Liberia: Boakai’s First Five Appointments

The first five of President Joe Boakai’s cabinet appointments have been named and, from the look of things, they are indicative of his priorities as they unfold. Of these first five appointments, announced since the day of his inauguration, three are to the security sector, one to steer the affairs of the presidential office, and the other to let the world know that his administration is open for business. 

While there appear to be other competing priorities to jumpstart his administration, it may not be altogether surprising for the security sector to be captured in three out of President Boakai’s first five appointments. Given the disconcerting state of affairs among some of the nation’s security agencies over the last six years, especially the Liberia National Police, there is no doubt that the sector may be badly in need of a reset. 

Security Sector

Throughout the administration of former President George Manneh Weah over the last six years, the Liberia National Police was used to wield an unfair advantage in favor of ruling party loyalists. In many cases, the LNP administration and officers under Inspector General Patrick Sudue enabled unlawful actions by members of Weah’s ruling party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC); and shielded them from facing the law. 

One of the earliest of such actions by the LNP was the illegal and forced removal of Mr. Konah Karmo, Head of the LEITI secretariat in March 2018.  Karmo was ordered at gunpoint by two LNP officers who had escorted Gabriel Nyenkan, a CDC loyalist who had been illegally appointed to head the LEITI by President Weah, to give way to Nyenkan. Responding to an inquiry about the incident, a senior police officer told the Daily Observer that they took the action because the order came from President Weah that Nyenkan should be allowed to assume the office. The officer also told the Observer that, if ordered by the President to perform an illegal act, he would do it. 

Over the rest of the Weah administration, Liberians would find themselves living in increased fear. With four government auditors murdered in cold blood over a period of ten days the following year, President Weah called on all Liberians to be their own security and to install CCTV cameras in their homes. 

Former warlords, including one Augustina Nagbe (alias “General Power”), participated in tactical operations under the cover of the Liberia National Police, and opposition actors were intimidated and attacked, with evidence streamed on live social media. However, the Police refused to investigate those who were clearly culpable of acts of violence. 

Of late, as the political campaigns commenced ahead of the country’s October 2023 presidential and legislative elections, some members of the Executive Protective Service (EPS) were seen wearing ruling party caps, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia while on duty, escorting President Weah. 

With Liberia’s security sector in need of a serious overhaul, Boakai, through his top five appointments, appears to (for lack of a better word) “rescue” the sector by placing seasoned professionals to lead the respective agencies.  

Boakai’s three security sector appointees include Gregory Coleman, Inspector General-designate, Liberia National Police; Sam Gaye, Director, Executive Protective Service; and Samuel Kofi Woods, National Security Advisor. It is worth noting that the President has not yet appointed a Minister of Justice who will head the nation’s Joint Security. 

Coleman is a renowned security executive, public policy manager, and administrator with risk mitigation and analytics capabilities, a community relations expert with extensive orchestrating securities enforcement activities, and developing outreach plans while devising sensitive strategies and tactics. In 2016, Greg previously served as Inspector General of the LNP and Chairman of the West African Police Chiefs Committee (WAPCO). 

Sam Gaye is returning to the helm of the EPS, having directed the agency from December 2016 to January 2018. During his previous stint at the EPS, Gaye led more than 500 sworn officers and was responsible for the protection of the President, and the Vice President (and their families), as well as senior officials and foreign dignitaries. 

Sam Kofi Woods may not be considered a security practitioner in the traditional sense, but his portfolio of educated, practical, and lived experiences seems to qualify him for the position of National Security Advisor. Woods, a human rights lawyer by practice, has aided in the investigation and prosecution of war crimes cases against several ex-warlords who have since been convicted across Europe and the Americas. 

Ministry of State 

Coming in as Minister-designate of State for Presidential Affairs is Mr. Sylvester Grigsby, a close confidant of President Boakai. In short, Grigsby comes highly qualified as an administrator and one who has the institutional memory to enter the saddle and run an effective Office of the President. He served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and was later seconded to succeed Bobby McClain as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs. 

Ministry Finance and Development Planning

One of the most contentious jobs in the Government of Liberia is that of the Minister of Finance and Development Planning. In addition to managing the National purse strings, Boima Kamara brings to the job a great deal of competence, integrity, and responsibility in fiscal affairs. 

Rescue Squad or Old Guard? 

It also does not go unnoticed that four of Boakai’s first five appointments have held their respective appointed jobs before, albeit for a very short period of time. These four include Kamara, Gaye, Coleman, and Grigsby, all of whom served for just under two years (2016 to January 2018) during the twilight of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration. 

While it may be fair enough that Boakai believes he can vouch for each man’s competence and credibility, some Liberians believe that these appointments might be a resuscitation of the old guard from the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration. 

However, Boakai has repeatedly told of numerous opportunities that were ‘squandered’ by the Sirleaf Administration and may be re-appointing certain key Human Resources to help him redeem those opportunities. He may be onto something by bringing back these seasoned professionals who were previously appointed but did not have enough time to make the necessary impact in their respective agencies.