Liberia: Can Tiawan Saye Gongloe end CDC, UP’s 17-year Oligopoly?
The two major political parties that have dominated Liberia's post-conflict ruling elites are the Unity Party (UP) and the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). The UP, having ruled the country for 12 years since the civil war ended in 2005, and the CDC took over the reins of political power at the polls in the general elections in 2017. Both parties have below-par achievements, respectively, and have remained arguably the major political decision-makers in the country.
Many Liberians, and indeed watchers of the nation’s democracy, may have believed that, at its birth nineteen years ago, the CDC, would be a better managed and organized party than the ruling UP, which it desperately sought to oust from government. With 12 years in power at the time, the UP dominated the political space, but hardly met the aspirations of Liberia and its people, at least for most of those years. The then governing party was plagued by internal wrangling, littered with factions, stinking of corruption, and mired in crises, leading to President Sirleaf not supporting her Vice President, Joseph Boakai, who was vying for the top seat to replace her in 2018. Thus, upon the arrival of the CDC at the helm of power after Mr. George Weah won the 2017 presidential election, many hoped that it would avoid the pitfalls of the UP-led government and provide good governance and much-needed democracy dividends. Sadly, it hasn’t happened.
On paper, Liberia is a multi-party democracy that allows qualified Liberians to vote and be voted into political offices. Still, some have argued that our system comprises former warlords and politicians of the same class, homogenous in ideology, but heterogeneous in party solidarity. Therefore, the political reality of the Liberian people is a manifestation of the political beliefs and convictions of the ruling elites, irrespective of their party solidarity. The unbearable state of Liberia is a direct result of the collective looting of the country's resources by the ruling elites in the CDC as well as the UP and their associates.
The World Bank statistics on the poverty rate in Liberia are a testament to this uncomfortable yet undeniable fact: 50.9% of Liberians live in poverty, meaning roughly 2.3 million Liberians are unable to meet their basic needs. According to UNESCO, one in five children in Liberia is out of school, but our political elites boast of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) and Liberia Rising 2030 under the Unity Party-led government and the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) under the Coalition of Democratic Change. The unprecedented poverty, corruption, insecurity, unemployment, etc. in post-conflict Liberia are testaments to the lackadaisical attitude of the UP-led administration (2006-2017) and CDC-led government (2018-2023).
It has become evident that the senile politicians from these two parties and their collaborators, through a plethora of anti-people political and economic policies, have failed. The future of Liberia and the destiny of the people living in abject poverty; carrying the brunt of gross incompetence, lies, deceit, and monetary politics from time immemorial, must be hijacked from their hands to avoid further catastrophes. In consideration of the above, it begs the question: Does the destiny of a new Liberia lie in a new breed of leaders? How can one tell us the poverty reduction strategy and the Agenda for Transformation: Steps Toward Liberia RISING 2030 under the Unity Party and the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) under the Congress Democratic Change improve the lives of our people?
Truth be told, the UP and CDC dominance of the political scene in post-conflict Liberia for 17 years has been characterized by total disregard for the concerns of the poor majority of the populace and the preservation of the interests and privileges of the ruling elites. Liberia has been misruled by the inept and sometimes venally corrupt administrations of the two parties that have alternated power.
The surprise entry into the race of Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe, a renowned human rights advocate and former minister of labor, is a breath of fresh air. Gongloe offers a very different sort of politics in Liberia, where for a decade and a half plus, the electoral calculus was primarily based on politicians spreading money to voters while stoking up divisions along the lines of tribal and regional affiliation. The candidates of the two main parties, Mr. George Weah of the ruling CDC and Mr. Joseph Boakai of the UP, seem to form alliances every election cycle with permanent citizens of vote-rich regions to turn out the vote, with allegations of pay-to-play in these arrangements.
Cllr. Gongloe, by contrast, has reached across the country’s main divides, holding rallies in Grand Gedeh, Nimba counties, etc, and his opponents’ perceived strongholds (focusing on Lofa & Grand Kru counties, Mr. Boakai, and President Weah’s stronghold, in particular) and urging voters to base their choice on character and track record.
His records as solicitor general and minister of labor are very encouraging. When he took office in 2007 as solicitor general, the entire system was deteriorating. He promoted the rule of law and assisted his colleagues through training to enable them to cope with the time, speed, and technology that the law practice demanded as Liberia transitioned from war to peace and democratization. Later as minister of labor, he worked tirelessly in putting into action the liberalization policy to benefit Liberians and Liberia in general.
On policy, his economic inclination leans toward the support of a market economy based on individualism and private property as means of production, perhaps because he is an economist, having graduated with an economics degree and taught economics in the 80s at the University of Liberia. He promises to open the market for investors by awarding tax incentives, especially when investors choose to invest farther away from Monrovia. He intends to fix the exchange rate and restore the independence of the Central Bank of Liberia, which has been eroded under Mr. Weah’s administration. Critics pointed out Gongloe's clean image and urged him to wait until 2029. How can one have issues with someone who is honest and integrity driven? The minds of some Liberians.
Cllr. Gongloe has presented the Liberian people with a ten points agenda for the transformation of Liberia, a stark contrast with President Weah and Mr. Boakai, two main rivals, who have both refused to offer any plan for how they intend to transform the country and the lives of its people.
He stands apart from the two established candidates in other ways, too. He is an energetic 66-year-old, who comes across as intellectually open. He is an intellectual having taught economics at the University of Liberia dating back to the 80s. He is an Associate Professor of Law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. Gongloe also served as a research fellow for some of the best universities in the world, including Harvard, and Columbia.
His awareness events, for instance, include appearances on radio and tv talk shows, and town-hall meetings where he encourages voters to ask tough questions; speaks to his " Gongloe's eagerness to citizen participation in the democratization process of Liberia. By contrast, Mr. Weah is a 56-year-old who has skipped several radio and tv talk shows, and town-hall meetings, but keeps releasing music and traveling around the world in a private jet. Mr. Weah was elected president without any meaningful manifesto from him and his CDC during the 2017 presidential election.
Mr. Boakai is a frail 78-year-old who has skipped several radio and tv talk shows, and town-hall meetings events like Mr. Weah is considered an established candidate, however, he is indelibly linked with the 12 years of massive failures of the UP-led administration which led to CDC victory in 2017 2017. He was vice president for two terms (2006-2018), where he said he was a race car parked in the garage and is on record saying the UP-led administration for 12 years "squandered opportunities.” Mr. Boakai’s agenda for rescuing Liberia is unknown.
It has become apparent that the two political parties have failed woefully and have nothing left to offer the Liberian. It is now evident that the faces of the plunderers of the collective wealth of Liberia are well known to the public and no amount of party decamping will spare them at the ballots from the wrath of the masses.
Undoubtedly, Gongloe has substantial hurdles to clear on his route to the top job. He doesn’t belong to either the ruling Coalition of Democratic Change or the former ruling Unity Party. However, he hails from the northeastern, Liberia’s largest voting bloc. In 1 year and 5 months since he accepted the petition from citizens of Liberia to run for the presidency, Gongloe, the presidential aspirant of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP) has shown his electoral strength with visits to more than 300 towns and villages in the 13 counties, where he held hugely successful rallies and has solidified his reputation as an ethical candidate who has rejected the politics of corruption, inducement, and crowd-buying.
By doing so, Cllr. Gongloe has set himself apart from his main rivals. Cllr. Gongloe’s candidacy has been well received by many Liberians in towns and villages, especially those who seek a departure from the CDC and the UP domination of the political space. Although Gongloe is not a spendthrift like your typical Liberian politician who steals and loots the country only to pour cash on voters during electioneering, Gongloe's tour of the country depicts you don’t have to pour out money, rice, etc. to put your message to the people and ask them to accept your message of a better Liberia. He hopes to galvanize this support into his broom revolution of sorts.
Cllr. Gongloe is generally perceived to possess a better reputation than most Liberian politicians. With his broom in his hands, an unconventional method of sweeping corruption and bad governance out of Liberia, Gongloe is rejuvenating frustrated voters who said they were not voting. He tells his audience in rural and urban Liberia: two overlapping segments of Liberia’s long-suffering electorate; “Government is a place to serve and not a place to steal and better Liberia is possible.
Cllr. Gongloe who is considered as the underdog, chances appear bright for Gongloe as the Liberian People’s Party, which elected Gongloe as standard bearer played an important role in the struggle for social justice and democracy in Liberia. A strong showing or even a win by Gongloe would indicate the political salience of rural and urban Liberia —which could lead Liberia toward a much-needed inflection point in its democratic trajectory.
Looking longer term, Liberia’s stability and prosperity will hinge on whether rural and urban Liberia can harness their energy and grievances and translate it into political power in this and future elections. Until then, durable and destructive kleptocratic networks of the CDC and the UP will remain in control of Africa’s first independent country. A win by Boakai or Weah would perpetuate the disconnect between the powerful and the powerless. I rest my case.