29 January 2014

Liberia: No Go Zone - Weah Factor Fears Candidates in Montserrado

Monrovia — With 258 days left until the 2014 Senatorial election, the political field in nearly all the 15 counties of Liberia is already crowded even with some candidates still holding consultations and yet to publicly declare their intentions. Quite interestingly, Montserrado County so far has the least number of candidates who have expressed their intention to contest.

So far, out of the five names known publicly, some are mere wannabes with certainly no hope of clinching the single spot in a densely populated Montserrado county, which election is dubbed as daunting and very close to contesting the presidency of Liberia.

Concluding a catalogue of contesting candidates in all the 15 counties of Liberia, it has been noted that Montserrado so far has fewer candidates than all the other 14 counties with the George Weah candidacy factor cited as a fear factor hampering the political ambition of individuals.

Weah is a big factor not only in the Montserrado senatorial election, but the entire country as he has on two occasions 2005 and 2011 caused stir in the body politics of Liberia contesting the presidency in 2005 before coming down the ladder in 2011 to contest as vice presidential candidate.

In Weah's entire political contest, he has won Montserrado County with good margins and the county has thus been described as his stronghold and that of his Congress for Democratic Change. In 2005, the CDC won both senatorial seats and the highest number Representatives seats. In a senatorial by election in November 2009 following the death of CDC elected Hannah G. Brent, the party reclaimed its spot with Geraldine D. Sheriff defeating financially potent Clemenceau Urey of the ruling Unity Party. In 2011, the CDC won the lone senatorial seat and a number of representatives, further proving the popularity of the party in Montserrado.

Montserrado County is located in the northwestern portion of Liberia. It is one of 15 counties that comprise the first-level of administrative division in the nation, it has four districts. Bensonville serves as the capital with the area of the county measuring 1,909 square kilometers (737 sq mi), the smallest in the country. As of the 2008 Census, it had a population of 1,144,806, making it the most populous county in Liberia.

Created in 1847 at the foundation of the country, the county is the oldest in Liberia. The most populous city in the county is Liberia's capital, Monrovia with 1,010,970 residents. The county is bordered by Bomi County to the west, Bong County to the north, and Margibi County to the east. The southern part of Montserrado lies on the Atlantic Coast.

Located on the coast in the northwestern third of Liberia, Montserrado County is bordered by three counties. The Atlantic Ocean makes up the county's southern border, while Bomi County lies on the western border. Bong County is to the north and Margibi County to the east. The land is mainly alluvial soils, primarily clay, washed seaward from the streams and rivers of the interior valleys. In the lowlands of the coast grow palm trees, mangrove woods, and savanna grasslands with tropical forest covering the interior hills and valleys. Rivers include the St. Paul, Mesurado, Du, and Po.

The climate is tropical with dry and wet seasons. Annual precipitation measures approximately 75 inches (190 cm). From May to November is the rainy season, followed by the dry season from December through April. During the dry season winds from the Sahara Desert called the Harmattan create wild temperature fluctuations from December to the beginning of March.

Careysburg District and Todee District are the two statutorily created districts in the county. [Greater Monrovia District and St. Paul River District are also recognized, but are not officially recognized as administrative districts. There are 21 townships, seven cities, one borough, and two chiefdoms contain with these districts. Administration varies by subunit with a governor running the borough, mayors in charge of cities, commissioners administering townships, and superintendents controlling districts.

Todee District's population is 32,695 with farming the primary economic activity. The district is run by chiefdoms and clan systems, as the county contains a large number of native African communities.

The most populous district in the county and the nation, Greater Monrovia District, is home to 1,010,970 people. The district is made up of all the communities surrounding the city of Monrovia, but not the capital itself. Employment is mainly informal, small scale trade and government employment through the national government or foreign governments. The population has members of each of Liberia's 16 main tribes.

St. Paul River District is the second most populous district in the county with 63,541 residents. Residents are primarily Christians and a member of the Bassa, Dey, or Kpelle tribes. Farming and fishing are the main economic activities along with some small scale trading. In politics the impossible is likely to happen as FPA is now looking at the candidates lining up to challenge Weah in his stronghold come October.

Weah's Number Game

CHALLENGES: Weah, a name acclaimed to African and world football fans surprised the world as his first ever political statement after years of successful football career was to announce his bid for the presidency of Liberia, the highest and most powerful position in the country.

From top to bottom- in October 2005, the entire world stood still and watched as many were convinced that post war Liberia was on the verge of being headed by one of the world's greatest football icons, soccer legend George M. Weah, whose popularity was incomparable to any of the other 22 contesting candidates in the plebiscite.

Liberian politicians, including current President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf all feared the popularity of Weah as he held Monrovia and Liberia hostage every time he carried out political rallies on his newly formed Congress for Democratic Change. During the first round of voting in 2005, Weah accumulated 275,265 votes an equivalent of 28.3% % of the total votes, followed by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with 192,326 votes, 19.8%.

Victory was almost certain for Weah as he received the highest support from opposition politicians, including Winston Tubman of the National Democratic Party (NDPL), Alhaji G.V. Kromah of the All Liberian Coalition Party (ALCOP) and several other political parties pledged support to him during the second round of voting.

Runoff did not go the way of Weah, as his CDC was defeated by the Sirleaf's Unity Party, accumulating 327,046 votes, 40.6% with Sirleaf winning 478,526 votes, 59.4%, a result Weah and partisans rejected, protesting fiercely on the streets of Monrovia. Calm returned to Monrovia following the intervention of the regional body, ECOWAS, the United States Embassy and other foreign friends who prevailed on Weah and supporters to abandon their action for the sake of nurturing the fragile peace in Liberia following years of civil wars.

Education played a big part in Weah's failed presidential bid in 2005 after he pronounced on public radio that he was not a high school graduate at the time.

Weah and his CDC went back into their political closet, consoling themselves that Madam Sirleaf will be too old to pursue a second term of office, hoping that Weah could have easy passage to State Power in 2011 in the absence of Sirleaf. The CDC political leader and followers' belief was further supported by public pronouncement by President Sirleaf that she was only seeking one term of office.

How Sirleaf Wrecked Weah's Presidency Quest

In January 2010, Weah's dream of sitting at the Executive Mansion after the 2011 elections was dashed when President Sirleaf while delivering her state of the nation address to a joint session of the 52nd National Legislature ignored her earlier promised not to contest a second term of office by pronouncing her bid seeking second term of office.Opposition leaders including Weah, Nimba County Senator Price Y. Johnson and now Information Minister Lewis Brown frowned that in doing so, she had broken a promise made during her 2005 campaign to only serve one term if elected. Sirleaf was re-nominated as the Unity Party's presidential candidate at the party's national convention on 31 October 2010 in readiness for the 2011 elections.

Weah, still facing education stigma, ran for options to help him to the presidency, but failed in his first attempt to have Cllr. Charles W. Brumksine as his vice presidential running mate. The two held secret meetings in Liberia and abroad under the canopy of forming a common front to dethrone Sirleaf at the polls, but all the talks foiled with news that none of the two men were willing to become a vice presidential candidate to the other.

The CDC political leader searched everywhere looking for a suitable running mate to match incumbent Sirleaf and her ruling Unity Party at the 2011 plebiscite but the search led him to Cllr. Winston Tubman a presidential candidate on the ticket of former ruling National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) in the earlier 2005 elections.

One Step Down

After several meetings between Weah and Cllr. Tubman, the pronouncement was finally made by Cllr. Tubman when he declared that he and Weah agreed to form a common front in the 2011 elections, accordingly to enable him (Tubman) grow Weah to succeed him as President.

Tubman, already facing political unrest in the NDPL, could not join Weah and the CDC single-handedly as he quickly took over a small political party- Liberia National Union (LINU), the party of former Liberian Vice President Harry F. Moniba. CDC and LINU hurriedly entered a coalition that paved the way for Cllr. Tubman to be accepted by partisans and supporters of the populous CDC.

At a public flare political convention, Cllr. Tubman was endorsed by the newly formed CDC and LINU coalition to serve as presidential candidate for the CDC while Weah settled one step down the line to Vice Presidential candidate.

The CDC ran a campaign under the popularity of Weah and not Tubman as rival Sirleaf stated in one of her interviews that Tubman was riding on the popularity of Weah as according to her Tubman could not go out to run campaign alone.

According to observers, the Tubman -Weah collaboration hurt the CDC with some partisans claiming that Tubman is an offspring of the elite True Whig Party as his father William V. S. Tubman ruled Liberia for years.

The numbers did not count in the favor of Tubman and Weah as they were defeated during the first round of polling with a huge margin even though they claimed there was vote rigging from some parts of Liberia where the CDC did not have observers at polling centers.

Sirleaf and the Unity Party could not accumulate the 50% plus one vote required by Liberia's electoral law for upright majority and had to settle for runoff. The CDC decided to boycott the runoff announcing a nationwide protest against the results of the election. Violence ensued, resulting in a bloody fracas between partisans and supporters of the CDC and state security forces. Deaths and injuries were reported as state security forces used live bullets and tear gas to disperse protestors.

The dust settled and Weah and CDC officials accepted to work with the Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf bringing to end weeks of protest in Monrovia and other parts of Liberia.

Two Steps Down

After the 2011 election, Weah and President Sirleaf held meetings some of which, according to inside sources centered on Weah succeeding Sirleaf in 2017 if he prevailed on his supporters to stay calm and allow peace prevails. Weah even accepted the post of Peace Ambassador of Liberia offered him by President Sirleaf, taking on the task of reconciling Liberians after years of division on ethnic, political and other lines.

Still performing the job of Peace Ambassador which he started off with a football match involving some of Africa's legendary footballers held at the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Weah has again turned to politics, announcing his bid for a senatorial seat of Montserrado County.

Appearing on a popular radio talk show recently, Weah said-"I want to be senator for Monrovia... ... ... .", a statement that was widely criticized as many believe Weah is still politically immature despite his hasty American education which has led him to now be a Master degree holder. Weah critics argue that Monrovia is the capital city of Liberia and no wonder why an individual aspiring to be senator for Montserrado County will express his desire to be senator for Monrovia.

Weah's pronouncement comes outside an official convention of the party with the party occupying the position of senior senators of Montserrado County. CDC senator Joyce Musu Freeman Sumo has also expressed her desire to contest re-election, pairing her against CDC political leader Weah.

Weah supporters say his desire to contest the senatorial seat in 2014 is intended to emulate the United States President Barrack Obama style of ascending to state power-from senator to president as they believe that his three years as senator should he win the election will help him become President in 2017 but on the other way round Obama came from Senator before contesting the presidency of the United States.

Whichever way, Weah's political sojourn is the other way around, jumping at the top, after failing, settling for second and downward to third with attempts to go back to the top.

CHANCES: One political observer say Weah is politically confused and his state of confusion running from one political post to another will impact the chances of the opposition CDC climbing to state power should the party stick to Weah as its presidential candidate come 2017. But to the senatorial election, no true politicians will believe that Weah can be defeated in Montserrado County.

Should Weah hold unto his political ambition with the current names of Weah's opponents, all strange in Liberian politics, Weah is certainly destined for the capitol building.

Incumbent Joyce M. Freeman Sumo

CHALLENGES: Sumo won the 2005 senatorial election on the ticket of the newly-formed CDC, where she obtained 86,008 votes out of total 658,009 valid votes representing 13.3%.The CDC was making its debut on the political landscape of the country. No doubt Sumo got a nine- year lucrative job on a silver platter in the most populous county of the country as it was no secret that electorates in 2005 in Montserrado County voted on the basis of the CDC logo instead of individual candidates.

Sumo will face a difficult task beating Weah during the primary of the CDC as the party is built around the popularity of Weah. Her relationship with the CDC has soured in recent time as the party frowned on senator Sumo recently after she printed campaign materials for the impending election without the consent of the party. "This action by Senator Sumo is evil, and--as such--we have written the National Executive Committee informing it about this violation. We wrote the senator about her action and she is expected to appear before the committee member to answer to these inquires. Senator Sumo's action in printing T-shirts bearing her picture and the emblem of the party violates Section 2.6 of the party's constitution," Jefferson Koijee of the Youth League of the CDC said recently.

He maintained that the CDC's law is clear on when and how a particular candidate is allowed to use the emblem of the party.

"Our partisan has violated the election laws of the country and we want to send this as a warning to all members to desist from this unlawful behavior," the CDC Youth League leader indicated, but Senator Sumo's Political Officer, Hilary Mentoe, declined to speak on the allegation, stressing that the senator was not in office for the office to adequately address the matter.

CHANCES: It is very difficult to contemplate the chances of incumbent Senator Sumo with Weah in the race. She is defiant stating that she can win re-election without the support of Weah but that means she will have to first win Weah during the primary, if not successful she will have to look for a new political home to battle Weah at the polls.

Stephen Johnson

CHALLENGES: Johnson is currently a Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Exercise at the Ministry of Finance. He once served as a student leader at the state owned University of Liberia. Johnson currently has several social media, including Facebook pages campaigning for his senate position. One of his pages Stephen Johnson for the Montserrado County Senate is a platform where his supporters discuss his candidacy. With the country national budget, experiencing shortfall in the tune of over US$47 million, Johnson is not busy strategizing how he and others at the Revenue Department can help to tackle the revenue collection headache facing the country but pushing his political agenda across Monrovia. Finance Minister Amara Konneh has publicly stated that he will be physically involved in a renewed mobilization process to collect revenue but one of his strong revenue men is contemplating a top political post at the Capitol.

Johnson already has color printed stickers placed on vehicles around Monrovia and Montserrado County, propagating his senatorial bid.

Critics believe that Johnson as a young and ambiguous individual should first show his ability to occupy such high profile position by helping the Liberian Government to collect the needed revenue to support its 2013/2014 budget rather than using valuable time to campaign for political position, printing stickers when the time is still far away. Critics say if Johnson cannot confront the challenges ahead of him now, what difference can he make in Montserrado County with a plethora of needs is a lingering question for the young politician.

CHANCES: Johnson is popular amongst the youth and student population mainly from the University of Liberia but it remains to be seen how he can do what his political master, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf could not do to Weah in exclusively Montserrado County over two elections. Even Sirleaf who won two successive elections could not beat Weah in Montserrado County but, howbeit, Johnson wants to make history this time around.

Benjamin Sanvee

CHALLENGES: Sanvee served as Youth Advisor to the government of Liberia during the reign of former President Charles Taylor. While NEC is yet to declare campaigning officially open, Sanvee like other aspirants has been flirty with the idea. His political ambition received a boost recently when his candidature was endorsed by Liberty Party political leader Charles Brumskine.

The name Sanvee has been missing in the political landscape for years, but political experts are predicting that this election could be an opportunity for Sanvee to sit on the political pedestal of marketing and win over a new wave of supporters.

With the George Weah factor scaring aspirants in Montserrado, Sanvee is looking the other way, forming friendships with the Liberty party that joined forces with the ruling Unity Party in the second round of the 2011 elections.

Cllr. Brusmkine could not keep secret his admiration for the candidacy of Sanvee, saying "Ben is armed with the resources, intellectual as well as human resources to win this election. I am going to be the first person to cast my ballot for him except that I am not from Montserrado and I cannot vote here but in Buchanan. I am going to support him".

Sanvee himself has been showcasing his charismatic intellectualism delivering speeches centered on the Liberian economy. Recently, Sanvee speaking of the title; "Jobs, The Economy and Putting Montserrado back to Work" stressed the importance of a public private partnership as the reigning economic concept and ideology that government should provide the environment indicating that foreign and domestic companies have failed.

In some of his many political messages Sanvee says "Government must become an investor along with the private sector in creating the growth and development that we need. Our neighbor Sierra Leone is doing it and they are enjoying double digit growth and increased development".

"The overall verdict of this kind of thinking is massive unemployment, high level of poverty and an economy that only benefits a few", the senatorial aspirant observed.

CHANCES: Sanvee like other youthful candidates have the support of some segment of the youth population, but the task of beating George Weah at the ballot box in Montserrado County is a mountain to climb and history will be made if Sanvee and others can successfully win the upcoming senatorial election. Yet, the election presents a platform where he and others can test their popularity in Montserrado County and opt for a Representative seat come 2017.

Ali Sylla

CHALLENGES: Sylla, a social advocate and commentator are one of the strangest political bedfellows surfacing in the politics of Montserrado. Sylla has no known political history to take on the Herculean challenge of wooing voters in the populous Montserrado County especially against Weah but Sylla told FPA recently that he is aware of the many challenges facing the Liberian society, but that those challenges can be overcome when the right people are given the chance to contribute, and that he will be campaigning based on his record. "I am committed to this process", he said.

The Social Advocate and Commentator told the audience at a local center in Monrovia when he declared his candidacy that his focus is to work with other well-meaning Liberians to improve the living conditions of the Liberian people.

He dispelled the notion that his affiliation with the ruling Unity Party will reduce his chances of winning where he said on the contrary, Mr. Sylla, the Unity party has performed credibility well despite so many challenges. He explained that under the Unity Party-led government, Liberian democracy is gradually taking shape, a success he attributed to the exemplary leadership of President Sirleaf.

Responding to question whether he will submit himself to a debate; Mr. Sylla said that he was willing and ready to participate in any debate that centered on national questions. He emphasized that such debate should include all sectors of the Liberian society, especially the civil society organizations. Such fora, according to Mr. Sylla, will provide the opportunity for the proper evaluation of will- be candidates. Mr. Sylla expressed his candidacy when he was providing the platform by the Liberian Destiny Debaters.

CHANCES: Sylla like other candidates could use the impending election to introduce himself to Liberian electorates hoping to exploit future political chances. He could make political history if successful in defeating Weah come October.

Musa B. Dorley

CHALLENGES: Dorley is a former employee of the General Auditing Commission of Liberia. He was dismissed for unspecified reasons and his effort to pursue a legal redress is yet to yield results. Dorley is currently unemployed, but he maintains that he has the grass root support.

CHANCES: It will be a miracle how an unemployed Dorley will carry out political campaign in Montserrado County. Politics is a game of the unexpected and Dorley hope of becoming a senator is a big dream which if achieved could be a record in Liberian politics for ages.

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