President-elect Joe Boakai: “Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown”

Guest Editorial by Lamini A. Waritay 

The much tension-packed elections have come and gone. The CDC leadership led by outgoing President, George M. Weah, is on its way out, and the incoming administration led by President-elect Joe N. Boakai is getting set to take the reins of power. The atmosphere in the country has arguably become suddenly relaxed, as the Liberian people enthusiastically look forward to picking up the pieces from where the George Weah administration would leave off. That stated, in the midst of the ongoing euphoria over the outcome of the elections, the one person whose headache has already begun is JNB himself.

Upon his shoulders now lies the burden of setting the tone of his six-year administration. When one considers the rot, the unmitigated hardship impacting the masses, inefficiency and cluelessness at both the leadership and bureaucratic levels that have preceded his incoming leadership, the 78-year-old veteran must be wondering if he is already up the creek without a paddle. Add to this dismissal state of affairs the immediate tasks and obligations the president-elect and his advisers have to attend to, and you have a stress-filled, pressure-cooker situation the president-elect would have to craftily manage. 

Already, the outgoing government has sent a shot across the President-elect’s bowel by bizarrely implying that there will be trouble for the new government if the latter opts subsequently against auditing the outgoing CDC government.  It goes without saying that no sober person around the president-elect will countenance such a shameful appeal for indemnity, and threat of backlash if such a demand for protection is not granted. 

To many, this threat easily translates into an admission of guilt by the outgoing leadership even before the new regime comes into being. Not surprisingly, the anti-corruption tzar, John Morlu II, has quickly and forcefully responded to Mr. Weah’s daring statement that in effect equates auditing of his government to “witch hunting” and fomenting “chaos”. Morlu is quoted as asserting that “true harmony requires justice and accountability,” promising that “the cycle of corruption in Liberia must end with the Weah administration.” More grease to his elbows for his forthrightness in this regard. 

Meanwhile, as is often the case in transitional periods, JNB and his team must be dealing with the usual angling for various positions in the new government on the part of individuals.  This could become more daunting in his case, given the constellation of various vested interests that all contributed in one way or the other to getting the UP ticket over the electoral finish line. He would therefore have to, as a matter of practicality, consider those who have been with him in the trenches during tough times, while at the same time factoring in the expectations of the alliance of political groupings whose vote-adding endorsements played no small role in the success of the UP slate by a relatively slim margin.

Already, Senator Prince Y. Johnson, not surprisingly for many who have been following his antics, is being quoted as requesting more than twenty positions in the new government — a red flag that many opponents and critics of UP’s alliance with PYJ’s party repeatedly (if hypocritically) raised during the campaign season. Apparently, the senior senator is not a strong proponent of an all-inclusive government that a divided society such as ours must have in place at this point in time.     

While the president-elect is submerged in the horse-trading discussions with his personal staff and advisers around pertinent issues, he is at the same time working on the transitional team, which will constitute the first action that could provide a window on the kind of governance trajectory JNB may have been contemplating ahead of January 22, 2024.  Hopefully this might not be that much of a challenge given the comparatively more qualified and experienced technocrats/manpower at the disposal of UP than that which CDC can boast of at any given time.

Against the backdrop of such heady potpourri of national agenda items the president-elect has before him, and considering his advanced age, all efforts must be exerted by the people around him to ensure that he is not subjected to any undue pressures. He needs as much time and space as possible to think through a lot of stuff. What he is inheriting from six years of CDC misrule is nothing more than an empty shell.  The system is broken at virtually every level. He will be lucky to find any money left behind the past regime. And it will be surprising if any of the handover notes from any of the Ministries and Agencies will hold out any concrete ideas or policy issues that will be of material benefit to the new administration going forward.   

Thankfully, given his long experience in the public sector, and with his team boasting of some knowledgeable and experienced technocrats and policy-oriented individuals (the old and experienced and the young and enthusiastic), these immediate transitional challenges should not be unassailable. Indeed, one would suppose that long before they got where they are now, JNB and his team must have been anticipating the existing transitional situation, and hence have all along been brainstorming and strategizing as they endeavored to establish a roadmap for, at least, the first 100 days, and beyond.

For now, as the new administration moves to manage very high expectations for JNB’s leadership against the background of CDC’s legacy of misgovernance, and as the president-elect and his team sort out issues pending the inauguration and the weeks and months that will follow, JNB deserves some slack. Let everybody let him be, so that he and his team will have the necessary presence of mind and breathing space to regroup after a most defining electoral exercise, and focus on matters that must be speedily dealt with after the inauguration — particularly the kitchen table issues most Liberians are concerned about.

The hard-fought elections are now out of the way. The critical task of taking off from a damaged socio-economic and political system to a more results-oriented and rule-of-law-based system of governance must begin — with the help of all, irrespective of partisan affiliation. For Joe Boakai, at this pivotal and consequential time, it is a typical case of William Shakespeare’s assertion (in his play King Henry IV) that “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. Perhaps more than any one person on his transitional team, JNB knows all too well that, more often than not, acquiring political power can become easier than successfully and effectively wielding that power — especially in an atmosphere in which the patience and goodwill of a hard strapped and frustrated population is very limited. The President-elect will therefore need all the wisdom, creativity, prayers and wishes of good luck, as he and his team navigate the choppy waters of unbridled expectations and the constraining effects of misrule by a predecessor regime.