Liberia: Boakai Playing Russian Roulette?

Joseph Boakai, the Standard-bearer of the Unity Party 

--- … The aging opposition leader’s alleged refusal to do heart surgery ahead of the October 10 presidential election could cost him, one way or the other.

He might as well be holding a pistol to his own head and pulling the trigger every time a question is raised about his health — a most daring way of showing that his heart condition is no less a threat to his presidential ambition than his ‘sagely’ age — or, say, a common cold. 

At 78, Joseph Boakai, Liberia’s leading opposition contender for the presidency, appears to stop at nothing in the quest for the presidency, amid increasing concerns within the ranks of the Unity Party — which he heads as political leader and standard bearer — that, against medical advice, he is dangerously toying with his health. 

“I am in excellent health,” Boakai has firmly and repeatedly said. “I am more capable of assuming the presidency, considering I have not required any hospital visits in the past two years.” 

That was what he told a VOA interview in 2021. In January this year, Boakai was admitted to the ELWA Hospital in Paynesville for at least one week. 

Later that month, he traveled to the U.S. “to honor overdue invitations”, the UP said in a statement. However, according to sources, the Liberian government provided US$75,000 to the former VP to seek advanced medical services abroad. The UP denounced the alleged government support as “nonsense and irresponsible”. 

Fast-forward to now (June 2023), with preparations for the elections in crunch time, just weeks ahead of the official opening of campaign season, Boakai’s medical and political advisors want him to take it easy. 

On the other side of the political aisle, the incumbent Vice President, Jewel Howard Taylor, opines that Boakai — if he is fortunate to reach the presidency — might meet his demise early in office. 

This double portion of dire concern for Boakai’s health, whether genuine or not, has opposition voters on edge — especially those who have so far resolved to elect him into office come October 10. Some believe Boakai’s avoidance of scheduled medical treatment is just downright irresponsible. 

Speaking of which — what appears to be a leaked string of comments attributed to political commentator Henry P. Costa, suggests that Boakai has thrice disobeyed medical advice to travel to the United States for heart surgery this year. 

According to sources, such a trip would keep him out of the country for at least six to twelve months — meaning he may have to be absent during the election. 

According to the screenshots of Costa’s alleged comments in the UP chatroom, “He canceled his lifesaving medical trip after I spent over 10K on tickets and AirBnB… I have the tickets and receipts to prove… and his message he sent me after he canceled.” The comment continued: “The doctors gave him 6 months or risk a massive stroke or instant death when, not if, the next heart attack comes…” 

When the Daily Observer reached out to Costa to authenticate the comments, he simply said, “Don’t dignify it.” 

In 2019, Boakai underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker. He has since recovered, but his health remains a concern for some voters. 

In a recent poll, 30% of respondents said that Boakai's health was a major factor in their decision-making. In a social media post during his hiatus at ELWA Hospital in January, Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee spoke out, saying that Boakai “is in no position to contest” and called on the Unity Party to “kindly allow Uncle Joe Boakai to retire from politics and focus on his health.” 

Gbowee’s comment did not sit well with UP stalwarts, who dismissed the Nobel Laureate’s remarks as “flagrant and unnecessary disrespect to the former Vice President.”

Boakai's alleged refusal to do a heart surgery

There are a number of possible reasons why Joseph Boakai might have refused to do a heart surgery before the October 10 election.

One possibility is that he is concerned about the risks of surgery. Heart surgery is a major operation, and there is always a risk of complications, such as infection, bleeding, or heart attack. Boakai may be worried about the possibility of these complications, and he may not want to risk his health so close to the election.

Another possibility is that Boakai is worried about the public perception of his health. If he were to have surgery, it would be a major public event, and it would likely generate a lot of media attention. Boakai may be concerned that if he were to have surgery, it would be seen as a sign that he is not healthy enough to be president.

It is also possible that Boakai is simply not willing to take the time off from campaigning to have surgery. The election is only a few months away, and Boakai may feel that he cannot afford to miss any time on the campaign trail.

Whatever the reason, Boakai's decision to not have surgery is a risky one. If he were to win the election, he would be the oldest president in Liberia's history, and he would be facing a number of health challenges. If he were to become incapacitated, it would be a major crisis for Liberia.

It is important to note that these are just speculations. Only Boakai knows the real reason why he has refused to have surgery. However, the possible reasons listed above are all valid concerns that Boakai may have.

Despite these challenges, Boakai remains optimistic about his chances of winning the election. On the strength of several legislative heavyweights on his campaign team, especially his running mate, Nimba County Senator Jeremiah Koung, Boakai appears to have a rather aggressive ground game. 

The election will be held on October 10, 2023. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, there will be a runoff election on November 7.

Joseph Boakai's chances of winning the Liberian presidential election are not impossible. He faces a strong challenge from incumbent George Weah, whose popularity among young voters is tested by massive unemployment, free but underrated education, escalating inflation and a string of gruesome, unsolved murders over the span of the Weah administration so far. 

The election will likely be a close race, and it is too early to say who will win. However, Joseph Boakai’s team believes that they can defeat Weah in the first round. 

Call it a miracle or advanced mathematics — right now, only Boakai can know what Boakai is doing.