Liberia: “Retire Boakai from Politics,” Leymah Gbowee tells UP

Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee, left, "in the interest of peace, development, and the future of Liberia, I would like to ask all to kindly allow Uncle Joe Boakai, right, to retire from politics and focus on his health."



… But the former VP’s supporters fire back, saying only the former Vice President “can deliver the country the kind of serious leadership it needs.”

Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee has requested former Vice President Joseph Boakai’s Unity Party retire him from politics so that he may focus on his health.

Gbowee, who up until yesterday's Facebook post has always had the support of the Unity Party while she criticized President George Weah, has argued that the former Vice President's deteriorating health condition requires him to step down from politics for the sake of Liberia’s future.

“Unity Party, do the right thing! Dear Unity Party officials, including my Aunty Dabah Varpilah, in the interest of peace, development, and the future of Liberia, I would like to ask all to kindly allow Uncle Joe Boakai to retire from politics and focus on his health,” Gbowee wrote.

Boakai, according to the Nobel Laureate, deserves to spend his golden years interacting with his grandkids, and not policing when he is in no position to contest the Liberian presidency with elections about 10 months away.

“The writings are on the wall; my uncle Joe is in no position to contest! Uncle Joe, please be well; I pray God’s blessings upon you,” Gbowee wrote. “Dear Unity Party, Liberia’s political future and interests lie and rest squarely in your hands! It is high time we put egos aside and put Liberia and her interests first. Do the right thing.”

Gbowee’s post, however, was sharply rebuked by Boakai’s supporters, with the former Vice President’s Tact Team saying that they are appalled by the Nobel Peace Laureate’s remarks.

“We find the statement to be very disingenuous, coming from a woman who is supposed to be a symbol of peace, dignity, and unity,” said Telia Urey, National Chairperson of the Tact Team.

“We advise Gbowee to find a more dignified way to express herself without flagrant and unnecessary disrespect to the former Vice President. Our country is reeling from the backlashes of bad governance and is on the brink of being a pariah state under this government,” Urey said. 

She added that it is only Boakai that can deliver the country the kind of serious leadership it is "in need of” to free the country from “this kleptocratic regime.”

“We find it very hypocritical that people like Leymah Gbowee will celebrate the election of Joe Biden and other leaders who are older than Boakai, but will talk down to their own, who has been an honest and dedicated public servant his entire life.”

Despite the harsh criticism from Boakai's supporters, Gbowee's comments seem to have increased public worries about the former vice president's health ahead of the presidential elections in October. 

According to his party, Boakai was treated for a minor fever on January 8 when he was admitted to the ELWA Hospital in Paynesville. However, it was later speculated that the hospital admission was due to a mild stroke. He was discharged from the hospital on January 15.

If the stroke speculation is confirmed, it would deal a major blow to the former ruling party's hopes of unseating Weah, whose six-year reign has been characterized by mixed results, with unemployment and poverty raging high.

Whatever the case may be, Boakai's illness, which his team describes as a brief period of medical observation and a well-deserved period of relaxation, raises concerns about whether he is fully prepared, both mentally and physically, to serve as president of Liberia.

This concern might have dogged Boakai’s pending presidential bid, but how that will impact his chances is unclear, considering that he remains among the most popular opposition politicians in the country.

Boakai’s age and health have always been central issues in discussing his quest for the Liberian presidency. Many of his critics say he lacks the physical fortitude to perform the duties of a president. But the former VP has always insisted that he is in good health and mentally fit to lead the country.

And when news broke about his illness, the Weah administration swiftly seized the opportunity to issue a statement informing the public of its expressed concern for the family of the former Vice President and offered to assist in any manner deemed necessary for his speedy recovery.

Enraged by the government’s statement, the Unity Party, in response, termed the government’s assertion that they had made contact with the family a “diabolical lie."

The party claims that it considers the government’s release as yet another callous attempt to save face and create the false impression that Boakai’s health condition is very serious and he is unable to pay his medical bills.

The UP’s harsh response may have been a result of what many supporters of Boakai termed "denigrating" when Weah, during an interview in December 2019, began to list all the good he had done for the former vice president, including paying his medical bills.

In response to a question in a live interview on December 20, 2019, Weah said he was shocked to hear that the former Vice President had accused him of being a wicked person when he paid his (Boakai) medical bills and helped him to undergo heart surgery. 

“Boakai can never say that George Weah is a wicked man to him. Boakai spent 12 years of his life as Vice President. He got sick and almost died. He didn’t have any support, the only person that came to his aid was George Weah. How can a George Weah be wicked to a Boakai?” Weah quizzed rhetorically.

But Boakai in response questioned Weah’s upbringing, quoting a passage from the Book of Proverbs (the Holy Bible), which says, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” 

“That’s the way he was brought up, and those are the things he was trained to do,” Boakai said. “But thank God we have children who are brought up in a different way.”

Meanwhile, Gbowee ended her write-up on Facebook, saying that she would also like to ask Boakai’s party to reconsider its “partnership with other political parties and form a merger that will provide a viable political option for the Liberian people.”

Urey, in response, noted that Boakai has been the lead proponent for the opposition Unity Party, as he even spearheaded the formation of the Collaborating Political Parties and has been the voice of reason within the opposition community. 

The CPP, which was made up of four parties, fell apart when the Unity Party and the All Liberian Party withdrew due to alleged tampering with the CPP framework document. 

The CPP now comprises the Alternative National Congress and a splitter group from the Liberty Party headed by its chairman, Musa H. Bility.