence Movement, was noted for his simple dressing in his native shawl, with the simple slippers on his feet. He came with a staff, like Moses, entering the palace to confront Pharaoh, as he was received by the king at Buckingham Palace. Now one of Gandhi’s sons is sitting behind the desk of Churchill.
History has a way of presenting us with great ironies.

Sunak is the son of Indian immigrant parents who came to the United Kingdom to seek for better fortune. His grandfather had worked in East Africa where many Indians were engaged to build the East African railway.

Many Indians later settled in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and their descendants are still there till today. However, during the reign of terror of Ugandan dictator, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, he expelled thousands of Indians. I don’t know what Idi Amin would have thought about the twist of fate that has elevated an Indian man to the pinnacle of power in the once mighty Britain.

The rise of Sunak had been meteoric. In 2015, he was elected into the Parliament to represent Richmond (Yorks) on the platform of the Conservative Party, one of the two great parties dominating parliament. The other is the Labor Party. He had come to politics with a lot of initial advantages. He is highly educated and very wealthy. He had studied philosophy, politics and economics at the Lincoln College of the University of Oxford. He later obtained the Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Stanford University in the United States. He was at Stanford as a Fulbright Scholar and that gave him some leverage.

But Stanford was to mean more for him than just academic laurel. It was while in that university that he fell in love with Akshata Murty, daughter of an Indian billionaire, N.R. Narayana Murthy. Their marriage changed the fortune of Sunak, making him one of the richest men in the UK. He worked briefly with some blue-chip companies before finding his way into politics as a member of the Conservative Party. He has the money to finance his political ambition and the freedom of action that only good money can bring. Today, he and his wife are rated as the 222 richest couple in the kingdom. They are said to be worth at least 730 million pounds sterling (US $848 million ).

The irony would not be lost on King Charles III, when he called on Sunak to go and form the government. The Prime-Minister is the most powerful politician in the realm. He exercises his powers on behalf of the king, to appoint all members of the cabinet. He is the Head of Government and exercises all the powers of that office including the power to order troops into battle. Britain is a member of the G7, the community of Western industrialized countries.

Despite the loss of empire and the declining role of Britain in the international community, the country remains a world power. Sunak is arguably the most powerful Indian man in the world today. He has proved his worth in previous cabinet positions he held. He was the First Secretary of the Treasury from 2019 to 2020. He was also Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2020 to this year.

Prime Minister Sunak is coming to power at time of great challenges for the UK and the world. The pressure on the world economy has been worsened by Putin’s war in Ukraine. Britain, like Liberia, is facing unprecedented unemployment and energy crisis. Gone were the days when London controlled the world. Now, London must shiver whenever there is a sneeze from Washington D.C, Moscow or Beijing. Remember that once upon a time, until 1776, the United States of America was a colony of the United Kingdom. Today, UK is like a poor cousin to the American giant.

The elevation of Sunak is a giant leap for the British. He is the first non-Christian to become the British Prime-Minister. He holds fervently to the Hindu faith of his forefathers. I wonder how the British would have reacted if he is an African Traditional Religion Follower from Lofa or Bong or Grand Kru of Liberia. Some years back, some fanatics gathered in front of a House, Liberia Capitol, intent on to constitutionalize Liberia as a Christian Nation.

To these fanatics, Liberia is a Christian State and any religion that would exist in the country must be the one they can at least tolerate. They think worshipping at free will is not acceptable, despite the constitutional guarantee of freedom of worship. In Paynesville also in Montserrado, some fanatics also set fire at blaze at an Islamic Boarding School killing at least 26 children and 1 teacher. Such fanaticism has no place in a civilized society. Therefore, Prime Minister Sunak would openly display his faith without any fear.

There is a lot for us to learn from this development in the UK. We have seen that giving opportunities to minorities and allowing them a level-playing field is profitable for every polity. That was what Liberians must be experiencing then, blatant ethnicity crept into our public life. In the not-so-distant past, Appointed Administrators or Superintendents weren’t necessarily natives or tribes from a particular county.

Today, someone from North Central or Western Liberia cannot be made the President of any county university in the Southeast except that of Southeasterners. Classical examples are the appointment as President of Dr Edward Lama Wonkeryor of William V.S Tubman University. And the appointment as President of Dr Al Hassan Conteh at the University of Liberia. They met stiff resistance. Yet, when a Liberian is made the President of a British or American university, we all applaud. When a Liberian is elected as a Mayor/ House of Representative of a city/state in the USA or Great Britain, we rejoice. If the truth must be told, we are a society of hypocrites.

But we are still a society of the young and the restless. Our population is made up of mostly youths. But which 42-year-old man or woman in Liberia would have acquired enough experience and clout to want to be elected president without the help of the gun?

When Sunak was born in 1980, our then-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was around the Liberian Finance Ministry hierarchy. Forty-two years later now. The next President of Liberia should consciously promote the rise of well-prepared competent and impeccable character people to positions of responsibility. It is time we allowed those who own the future to take charge of it.

About the author:

Mohammed A Dukuly is holds a master’s degree in Public Policy (MPP) from the Hubert H Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.  He is a Liberian Community Servant of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota (OLM) and the Union of Liberian Association in the Americas (ULAA).

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.