Looking for a President who cares and stands up for others- an examination of the five leading candidates


By Tiawan S. Gongloe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 7, 2005


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The 2005 elections is about choosing a good servant who will commit his or her life to the security, rights, welfare and happiness of the Liberian people for the next six years. In order to make this choice, it is important for the voters to have an idea of each of the candidate. It is for this purpose that some of the candidates have published crucial information about themselves, including their what they know, what kind of work they have done before in Liberia and other countries, among other things. They have even published how much property they own and how much money they have. Some have even told the Liberian people what good they have done for the Liberian people in the past, including humanitarian assistance and speaking out for the Liberian people. Others, particularly candidate Varney Sherman has taken the liberty to attack the not only candidate Ellen Sirleaf, but people who have been in anyway a part of the Liberian conflict. The purpose of this article is to tell the voters what I know or remember about each of the candidates. Given the unfolding picture about the chances of each of the 22 candidates, I want to limit this article to the five leading candidates, Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman, Cllr.Charles Walker Brumskine, Amb.George Manneh Weah, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Amb. Winston A. Tubman. The focus of this article will be on the relevant national and international experiences of each candidate. The reason for this limited scope of examination is that the reorganization of our institutions of governance and the attraction of international assistance for capacity building, sustaining the peace, reconstruction and development will be key conditions for the success of the elected government.

Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman

Cllr. Varney Sherman is known in Liberia as a corporate lawyer. This means that he is a lawyer for businesses and individuals and groups engaged in business, or with the intention to do business. Most of the businesses that he represents are big foreign businesses. Some of his clients include the Firestone Rubber Corporation, The Liberia Agricultural Company (LAC), The Bridgeway Corporation and other companies belonging to Lebanese businessman George Haddad, Club Brewery, Tradevco Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank, Citibank, and several logging corporations, amongst others. During the 1990s, he defended Tradevco Bank’s position that the Liberian Dollar and the US dollar had one to one parity before the Supreme Court and based on this, many Liberians who deposited their money at the bank in US dollars in the 1980s were only allowed to withdraw Liberian dollars. Many Liberians suffered as a result of this decision of the Supreme Court. Interestingly, it is the same Sherman who represented Tradevco that some Liberians consider today to be a hero and savior of the poor. I have no recollection of him representing small foreign businesses or Liberian businesses. Perhaps small businesses and Liberian businesses cannot afford to pay him. By Liberian standards, he is a very rich lawyer and has many times boasted of being not a man of “ inconsequential financial means”. Therefore, by his own admission, he is a rich man. It is good to be rich, but it is important to say that in the process of accumulating his wealth, many workers and victims of his various corporate clients have cried in the name of candidate Sherman. Also, the law profession requires each lawyer, based on his or her oath, in Liberia not to turn anyone seeking legal service away for lack of money. This is a social responsibility of every lawyer in Liberia. It is a responsibility that the late Cllrs. S. Raymond Horace, Joseph P. H. Findley and M. Fahnbulleh Jones (the father of candidate Sherman) amongst others met very well. Yet, I have no recollection of candidate Sherman assisting any poor Liberian seeking legal redress in the Liberian justice system, whether at the Justice Ministry or in the courts of Liberia. Justice should not only be for the rich, therefore, legal service should not be just for the rich. The poor too, are entitled to adequate legal representation. His past record of legal service leaves no doubt that as president he will choose to satisfy the interest of the rich over the poor, the majority of the people of this country and that he will choose to satisfy the interest of big corporations over the interest of the people, the sovereign. The point I am making here is that based on his past record, Varney Sherman will always choose money over people. This certainly makes him unfit for the presidency, in my view.

Has candidate Sherman ever stood up for the rights of the Liberian people in any manner? I have no such recollection. Even though lawyers are trained to defend rights of people, the only rights that he has defended are rights of big corporations and rich individuals. For example, candidate Sherman has over the years represented Firestone against thousands of workers and is currently representing LAC as it evicts Bassa people from their ancestral land, based on a 1959 concession agreement. The most shocking memory of his failure to stand up for the Liberian people was his failure to represent executives and members of LAP when they were arrested during the regime of Samuel Doe. The lawyers who represented Jackson F. Doe, Ellen Sirleaf, Jim Holder and Robert Philips were Cllrs. Philip A. Z Banks, S. Raymond Horace Sr., Laveli Supuwood and others. Cllr. Sherman refused to come to the defense of the LAP partisans, although, the candidate claims that he is a founding member of LAP. Why did he not stand up for his partisans? To the best of my recollection, candidate Sherman has never represented a Liberian journalist and the right of the Liberian people to write and speak freely. Yet, today, he is enjoying extensive media coverage. He is reaping where he did not sow. I have no recollection of candidate Sherman’s contribution to the building of democracy in Liberia.

Candidate Sherman has succeeded in forming a coalition call COTOL ( coalition for the transformation of Liberia) but did nothing legally to assist in sustaining the Grand Coalition of LAP, LUP and UP formed by these opposition parties, following the 1985 elections. Candidate Sherman was silent under the Doe and Taylor regimes in the face of massive human rights abuse. A true leader is always concerned when the rights of others are abused. I am always reminded of a statement made by my friend Mohamedu F. Jones, Jr, candidate Sherman’s paternal brother, during our admission to the Montserrado Bar in 1988. He said, “ The violation of the right of one person in a society is the beginning of the violation of the rights of all”. Although, Samuel Doe was repressive and very sensitive to criticism, Mohamedu stood up for the Liberian people by making such a statement. Even, while Mohamedu lives in the US he has been very much part of the debate for the transformation of Liberia into a better country and has represented the interest of Liberians in the US in diverse manners. On the building of democracy and rule of law, he has a better credential than his brother, candidate Sherman. My most painful recollection of the failure of candidate Sherman to contribute to the building of democracy was the undermining of the boycott staged by the Liberian National Bar when the House of Representative arbitrarily detained three leaders of the Bar in 2001. The Bar was the only civil society organization that had not been weakened by Taylor’s government; hence, other civil society organizations were supporting the Bar’s position, when candidate Sherman and others undermined the efforts of the Bar and started going to court-an effort which broke the resolve of the Bar. Perhaps he can refresh my memory on what he has done for the poor and the building of democracy in Liberia over the past two decades.

Candidate Sherman also has low marks in community associations and activities. In Gaye Town where he and I lived before, I cannot recall seeing him in any meeting or his contribution to the community. He did not show even the generosity he displays now in the Gaye Town community before this time. Many within his immediate neighborhood slept in darkness while he had a big generator. The streetlights on top of his 20ft fence have always faced inwards, thereby not affording poor children in the neighborhood the opportunity to study around his fence at night. The situation was different when former associate Justice John N. Morris moved in the area. He shared power with his neighbors. I do not think candidate Sherman can win a majority of the votes in Gaye Town, Sinkor Old Road. Also on the question of community, another brother of candidate Sherman stands out above the candidate. Cllr. Cyril Jones, has been very active in the Cape Mount Development Corporation, over the years. If my recollection is right, Cyril was President of this community organization in 2002 and may stay be serving his community in that capacity. I have mentioned the issue of the candidate’s community relation because leadership is about people. If a person is not concerned about his immediate community can he be concerned about the people in an entire nation?

Does Sherman have any national or international experience that makes him fit for the top job? From my recollection, candidate Sherman worked at the Ministry of Labor, while attending law school. After law school, he joined the Maxwell and Maxwell Law Firm and has remained in law practice since. Whether his limited experience qualifies him for the top job is left for the voters to decide. I have no knowledge of any relevant experience of candidate Sherman in international affairs. Whether this lack of experience in international affairs disqualifies him for the top job is left with the electorates to decide.
Amb.George Manneh Weah

Candidate George Weah is loved nationwide for his celebrity as a soccer player and humanitarian services to some Liberians. But can be a celebrity and a humanitarian without any other knowledge or experience make him fit for the presidency of Liberia? I do not think so. Candidate Weah by his own admission is only an 11th grade student. With his low level of education, if he had had substantial relevant experience in government, it would have, perhaps helped him as was in the case of John Major, former Prime Minister of Great Britain. John Major was only a high school graduate, but he was a member of the British Parliament for many years before he was elected Prime Minister. In candidate Weah’s case, he has had no exposure to government service, even at the level of civil service. His appointment by the Interim Government of National Unity as sport ambassador was merely ceremonial without any functional duty. Weah also has no relevant international experience to qualify him for the presidency of Liberia. He has not worked with any international organization or being in a position to understand the intricacies of international politics. His appointment as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador was a mere ceremonial post without any functional duty on a day-to-day basis. I am not sure that with his level of education he has been able to follow international politics either by reading or listening to news. The other issue of concern is that a president could commit the people of Liberia and their resources in ways that could have negative consequences without knowing the impact of his action. This is more likely if a president is not knowledgeable or lacks the requisite experience to understand the full implication of action. For example, the Bassa people are being evicted from the land of their forefathers based on a 1959 concession agreement signed by President Tubman. Although Tubman is dead and gone the Liberian people in the Grand Bassa are suffering from the negative consequences of his action. In fact a friend was more blunt when he said to me that one signature of a president could sell his country, without him knowing the implication if he is not sufficiently educated to understand what he signs. While this notion of sale could be considered an exaggeration, however, it should be noted that a signature of a president could compromise the sovereignty, security, welfare and happiness of the people. Is electing Ambassador Weah not a big risk to take, given how the signature of a president could affect the lives of the Liberian people. Can Ambassador Weah intelligently hold telephone conversations with leaders of other nations in a manner that would benefit the government and people of Liberia? This is a question that a voter must answer before thinking of voting for candidate Weah.

Cllr. Winton A. Tubman
Candidate Tubman is a top diplomat, perhaps the best that Liberia has and the country could very well benefit from his diplomatic experience. But in my view, he is not the best man for the top job amongst the available candidates. I do not recall his view on issues of human rights, corruption, injustice, inequality and other contending issues that led to the failure of the Liberian state. It is difficult to predict the performance of a Winston Tubman administration on these and other major policy issues confronting Liberia. Winston has been too quiet on the political issues around which Liberia degenerated into armed conflict. In other words he has not stood for any principles regarding the dignity of the individual and the maintenance of peace and security. In this respect he can be easily placed in the category of Liberians who believe that they have remained neutral in the conflict in Liberia. This is quite dangerous, as no real leader can remain neutral between good and evil. His silence during the brutal regimes of Doe and Taylor while others spoke out is a sign of a lack of concern for the people-the subject and object of state power. Besides, the record of the leadership of “neutral people” during the transitional period has been quite disappointing. Commenting recently on candidates Winston Tubman and Ellen Sirleaf, Brian Atwood, former USAID director, speaking to a group of Liberians in Minnesota, USA, said that Liberia would recover faster with Ellen Sirleaf as president and Winston Tubman as foreign minister because she understands development and has worked extensively with development institutions, while Tubman is an excellent diplomat. This reinforces the fact candidate Tubman is better known as a diplomat than a politician. Even his campaign message of promoting good citizenry is vague and difficult for the ordinary person to understand. Therefore, he is not the best choice for the recovery of Liberia.

Cllr, Charles Walker Brumskine
Brumskine is one of Liberia’s leading lawyers. Before Taylor appeared on the political scene, all he did was to practice law. Unlike his late father, who was known in Grand Bassa County as a poor man’s lawyer, Cllr. Charles Brumskine main clients were big corporations and other businesses. His experience in government is limited to his two years as a member of the Liberian Senate and President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate. To the best of my recollection, his international experience is limited to being a one-time short-term election observer.

I have said a lot about this candidate in my previous writings and would not spend much time on him in this article. However, I want to focus on the his main claim that he stood up against Taylor while in the Liberian Senate, made the Senate independent and for that reason he was forced to flee Liberia because Taylor was after his life. First, it is not true that at anytime, the Senate was independent of the Executive Mansion under rule of Charles Taylor. Here is the reason why. In the 1997 elections, only parties were voted for, not individual candidates. When the NPP won, the founder and head of NPP, Charles Taylor decided who would go in the Senate, it was he who had to choose which county, he wanted to occupy the slot of the senatorial seats allotted to the NPP. For example, he could have chosen all his Senators from other counties, instead of Grand Bassa, and still get the seventy-five percent of the seats in the Senate, in which case Brumskine would not have been a senator. Also, it is public knowledge that it was Taylor who made Brumskine President Pro Tempore of the Senate. In the early days when the Senate attempted to reject some ministers that Taylor really wanted, sources close to the Senate said he reminded them that they should remember that each of them got to the Senate through him. Taylor got everything he wanted from the Senate and if there was any compromise then it was on a term that Taylor was comfortable with.

To say that the Senate was independent suggests that there were times that the Senate succeeded in doing things against the will of Taylor. This was not the case. If that were the case then Brumskine would not have resigned when Taylor asked him to resign, because his refusal to resign would have been supported by the Senate. To the best of my recollection, the Senate under the leadership of Charles Walker Brumskine did everything to strengthen the control of power by Taylor. For example, the first act passed by the Senate was the restoration of the sovereign authority of the government of Liberia and the next was to call for a status of forces agreement- something Brumskine, speaking for and in the interest of the NPP had failed to achieve before the 1997 elections. The apparent object of the call was to subjugate ECOMOG to the control of Taylor. Eventually, ECOMOG left Liberia without retraining and restructuring the Armed Forces of Liberia as was required under the ECOWAS Peace Plan. The departure of ECOMOG, contributed to the total breakdown of order and the resumption of hostilities in Liberia. I believe that candidate Brumskine as a “born again” Christian regrets for his contribution to the departure of ECOMOG.

Now, the issue that created sympathy and eventually made Brumskine initially popular is his claim in the international press that Charles Taylor wanted to kill him. The question is whether or not this claim is true. If it is true then, he deserves the sympathy and whatever political gain he has enjoyed and continues to enjoy. However, if this claim is false, then, he has committed fraud against the Liberian people and the democratic process. To the best of my recollection, candidate Brumskine's claim that Taylor wanted to kill him has not been independently verified or corroborated in any manner by any Liberian, then in the position to know the truth. In the absence any direct evidence, it is important to examine the circumstances of Brumskine’s departure in order to judge the validity of his claim. Brumskine says that he left the country because Taylor wanted to kill him. Is it true that there was anybody that Taylor wanted to kill and could not kill or did not make any effort to kill? Of course the answer is no Taylor killed anyone he wanted to kill at will. For example, he told the Late Samuel Dokie, “ You can go under your mammy’s bed I will get you.” He later killed Dokie along with Dokie’s wife, his sister and cousin and burned their bodies. He killed many others whom he wanted to kill, including two of his deputy ministers. There was nothing to stop Taylor from killing Brumskine, if he wanted to do so. Brumskine was not politically known and had no following before he entered the Liberian Senate. Also, Brumskine had no security force to protect him, neither was there an international security force like ECOMOG or UNMIL to restrain Taylor’s death squad. Further, Brumskine, like the late Enoch Dogolea, the Taylor’s late vice president, was not an internationally known person whose death would have caused some international problems for Taylor. Even this factor could not restrain Taylor. If it were so, he could not have brutalized former interim President, Dr. Amos Sawyer. Taylor had no restraint in arming or killing anyone he wanted to kill. So, without further evidence, it is difficult to believe candidate Brumskine’s claim.

Another reason why I find Brumskine’s claim difficult to believe is that Brumskine passed through Roberts International Airport (RIA). Could anyone run away from Taylor by using Roberts International Airport, particularly at the time Gen. Martina Johnson was controlling the RIA? During Taylor’s presidency, nobody could pass through RIA or any immigration post, if he did not want that person to leave the country. For example, Alphonso Nimely and his colleagues of the Student Union of the University of Liberia ran away from Taylor and went to Ghana not through RIA or other routes manned by the Liberian immigration. Human rights activist, Aloysius Toe, for example, went to Ghana in a fishing canoe. I could not pass through RIA until Taylor, bowing to national and international pressure and allowed me to leave the country. In fact, I first attempted to leave the country without Taylor, I was re-arrested and detained at the National Security Agency (NSA). Therefore, I find it hard to believe that Taylor wanted to kill Brumskine and yet he left Liberia via RIA, at the time Gen. Martina Johnson was the security commander there.

But lets assume that Brumskine's claim is true. Why did he come to Liberia when hostilities was almost in Monrovia and at the time people were being killed, detained or tortured on the mere speculation that they were associated with the rebellion? In fact at the time of Brumskine’s return, human rights activist Aloysius Toe, journalist Hassan Bility and others were in detention for political reason. Why did Brumskine return under such condition, given his claim that Taylor was after his life for political reason? Could it be just because he says he returned because he believes in God? Why with the protection of God, he chose not to speak against the unlawful detention of Aloysius Toe and others? Brumskine’s support has been, largely based on the story of his “escape and heroic return”- a story, apparently created by him, since there has been no independent confirmation. In any case, following Brumskine’s claim that Taylor wanted to kill him, Taylor publicly said that Brumskine was his cousin and that he could not kill him. He also said that he did not consider Brumskine a political threat because it was he who brought Brumskine into politics (which is true). As Taylor correctly said, nobody knew Brumskine politically before Taylor entered Liberian politics. Brumskine so loyal to Taylor, in appreciation for bringing him into politics, that he did not oppose gross human rights abuses under Taylor such as the killing of the Dokies, market woman Nowai Flomo, and over three hundred innocent women and children on Camp Road on September 18, 1998 by Taylor, while Brumskine President pro tempore of the Liberian Senate. In spite of these developments, candidate Brumskine tells the Liberian people that he is the best man for the top job. And interestingly he has begun to make big promises like Taylor. He recently said that when he becomes president every old person will be on government salary, whether or not such persons previously worked for government or not. This sounds like Taylor’s promise of giving hot meal to every Liberian school kid and giving them access to computers. Attempting to win election by making false promises is fraudulent.

In view of the foregoing, I do not believe Brumskine’s claim that Taylor wanted to kill him. Yet this is the only claim that Brumskine has to his political fame. Liberia does not want a president who will gain any support based on falsehood. In any case the name Charles in Liberia politics has not been associated with honesty and love of people. Charles D. B. King won election by cheating T. J. R. Falkner; Charles Taylor deceived the Liberian people and the international community in everyway; and Charles G. Bryant told the Liberian people that their suffering was over and that under his leadership governance will not be” business as usual”. Should the Liberian voters trust another Charles?

Ellen's supporters on Broad Street
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Unlike most of her colleagues in the presidential race, candidate Sirleaf has had long years of experience in the government of Liberia and has worked in various positions in the international community, both in the private and public sector. Notably, she served as assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and head of United Nations Development Program for Africa (UNDP). In that capacity, she co-coordinated UN development activities in many African countries. She also worked with the World Bank as a senior loan officer. Her last cabinet level post in Liberia was minister of finance under President William R. Tolbert. She tops all the candidates in substantive national and international experiences. Given her background, if chosen by the Liberian people she will know what to do and how to do it as well as what assistance to seek and what door to knock for such assistance. Above all her name is already known in the international community. She has left enviable record everywhere she has worked and is highly respected nationally and internationally. Just as candidate Weah is internationally known in the sporting community, candidate Sirleaf is internationally known in the working community, both in the private and public sectors. In view of the foregoing, is she not the right choice for the reconstruction and development of this country?

Apart from candidate Sirleaf’s experience as an administrator, she is widely known to be a woman of principles and the courage to defend those principles. For example, she refused to take her seat in the Liberian Senate following the 1985 elections; on the grounds that Liberian Action Party (LAP) of Jackson F. Doe was unjustifiable denied victory by the military junta of Samuel Doe. Yet all other members of her party, including her party chairman, took their seats for fear of reprisal from the military. Other members of LAP, accepted positions in the NDPL Government. Amongst them, presidential candidate David Fahart, who became minister of finance under Doe. Her argument for not taking her seat was that by doing so she would be legitimizing fraud and betraying her party and Jackson Doe, who was believed to have won the elections. She stood her ground in defense of democracy, even at risk of losing her life. Unlike candidate Brumskine who ran from dictator Taylor via RIA, candidate Sirleaf ran away from dictator Doe by using non-conventional means. Also unlike many candidates in this race she has been active in efforts at building democracy in Liberia and has suffered for for standing up for the Liberian people. In my view she is the best for Liberia at this time. A vote her will be a vote for reconstruction and the building of a just and human social order in Liberia. As someone who understands what it takes to develop a country she will do well for her own country and as someone who has been a victim of human rights abuse she will pay keen attention to building respect for human rights and the rule of law. Her past experiences make her the best amongst the presidential candidates for Liberia at this time.