Is Professor Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe the “Servant and Transformational Leader” Liberia needs?

Presidential candidate of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP),  Cllr. Taiwan Saye Gongloe

“History is not made by people who remain silent when the people are suffering or those who agree with every leader in order not to lose any opportunity or suffer any discomfort or injury. History is made by people who have principles that they live by and are prepared to die for if need be.” — Gongloe

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the Daily Observer newspaper.

Liberians are eager and ready to decide the fate, the future of their country, and the next generations through the constitutional process in the 2023 general elections. It is inarguable that the inability of Liberians to unite irrespective of tribes and religion to pave the way for the emergence of credible leadership in Liberia has been identified as one of the major reasons for insecurity, unemployment, collapsed education and health care systems, and infrastructure deficit holding us to ransom. The argument currently is whether we re-elect the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate, President George Weah.

On September 16, the Liberia People's Party (LPP) elected Liberia's renowned human right lawyer, former President of the Liberia National Bar Association, and Associate Professor of Law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe, as the LPP presidential candidate for the 2023 general election.

 The party’s delegates elected the human rights lawyer as its flag bearer at its national convention in Gbarnga, Bong County. Before his emergence at the convention, the well-known human rights lawyer, accepted a petition by a group of Liberians on December 2021 to run for President. 

Tiawan Gongloe was born in Glehyee-Zorpea, Yarwein Mehnsonnoh District, Nimba County on 6 August 1956. His political journey first began nearly 46 years ago when he joined the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), a pan-African political organization which played a pivotal role in the struggle for social justice and democracy in Liberia in the 1970s.

 After the People’s Redemption Council 1980 coup d'état, Dr. Amos Sawyer, Gongloe, and others founded the Liberian People’s Party (LPP). The LPP was established in 1983, nearly 39 years ago, but was banned during the electioneering process by military dictator Master Sergeant Samuel Doe and his People’s Redemption Council (PRC) brutal junta.

Fast-forward to 2022 and Gongloe, now 66, is running to be Liberia’s next president. He is among the scores of well-known faces in what is currently a crowded horse race. For any of these candidates, governing Africa’s first independent country will be a daunting task. Gongloe argues that “government is the place to serve and not to steal.”

In the 10 October 2023 presidential election, it is widely speculated that the race is between President George Weah and Former Vice President Joseph Boakai, both being unpopular in different ways. The two men have the political and financial backing of the ruling Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) and the former ruling party, Unity Party (UP), respectively. In Liberia’s big-money elections, the chance of a third party causing an upset against these behemoths is negligible. 

Nonetheless, Gongloe, backed by the Liberian People’s Party is determined to spice up the tasteless political environment in Liberia. He argues that Liberia is in the “ICU” (Intensive Care Unit) and desperately needs change, starting from the top. According to him, “to get to a better Liberia, the Liberian people need an alternative leader who knows Liberian political history and has been a part of the struggle of the Liberian people for making Liberia a better place for all Liberians.”  

Gongloe insists that by contrast, his vision and experience could solve many of the country’s challenges. These range from a faltering economy to weak infrastructure, food insecurity, massive unemployment of the youth, insecurity in the country, etc. He argues “the Liberian people need an alternative leader who does not say one thing and does something different. The Liberian people need an alternative leader who will not lie to them. The Liberian people need a leader whose income and sources of income will be known to the people at all times.” 

Carrying a homemade broom with him at public gatherings as a symbol of his intentions to sweep away corruption if he is elected as president, Gongloe stresses “the only way to achieve this is to elect a Liberian leader who has served the Liberian people without stealing their money. The election of a person who does not steal the government's money is important because, if the president does not steal, his ministers [and] those who serve under the ministers will not steal.”

 He warned: “Liberians must not see corruption as a way of life.” He argues that transparency in law enforcement and court proceedings tends to promote peace and foreign investment in any country. He emphasized that “there will be no selective application of the law under a Gongloe administration because selective justice is no justice. There must be justice for all in Liberia for the attainment of sustainable peace, progress and prosperity.” 

In tackling improving the socioeconomic condition, Gongloe intends to “redirect the economy of Liberia towards self-sufficiency in food production, engaging in import substitution and value-added export promotion as well as expanding economic activities in the rural parts of Liberia by granting tax incentives to rural-based manufacturing companies, with the objective of slowing down the current level of rural-urban migration and unemployment among the youth.”

Aside from Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh’s unblemished record of activism that has spanned over 50 years, in my opinion, no Liberian alive has done more for the masses than Tiawan Gongloe when it comes to defending the voiceless; when we set aside individuals like Albert Porte, D. Tweh, Baccus Matthew, Bishop Michael Francis and others who are respected by all for the role they played in the Liberia society. People from opposition parties and the ruling party have acknowledged Gongloe’s roles in the struggle for social justice and democracy and fight for human rights at different times. 

Among all the candidates in the 2023 race, Gongloe is used to resisting exclusion and repression, both economic and political. As a social activist in the 70s and 80s and later a human rights activist in the 90s and 2000s, Tiawan Saye Gongloe has solidarized with different groups and people he considered to be oppressed, which has consistently happened for over 46 years on a stretch. Gongloe argues that, “History is not made by people who remain silent when the people are suffering or those who agree with every leader in order not to lose any opportunity or suffer any discomfort or injury. History is made by people who have principles that they live by and are prepared to die for if need be.” 

Gongloe, as a student leader, was jailed by the Tolbert administration during a student protest. On August 22, 1984, the University of Liberia students protested the arrest of Prof. Amos Sawyer. Before his arrest, Prof. Amos Sawyer had criticized then Head of State, Samuel Doe. Doe was affronted by what he called the “gross disrespect” accorded him by university administrators and students and ordered his minister of defense, Maj. Gen. Gray D. Allison, to the campus to stop the demonstrators. The wave of looting, flogging, and rape left the campus community stunned for years. As a Teacher Assistant, Gongloe was stripped naked and severely beaten by the soldiers after attempting to protect an elderly female staff of the University of Liberia during the soldiers' onslaught. He was hospitalized at the SD Cooper Hospital and was treated. After the raid, he was sacked from the University of Liberia by the military junta.

In 1997, Charles Taylor was elected as the 22nd President of Liberia. Tiawan Saye Gongloe defended journalists, political activists, and the downtrodden during Charles Taylor’s tyrannical rule. He was very outspoken about human rights violations and abuses by the Liberian security forces under Charles Taylor. In March of 2002, Gongloe was arrested by Charles Taylor’s regime in connection with a speech he had delivered in Guinea, wherein he had discussed the role of civil society in achieving peace in the Mano River Union. Gongloe was beaten severely throughout the night of his arrest and subjected to death threats. He was then taken to Cooper Hospital as a result of injuries sustained from the beatings. He suffered from loss of hearing in his left ear, a swollen and bloodied left eye, severe bruising all over his body, and intense internal pain. Gongloe was charged with no offense even though he was tortured and detained.

Tiawan Saye Gongloe is a transformational “public servant.” He was the first Solicitor General since the independence of Liberia in 1847 to have appointed college-educated lawyers as county attorneys in all 15 counties of Liberia, thereby improving the protection of rights and prosecutorial powers of the Liberian government. As Minister of Labor, Gongloe issued Regulation Number 17, which increased work permit fees for non-Liberian residents from US$400 to US$1,000, compelling foreign employers to hire more Liberians by reducing or getting rid of non-Liberian employees. Gongloe's most recent leadership role at the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) speaks for itself; he left the organization solvent, with over US$100,000 in its coffers, which were raised over three years, even though the Bar was in severe debt when he took over. He even constructed the first floor of a three-story headquarters of the LNBA, currently under construction on the Robertsfield Highway in Margibi County.

Lastly, as a politician, he has been able to disrupt the entire political system and has been able to raise the consciousness of Liberians on the negative effects of corruption by carrying a broom and sweeping corruption. Gongloe is the only presidential candidate that has presented a 10 points agenda in tackling the health deficit, educational deficit, agriculture deficit, infrastructure deficit, corruption, unemployment, the deficit of public truth, etc. While many deem it fit to commend him for his unwavering efforts and the tenacity to change the narrative, we still have some Liberians who have either not gotten his message right or perhaps do not align with his approach and thought process. Notwithstanding, the point of convergence for all perspectives about his personality is that he is not a Liberian who has a space for Fear. Tiawan Saye Gongloe can simply fit to be a synonym for Courage in Liberia.

For us, what distinguishes Gongloe from other candidates is his audacity to promote strict adherence to the rule of law, fight for justice, tackle corruption by probing and retrieve every penny stolen by past and present governments, appointing not less than fifty percent of cabinet ministers to women, instigate a lifestyle audit for all public officials and redistribute national wealth in a manner that is beneficial to the majority of Liberians. He proposes to build a “new Liberia through a new system of governance that is decentralized, gender-sensitive, participatory, inclusive and accountable.” 

His wanting to employ only those who, in their lifetime, have demonstrated honesty and are capable is commendable. Gongloe says “the only way for Liberia to make progress, is to retire the CDC! CDC must be retired, declared redundant, and kicked out of office in 2023.” We totally agree with him and are calling on all Liberians to join Gongloe on the train that will move Liberia from backwardness to forwardness. His records of service in both the public and private sectors over the past 44 years speak to integrity and honesty. 

Truth be told, Tiawan Saye Gongloe has charted a remarkable journey from the boy from Glehyee-Zorpea, Yarwein Mehnsonnoh District, Nimba County, to becoming a presidential candidate. And regardless of the number of votes he picks up on 10 October, he has already seasoned the 2023 presidential race with something a little different. He is a breath of fresh air. Indeed, a better Liberia is possible.