Liberia: The Political Crossover Appeal of Musa Hassan Bility

Musa Bility (center) surrounded by his kinsmen and women. 

.... Right now, though there is an incumbent who is running for re-election, Musa's involvement has overshadowed his main opponent, the incumbent whose only argument for re-election is playing the ethnic card. Of all the candidates now in the race, Musa is the most talked about politician of the district in particular, and Nimba in general.

By Nvasekie N. Konneh

In a society defined by demarcated lines of ethnicity or religion, most people only operate within the narrow confines of these artificial lines. Even with this condition, some can be brave or sociable enough to go beyond such lines of social divisions and appeal to people outside of their demographic group. This crossover appeal is more defined in entertainment and sport where artists or sports figures can appeal to fans beyond their demographic groups.

Given the political influence, Musa Bility wields in the Liberian political setting today, it's fair to describe his triumph and success as such a political crossover appeal. He has never let his ethnicity and religion hold him back from advancing socially and politically. For some who may complain about ethnic discrimination, Musa's success in the broader Liberian political space should be a source of inspiration and motivation, that they too could venture outside of their ethnic comfort zone to be influencers in different areas of Liberian society.

Other Liberians, may point to Musa's success as a politician to argue that indeed anyone can succeed in our society despite ethnic and religious factors. Way back when Musa Bility won the LFA presidency with some of his opponents openly saying during the campaign that they didn’t want a Muslim or Mandingo as president of the organization, he defied the odds by winning by the widest margin than any previous president of the organization.

With LFA being history as far as electoral politics is concerned, Musa is now venturing into another political test, running for the District 7 representative position in Nimba County. After attempting to go as the VP candidate with the late Charles Brumskine in the 2017 elections and as VP for the current candidate of CPP, Alexander Cummings, Musa decided to lower his ambition to go for the district 7 representative position. 

Right now, though there is an incumbent who is running for re-election, Musa's involvement has overshadowed his main opponent, the incumbent whose only argument for re-election is playing the ethnic card. Of all the candidates now in the race, Musa is the most talked about politician of the district in particular, and Nimba in general. He's the constant subject of discussion by both his supporters and detractors. In a recent conversation with him, I asked that though he's confident he will win, why if he loses? He said, “in politics, you can't be scared of defeat to prevent you from running.

It's like a lottery. You could win or lose but you will never win or lose if you don't play.” In his thinking, he's prepared for everything. He said all of what he's invested in Nimba from being its chief sports patron to the massive road construction he’s carrying on district 7 are done purely from his heart for the love he feels for the county of his birth. 

He said that if God blesses him with the means, he wants to help his county and if the people are convinced that he can be their leader, he welcomes their support. He said he’s doing what he’s doing out of love for his county and it is left to the people to make the decision. He promises to be a very consequential legislator if he is elected. He said he’s very confident of winning against the odds. 

Multi-ethnic Heritage

Most Mandingoes from Nimba have multiethnic links with Mano and Gio. Musa is one of them. His grandmother who gave birth to his mother was a Mano woman from the powerful Dahngbonwein family. Besides that, his mother Muasia Dulleh Bility spent most of her time in Nyasin where Musa shared his childhood experience as well as in Saclepea where he was born on April 6, 1967. As a young man growing up in Saclepea, for Musa, friendship was beyond ethnicity and religion. His friends included Mandingoes, Manos, and Gios.

We were all growing up in Saclepea which had organizations like the Black Star football club and Saclepea Youth Association (SYA). Though we were too young, the organization was led by our big brothers from both the Manos and Mandingoes. Musa’s biological big brothers, Lasana Bility and Richmond Konneh were among the leaders of the organization. With such organizations, we felt the oneness as a community in Saclepea.

The SYA annual Christmas and New Year festivities used to draw Saclepeans from all over Liberia. While living in Monrovia, Musa and I traveled to Saclepea for those occasions as we looked forward to meeting our relatives and friends we had not seen in a while. It was always a wonderful occasion of town folks coming together to merry-make with each other. This event was a very big part of our upbringing in Saclepea. People loved and cared for each other. Today, Musa’s campaign represents that old-time feeling of oneness of the various ethnic groups in Saclepea and the rest of District 7.

Though many of the young people active in politics today might not have been born by then, there are many old people who are still around who feel nostalgic about such a beautiful past in the district. Can we rekindle that old-time feeling of oneness? Many people who hold on to such past feelings strongly feel that Musa is the best candidate for the moment. He has demonstrated his love for Nimba in general and District 7 in so many ways. Traveling with him recently, we went from Sacleepea to Tengbein, Nyasein, Gbankoi, Loyee, and Bleevalee. Everywhere we went there was great appreciation shown by the people for his development efforts. 

From Humble Beginning

For some who may look at Musa’s life today, they may assume that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. That’s far from the truth. His parents were not rich. His mom, Mah Muasisa, spent most of her time in Nyasein, though she used to come to Saclepea from time to time. Musa was no different from any of the young men that grew up in Saclepea in the late 70s through the 80s. No one could predict those days that he would grow up to become who he is today.

Just like many young Mandingo or Muslims growing up in Saclepea at the time, Musa attended the Liberian Muslim Union School. This was prior to moving to Monrovia in 1988 but before then he attended the Saclepea In-land Mission School, a Christian boarding school. Just like many young Liberians, his educational quest was interrupted by the war. He did not leave the country to go anywhere. He went through the ups and downs of the war.

When NPFL stormed Paynesville, Musa lived with his uncle, Alhaj Samuka Dolleh at Chicken Farm. It was during the darkest days of the war in Monrovia that Musa lost his beloved mother, Ma Muasia Dolleh. She was such a sweet mother that kept food for us whenever we came to the city from across the bridge. Living in different parts of the city, his mom’s residence on Carey Street which she shared with her husband, Musa’s father, was our daily stopping point. The old man struggled daily to keep food for us.

Those were our struggling days in Monrovia before the war that would send all of us running helter-skelter in and outside of Liberia. Unfortunately, Mah Musasia did not live to see the good days of Musa we are all seeing today. She succumbed to sickness during the heat of the war in the 90s.  

In 1992, Musa graduated from Zion Academy High school in Monrovia.  Upon his graduation, he attended Zion Community College and graduated with an Associate Degree in 1994. In 2008, he obtained his BA Degree in Economy from AME Zion University. In 2021, Zion University awarded him an Honorary Doctoral degree for his many years of contribution to the university.

While going to Zion Community College in the early 90s, Musa started selling gas in containers on the streets of Monrovia. He had a friend from Zion Community College called Lloyd Cooper who used to sell for him. Around this time, he was a close confidant of the late Clifford Flemister who was the president of Rovia Bank located at the intersection of Johnson and Benson streets in Monrovia. It is through the Flemister connection that Musa met the late Dr. Amos Sawyer when he served as the interim president.

He became a close confidant of interim President Sawyer. At the end of Sawyer's interim leadership, Musa started a company called The Sahara Trading Company which was engaged in selling petroleum products in the Liberian market. When Sahara folded, Musa Bility traveled to the US in 1997. Just like many Liberians at the time, he applied for political asylum, but he didn't have the patience to wait for that process that takes years for some people.

In 1998, he returned home with the saying that "I used to be my own boss in Liberia, I can't come to America to work for other people." With that mindset, Musa abandoned his asylum process and returned to Liberia to continue his business. Upon returning to Liberia, he started another company that was engaged in the importation of electronic products such as computers. He supplied government and private institutions with computers and other electronic products. Along the way, Musa has dabbled into other businesses such as rice and cement but with Srimex as its CEO, he is primarily engaged in petroleum importation and distribution. He’s the owner of a petroleum terminal at the Freeport of Monrovia.  

Musa and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Prior to 2003, Musa had no relationship with candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. By this time, his closest political ally and business partner was the late Willie Knuckle who became Minister of Public Work in the UP-led government of President Sirleaf. Musa met candidate Sirleaf for the first time in Atlanta, Georgia when he was visiting the US on a business trip. When he met Ellen after she had declared her intentions to run for president, Musa was already a successful businessman with Srimex and Truth FM. When the National Mandingo Caucus which he served as president endorsed candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, he put his newly opened radio station, Truth FM at her disposal.

Her campaign was massively publicized on Truth FM. Not only that, Musa contributed financially to Ellen's campaign in 2005. He became the Montserrado County campaign chairman for UP in that election cycle. When Ellen became president, Musa continued with his business while serving as the board chairman of the National Port Authority. He subsequently served as board chairman of the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation and the Liberian Airport Authority. Currently, he's the CEO and Board Chairman of Srimex Inc and Renaissance Communication Inc. which operates Truth FM and its affiliate stations elsewhere in Liberia. 

In 2007, Ellen appointed Musa as the chairman of the Nimba County Land Dispute Committee which he diligently executed with the strategy of a win win for everyone. In this regard, many original landowners prior to the war were given back their lands while the occupiers were given payoffs to find another place. In some instances, the original owners chose the option of money leaving the occupiers in their properties. Still there were some occupiers who received money but have since refused to leave the properties for which they received payments. 

In 2016, Musa joined the Liberty Party of the late Cllr. Charles Brumskine. His coming to LP was celebrated massively by LP standard bearer, Charles Brumskine and partisans at the party's old headquarters on the Old Road. He was the man who made LP more competitive in the 2017 election by massively investing in the party.

In 2021, he was elected as chairman of LP, the position he holds up to the present. Currently, he's the front-runner candidate in district 7 representative election scheduled for October 2023. For those who may not know, if Musa wins, and we are certain he will win, he will not be the first Mandingo or Muslim to be elected as representative of Nimba County. Others before him were Rep. Soko Sackor in the late 60 and early 70, Rep.  Mamadee Kamara of Zoe Geh District, and Rep. Abdullah Kromah of Tappita in 1985. 

Development versus Tribal Sentiment

For many years, Musa Hassan Bility has been going back and forward to his roots in Saclepea, Nimba County. While he lives in Monrovia, he spends every weekend there. He has dedicated his time, energy, and resources to development projects in District 7. He brought in yellow machines which have been fixing roads in the district.

He's contributed to many kinds of projects there as well. Now knowing the kind of talk and do leader he has proven to be in terms of development and progress in the district, the people in various parts of District 7 massively petitioned him to run for representative candidate position in the 2023 elections. Now he’s seen as a transformative leader in terms of reconciliation, development, and progress. Despite these massive efforts, there are some skeptics who have expressed skepticism about his chance of winning the district's electoral position.

Most of this skepticism is based on the ethnic sentiment which is ever present not just in Liberian politics, but African politics as a whole. Before the war, Nimba County had a huge Mandingo population which significantly impacted Nimba's electoral politics. Since the end of the war, the Mandingo population is yet to recover to its prewar level. As such, the voters are entirely Manos and Gios. With the incumbent and other candidates being Mano and Gio, will Musa’s massive investment in development in the district sway the voters to vote for him? Will the need for development overcome tribal sentiment in the district?

These are the questions some skeptics are asking. While the supporters of the incumbent Rep. Roger Domah are appealing to tribal sentiment to win reelection, Musa and his supporters are optimistic that the need for development will triumph over tribal sentiment. If you talk to someone like Paul Wehyee, CPP Nimba County chairman, the desire for development is more important to the people of district 7 than tribal sentiment.

According to him, “We live in a world where those who have the power and the resources do not know how to connect with those who have the needs. Our people support Musa Hassan Bility to be their next representative in district # 7 so that he can serve to facilitate the union between the need and solution.”  Paul Wheyee went on to say that “Our people believe in Musa because he has helped them to rebuild bridges over the impassible roads.

They will vote for him against leaders who have not lived up to the promises they have made to the people. The key thing missing in the world today is hope, and hope is always born out of necessity. They see Musa as that glint of light for the improvement of their living conditions through the massive road projects and other developments in District 7.” 

Paul went on to say that the people “don't see his tribe as an obstacle to his election because they know that he didn't choose to be born of his tribe. He has always said 'I am a Mandingo man and I feel that electing me to be your representative only proves that you know that we are one people despite our ethnic differences.” He believes that Musa’s ancestral connection with the Manos is another plus for him and with that, he is assured that there will be a Nimba County representative called Hon. Musa Bility. 

About the Author: Nvasekie N. Konneh is a Liberian writer based in the United States of America. He’s the author of The Land of My Father’s Birth: a memoir of the Liberian civil war. He’s also the author of two poetry collections, Going to War for America and The Love of Liberty Brought Us Together. Nvasekie Konneh is a nine-year veteran of the US Navy.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily Observer.)