Brumskine fell to his knees upon reaching the green podium set in the middle of the stadium. His wife Estelle kneeled next to him and facing the crowd, he went into a prayer. The noise was deafening all around but one could hear him say repeatedly “Jesus… Thank You Lord…” Standing just below the podium, I snapped a few pictures amongst the tens of journalists and photographers, protected by two rows of sympathizers that formed a human chain around their standard bearer.
Theo Bettie, one of Brumskine campaign leaders called me on the cell phone and asked about my whereabouts. We were each yelling at our ends and he happened to be standing just a few feet away. A week earlier, we had met for the first time since he arrived from the USA to work with the Brumskine campaign. The strength of every campaign seemed to be determined by the number of partisans it can bring from the Diaspora. And the Liberty Party had many, like all other “strong parties.” After sharing a hot-peppered goat soup at the Czech Pub, Theo and I stopped by Weah’s CDC headquarters where two concerts where going on simultaneously, with two different types of music … and crowds. We left and went to a church where Brumskine was supposed to be attending service. It was well after midnight. Brumskine, along with thousands of others, were participating in a whole night worship caller “Power Night.” We chatted with some friends and ended leaving without seeing Brumskine.
Brumskine left the podium and walked to the tribunes and took his seat among dignitaries of his party. Groups were still pouring into the stadium from the four corners of the city. Drums, dancers and young boys and girls selling oranges, cold water in plastic bag and the AFL band were all mingling on the grounds of the soccer field. After the program started, I decided to find an exit out of the crowd, feeling a bit claustrophobic, hot and thirsty with the cacophonic crowd filling the air with all type of sounds.
“I greet Liberia in the Mighty name of Jesus” said Brumskine when he ended his prayer. The crowd responded to the greeting. Then prayers and other speakers followed. Mrs. Amelia Ward, the vice-presidential candidate of the Liberty Party was elated. She said: “I have been anointed by the Almighty to carry on this duty….” A former minister in all the past governments, she said she brings experience, commitment and patriotism. Her picture, along with that of Brumskine were everywhere in the stadium.
Then Brumskine spoke. “The era of transition will end and the era of new Liberia will begin,” he says, referring to his election on October 11, 2005. He said that on January 6, 2006, he and “Estelle will move into the Executive Mansion…” He continued, asking all Liberians to come to be part of the 4 R’s of Liberty Party: Reform, Reconciliation, Recovery and Rebuilding. On and on, he asked his cheering crowd if they thought these were beyond the reach of Liberia. When the crowd roared, “No”, he then called on “our brothers and sisters to Come On Board.” This was the greatest crowd that assembled in the stadium since the beginning of the campaign season.
In an allusion to the great number of people who claimed to have been chosen by God to lead the nation, Brumskine said God does not speak to all many people in the same season about the same thing and concluded that “this is the season of Charles Brumskine.”
Brumskine started his campaign before many of the current aspirants, back in 2001, when we interviewed him. Then he had no decided which party to join in his presidential bid. The only thing he was sure of was that he felt that he had been called to lead Liberia. He had no doubt whatsoever in his mind about returning to Liberia while Charles Taylor was still president and contest the elections then scheduled for 2003. That year, a few weeks before he jumped on the plane to head home, we interviewed him again about how realistic it was to expect Mr. Taylor to organize free and fair elections and hand power to another person? But he came home. And then the war chased Taylor out of town and brought a new government of transition. Brumskine advocated for a shorter term of transition, six months, at the most. He decided to stay away from contesting for the chairmanship of the transitional government that was being formed in Accra. in the wake of Taylor’s departure from power. He said he was only interested in the “real presidency.” But he had to wait 2 years to be able to engage in a game he had been preparing for for almost 3 years. Now, he was here, in the midst of tens of thousands of supporters, putting his vision forward.
If he gets elected, Liberians will certainly remind him about his promise of “free public education in three years and scholarships for higher education.” The problems of Liberia are so numerous that candidates can choose at random which one to deal with. Water and electricity, sanitation, basic health care, roads to markets, peace and reconciliation are just a few political slogans that Liberian electors will hear and hear again before the curtains are drawn on the process on the fatidic date of October 11, 2005.
Years ago, when we spoke with him, Brumskine said that land tenure and the judicial system were at the core of divisions and injustices as well as power in Liberia and he promised that he would make them priorities. He again reiterated the same promise in every speech. Liberia like Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia share a colonial history of entire communities being removed from their lands or dispossessed by industrial concessions, or individual lands simply taken away by government officials for their own use. Redressing this situation could turn out to be one of the greatest challenges for any government. For the time being, Brumskine is the only candidate – with one other exception – to put the issue at the top of his campaign.
Will he make it to the Executive Mansion in January 2006? The road ahead is a long and tortuous one, with a crowded field of competitors and a very volatile electorate that seems bent on making the best out of this election season. But if he continues to draw the kind of crowd he brought to the ATS, Charles W. Brumskine may turn out be a more serious contender than many political observers have predicted.