Liberia: Benoni Urey's Increasing Political Influence Gives Rise to the Culture of Impunity

I don't think anyone has ever told him that he is an influential kingmaker in Liberian politics.

But deep down in his heart, Benoni Urey understands his influence and knows what he needs to do to be heard and taken seriously.

All Urey has to do is show up his enormous physical presence, intimidate some, whisper in the waiting ears of a few, make deals, and perhaps throw some money here and there to have his way.

From his early days at the Liberian Electricity Corporation where he was Deputy Director-General for Planning and Training in the Samuel Kanyon Doe administration, to Mayor of Careysburg during the Sirleaf administration to President of the Agricultural Cooperative Development Bank of Liberia during the interim administration of the late interim Chairman Wilton Sankawulo to Commissioner of Maritime Affairs in the administration of the former warlord, Charles Taylor, and his failed 2013 presidential campaign, Benoni Urey has always been an unforgettable figure.

These appointments in a normal world would have been seen as a genuine attempt for a citizen to give back to his people through hard work, dedication, and a commitment to public service.

However, in a country where public service or where government officials are seen as arrogant and bland, and uninterested in the lives of the Liberian people other than their own, Urey's larger-than-life presence in politics and business buried the skeletons in his closets - at least for now, that has dogged him for decades.

Urey's skeletons which will always overshadow whatever he accomplishes in his personal and political lives is his Achilles heels, as Liberians, mindful of the source of his wealth, often remind him that he got his wealth illegally from their country's meager resources.

Liberians, frustratingly, can only talk about Urey's alleged ill-gotten wealth but can do nothing about it.

Urey's direct or indirect role in the Liberian civil war from which it is believed he illegally and allegedly got his wealth after he was first appointed Commissioner of Maritime Affairs in 1996 by then-Chairman Wilton Sankuwolo and later to the same position by the then-rebel leader and President Charles Taylor, cannot be ignored and thrown under the rug.

As a celebrated bosom buddy of Charles Taylor, Benoni Urey allegedly played a key role in the procurement of arms. The Coalition for International Justice noted in 2005 that as the primary contact between Charles Taylor and one Viktor Bout, Mr. Urey helped the rebel leader siphon funds from a shipping firm to pay for arms that were used to fuel the civil war.

According to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, a witness, James Paul, identified Benoni Urey as the individual who operated the Liberian Rubber Company and exported hundreds of thousands of tons of rubber out of the country. The money from that transaction was never accounted for.

These war crimes violations added Benoni Urey's name to an earlier UN travel ban and to the US Treasury Department's Specially Designated Nationals list, blocking his assets in the US, and prohibits him from doing business with US companies, and with US citizens.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Consolidated (June 30, 2009) Report recommends that Benoni Urey be prosecuted for economic crimes and barred him from holding public office for 30 years, for his role in the Liberian civil war.

Benoni Urey's enormous wealth, or, say, his questionable wealth and business dealings have insulated him from scrutiny and prosecution making him untouchable in his own mind and in the minds of the general public.

It is a tale of two justice systems in Liberia - one for the rich and powerful, and the other for the weak and poor which exposed the glaring weakness in the nation's institutions and also exposed the ineffectiveness of the judicial/criminal justice systems in the country.

With all the skeletons in his closets, Urey refused to stay away from the public sphere and has sprinted his way to the front and center of political discussions by becoming a kingmaker, and a formidable force in Liberian politics via his All Liberian Party (ALP) and coalition politics.

You will think with all the problems swirling around him, Urey and his handlers would find a way (if there's a way) to bring his problems to an end.

Instead, Benoni Urey decided to play blind, deaf, and arrogant. And like other former rebel leaders and war criminals roaming the country, Urey decided to ignore those problems as if they don't exist, opting to play into the odious culture of impunity that engulfed Liberia.

The Collaborating Political Parties which comprised the Unity Party, Joseph Boakai; Alternative National Congress (ANC), Alexander B. Cummings; Liberty Party (LP), Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence; and the All Liberian Party (ALP), Benoni Urey, remained quiet about Urey's alleged war crimes past as they attempt to find a candidate to challenge President George Weah.

As the proverbial head of his All Liberian Party (ALP), Benoni Urey is often seen rubbing shoulders with his coalition partners of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), as they build on the grand and distant dream of fielding an individual to unseat President George Manneh Weah in the 2023 president election.

Former Vice President Boakai who wants to be President of Liberia and hasn't spoken a word about Benoni Urey's problems in the past reportedly said 'there will be no protection for Urey' when he becomes president. Too little, too late?

Opposition leader Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), and Liberty Party's Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence, key leaders of their respective political parties, hasn't spoken a word or made a robust case that calls Urey out and frowns on the fact that he even sits and hurdle with them to discuss coalition politics, knowing that he is an alleged war criminal.

How can these individuals or opposition leaders discuss change and a better and progressive Liberia when they are not bold enough to call out a member of their Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), for his deadly and profitable role in the Liberian civil war that killed over 200,000 Liberians and destroyed the country?

When a political leader who aspires to be President of Liberia ignores what is right just to be popular and be elected is not leadership.

It is cowardice.

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