Liberia: Appleton, the Mystery Man, Surfaces in Gov’t

Edward Wade Appleton, also known among Liberians as the “Mystery Man”

In his latest batch of nominations, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai on Monday, Tuesday, February 27, nominated the political leader of the Grassroots Development Movement (GDM), Edward Wade Appleton, Jr., Board Chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL).

When confirmed as Chairman of NOCAL, Appleton, who became known by many as the mystery man due to his surprise performance in the 2023 presidential election, will be charged with the responsibility of supervising the operations of the entity.

Members of the board appointed along with Appleton to coordinate and supervise the operations of the national oil company include Malcolm King, Kpannah Esther Alan, Kpandel Fayia, and Lydia Sandimane-Nimely, Boima S. Kamara, Minister of Finance Development Planning (Statutory Member), and Wilmot Paye, Minister of Mines & Energy (Designate), (Statutory Member).

President Boakai, in his nomination notes, called on the nominees to demonstrate diligence, commitment, integrity, professionalism, and loyalty in service to the country—if confirmed by the Senate and given the opportunity to serve.  

Edward Wade Appleton became a household name in Liberian politics after his impressive showing in the October 10, 2023 polls.

Appleton received 40,271 votes, or 2.20% of the total votes cast, ahead of Lusine F. Kamara Sr., of the All Liberian Coalition Party (ALCOP), and the well-known Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) of Alexander B. Cummings, and the renowned lawyer, Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe of the Liberia People’s Party.

The Grassroots Development Movement (GDM), the party ticket Appleton Jr. contested, was founded in 2011 with its first presidential candidate, Gladys Beyan. Appleton was the second candidate vying for the party’s ticket for the Liberian presidency.

Helping Boakai defeat Weah

Appleton’s nomination as Chairman of the Board of NOCAL is viewed by many as a modest reward for his endorsement of Boakai ahead of the presidential runoff election in November 2023. Despite a commitment of huge financial rewards and a lucrative job from the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), the GDM political leader threw his support behind Boakai, shunning then-incumbent President George Weah.

Appleton's endorsement, which marked a significant shift in the political landscape, made him the third of the top-six presidential candidates from the first round to back Boakai against Weah in the highly contentious runoff, which was a rematch from 2017.

During the first round of elections, he garnered 40,271 votes, constituting 2.20% of the slightly over 1.9 million votes cast. His support, albeit modest in count and percentage, proved crucial in the closely contested runoff as his base was part of the larger share of undecided voters who never voted for either of the two frontrunners in the first round.

“Mr. [Boakai], as we endorse you today, we ask that you carry our ideology and principles along with you,” Appleton said. “As we approach the runoff, the significance of our endorsement cannot be overstated.”

“It [does] not only bolster your chances but also sends a powerful message to the electorate, emphasizing the importance of unity and collaboration in achieving our national goals,” he added.

According to Appleton, his endorsement of Boakai stems from the shared values his party shares with the Unity Party, which the former Vice President heads. He cited the well-being of the Liberian people as a major reason behind his party’s decision to support Boakai, saying that Liberia needs a leader “with experience and dedication to address the country’s problems effectively.”

Appleton’s endorsement came after he had previously held meetings with Weah and top campaign officials who were also courting him. Their discussions were held behind closed doors and generated significant speculation about potential alignment.

However, his endorsement of Boakai came as a surprise, despite previous meetings held between the two men.

The runoff election, which was fiercely contested, saw President George Weah top the first round with a slim margin of 804,087 votes, constituting 43.83% of the total vote. However, former Vice President Joseph Boakai followed closely with 796,961 votes, representing 43.44%. The tight race indicated that every endorsement and additional vote was crucial in the race to the presidency — which Boakai, with the help of Appleton and others, eventually won.

Who is Appleton, the Mystery Man

The 2023 presidential and legislative elections ignited numerous topical issues thumping the news headlines and public discourse. Some of these include the slowness of the data center processing of votes, the excessively high number of invalid votes, and inadequacies in the vote counts from centers closest to the headquarters of the National Elections Commission (NEC) in Monrovia. But none of those dwarfed the Appleton factor, which many believed left more questions than answers and perhaps will continue spotlighting future elections for decades.

But who is this mystery man who caused so much stir during the 2023 presidential election?

A son of Cape Palmas, Maryland County, an acquaintance described Appleton as a man of the social spotlight, a man of the crowd—a crowd puller, as some would say. The mystery man “barely wore any political interest,” Dr. George Wah Williams, who got to know Appleton in the early 1980s, wrote in a commentary. Williams also described Appleton as an average basketball player and a Monrovian bluffer.

“Eddie, the character, has always impressed me to want in on the social spotlight. Like many others in our generation, he had never projected any semblance of political ambition or desire to partake in national or community politics,” Williams, who got to know Appleton through his (Williams) brother as the two were schoolmates at Cathedral Catholic High School, said.  

Williams said he, like every Liberian — probably Appleton himself included — was baffled by his friend’s electoral performance.

“While there were 20 contestants in the race for the presidency of Liberia, no one I have spoken to had heard of Eddie in any way,” he said. “Eddie’s dad, Cllr. Wade Appleton came more prominently into the limelight, I believe, after the Tolbert assassination and the incumbency of Samuel Doe.”

“Always nicely cut and decked, Eddie’s crowd-pulling strength circled around Central Monrovia. He did play basketball, but didn’t cement himself as a brand in basketball circles. Schooling in Brewerville meant only the stars were known to us, Jessie Harmon, D-Jaal, and Siafa Varney…”

Why many continue to ponder over Appleton’s surprising rise, William noted that several factors might explain why a little-known man could have accumulated an unexpected number of votes over his well-known rivals. By far, he noted, the strongest argument likely informing the sudden rise of Eddie may lie in his apparent charisma and appeal — but to whom?  

“Eddie is indeed a flashy crowd-puller, but to a community that almost does not exist in these times. Whether the votes received were a combined protest against the leading candidates and the incumbent still does not explain how Appleton the phenomenon outclassed Gongloe and Cummings.”

Though it remains inarguable that Mr. Appleton is the unknown factor in the elections, his unexplained rise in the vote count raises election concerns and could spike motivations for electoral reforms going forward.

While many remain baffled as to how an unknown candidate attained such a huge number of votes over and beyond other much-publicized candidates, several theories abound, explaining the probabilities: Mistaken identity, faulty technology relating to the quality of the tallying booklet imported by the NEC, and probably electoral fraud.

What Does Appleton Bring to NOCAL Board?

Appleton comes with a wealth of experience in project management and marketing strategy if information on his LinkedIn account is anything to go by. The account describes him as a Result-driven business professional with 15 years of progressive experience in management, sales and marketing, project management, monitoring and evaluation, and good social and communication experience.
He has 10 years of international and local supervisory experience and is skilled in effectively managing and implementing high-profile and sensitive projects.

“He also has the ability to develop and manage capacity building platforms, In-depth knowledge of political, economic and social trends of developing countries,” the account notes.

Appleton is said to have strong interpersonal skills; demonstrated ability to work well in a complex multicultural, multinational, and multi-ethnic environment; deep understanding of key business drivers and best practices. His areas of specialties include Business Development & Consulting, Program Planning, Investment Consulting, Project Management, Strategic Planning, Banking, Retail Financial Services, System Analysis, Quality Management, Relationship Building, Qualitative & Quantitative Research, Problem Resolution, and Public Policy Analysis.