by Ben Browne ~ (August 20th 2005)
"...One of Oppong’s close associates recently said to me, “I am one of the few in the semi-inner circle who do not think he (Oppong) should win; he thinks of himself as a savior sent by God to Liberia. Therefore, Liberians are suppose to be grateful to him; it would be a brutal, bruising fight and Oppong is not ready for such fight.” ....
When I posted my recent article, “How many presidential candidates does Liberia need?” some of the people who had the time to read it, e-mailed me to tell me that I was over reacting to the long list of presidential candidates. A good friend of mine also told me that by September the candidates would reduce to two. Before this prophecy really come to past, I want to take a critical look at the two most popular candidates in the October elections. While I am not a supporter of either of them, I think as Liberians their leadership will affect all of us in many ways. Therefore, in our effort to elect the right leader, critical and sober reflections on these two may be a great help to the decisions we make at the polls. Since in the Liberian culture women are respected and considered the first, I will start with madam Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf of the Unity party.
Most political observers in and out of Liberia will agree that despite the supporters of Ellen considering her the front-runner, she faces long odds of being elected. However, if she cannot win, why will she not win? Moreover, when she wins, why will she win? One popular argument, mostly voiced by most of those who loathes Ellen, is that she is one of the strongest supporters of the 14years war that brought west Africa nightmare, Charles M.G. Taylor to power in Liberia.
Some even argue that the real Ellen is closer to Taylor’s ideas than the Liberian people would expect. Maybe! Nevertheless, as a courageous supporter of democratic corruption-free Liberia/Africa, Ellen stands at the hawkish expectation of some of the well-known names in Liberian politics. On the cultural (Native vs. Congo) issues that often undermine Liberia democracy, she is said to be of the views that Liberia can only be better if both Native and Congo recognizes that Liberia is for all Liberian.
However, madam Sirleaf’s political position continues to be better for the October 11, 2005 elections. Despite being a shrewdly political name to vast majority of voters residing in the interior of Liberia and her support of the 14years old war that brought massive human suffering and death on the Liberian people; she remains wildly popular with the people of the overly populated capital, Monrovia and Liberians abroad. However, why should this spell automatic defeat or win for the Unity Party iron lady?
The complaint that Ellen is doomed by association with Charles Taylor and the 1990 war is a problem that for some serve as a constant reminder of their lost loved-ones, some do not accept Ellen’s excuses and tight-lips-apologies as authentic. Many Ellen-loathers would surely make the most of all these vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, let us not forget that Ellen is a well-known name in Liberian politics on the international level. Many in the international communities who are willing to help Liberia but presently have reservations may welcome her policy acuteness, experience and political wisdom in the Executive Mansion. Moreover, let us admit it—our people are still excited about the so-called big names in Liberian politics. Would Liberians really choose dull opportunist like John Marlu over the Iron lady?
Another theory that does not impress most people is that the men would keep Ellen out of the race—Liberia is not ready for a female president. On what basis do we assume that the country would not elect the right women? Far more traditional, societies, including Muslim ones, have been led by women. Ellen does bring out weird phobia in some of her more wacko antagonists. However, most of those foaming are not voting in October anyway. Those eager to smash the ultimate glass ceiling may surely outnumber the primitive male egocentrics.
Yet Ellen does face a genuine elect ability issues, one that has little to do with ideology, women hating or her past association with rebel leader Charles Taylor. Plainly put, it is her personality. In some cases, Ellen has proven herself capable, diligent, formidable, and effective. She can make most big names in Liberian politics sound like armature teenagers. Nevertheless, she still lacks a key quality that a politician cannot achieve through hard work alone: likeability. As hard as she tries, Ellen has little facility for connection with ordinary folk, for making them feel that she understands, identifies, and is at some level one of them. You may admire and respect her, but it is hard not to find her a bit inhuman.
Whatever she may be like in private, her public persona is calculated, relentless—and a little robotic. A case can be made that the first woman who gets elected president in Liberia will need to, as Ellen does, radiate toughness then warmth; but in Liberian politic affection matters. Hold your judgment until we look at George Manneh “Oppong” Weah.
The supporters of Oppong and some political observers believe that he is the number one man in this election (president-in-waiting) but like Ellen, he faces long odds of ever achieving his last goal. Uncertainties continue to looms over his presidential aspirations.
One of the main arguments by those who want to see him stay far away from the Executive Mansion is that he lacks proper education and experience in politics. Some even argue that if elected he may become a replica of the late C-I-C Dr. Samuel K. Doe. Maybe! But what do they have to say about Oppong’s claim that he is a truth representation of the grass-root of Liberia who understands the daily suffering of the ordinary people? Another objection, which one hears from various corners, is that Oppong is too over zealously self-center to become president of a country emerging from war.
One of Oppong’s close associates recently said to me, “I am one of the few in the semi-inner circle who do not think he (Oppong) should win; he thinks of himself as a savior sent by God to Liberia. Therefore, Liberians are suppose to be grateful to him; it would be a brutal, bruising fight and Oppong is not ready for such fight.” He is surely correct that any contest involving Oppong in October will get nasty and ugly. Many big names in Liberian politics would find it absurdly easy to whip up their bases against him. Nevertheless, why should that spell defeat for the soccer legend turn CDC stander bearer? Do these so-called big names in Liberian politics still have real bases or are they just group of people who are living on past glories? Moreover, Oppong have said repeatedly that he is ready for any fight. In his favor is the young people vote because most of them of voting age feel the politicians have failed Liberia.
However, the real question is how ready is Oppong for the political landscape of Africa’s oldest republic? Some say the real Oppong cannot withstand tension; therefore, he may not be able to survive the campaign process, which is expected to bring out the bad, the ugly, and the nasty. Lately some of the controversial issues on him include denouncing his tie to the Muslim Religion in Church, the embarrassing claim on his website about his degree from a bogus university and his dual citizenship. Yet, his Public Relation people continue to work hard to continuously win him supports. Why should he not become president? His supporters continue to argue to the Liberian people that, He played professional soccer and received millions in pay. Therefore, he will not personally be corrupt like many past presidents. He was name U.N. good-will ambassador. He recently received a prestigious award in the U.S., which was presented by one of the best black actors in the world, Denzel Washington. He once met with Africa’s most popular former leader, Nelson Mandela. But how does all this qualify a man who only known education was 10 th grade, a man who only known exposure to power was having dinner with the late president, Samuel K. Doe before national games? Indeed how does this prepare him to become president of a country with a population of about 3.5 million people with diverse social and political backgrounds? How does this qualify him to become president of a country emerging from a brutal and barbaric war? Many of those who dislike Oppong says, he is being used by group of people who does not stand a chance of winning elections in Liberia because of their standing with the Liberian people; therefore, with his limited education, inexperience and quick-temper if elected president, Liberians may be at the verge of another war. However, most of those making issues out of Oppong’s foibles will not be the polls in October but you. Moreover, can we be so sure that he may not turn out to be the best thing that ever happens to Liberia in a long time?
Unlike Ellen, Oppong has one thing at his advantage, most of the Liberian people like him, especially the young people. It is important to note that most voters’ vote for a candidate they can personally relate to easily. However, some of the older and experienced Liberians may be out to use his inexperience to their personal gain. Likewise, most of the big name politicians may be out to support Ellen for their selfish clinch to power. Liberians have had so many failed attempts at democracy in the past. I hope we can get it right this time. Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted over decades in Liberia, must be born a society of which humanity will be proud. This election must be able to produce a leadership that will reinforce the generation after us belief in justice, equality, and better society for a better tomorrow. Let us not allow popularity and past hate blind us from the reality that now is the time for us to make the right decision for the future of Liberia. Who ever we elect to the Executive Mansion this time, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf or George Oppong Weah, let us remember it is not about how we can extricate ourselves heroically from the affairs but how the generations after us shall continue to live.
About the author:
Ben Browne is a Liberian residing in Minnesota and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org