Driving to my home in Virginia, Montserrado County, in the early morning hours last Saturday, I detected the swift movements of lithe bodies running desperately for cover.
Men and women carried hefty batteries on their heads. They dragged screeching generators on the asphalt, underneath flickering florescent lights. Some ran with scraps of sharp metal in their hands, jutting the instruments in the air with jerky movements.
Their desperation was so palpable, I could smell it. Taste it. Feel it.
These night wanderers were looting the Clara Town store that had burned to the ground just 12 hours earlier, as we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic watching the smoke fumes.
Sent to arrest the situation, our Liberian National Fire Service whipped out a single hose of water to quell the blaze. The fire fought back and won.
The tragic irony of this was not lost on me. After 12 years of a Sirleaf-led government, we continue to use rudimentary tools to solve Liberia’s most dogged challenges. The nameless, faceless people reduced to stealing a few measly scraps of metal represented, for me, the more than 50% of Liberians who live in abject poverty.
I was reminded with a jolt of urgency why Oct. 10 is a make or break moment for Liberia. That although I missed voter registration by three days in March because of work commitments in the UK, I still had an obligation to convince others of the importance of their votes.
I then remembered with clarity why I would vote for Liberty Party candidate Charles Brumskine if I could.
Of the 20 candidates vying to replace President Sirleaf, Brumskine appears to be the only top contender who would actually institute reforms that Liberia needs to avoid further socio-economic deprivation.
Like implementing legal instruments to curb public and private sector graft.
Or using his legal expertise to negotiate better concession deals focused on industrialisation and value addition of our natural resources rather than extraction and exploitation.
Brumskine has even proposed revising our procurement laws to support small and medium sized Liberian enterprises, akin to a Liberianisation 2.0.
During the National Conference on the Future of Liberia in July 1998, before term limits were sexy and topical, Brumskine advocated for reducing presidential terms from six to four years and the terms of senators from nine to four years. This was done when he was an elected senator.
Here’s an indication that Brumskine would likely employ his short-lived experience as president pro-tempore of the Liberian senate to reel in the excesses of the legislature.
This is not to say that Brumskine is perfect. Far from it.
He was elected senator under Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (although he later broke ranks with Taylor because of professional disagreements).
Some have accused him of being entirely too arrogant or self-assured.
Rumours abound about him wanting to bring back a ‘Congau’ hegemony (he has recently gone on record condemning the glorification of the settler-as-saviour narrative, however).
Brumskine selected Harrison Karnwea of Nimba County though his running mate is technically ineligible to run according to a strict interpretation of the 2014 Civil Service Code of Conduct.
Despite these apparent faults, however, Brumskine stands above the top contenders because he is the least imperfect, in my estimation.
Though I’ve never met the man, Brumskine appears to be reasonable and measured. He’s quite possibly the only candidate I would actually consider leaving a prestigious post-doctoral fellowship at Oxford next year for, if called to serve.
Now, some may argue that I am compelled to endorse Brumskine because he is from my mother’s hometown of Buchanan. They may even reason that Brumskine is my favourite cousin’s godfather, and that another cousin is a stalwart of the Liberty Party.
But these facts couldn’t be the furthest from my mind. As a public intellectual and scholar, I much prefer logic and evidence to sentiments.
If given the opportunity to vote, I would not choose Boakai, Weah or Cummings, for a number of reasons.
Boakia’s flippant statement about being ‘a race car waiting in the garage’ felt like a slap in the face for many of us who worked extremely hard to institute reforms in Sirleaf’s first and/or second terms.
While he could have advanced agricultural transformation, given his prior expertise in the sector, or intervened to curb Ebola in his native Lofa during the early stages of the outbreak in 2014, he remained silent and ineffectual.
Weah’s populism, inability to articulate a coherent platform, and general lack of political swagger are deeply concerning. Success at football does not translate into success in the presidency of a traumatised, poorly managed, post-war nation.
While Cummings may suggest what appear to be carefully crafted policies and programmes, I remain troubled by his proposals to privatise essential services like electricity and water. Moreover, Cummings’ lack of experience in Liberia’s complex and toxic political ecosystem as well as questions around his citizenship and 10-year residency are also cause for concern.
Voting for anyone except Brumskine on Oct. 10 would be like using a primitive hose to fight an uncontrollable fire, like our Fire Service attempted to do last week.
I beg, for those of you who have valid voter registration cards, let’s solve Liberia’s wicked problems with more advanced tools.
Let’s start by electing Charles Brumskine next Tuesday to take over the mantle of national leadership in January 2018.
Robtel Neajai Pailey is a Liberian academic, activist and author of the anti-corruption children’s book, Gbagba.