Gbarnga — Jewel Howard-Taylor is facing backlash in her county for her comment that President George Weah will win re-election “with or without the support of Bong County,” with many locals taking to radio stations to call out the vice president for what they deemed an “ungrateful and unacceptable” comment.
As of the 2008 Census, Bong had a population of 328,919, making it the third most populous county in Liberia.
Howard-Taylor’s comment came in response to a concern raised by 26-year-old Beatrice Myers, a resident of Gbarnga, on Monday at the start of the vice president’s week-long dialogue with residents of the county.
Beatrice was concerned as to why there was no cabinet minister from the county appointed by President Weah, since the dismissal of former agriculture minister Dr. Mogana Flomo, Jr in 2019, despite the overwhelming support received by the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) in both rounds of the 2017 elections in the county.
Beatrice said: “Madam Vice President, as the third-most populous county in the country, taking into consideration our (citizens of the county) role played in making George Weah president, and you our “daughter” vice president, what would be our reward as a county if we elect the CDC government for another six years?”
“The Bong County Technical College is still an unfinished project, there is no market being built in Gbarnga despite the president talking about ongoing market in his state of the nation address, and the stalled Gbarnga street pavement construction.”
Jewel: “I’m sorry, didn’t mean harm”
The vice president backtracked Wednesday and pleaded for forgiveness, saying: “I spoke in context, and was misinterpreted. I was simply trying to say that one county can’t make a president. In 2017, the people of Lofa County overwhelmingly voted former Vice President Joseph Boakai, and he still couldn’t win the election.”
“I can’t betray the trust of the people of Bong County. If what I said didn’t go down well with the people of Bong, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean harm.”
History of VP Taylor’s “insensitive” statements in Bong
This is not the first time Howard-Taylor has faced backlash over “provocative” comments.
In May of 2018, Howard-Taylor had gone gone to Gbarnga to install 13 commissioners of that county who were appointed by the CDC.
During that program, she made a “divisive statement” that angered residents of the county.
After greeting everyone who was in attendance, she said: “Truthfully, all of the 13 Commissioners [here] might not be members of the Coalition; we have got one or two who might not be members. Y’all must join because other people joined the Unity Party, too. So, I am waiting for y’all to call me from your districts to tell me that you are joining the ruling Coalition those of you who are not members. The Bible says ‘How can two walk together if they don’t agree?’ So, all ‘two’ of you must all be on the same side. So you see, if you can’t make it, you tell us so that we can find somebody else. Anybody, who feels that they are not able to make it must say it now before we go far,” she said.
“When I call a meeting of the Coalition and someone [among you] is not part of the Coalition, the thing I want to talk, will I be able to talk it there? So you all just come on board with your whole hearts and minds.
“To show that you all that some people who are sitting here are not members of the Coalition, you know we don’t have nothing in our hearts against you’ll because I would have said removed everybody. What would you have done to me? Nothing! This is my time. Nothing you will do to me. This is my time. We are not coming to give our birthrights to other people. This is our time to eat. We will eat but we are going to eat in a way that everybody will be able to eat, too.”
Fury over VP comment
On Tuesday, wrath erupted in the county following the comment, with locals accusing Howard-Taylor of being “ungrateful” to the people of Bong, and called on the president not to select her as running mate ahead of the 2023 presidential elections.
Francis Smith, a resident of Gbarnga, told FrontPageAfrica, said that Howard-Taylor’s comment was unacceptable by all measures, and called on the people of the county to take firm measures against the vice president’s words and the CDC in 2023.
The statement is offensive not only to the people of Bong County, but also to the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change of which is a ranking member, Smith added.
“This is what you get from someone who continues to benefit from the people of Bong County with nothing to show for,” he said. “It’s now time the people of Bong County shun the vice president and the ruling CDC because they have nothing to offer, as per the statement made by the vice president.”
Prince Gorlormator, a native of Gbartala who was a delegate at the meeting, said: “The comment by the vice president should make residents of the county to rethink ahead of the 2023 presidential elections. We have voted for Howard-Taylor with high hopes and expectations only to hear statements of such from her. This is not only disappointing to the people of Bong County, but those who have voted her over those years.”
Howard-Taylor’s political career began in earnest when she was elected in 2005 as a senator in Bong, the county where her former husband and former Liberian president Charles Taylor’s legacy still lives among some locals.
She won re-election in 2014, defeating eight men, including now senator Dr. Henrique Tokpa, former Bong County superintendent Ranney Jackson, and others.
Howard-Taylor was a surprise pick for vice-president on the ticket of the footballer turned politician, as many expected her to run for the top job herself.
But her selection paid off as Bongese (residents of Bong) overwhelming supported the CDC at the detriment of another prominent son of the county, Jeremiah Solunteh, who contested as running mate to Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC).
In upper Bong County, the Coalition for Democratic Change obtained 37,439 votes (63.1 percent), while Unity Party of Vice President Joseph Boakai received 21,859 votes (36.9 percent) of a total of 61,136 votes.
In lower Bong, Weah’s CDC secured 33, 229 (65.5 percent), while Boakai’s UP accumulated 17,512 (34.5 percent). Invalid votes in this area amounted to 1,640.
That was the first time the CDC had won both rounds of presidential elections in Bong, a feat many attributed to the presence of Howard-Taylor on the ticket.