George-Daweh Yuoh in “Elections 2005: The Wild Card” presented a compelling argument in favor of Mr. Weah’s candidacy. Mr. Yuoh’s commentary can be summarized as follows: First, character and commitment to Liberia matter more than one’s level of education. Second, Liberians are tired of the failed leadership by the educated elite; they yearn for a change of direction and not just a change of the man at the top. Third, while Mr. Weah lacks a college degree, he is better educated than the average Liberian. And last, elections are a form of popularity contest. Since Mr. Weah is a very popular man, Mr. Weah will likely win. This is simple logic, whether one likes it or not. In general, I agree with Mr. Yuoh’s comments on each point. But I don’t totally agree that elections are a form of popularity contest.
For the most part, elections are won on the issues, moral values or both. Being popular is certainly a plus. But it does not guarantee a win, especially when the opposing candidates are successful in making the election about the issues. Since we have so many presidential candidates and they don’t seem to differ materially on the issues, Mr. Yuoh is correct that the Liberian election will be about popularity. It just baffles me that some of the very people who have reminded me time and again that Liberia is a personality driven political environment are now challenging Mr. Yuoh’s premise that the election is about the popularity of the person. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, they are crying foul. They will receive no sympathy from me, and I am glad that Mr. Yuoh has managed to call this personality driven politics in Mr. Weah’s favor. The burden of proving Mr. Yuoh wrong depends on the candidates and their political operatives to make the election about the issues and character, or risk losing big time to a political greenhorn.
It is a sad commentary that the so-called educated elites have attempted to undermine Mr. Yuoh’s argument with cheap personal shots at him. And so far, the result from the chattering class (talking heads) has not been good. They have failed miserably to effectively refute Mr. Yuoh’s position because they spent valuable time arguing about educational class warfare rather than recasting the educational argument in a broader discussion that is beneficial to the political discourse. Some have in fact buttressed Mr. Yuoh’s argument by giving us a laundry list of the wonderful things Mr. Weah has done for Liberia, and his indisputable popularity. Undoubtedly, while Mr. Weah lacks formal secondary education, he is not illiterate. He can read, write and comprehend. He just does not have a college degree, and to some people that makes him unqualified for the post of president. Well, not in my book. Advanced professional education does not guarantee or indicate intelligence, just more years of schooling. Anyway, instead of defending or challenging each point raised by Mr. Yuoh, I would like to focus on Mr. Yuoh’s first point dealing with character, commitment to country and educational level. I believe these factors to be of greater import. I hope that I can muster the intellectual prowess and intestinal fortitude to do justice to these all important issues in as broad a capacity as possible.
Commitment To Liberia
Let’s handle the commitment issue. Everyone seems to agree that commitment to country is of paramount importance in the upcoming elections. In the past, far too many Liberian leaders have been more infamous than famous and more repulsive than respected. There are two ways we can look at a candidate’s commitment to Liberia. First, we can ask the simple question, what has the candidate done for Liberia in the past. On this count, Mr. Weah’s commitment to Liberia is unquestionable, and probably far exceeds the contributions made by many of the other candidates in the race. As a matter of fact, each of Mr. Weah’s detractors has presented to the Liberian people Weah’s extensive list of accomplishments and contributions to Liberia and Africa. I am not going to repeat them here, but if you are interested read the third paragraph of Mr. Banabas Kofa’s article, “Elections 2005: The Wild Card - A Rejoinder,” The Perspective. Mr. Kofa is one of Mr. Weah’s detractors. Not a supporter by a long shot but Mr. Kofa has some great things to say about Mr. Weah. So we have to assume that he has done his research and his presentation of Mr. Weah’s accomplishments is correct. I am just going to leave it at that.
Second, we need to ask the question, what action is the candidate taking presently to demonstrate his or her continued commitment to the country? Answering this question would help us to bridge the gap between the candidate’s past performance and his future commitment to Liberia. Some of us who are blessed to live in America know when you interview for a job, or apply for any type of credit, you are subjected to extensive scrutiny about your background. We are also subjected to extensive questioning about our present condition such as what we do at our current job. This is because we are conditioned to think that it is a high probability that someone who has done great things in the past will likely do them in the future. But we also know that people can change. Behaviors are interchangeable. Good can turn to bad, and vice versa. So our present actions are used as a proxy to link our past behavior and future performance. On this count, I think Mr. Weah has clearly failed the test of commitment to Liberia. Mr. Weah has already signed a bad treaty with some veteran politicians and unsavory characters. I am informed by reliable sources that it was Mr. Dew Mayson who organized the first political meeting for Mr. George Weah’s presidency in Monrovia. At that meeting, Mr. Weah had the opportunity to meet the movers and shakers of Liberian politics. Mr. Dew Mayson has been around Liberian politics for a very long time. Some say that Mr. Mayson is one of the richest men in Liberia, surpassing both Presidential Candidates Dr. Roland Massaquoi and Cllr. Varney Sherman. Yes, Mr. Mayson is a businessman, but his business credentials are questionable. It would be a subject of considerable investigation and reporting as Mr. Weah’s campaign progresses since both men are now inextricably link at the hips.
Mr. Mayson had himself flirting with the idea of running for president. A reliable source also informed me that Mr. Mayson was also sought after as a possible Vice Presidential Candidate for Winston Tubman. He turned it down because he wanted to run himself. While on a tour in America to test the waters for a possible run for the presidency sometime this year, Mr. Mayson realized that he had a very limited chance of winning. Mr. Mayson, like many other presidential aspirants, visited Minnesota while touring America. While in Minnesota, Mr. Mayson met with some progressive minded young Liberians and suggested to them that they start an organization to petition Mr. George Weah. This organization was formed, and named Liberian National Congress. After Mr. Mayson returned to Liberia, he organized the now infamous meeting for Mr. Weah to meet the other political old timers. The Liberian National Congress petitioned Mr. Weah soon after that meeting, creating the impression that Mr. Weah’s candidacy was conceived by some naïve young people in Minnesota.
Mr. Mayson is a shrewd businessman and a politic Lazarus. How many members or ardent sympathizers of the Movement of Justice in Africa (MOJA) can claim the kind of business and political success as Mr. Mayson? I don’t mean to cast aspersions on a private citizen. But he is going to be the key decision maker in a George Weah administration. It is not going to be some twenty to forty something young man or woman. Mr. Mayson is the dark horse in the race. He has been out of politics for a while. He thinks it is time to return to the stage. He cannot do it himself and he has found a willing partner in George Weah to accomplish that goal. It will be delusional and fatal for any young man or woman out there to think otherwise. And to me that is a total demonstration that Mr. Weah is not committed to the country in the second instance. He has surrounded himself with the same old timers, who have done nothing to elevate the people of Liberia out of poverty and despair.
We need a change in direction of that country. We just don’t want to change the captain and leave the same crew on the ship, especially when the crew participated in the crimes of corruption and human rights abuse. I am sure it would be hard to find a reasonable Liberian that can say that we will end the “business as usual mentality” in Liberia with Mr. Dew Mayson running things for Mr. Weah. It is not going to be a Mr. Weah presidency. Rather, it is a Dew Mayson presidency clothed in Mr. Weah’s soccer jersey. The bottom line is that the young people of Liberia are being dupe into believing that they are going to be supporting a youth candidate when in fact Mr. Weah is Mr. Mayson masquerading as a presidential candidate. This is totally deceitful and unbecoming of presidential candidate, especially coming from a man that so many young people look up to for hope and inspiration. I nearly bought into this foolishness. I hope people can understand that. Many young people are just tired of the more of the same, and they are so vulnerable to the point they will grab on to any movement that is not reflective of the past.
The next issue I believe that puts Mr. Weah’s future commitment to Liberia in serious doubt is his association with unsavory characters. Today, Mr. Weah has appointed Mr. Gould to head his campaign efforts in Monrovia. I am told by a reliable source from Monrovia that Mr. Dew Mayson picked Mr. Gould in order to form a winning coalition. Mr. Gould is a staunch member of MODEL, the Krahn dominated rebel group headed by American citizen and social worker turned Foreign Minister Nimley Yaya. Mr. Gould is a trusted and reliable partner of Mr. Yaya. It is plausible to assert that Mr. Dew Mayson believes that having Mr. Gould at the helm of the campaign will pave the way for the Krahn dominated MODEL to back Mr. Weah’s candidacy. We know that the warring factions have been effectively dissolved by UNMIL and members of those groups are looking for a new home.
I am also told that Mr. Mayson has successfully lobbied and gotten some assurances that the Mandingo faction of LURD might back Mr. Weah. This leaves Cllr. Varney Sherman’s LAP hanging in the cold weather. Cllr. Sherman is said to have actively sought the backing of Mr. Weah. But Mr. Mayson stole his thunder from under him. Is also alleged that Cllr. Sherman courted Sekou Damante Konneh’s LURD to throw its support behind him but again Mr. Mayson seems to have pulled that rug from under Cllr. Sherman. Sources close to the LURD leader informed me that Mr. Mayson has personally appealed to Sekou Konneh to support Mr. Weah based on Mr. Weah’s once affiliation with the Islamic Community of Liberia, when he became a Muslim. My own hunch is that it is highly likely that Chairman Bryant’s unholy alliance with Mr. Konneh against Speaker George Dweh is not just a tactical move to save his own skin from the wrath of the speaker but a strategic one to obtain Mr. Konneh’s support for Cllr. Sherman, who is Chairman Bryant confidant and party standard bearer.
On November 9, 2004, The Inquirer reported that ECOWAS' Chief Mediator in the Liberian crisis Gen. Abdul salami Abubakar was helping to turn LURD into a political party to contest the upcoming election. There is concern in many political circles in Liberia that the former Nigerian President is far exceeding his mandate by his personal involvement to help create a political party for Mr. Sekou Damante Konneh’s LURD and that at the very least this might create the appearance that ECOWAS is supporting a Sekou Damante Konneh candidacy. Other political observers believe that Gen. Abdul salami Abubakar is attempting to assist a Muslim brother. But whatever the rationale is, I will say that based on solid information, there is a greater likelihood for Mr. Konneh to support Mr. Weah than stand as a presidential candidate on his own. Mr. Konneh understands that he cannot win an election. He also believes Mr. Mayson’s assertion that a fellow Muslim (albeit a temporary one) in the name of George Weah will protect his interest when he (Mr. Weah) becomes president. Mr. Bai Gbala has already attempted to entice the Krahn faction of LURD to join Samuel Doe’s INDPL.
While I have no problem with political gamesmanship and desperate attempts to form winning political coalitions, I am bothered by the fact that Mr. Weah would begin his political career on such a wrong path. I am equally bothered about Mr. Weah’s pretension that he is a new candidate on the block, when in fact he is the candidate of not only old time political veterans like Mr. Dew Mayson but war lords like Mr. Gould and possibly Sekou Damante Konneh. At a recent event hosted by Mr. Weah in Florida, he was asked a question about why he has a member of MODEL heading his campaign in Monrovia. I am told that he responded that he has not seen anything that the man did wrong. Unbelievable nonsense! Is Mr. Weah naïve? Is Mr. Weah out of touch? Is Mr. Weah so consumed by all his numerous humanitarian awards that he cannot accept reality? Couldn’t Mr. Weah find someone capable in Monrovia that is not tainted by all the troubles facing Liberia to head his campaign? Is this how Mr. Weah plans to change the country? We are in deep trouble!
The only good thing that Mr. Weah has done lately to impress me is that he attempted to bring into his campaign a credible Liberian in the name of Mr. Kofi Woods. Mr. Woods is one of Liberia many human rights activists. But I am glad that things did not turn out so good between Mr. Weah and Mr. Woods. It was reported that in a meeting in both Minnesota and Florida, the friends and supporters of Mr. Woods wanted Mr. Weah to run as a Vice Presidential candidate and Mr. Woods as Presidential Candidate. Mr. Weah steadfastly refused. And people familiar with the event say that both meetings did not go well. They said that Mr. Woods walked out of the meeting and Mr. Weah ignored Mr. Woods’ presence in Florida after that. But the Propaganda Bureau of the Youth Wing of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) says that is nonsense and a total fabricated story. In CDC Youth Wing Excepts to Report, The Inquirer reported the CDC as saying “the situation was settled amicably and that Mr. Woods reaffirmed his willingness to go as a running mate to Ambassador Weah”. The CDC even challenged the framers of the news stories to provide substantial proof or else it would take them to court for trying to damage “a true son of our nation.” Why do Liberians like to threaten suing people in court? It does not work. We have broken judicial system.
In any case, I think the CDC is grossly misinformed and naïve to think that Mr. Weah is representing the youth of Liberia. It is okay to believe what one believes to be true, but it is not okay for a person to insist that they are not living in fantasy land when they are. The Liberian youth should wake up and smell the coffee. Mr. Weah is not their candidate. I hope Mr. Woods realizes that as well. Mr. Woods has built lot of credibility, and I hope he does not fall in the same line with many of Liberia’s so-called human rights who have compromised their standing by working for corrupt and bad governments. Mr. Woods can learn from Francis Garlawolo, who let go his credibility when he chose to put prestige and money over principle and joined Mr. Charles Taylor. Mr. Kofi Woods has earned respect in Liberia and he can stand as his own man, and contest the race, assuming he believes that he can make a better president than Mr. Weah. I am sure he will be a political force to contend with. Mr. Weah has laid out a roadmap to the presidency that passes through Mr. Dew Mayson and the warlords. Does Mr. Woods want to join that clandestine group? I hope not. I beg not. I am sure Mr. Woods knows better to sleep with the devil, because the devil will eventually kill you. It is no surprise that snake handlers almost always die from snake bite. Mr. Weah is playing with the snakes but I just hope he realizes before he gets bitten. But that’s his problem. Not mine! And it should not be Mr. Woods, or the Liberian youth.
Character Of The Candidate
I am now going to discuss character, or moral values as it is called in America. This is where it gets tricky, because character and ”values” means different things to different people. For some, this means a strict interpretation of religious doctrine, while the other has a more secular view. So peoples’ value systems differ and the relative importance of even shared values throughout most societies. We need to determine which character traits we feel a national leader needs to possess and seek to elect someone who displays these traits. After all, the election is about choosing between different philosophies of government and value systems. Since the candidates don’t seem to differ much on the issues, we are left with concentrating on values.
Mr. Weah has been criticized in the press for being self centered, dictatorial, and intolerant of decent. These detractors have presented compelling stories about Mr. Weah’s days on the Lone Star and his unsuccessful bid for LFA President. Mr. Kofa referenced a critical piece written by Mr. Omari Jackson and published on saharavillage.com. Mr. Jackson charged that George Weah only likes to surround himself with “yes men.” Mr. Jackson points to Mr.Weah’s playing days as an example.
In “Liberia Is Not a Football Field,” The Perspective, Mr. Albert Andrews argued, “let us take a look at some other reasons why Weah is not the man for the job. He thrives on rumors. He promotes backbiting among his followers. While serving as the ‘boss’ of the Liberian national team, he engineered its downfall by fostering bad blood between himself and Jonathan Sogbie who at the time he saw as his rival--Because of this, the team was divided in two camps. This cost the team a place in the second rounds of the African Cup of Nations finals in South Africa. When the story broke in the media the emotionally immature Weah offered no credible explanation for the situation remarking only that people were jealous of his accomplishments and wealth. He does not encourage the honest appraisal of his actions”. Similar criticism abounds in the local and international press.
The charges by Messrs. Jackson and Andrews go to the crux of the kind of leader Mr. Weah would be. Is Mr. Weah too intemperate to be president? Does he welcome a free flowing of ideas to improve the country even if he does not personally agree? I was painfully reminded by a man, who worked closely with Tubman, Tolbert and Doe that each of these Presidents failed to lead because they filled their administrations with toadies and “yes men”. We all know that diversity in opinion is a critical ingredient to producing a good result, so we don’t want a President that is not willing to accept differing opinions. This allegation by Mr. Weah’s detractors really bothers me. I don’t know how accurate they are, but it is supposedly coming from people who know Mr. Weah best. The bottom line is that the totality of these charges suggests that Mr. Weah is a dictatorship in waiting. And we have been there before and I don’t think anyone wants to go through yet another failed dictatorial regime. Another important point to these charges is that Mr. Weah is a divider. That it is not in his nature to unite people when it does not benefit him personally. This is very troubling given the current state of affairs in the country. We are coming out of a long protracted civil war. We desperately need a leader that is going to unite us. I was hopeful that Mr. Weah’s popularity would prove beneficial in uniting us. I also believe that this was Mr. Weah’s strongest case that he could take to the Liberian people—I am a uniter, not a divider message. But now, I am not so sure. Anyway, this is the type of debate worth having. We can compare Mr. Weah’s shortcomings with the shortcoming of others in the race and make a choice. So far, what I have learned and heard make me wonder whether Mr. Weah’s character fits the profile of a president in a country desperately trying to emerge out of chaos.
Almost all of Mr. Weah’s detractors have made his education the focal point of their rebuke for his potential run for the presidency. Mr. Weah’s lack of a degree does not preclude him from serving as President. A number of great US presidents served with distinction with only limited formal education. George Washington only had formal primary education (grade school level). Abraham Lincoln had even less formal schooling and yet passed the bar and became a highly sought lawyer in the Midwest prior to serving as President. In the twentieth century, Harry Truman served two successful terms as President. He only had a high school education. Some of Mr. Weah’s supporters have also cited the President of Brazil as yet another example of a successful president that is less educated. Mr. Weah’s detractors also have their own long list of failed and dictatorship-prone, less educated leaders. But they are conflicted which class to put President Samuel K. Doe and Williams V. S. Tubman. The bottom line is that education is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for a good leadership. And that anyone can go into history and “cherry pick” highly educated people who have failed to lead; less educated people who have failed to lead; highly educated people who have led successfully; and less educated people who have also led successfully. No one individual can win this debate. While it is not a total waste of time talking about the educational qualifications of the candidates, the debate must be cast in a bigger context. It does not elevate the debate one iota when we just talk about Mr. Weah’s education or lack thereof only as a matter of condemnation.
I believe that we can all agree that Mr. Weah’s level of education is not a necessary requirement to become president of Liberia or for a successful leadership. But in the case of Liberia, a sufficient level of education at least a college level education is a necessary must. I say this for two reasons. First, most of the less educated but success presidents that the supporters of Mr. Weah cited assumed power in countries where for the most part there were fully functioning democratic institutions. In Liberia, we have no fully functioning democratic institutions, making governance a lot harder challenge. Undoubtedly, it would be far easier for a less educated person to govern America than Liberia. In America, there are good institutions that have been built to last. We have to build everything from scratch and we cannot be undertaking such a grave task with a president that will be learning on the job. So all the comparison we are making are less valid, because the situations in Liberia are far different. So we need to have a higher standard for the presidency of Liberia. I don’t think that Mr. Weah would want a person with a third grade education to manage his millions of dollars. So what does Mr. Weah or anyone else think that this type of requirement is different when it comes to running a government? We have to get serious. Whatever standard we set now will serve as a precedent. We should not allow greed and desire to be in power to overcome our common sense. Mr. Weah himself should know better. Education does matter no matter how one twists that basic truth.
Second, Liberians have had a bad experience with dictatorships and failed leadership. We don’t want to begin rebuilding public trust in government with the perception that the man at the apex of government is not really that capable. Whether we like it or not, perception is reality. So, we need a president that the people can believe understands the complexities of government. There is no doubt that a candidate’s level of education will go a long way in assuring the public that we have someone at the top capable of handling the day to challenges of running a large bureaucracy. Yes, Mr. Weah can find people capable of running the government, but it will take decades to erase the power of the presidency from the consciences of the Liberian people.
We need to focus our attention on the choices that Mr. Weah is making today, because that gives us some indication of how he might govern as president. We also need to cast his educational level in a broader context. As a matter of fact, as George Yuoh correctly mentioned, Mr. Weah has more education than the average person in Liberia. And so given that low level of average education in Liberia, we might very be strengthening Mr. Weah’s base by attacking him on his education. Many uneducated Liberians would find an attack on Mr. Weah’s education as an attack on them since they are not educated either. On voting day in 2005, we will have more uneducated or semi-educated (Mr. Kofa’s words) than educated. I can empathize with lot of the educated people frustration that time and time again it is the least educated among us that have had the opportunity to lead us. But we have to be also realistic that some of our “book” people have given us bad name. Whenever they have been giving the opportunity to lead Liberia, they have done a miserable job. So many uneducated people are saying what good is an education when you cannot use it to better society. As a matter of fact, we don’t need this direct class warfare - between the educated and the uneducated. It helps no one. It only further divides us.
But we have an obligation to do several things in this election. First, we have to inform our people about what is happening. For example, we need to inform the Liberian Student Association and other Liberian youth organizations that Mr. Weah is the candidate of Mr. Dew Mayson and not them. Second, we need to inform and educate Liberians that not all the educated people are failed leaders. Yes, we recognize that some of the educated people have failed them. But these people are in the minority. They would have failed them whether they were educated or not. It is just part of their character. We are just as disappointed in them. Third, we need to convince Liberians that it is good to have an education. We don’t have to put it in their faces. But we must argue the case that post secondary education is a minimum requirement for someone to be able to understand the intricacies of a modern bureaucracy. We also need to do a better job explaining to Liberians how our education is going to help them. Right now, a salient majority of Liberians have come to the conclusion that you don’t need an education in finance, banking or economics to be a Bank Governor or a Minister of Finance. So getting an education is a useless adventure. This is far from the truth.
Finally, we have to find a constitutionally valid way to convince some of the 43 plus people running for president to consider running for the Senate. The Senate is the first branch of government and Liberia needs good and capable people to represent them in that important body. I believe we are talking about a Weah candidacy today because there are too many people in the race for president. This whole process is becoming a joke. As soon as one mentions Mr. Weah’s name as a possible candidate, Liberians are quick to argue that he is better than most of the people in the race. How can anyone dispute that. But if we had 4 to 5 strong candidates, it is highly likely that Mr. Weah would not have even flirted with the idea of running. If every, Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to be president is placed on the ballot, then why not a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador? After all, he has done a lot more for Liberia and Africa than most of these discredited and recycled politicians. Go figure! I hope we can figure out a way not to engage in personal venom but rather debate the character, commitment and education questions in a broad fashion that educates Liberians about the issues. We are currently divided in too many ways. We should not allow ourselves to be divided on education line.