Elections 2005: The Wild Card - A Rejoinder


By Banabas Kofa

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 3, 2004

I recently read the article "Elections 2005: The Wild Card" on "The Perspective" dated October 25, 2004 with both amusement and concern. The author (Mr. George Yuoh) attempted to articulate what he believes to be the views and emotions of the young generation of Liberians – at least that is what he conveyed, regarding the vacuum in political leadership and how and with whom it should, or my I say, it's going to be filled. I must confess that I do relate to the trend in Mr. Yuoh's argument – the need for a new breed of leadership free from the "traditional" and if I may add "conventional and decrepit" politicians who continue to inflate the pain and misery of Liberians by incessantly presenting themselves for the contest of the presidency. Because the need for a more progressive, enterprising and determined leadership in our Nation's beleaguered history is critical and cannot be over emphasized.

In the same token, the desperation for leadership in Liberia should and must not be translated as preparedness to settle for anybody who can just be distinguished from the so-called "traditional or conventional" politicians. This is a resounding NO!!!! We as a people must be inspired by our turmoil and pains to carefully study, examine, understand, and dissect the array of Liberians who are or may be attempting to present themselves for the race to the Executive mansion. If we must rise from the aches and ruins of civil strife and self-destruction, that determination should be reflected in the caliber of leadership we're going to elect; this must be a leadership that has a vision to move us, as a people, forward in the 21st century, it must be a leadership that is literate and undoubtedly capable of articulating the problems and needs of Liberians, and must have a convincing agenda on how to address the multi-dimensional domestic and international needs of the country, it must be a leadership committed to restoring the image and status of the oldest African nations. A reputation Liberia once enjoyed enviously in the comity of nations.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm in no way suggesting that Mr. Yuoh's apparent choice for the Presidency in person of Mr. George Weah, is not a true son of the soil, nor is he unpatriotic or uncommitted to solving the mountainous socio-economic problems that have plagued our country from time in memorial. As a matter fact, I believe the contrary. And I have grave and profound respect for that "towering striker"; and what he has done for the image of Liberia yea Africa in the world of soccer. He has also distinguished and exemplified himself as a humanitarian by unselfishly giving to the needed (for example, the "Lone Star"), and heroically campaigning with and through UN agencies to improve the plight of children around the world and giving them hope for a brighter and a more conflict-free environment. Notwithstanding, I don't think of these achievements should be interpreted as being adequately suitable and prepared (in terms of productivity) to assume the office of the President.

While I do respect and will defend the author's right to choose or support whoever he wants for any public office in Liberia, I differ fundamentally and disagree respectfully with his reasoning. In addition, he attempts to compare and liken the situation of George Weah with other political leaders in Liberia and the USA. Again, his comparisons and analogies were shamefully wrong and conveyed misleading impressions. Let us examine them.

In the first place, the author was unfair to his reading audience by revealing the conclusion of his friend with whom he had dialogued, as saying "Mr. Weah is poised to be the next President of Liberia come Elections 2005;" but at the same time, upholding a promise to keep his friend's justification private. Now, how do we judge and/or consider this conclusion if we have no idea what was the basis for his friend's conclusion? We are not asking for identity, we only need to know his reasons for arriving at said conclusion in order that we examine his theory and accord it the appropriate respect or dismissal.

The X Factor
Mr. Yuoh, in his frantic bid to advance a premature presidential campaign for Mr. Weah (perhaps ahead of an imminent pronouncement) and mislead people about an "eventual victory", shamefully and unacademically defined politics ‘as nothing but a popularity contest"; and continued: "because in the end, it is the one with the most votes, the most popular person, who wins." This he described as the "X Factor" and the "exclusiveness of George Weah."

This erroneous simplification of politics may sound plausible on its face, but is inherently misleading and incorrect. In line with this definition, the author seems to be suggesting that George Weah, arguably, is the most popular Liberian (thanks to his celebrity status); and therefore the electorates are going to turn out en masse to vote for him. Following this trend of thought, I'm surprised Mr. Yuoh did not also likened politics to a "queen contest." Where the contestant that accumulates the highest amount of money on a given day is declare the queen.

But I must remind my fellow compatriot that politics is not a mere popularity contest; it's the art of acquiring or seeking political power; "practicing government and managing public affairs." In following the author's level of analogy, I will liken the campaign for a political office to that of a "beauty pageant." On its face, a beauty pageant may appear to be a contest for the most physically beautiful and attractive woman. But more than facial gratification, judges in beauty pageant look for several attributes – character, articulation, intelligence, ambition, talent, humility, humanity, good public relation, and other characteristics. Not mere beauty. So is politics. In a political contest, popularity will be an asset but it will not be enough to command the requisite votes. In the ensuing Liberian elections of 2005 (or whenever it's held), it will require an individual (importantly) and/or a team that can convincingly rally mass support for a platform. It will require a person who proves to be trustworthy perhaps owing to exemplary life in the public or private sector. The people are going to look for an individual who is irrefutably prepared and matured to deliver Liberia from the dark ages of dictatorship, misrule, corruption and economic suppression. It will demand much more substance than just mere popularity.

A further study of Mr. Yuoh's laughable exposition, directed my attention to another sentence under the sub-title, X Factor. He wrote, "They have come to realize that he has the capacity to influence and decide the results of the elections (Italics added). This statement invokes a huge and I guessed unintended meaning owing to wrong choice of words. I therefore, like my brother (Mr. Yuoh), sought the aid of the "Webster's New Dictionary of the English Language (2002). It defines the word "influence" as "the power/capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways." The word "decide" is also defined as, "to make a choice or judgment; bring to a conclusion." Let it suffice to say with out any fear of disagreement that George Weah can indeed influence the future trend in Liberia's elections politics. But can he really decide who wins the election or bring it to conclusion by entering the race? I'm afraid that assertion is a delusion; it's deceptive, illusive and inconsistent with the political reality in Liberia.

Education, Qualification and Competence
In my study of political science, I've hardly come across a national constitution that expressly stipulates a definite educational standard as a barometer for qualifying to contest its presidency. This in no way suggests that minimum educational standards are not expected of candidates or implied. I also understand that for the purpose of flexibility and avoiding strict interpretations, such laws and guidelines are so constructed to be adoptable and appropriate to different generations without controversy. But due to traditions, custom, and practices over time, a standard evolves, it's obvious, and every candidate at an appropriate level of leadership is expected to have achieved the minimum standard of education –training, learning, instruction, whatever you may call it.

I refuse to identify with any school of thought that is inclined to suggest that before becoming a national leader, one must have acquired an array of academic laurels (masters and doctoral degrees). I think good leadership epitomizes vision, courage, will to serve, nationalism, patriotism, sacrifice, devotion to duty, etc. But how can one even understand that he possesses all or some of these characteristics if he can not even boast of a high school education? How does a country survive our contemporary world order with a semi-illiterate president? Are you kidding me?

By the way, the constitutional requirements of being a natural born Liberian, at least 35 year old and ownership of a property or properties of not less than $25,000 Liberian dollars only qualify or make you eligible to contest the Liberian presidency. They do not qualify you to be president as inferred by Mr. Yuoh. It's a popular or simple majority vote of the Liberian electorates that qualifies anyone to be president.

Speaking about competence, the young (I assume since we've not met) self-acclaimed freelancer attempts to use the competence level of four past presidents (Tubman to Taylor) "using their productivity as a barometer", he argued, "George Weah still stands far above the average." I'm left amiss. I don't understand his logic or reasoning. What level and kind of productivity is he talking about? Leadership, education or soccer skills? How does Weah stand out above average? He explains nothing but only recounted a list of adjectives like selflessness, patriotism, etc.

To assist Mr. Yuoh, I'll take the time to focus our mirror through time, using the competence level of past Liberian leaders and even expanding the list. The average competence level in terms of education is far superior to what this enterprising writer is conveying. Let's go back to Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, Sawyer, Kpomakpor, Sankawolo, Perry, Taylor and now Bryant. William V.S. Tubman matured from a public defender in Maryland County to a Supreme Court justice before becoming president. Willaim R. Tolbert had a distinguished college education, served about 18 years as Vice-president before ascending to that high office. Even Samuel K. Doe who was semi-illiterate when he seized power through a bloody military take over associated education with leadership. At the time of his death, Doe had earned a University degree from the University of Liberia. The how need not be emphasized here, but the act and desire to learn. I need not explain the competence of Dr. Amos Sawyer. David Kpomakpor is a lawyer and former associate professor of Law at the University of Liberia. Wilton Sankawolu is a writer and a former professor of English at the University of Liberia. Madam Ruth Perry served in the Liberian legislature for couple of years and also obtained college education. Even though Charles Taylor graduate education remains questionable, his college and teacher training education are verifiable. Finally, Gyude Bryant has proven college education and other training.

From the list of the most recent 9 past chief executives, there's only one to whom Mr. Yuoh's choice for the presidency could find commonality (Samuel Doe when he assumed power). But mind you, that common denominator disappeared before Doe left office. Just like Weah (referring to the author's citation of the "Economist" magazine), President Doe himself was often referred to as "presidential striker". Learning from the likes of Samuel Doe's level of competence and productivity, do we want or can we afford another "presidential striker"?

I don't wish to vitiate the importance of this intervention by boring you with unending erroneous impressions which characterized the article under examination. I must however, quickly draw your attention to yet another grave attempt to deceivingly convey a wrong impression. Mr. Yuoh once again laboring to conceal George Weah's obvious inability and incompetence, likened him to Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwazenegger, when he wrote: …"One of the greatest American Presidents, Ronald Reagan, was a movie actor, from where he became Governor of California and then President of the United States of America. The current Governor of California, Arnold Schwazenegger was himself a movie actor when he was elected to lead the affairs of one of the biggest states in the USA, a state whose annual budget is more than a thousand times that of Liberia. He did not study politics, and his only traditional schooling was in theater."

Now this assertion and the impression it tends to convey, is unsupported by facts, it's adventurous and unacademic. Ronald Reagan obtained a bachelor degree in 1932 from Eureka College where he studied Economics and Sociology; he also served as student body President at eureka. Ronald Reagan also served as governor for California before testing his political flair at the highest level of the United States political leadership. Arnold Schwazenegger received more than just traditional schooling in theater. Rather, he obtained a bachelors degree in business from the University of Wisconsin, next door to Mr. Yuoh, in 1979.

I believe the legacy of George Weah can be heralded and exemplified in by far many areas than that of the Liberian presidency. The future of our country is not a joking matter or an arena for popularity contest. This is a nation at the brink of destruction and disintegration. A strong, capable, experienced, level-headed, and matured leader is desired at this point in our sojourn through history. I think there's much more George Weah can do to prepare himself for future Liberian leadership than putting himself forward in 2005 for the presidency. By way of passing, what happened to Mr. Weah's bid for the LFA presidency? I would like to refresh my colleague by referring him to an article written by Omari Jackson and published on 9/18/04, entitled: "George Weah's FA Leadership Ambition: Is He Qualified?" (www.saharavillage.com). I think Mr. Yuoh and his likes should first reconsider launching another "George Weah for the LFA presidency" again. Hopefully, this will afford him time to graduate from semi-illiteracy, earn some experience in public administration and management and get mature in the affairs of politics.