By Musa A. F. Sherif
It’s a hard time for Liberia. Perhaps the hardest since 1847. With the past still lingering in minds, a lot of Liberians shiver with fear; the fear of another April 14th or December 24th. While such concern remains legitimate, mine is something else; perhaps one that is negligible, but very polarizing. It is the current cat-dog relationship between the President of the republic whose spine of patience is very short and the Vice President whose knowledge of the Liberian political landscape is no less a weapon of mass destruction.
President Weah and VP Taylor are both giants. Their coming together on a coalition ticket in the 2017 elections pointed to an excellent friendship between a famous soccer star and a politically experienced former first lady. But as Frank Underwood would make us believe, “Friends make the worst enemies.” And so is it with President Weah and Vice President Howard Taylor. What exists between the two since the political honeymoon ended is a game of thrones played in a house of cards. Arguably, the Weah and Howard-Taylor ticket was the most formidable and the nearest to victory in the 2017 presidential election of Liberia. As my Johns Hopkins scholar friend intimated recently in Kigali, even if the holiest of God’s angels had contested the race, CDC (Coalition for Democratic Change) would have still won. And just as the ticket was the nearest to victory in 2017, an objective analysis of the same today will establish that it remains the surest force to transform the country truly. But with the ensuing fight between the two figureheads of the ticket (Weah and Taylor), the ruling government stands at the extreme of a dangerous slip. Said slip can be viewed from three minefields: the fight of two elephants, an in house split within the Coalition, and the venom of a patriarchal card.
The fight of two elephants
As indicated earlier, Weah and Howard-Taylor are two elephants in Liberian politics. If any political leadership is poised to transform Liberia without the traditional stiff opposition or resistance from the “masses”, the Weah-Howard-Taylor leadership can be no less. This is because of the love Liberian people have for both of them. Outside of politics, Liberians see President Weah as a dove whose communal roost is their hearts. In politics, they see him as a savior. So If Liberia was a trinity, then George Weah is the Holy Spirit. While the vice president might not share such level of nation-wide love, she equally has her loyal constituency that spans across two of Liberia’s largest electoral strongholds. And if for any reason, it is this political calculus that brought Howard-Taylor to contest as vice to George Weah. But at the core of this alliance is a growing miscalculation and a deadly political slip. With President Weah’s unceasing rattle on every move of the Vice President, along with the gross disrespect she gets from members of his inner circle daily, Howard-Taylor is turning into a martyr. If she becomes one, George Weah losses it now and in 2023. This is owed to the line of authority the Vice President has. As indicated earlier, her understanding of the Liberian politics places a huge political schism between her and Weah. They are no peers, neither is she a match of any of Weah’s advisers. She’s a survivor and participant of Liberia’s deadliest political period (1997-2003). Added to that, she is the daughter of two of Liberia’s electoral colleges (Bong and Lofa Counties). While it could some may argue that she does not have massive authority in Lofa, Bong is undoubtedly hers. In other words, If Liberia is a House of Cards, Howard-Taylor is the Frank Underwood. And if it’s a Game of Thrones, she is the Targaryen Queen. Therefore, any effort for both elephants to fight, the grass (Liberia) will certainly suffer undesirable outcome that won’t fit in the territoriality of Liberia alone.
An in-house split
With a fully established rivalry between Weah and Howard-Taylor comes the blow of a divided house within the Coalition. The ruling CDC is not the historic Congress for Democratic Change that had contested and lost elections until 2017. It is a conglomeration of many parties; one in which the NPP is a reckoning force. While ordinary Liberians may be nothing but CDCians, the vast majority of them, both old and young, are also loyalists of the NPP because of Charles Taylor. With Charles Taylor no longer around to see, these loyalists look up to no one but Howard-Taylor. That gives her a great deal of command over both the 1990 generation who sang; “you kill my ma, you kill my pa, I will vote for you” and the real NPP hardliners; some of whom occupy prominent positions in the current government. The Coalition’s 2017 victory wasn’t without these groups of NPP supporters. And although the parties are now seen to be one under the coalition, the demarcation between party loyalty remains drawn among the supporters. Therefore, pushing the Vice President to the edge of the wedge will do but only one thing: create a divided house within the already sinking Coalition.
The Patriarchal Card
Last, but worthy of taking into consideration, is the gender dimension this tussle may create. If patriarchy is anything hammered into the DNA of African men, then President Weah is just one hell of an example, and his recent treatments of the Vice President cannot be easily argued otherwise. While the Liberian people might fear the paternalistic dominance of the President, they hate the cries and tears of women (their mothers), Howard-Taylor included. Howard-Taylor has started crying, and she’s beginning to be heard. This is regardless of whether her cries are truly genuine or they are just those of the crocodile. With the history of oppression against them in the past as in the present, no woman wants to take toxic masculinity against the least of them anymore, lest to talk about the one that is in the second highest seat of a country.
Pundits would argue here that President-VP tussle did not start with Weah and Howard-Taylor. Pointing to Sirleaf-Boakai scenario, they will be quick to dismiss the patriarchal construct of Weah-Howard-Taylor rivalry. While this makes sense, it is but a red herring. During the regime of the Unity Party, it was a female presidency against a male vice presidency. Who would have cared in that case? Fewer ears are opened nowadays to the cry of men. The world is just getting busy helping women out of their brutal past. Unlike that of Sirleaf-Boakai, the one of Weah and Howard-Taylor is a dangerous card. The Vice President has already begun playing the victim card. She seems abused, molested, and looked down upon. With such undeserved treatment comes the wrath of global feminist movement; many of which she is a stakeholder. Howard-Taylor knows how to play her game. And whatever it is, it’s nothing far from connecting her dots with those global women solidarity movements to wait for the final showtime.
“Proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it,” said Frank Underwood. Power is like a highly caffeinated crack. You become high on the smallest amount. Weah has been deluded to see himself as the “all hail” type. With his arbitrary moves on matters of collective national initiatives, he is turning into a despot whose only barrier to full-fledged tyranny is a matter of time. And just like any tyrant, he’s starting a fight with the wrong person. What the Liberian people want at the moment is not a president who flexes his muscle on his vice. If that were the case, they would have voted for a heavy-weight champ than a soccer star. All they want is good governance; effective and efficient service delivery, economic prosperity, and food on their table. The least George Weah can do now is feel too big an elephant. If Sirleaf was handled, Doe and Charles Taylor before her, what more about him? It only requires a sound political calculus to get him out. In simple words, the President must stop the unnecessary fight with the Vice President, and the Vice President must respect the office of the President and his authority. No president likes being undermined; no matter how big or small their power may be. Howard-Taylor must know that and avoid any fight with Weah. Because, as Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. And should it fall, it won’t fall on Weah Alone. Howard-Taylor will also be a casualty.
Musa A. F. Sherif is the founding Executive Director of the Institute of African Governance and Policy Research in Kigali, Rwanda. His areas of study focus on Peace & Security and Conflict Resolution in war-torn and post-conflict countries in Africa with a vested interest in Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia And the Horn of Africa. He writes on issues of governance, policy, identity, education, gender, and global politics and is the recipient of Top Moonshot thinking, Mama Africa, Entrepreneurial Leadership, and the Unsung Leader Awards, among others, at the African Leadership University. He can be reached at [email protected] or +250782549824.