Monrovia — With barely 10 months to the general and presidential elections, the politicking has started in all camps, however, crucial in the opposition camp is how they forge on and how the standard bearers select their running mates.
Joseph Boakai and Alexander Cummings remain the forerunners in the opposition, however, their chances of replacing incumbent George M. Weah are dependent not on their own formidability but on the strength of the ticket they forge. Some believe only a Boakai-Cummings ticket can unseat the incumbent.
Taa Wongbe, former aide to Cummings in a piece of analysis opined that what the Liberian people want as an alternative to Weah is a Boakai-Cummings ticket.
He noted that Cummings cannot win the 2023 elections by himself, especially with Boakai in the race. He called on Cummings to prove his love for country by seconding Boakai for the sake of unseating Weah in October.
“CDC’s first 200,000 votes will come from Montserrado. Boakai’s first 200,000 votes will come from Montserrado and Lofa. No one knows where Cummings first 100,000 votes will come from,” he said.
He, on the other hand, described Boakai as being “notoriously inconsistent in making decisions”. However, he called on Boakai to take the lead in pushing for the Liberian people’s dream ticket – Boakai-Cummings’ ticket.
“Anything short of the dream ticket will ruin Boakai’s quest,” he stated.
He warned that despite the sufferings, governance ills, and massive looting, the opposition should not expect voters to make the ‘right choice’. “With lots of cash, a divided and fractured opposition, along with the hate among opposition leaders, CDC will emerge victorious in 2023,” he stated.
It is, however, very unlikely that the Boakai and Cummings would iron out their differences before October as both vision bearers have admitted to courting possible running mates.
FrontPageAfrica has been looking at some possible running mates being scouted by both Boakai and Cummings and which side they may possibly land on.
SENATOR JEREMIAH KOUNG (NIMBA)
Senator Jeremiah Koung is the current Senator of Nimba County. He ascended to the Senate in the 2020 Special Senatorial Election on Sen. Prince Y. Johnson’s Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR) ticket. He was also backed by the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) in that election.
Last December, Sen. Johnson turned over the chairmanship of the MDR to Koung. This means Koung is now comfortably seated to call the shots in the upcoming elections as Nimba remains the major decider.
Koung and his predecessor, Sen. Johnson last December announced that they will no longer support CDC in the October elections since it failed to honor its promises made in the agreement that landed them the Nimba votes in the 2017 election.
Sen. Koung is fortunate to be Nimba County, even more to that is that he is backed by Sen. Prince Johnson whom is known to be the political godfather of the county. Nimba is the second biggest vote-rich county in Liberia. Previous elections have proven that the Nimbaians vote in the direction ordered by Senator Johnson and his associates, like Sen. Koung. This means, whichever side Sen. Koung goes, he is likely to sway hundreds of thousands of votes to the side he chooses.
According to the National Elections Commission, Nimba has 302,843 registered voters. The county next to Nimba in terms of vote population is Lofa which has 187,775 registered voters.
Sen. Koung is a close associate of Sen. Prince Y. Johnson who has been sanctioned by the United States Department of Treasury for corruption. Sen. Johnson, a former warlord, popularly known for slaying former President Samuel K. Doe, according to the U.S. Treasury was involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment. As part of the scheme, upon receiving funding from the Government of Liberia (GOL), the involved government ministries and organizations launder a portion of the funding for return to the involved participants. The pay-for-play funding scheme involves millions of U.S. dollars. Johnson has also offered the sale of votes in multiple Liberian elections in exchange for money.
With these records on Sen. Johnson, affiliates like Sen. Koung would be under the watchful eyes of the United States and Uncle Sam, Liberia’s oldest diplomatic partner, is likely not to do business with him.
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Both Alexander Cummings and former Vice President Joseph Boakai are said to be coveting the Senator from the vote-rich county. Koung has made a name for himself, cementing as the ultimate successor to Prince Johnson. Over the past few days, stalwarts of the Cummings-led CPP have reportedly been making overtures to Koung in hopes of winning him over although UP insiders are said to be prevailing on Boakai to gamble on Koung. Insiders’ information, however, suggests that the Nimba County Senator is more likely to lean toward the CPP.
SENATOR NYONBLEE KARNGA LAWRENCE (Bassa)
Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence is a two-term Senator and the first female Senator of Grand Bassa County. A renowned women’s rights campaigner and social justice activist, Nyonblee was first elected to the Senate in 2013 and reelected during the 2020 midterm elections. Throughout her first term, she remained the only female in a senate that comprised 29 men. Yet, she resisted and defied every attempt of male chauvinists in the Senate directed at distracting her.
Sen. Lawrence became the political leader of the Liberty Party (LP) in 2018 following the death of the founder and standard bearer, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine. Her position in the Liberty Party is, however, now conflicted as she and the chairman, Musa Bility remain entangled in legal wrangling after her expulsion from the party.
When it comes to the Liberty Party, a constituent member of the new CPP, chairman Musa Bility may have the party, but it is indisputable that Sen. Lawrence has the voters. Being a native of Grand Bassa County where the Liberty Party was birthed, Sen. Lawrence is a force to reckon with.
Sen. Karnga Lawrence may not be in the position to help source funding for the campaign.
LIKELY LANDING SPOT?
The Senator for Grand Bassa has not hidden her desire to be a running mate for the former VP Boakai, declaring last week that if she is asked, she will accept. The Senator though is facing challenges amid concerns by sources on the Boakai’s circle that the lingering feud and division in the Liberty have been a stumbling block for Boakai’s camp. There’s also an issue regarding whether the Senator can help raise the money Boakai needs to cement his status as the current front-runner in the opposition block.
Another option? Speculations of a United Liberty could alter the Senator’s quest depending on how the Supreme Court rules in the case this week.
CLLR TIAWON GONGLOE
Born in Glehyee-Zorpea, Yarwin-Mehnsonoh Statutory District, Nimba County, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe has come to be known not only as an astute human rights lawyer in Liberia, but also as an icon of integrity. He is the the chairman emeritus of the Liberia National Bar Association.
In April 2011 he chaired a special committee, established by the President to investigate the March 22, 2011 police brutality against students of the G. W. Gibson High School and Tubman High School.
He is former Minister of Labor, Republic of Liberia – resigned in
November 2010 over policy disagreement with the President of Liberia;
As a former Solicitor General, Cllr. Gongloe became the first in the history of Liberia to prosecute a former head of State and sitting members of the Liberian Senate; in that position, participated in the renegotiation of the Metal Steel mining concession agreement in Liberia, participated in the formulation of the forestry reform law, amongst other things.
Being in a country where integrity is in short supply, Cllr. Gongloe represents the aspirations of many Liberians who seek an end to impunity and those that demand accountability and equitable distribution of national wealth.
Hailing from Nimba County, the second vote-rich county in the country, Cllr. Gongloe may off set the chances of other candidates heavily relying on Nimba County to catapult them to victory in the October election.
Cllr. Gongloe may be a symbol of integrity to many, but the hard truth remains he is yet to spread his tentacles outside the capital and his native Nimba County. Mostly referred to as ‘Poor man lawyer’, Cllr. Gongloe may also not have the funding the foot a national campaign for the presidential contest.
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Coveted by both BOAKAI and Cummings, aides to the human rights activist have ruled out the likelihood that he could settle for a VP slot to either.
In fact, last September, Gongloe was emphatic in dispelling rumors of becoming a running mate to former Vice President Boakai.
Speaking to a cross section of Liberians in Monrovia, the Former Labor Minister said the rumors that he and the former vice president are going to be on a single ticket is totally untrue.
According to him, the idea of him becoming the running mate to Mr. Boakai was out. Moreover, that he would not become a running mate to anyone. He would be contesting for the highest seat of the land.
According to him, no one can campaign for the position as vice president on a political party ticket, but by the will of that political party’s presidential candidate to choose his or her own running mate within the same political party.
“Joe Boakai and I, are not friends,” he said.
“We are not in the same party, how will he choose me to be his running mate?”
Gongloe’s stance has reportedly drifted both Boakai and Cummings away from interest in courting him as a potential VP pick.
SARA BEYSOLOW NYANTI
Sara Frances Beysolow Nyanti (born 1968) is an international development expert and Liberian pastor. She has more than 20 years of professional experience. She has been a United Nations Assistant Secretary General since December 2021.
Nyanti held senior positions in the Liberian Ministry of Health from 1999 to 2003, including as Director of the National AIDS Control Program. She wrote the country’s first grant to the Global Fund for money to combat malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis. During the conflict and transitional government periods, Nyanti worked for the United Nations in Liberia.
From 2005 to 2009, Nyanti worked for the UN in Nepal, before becoming UNICEF HIV/AIDS advisor to the representatives in Namibia and Kenya in 2009. She was head of the UNICEG office in Lagos from 2015 to 2015. She was UNICEF Representative in Gambia from 2015 to 2017 and in Yemen from 2019 to 2020. In January 2021, she was appointed Resident Coordinator for the UN in Nepal.
Nyanti was a key figure in the response to Nigeria’s Ebola Virus Disease outbreak and has been a leader in the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2019, she has been the highest ranking Liberian in the UN.
In November 2021, she moderated the second day of the Women Political Leaders’ fourth annual Reykjavik Global Forum, noting the need for gender equality to move from policy to action.
In December 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Nyanti Deputy Special Representative, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan (UNMISS) and Resident Coordinator in South Sudan, succeeding Alain Noudéhou of Benin. The role is an Assistant Secretary General. Nyanti will be leading the UN’s efforts in recovery and stabilization in the world’s newest country.
Both Cummings and Boakai have been courting Nyanti over the past few months although Boakai has reportedly made major inroads in recent days. The thinking is that Beysolow could bring some level of international experience and help raise money.
Mrs. Nyanti has very little domestic recognition. It is unclear which base she represents and how she would make a good fit with either Boakai or Cummings.
LIKELY DESTINATION: Both Cummings and Boakai have reported been courting Mrs. Nyanti. It, however, remains unclear as to which side she is likely to go and if at all she is ready to gamble her international assignment.
SENATOR PRINCE MOYE(BONG)
Sen. Moye is the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, but contested and won the senatorial seat for Bong County during the 2020 Special Senatorial Elections. He won the CPP ticket. Moye’s entry into the legislature was on the backs of the Unity Party. He entry into politics began in 2011 and would go on to win re-election in 2017. Moye served as Procurement Director of Cuttington University for nearly four years.
Moye’s profile could be boosted by the fact that he has built a reputation as a strong voice in Bong County politics since his rise to political prominence in 2011. He twice won as representative of electoral district two, both in 2011 and 2017, before going on to win as Senator of Bong County in 2020, defeating the incumbent senator and a member of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change candidate, Henry Yallah.
In 2011, from the five candidates, Moye secured a total vote of 8,526, which amounted to 50 per cent of the votes, before securing an overwhelming vote in 2017 to secure a re-election. In 2020, Moye defied the odds yet again, defeating the ruling party’s candidate, Yallah, with an overwhelming margin of over 15, 000 vote difference, one of the senators who secured the most votes in the country.
But that feat didn’t come without a challenge from the ruling establishment. As a former Deputy Speaker, Moye had to fend off the challenge of “strangulation” from the Lower House, where his benefits were reportedly seized, while local officials of the county were reportedly forced to support the ruling party’s candidate.
Moye’s potential preferment by Boakai would give rise to questions about the presence of Jewel Howard-Taylor, the current vice president, a former senator of Bong County who’s is set to be retained as running mate to President Weah in ahead this year’s election.
Howard-Taylor, a native of Sanoyea District in Bong County, has won twice as senator of Bong County – in 2005 and 2014 – before her rise as vice president to President Weah in 2018. It’s true her presence on the CDC ticket enabled the party to secure the county in both the first and second rounds of the elections respectively.
But it’s fair to say that her popularity that propelled CDC to that feat has since plummeted, having lost all three by-elections in Bong County where she’s supported a candidate.
LIKELY LANDING SPOT
Unlike many other names on Boakai’s list, Moye is not known for seeking the spotlight. But his hardworking, behind-the-scene approach has made him beloved within the Unity Party and some executives within the party are said to have given their nod to his potential selection.
Benoni Wilfred Urey a businessman and politician, who was formerly the Liberian Commissioner of Maritime Affairs. In 2014 The Economist reported that Urey was Liberia’s wealthiest man.
Since 2017, Urey has been a strong ally to Boakai and has often dismissed Cummings’ ambition for the Presidency. It is believed that the rivalry between Urey and Cummings led to the collapse of the Collaborating Political Parties.
Under the Interim Government of Liberia, chaired by Wilton Sankawulo, in 1995, Urey was appointed President of Agricultural Cooperative Development Bank of Liberia.
In 1996, the Council of State appointed Urey as Commissioner of Maritime Affairs. When Charles Taylor came to power after winning elections in 1997, Urey was reappointed to his position as Commissioner of Maritime. He served as Commissioner until 2003, when Taylor resigned from office.
In 2000, Urey was sanctioned by the United Nations for his alleged role in arms procurement (starting in summer of 2002) and also for his alleged “ongoing ties with Charles Taylor”. Urey breached an earlier UN travel ban in August 2001. His name was added to the US Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals list, prohibiting him from conducting business with US companies, citizens and residents, and blocking all US-based assets.
A 2005 report from the Coalition for International Justice reported that Urey helped Taylor “siphon off” funds from a shipping firm to pay for arms and was the primary contact between Taylor and Viktor Bout. The United Nations Panel of Experts concluded in their November 2013 report that “evidence indicates, however, that in approving the funds Urey was acting on the orders of Taylor.”
The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended in its final report that Urey be prosecuted for the commission of economic crimes during the civil war and barred from holding public office for 30 years. During the TRC hearings, Urey was identified by witness James Paul as operating the Liberian Rubber Company and exporting “hundred of thousands of tons of rubber”, the proceeds of which were never accounted for.
Urey has denied any involvement in the violence of the Liberian and Sierra Leone civil conflicts, maintaining that as a civilian being appointed to head the Maritime Commission, he made no war-related decisions. An investigation by the United Nations Panel of Experts on Liberia’s political situation in 2013 concluded that it “did not have information suggesting that Urey was involved in activities that would destabilize Liberia and the subregion”. The Panel also stated that “Urey’s business activities, and the profits gained from them, would appear to suggest that civil conflict in Liberia would have a significant negative financial impact on him”. In December 2013, Urey was de-listed from the United Nations Sanction Lists. In November 2015, the US Treasury Department lifted sanctions against a number of Liberians, including Urey.
Urey could be a major financier to Boakai if selected as running mate. Urey has been an ardent supporter of the former Vice President’s quest for the presidency. Urey has a great deal of influence on the former Vice President.
Depite being cleared by various international investigative panels, Urey continues to carry the stigma of being involved with the Liberian civil war and one of those that looted the state’s coffers during the crisis.
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Mr. Urey has successfully worked his way into becoming the most influential force in former VP BOAKAI’S inner circle.
The former presidential candidate has reportedly realized his major Achilles as a former aide to Charles Taylor blamed for procuring armed leading to the deaths of scores of Liberians during the civil war, and ruled himself out of contention for a VP slot. However, speculations continue to linger that Mr. Urey still has interest – or insisting on having a say on whoever BOAKAI decides on being his running mate.
Amara M. Konneh has more than 25 years of experience in humanitarian, private sector, government, and international development work. He is a Senior Advisor on Partnerships and Regional Integration covering Africa for the World Bank. In this role, he advises the World Bank on regional economic integration to create economic hubs for value chains and helps build strategic partnerships with Africa’s regional economic commissions. Prior to that, he served as Lead Advisor for the Bank’s engagements in countries affected by fragility, conflict, violence, and forced displacement with emphasis on Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, and Nigeria.
The former Finance Minister joined the World Bank Group in May 2016 as head of its Global Hub for Fragility, Conflict, Violence and Forced Displacement (FCV) in Nairobi serving more than 35 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In this position, he successfully coordinated the World Bank’s strategic priorities in countries affected by fragility, conflict, violence, and refugees on the ground. He led the Nairobi-based team to provide operational and analytical support on fragility, conflict, violence and refugee issues to affected countries and built a community of practice for knowledge management and exchange; and managed relationships with the donor community in Nairobi on behalf of the Bank. This work took Mr. Konneh to some of the world’s hotspots including Somalia, Myanmar, Syria, Afghanistan, among others, where he contributed substantially to the Bank’s support to these countries. He is the recipient of the prestigious Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government’s 2016 Alumni Public Service Award that recognizes an alumna who has significantly improved the human condition at the local, state/provincial, national or international levels. Mr. Konneh was also named Africa’s Finance Minister of the Year 2014 by The Banker magazine, a subsidiary of the Financial Times for his efforts to reform, stabilize and grow the post-conflict Liberian economy
Konneh has built an international reputation for himself. This reputation and connections can now be harnessed to foster his political career. Konneh has regained traction in Liberia since he announced his quest to be Senator for either Gbarpolu or Montserrado County. Konneh could also have a strong base among the Madingo community which has often felt marginalized from national politics.
Konneh may face a daunting task delivering Gbarpolu County to any side with Sen. Daniel Naathen, chairman of the Cummings’ ANC still in the race.
Being a loyalist to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who visibly did not support her vice president’s presidential bid in 2017, the likelihood of Konneh leaning towards Boakai is also slims. But, politics makes strange bedfellows, they say.
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Although the former Finance Minister has his sights set on the looming Senatorial race in Gparpolu it has not ended speculations that he may be on the radar for either Cummings or Boakai.
Konneh has reportedly met with both men over the past year. The likelihood for Cummings though appear unlikely with Senator Daniel Naathen currently running for re-election as the incumbent Senator for Gbarpolu.
LEYMAH GBOWEE (BONG)
Leymah Gbowee, in full Leymah Roberta Gbowee, (born 1972, Liberia), Liberian peace activist known for rallying women to pressure leaders into ending Liberia’s civil war. She was one of three recipients, along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karmān, of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, for their nonviolent efforts to further the safety and rights of women and their participation in peace-building processes.
Critics say although Gbowee amasses international appeal, she is not fully grounded in the Vite-rich county to upset the influence of current Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor.
Amid her stance calling for opposition unity, or is unlikely Gbowee will be on anyone’s list in the buildup to the elections in October.
The Nobel laureate has been on the shortlist for the Cummings-led CPP for months. However it appears that she is not interested in a VP slot.
This was evident last September when she issued a rallying cry to the opposition, warning them to either consolidate their forces or risk being flogged massively at the polls by President George Weah.
Venting her frustration through her social media platform in a post titled: “A Citizen’s Plea for a United Opposition”, the 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate specifically enjoined Unity Party Standard Bearer Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Alternative National Congress Standard Bearer Alexander B. Cummings, and Liberia People’s Party Standard Bearer Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe to swallow their individual egos and approach the 2023 presidential elections as a unified force instead of individual candidates.
“We all watched with horror as the CPP disintegrated like Humpy Dumpty, bringing us back to square one. Presently, the three prominent opposition leaders – Joseph Boakai, Alexander Cummings, and Tiawon Gongloe, are making the case that they are the best for Liberia. I believe that if these three gentlemen get on the ballots as individual candidates, they will be massively flogged by President George Weah.
“I believe that for Liberia to achieve the change that many desire, these three candidates must decide on a single ticket. It is time that egos, personal interests, and the numerous selfish advisers stand aside so that the welfare of Liberia can for once be preeminent,” Madam Gbowee entreated.