Since 1856, when President Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Liberia’s first President, ceded power to the newly elected Stephen Allen Benson as the new Chief Executive, Liberia has had many successful presidential transitions.
This continued until President Edward J. Roye was forcibly removed from office in 1871 and his Vice President, James S. Smith, succeeded Roye. In 1872 the Legislature, by Joint Resolution, appointed former President Roberts as President for another four years.
Roberts was succeeded in 1876 by James Spriggs Payne. He, too, ceded power to Anthony William Gardner following the election of 1877. The orderly presidential successions continued until 1900, when President Wilmot David Coleman resigned and Secretary of State Garretson Wilmot Gibson became President by joint Legislative resolution. President Gibson served until 1904 when Arthur Barclay was elected President.
From that point peaceful and orderly presidential transitions continued until 1930 when President C.D.B. King was forced to resign over the Fernando Po crisis and the Legislature, again by joint resolution, appointed Secretary of State of State Edwin J. Barclay as President.
Barclay served King’s unexpired term, and was then elected in his own right in 1931. He served until 1943 when he voluntarily quit politics and ceded presidential power in January, 1944 to President W.V.S. Tubman. This succession was particularly historic because not since then, a period of 74 years, have we had another peaceful and orderly presidential transition.
Why? Because following President Tubman’s death in July 1971, his Vice President, William R. Tolbert, Jr., succeeded him. But President Tolbert’s tenure came to an abrupt and tragic end on April 12, 1980, when he was violently overthrown by the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe and 16 other enlisted men of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
Doe got himself elected President in 1985, but remained in power until September 1990 when, during the civil war that ensued on December 24, 1989, he was captured and killed. The next election was held in 1997, when warlord Charles G. Taylor, who had started the civil war, was elected President. However, because he brutally prolonged the war, he was forced by the international community to quit office and leave Liberia. He was subsequently handed over to the International Criminal Court and convicted of crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone.
He was succeeded by the National Transitional Government of Liberia headed by Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant, who successfully organized the 2005 elections that brought Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to power as President of Liberia.
Now, after two terms in office—2006-2017—President Sirleaf is set to cede power to a new Liberian President, who will be the fortunate winner of tomorrow’s election.
This is why we call tomorrow’s election historic. We all hope and pray that all of us, beginning with the National Elections Commission (NEC), responsible for organizing and executing these elections, will participate in a free, fair, credible and transparent election to elect a new President of Liberia and 73 Members of the House of Representatives.
Let us quickly remind our fellow Liberians, however, that tomorrow’s election is not only history-making, though indeed it is. There is something far more critical: our country, Africa’s oldest independent republic, is 170 years old, yet one of the most backward on the continent.
Why? Because with few exceptions, we have had the misfortune of choosing bad leaders—leaders who have not been honest, patriotic, selfless, trustworthy; but have rather concerned themselves with seeking the interests of themselves, their families and friends and have left office leaving the Liberian masses stuck in abject poverty.
Just go to three of our marketplaces in Monrovia alone—Douala, Soniwen and Paynesville—all along the main corridor jam to the Red Light Market, the nation’s largest, and behold the filth and stench from massive heaps of uncollected garbage. Why are the Mayors of these cities, Monrovia and Paynesville, still there when they cannot clean up their cities? The people’s continuing poverty is one thing; but exposing them to epidemics such as we bitterly experienced three years ago during the deadly Ebola pandemic is criminal, to say the least. This is because with such filth pervading the wretched landscape, another pandemic could break out at any time. What is the Ministry of Health for, if it cannot do something to arrest this stinking menace in our midst?
Whom should we vote for tomorrow? We will not be presumptuous to tell you whom to vote for. All we ask is that you first pray that God will lead you to choose a person of God’s anointing, someone who will not look after himself, his family and friends, but one who can be TRUSTED because of his past record; one who is competent and determined, at long last, to LIFT Liberia and MOVE HER FORWARD into the modern age.
After 170 years, is it not about time?