A Foya Boy’s ‘Coronation’ -Monrovia Glitters as Dignitaries Arrive for Boakai Inauguration

MONROVIA:  Liberia’s seat of power, or better say Monrovia’s Capitol Hill, is lavishly adorned with color and life right now as the nation cheers and welcomes delegates from around the country and the world—guests who are descending here to witness a historic political transition, a major fruit of the country’s maturing democracy. Central of it all is the news that a ‘village boy’ all the way from Foya, Lofa County—nearly 275 miles away—who arrived here some 54 years ago, who fetched and sold fire woods from the slums and took a janitor job to get a college education, is being ordained the First Citizen of Liberia, coronated as the President of Africa’s oldest republic, taking the mantle of political power today. The Analyst takes a cursory look at the occasion and the man in the center of today’s activities.

World attention quickens itself once again upon the “Grain Coast” but this time for some good reasons. Delegates from around the world, including the United States, are arriving today to witness a unique milestone—the peaceful transition of political power, the second time this is happening since 80 years ago (1944), the first being six years ago 2018.

Swarms of Delegates

Already, the United States of America has announced a Presidential Delegation to attend the Inauguration of His Excellency Joseph Boakai today at the highest level. The US delegation is headed by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, and it includes Ms. Catherine Rodriguez, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., U.S. Embassy Monrovia; Stephen K. Benjamin, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Public Engagement, The White House.

Others on the US delegation are the Honorable Isobel Coleman, Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development and the Honorable Judd Devermont, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council, The White House.

It is also reported that the President of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and his administration have sent an advance team with a couple of logistics, including 12 VIP Escort motorbikes, to grace the inauguration. He is also expected today to attend.

Though the Boakai inaugural committee is somewhat tightlipped on dignitaries who have confirmed their attendance, The Analyst has learned that a host of many world leaders, particularly from the West African region are in the country for the august occasion.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the People’s Republic of China is being represented by its Vice President, Chaina’s Han Zheng.

Neighboring Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast are also said to be sending high power delegations as well as the President of Nigeria, Chief Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu.

As the international dignitaries descend so come a swarm of rural Liberians, largely partisans and supporters of the Unity Party.

Reports reaching The Analyst say various groups of UP auxiliaries from the countryside and districts are on hired vehicles trooping towards Monrovia to be a part of the occasion which they collectively fought to make happen.

Security is tightened in the city, particularly on Capitol Hill where the Inauguration Ceremony is being held. Several streets and passageways are blocked, a few reserved to special vehicles throughout the day.

The Foya Progeny

Like his predecessor George M. Weah who hailed from one of Liberia’s largest slums and rose from an unlikely background before becoming President of Liberia, the man taking of oath of office today, Joseph Nyumah Boakai, is a product of a humble beginning.

His ancestral home is Foya, in remote Lofa County, which is more than 274 miles west of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

Born in Worsonga, a village in Foya District, Lofa County, on Nov. 30, 1944, Joseph grew up with his parents toiling the soil as subsistent farmers, spending much of his adolescent days between school time and the farms.

When he left Worsonga for neighboring Sierra Leone for primary and second school, he landed in the hands of some distant relatives whose support he complemented by doing odd jobs to stay in school.

At a tender age, he had to move on to Liberia, specifically Monrovia, to seek college education. He did so out of sheer fate, without knowing how he would obtain access to any college let alone a place to lay his head.

Arriving in Monrovia in the early 1960s, for little Joseph Boakai, it was like a little fish jumping into a strange poll. The new environment appeared sophisticated and incomprehensible to navigate, at least for the three years. But he firmly hanged on, combing slums and swamps where he fetched wires and woods that he sold to survive.

As Monrovia was largely the home of elites—the division between the Americo-Liberians and the natives being noticeably wider at the time—Joseph sought friendship with children of the ruling class as a way to finding odd jobs, such as providing manual laundering services in exchange of food and small cash to keep going.

Enrolling as the elite College of West Africa was a mystery. However, with somewhat providential luck, he did, eventfully becoming a janitor, a job that would lighten his days and keep him in school.

That was not a job for young people, certainly not for children attending such a prestigious school. But not even the vicious regular bullying from friends was a match for a Foya boy grimly determined to maintain a foothold on Monrovia and get an education.

Thus, having gotten primary education and an amount of high school education in Sierra Leone, his next secondary move was at College of West Africa, which paid off with the janitorial job, and later in 1972 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Liberia.

Astute Public Servant

President-elect Jospeh Nyumah Boakai’s supporters say will not be any of the Liberia’s “try and error” president because he comes with much experience, not merely as a public servant, but once a vice president for 12 long years.

Elected along with ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005, Boakai was Liberia’s 26th vice president and for 12 years.

Liberia’s vice presidents constitutionally being the president of the Senate, presiding over official business of this important wing of the Liberian Legislature, this attests to the public service knowledge base of the incoming president, his supporters further contend.

While serving as Vice President of Liberia, he had responsibility to supervise a number of institutions and agencies of Government. These include: Liberia National Lotteries (LOTTO), the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA), the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE), and the National Commission on Disarmament Demobilization Resettlement and Reintegration (NCDDRR).

Back in the days, fresh from the University of Liberia, where he earned a degree in Business Administration, Boakai consulted with several institutions, including serving as Chief Technical Advisor on Agriculture Policy, Ministry of Agriculture. He is credited for reviewing and evaluating the Liberian 1986 proposed Green Revolution and FAO World Bank, the 1986 Agricultural sector.

Hon. Boakai has served his country as resident manager of the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) 1973-1980, managing director of the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) 1980-1982, managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC) in 1992 and as minister of agriculture 1983-1985.

As minister of agriculture, among his enormous duties and responsibilities, he was responsible for national agricultural policy formation, implementation support and research, regulatory services.

He monitored activities and chaired boards of over 20 agricultural development projects and Agricultural Cooperative Development Bank and support institutions. He also chaired for one year, a 15 nation West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) and toured research projects of WARDA in Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea Bissau. He also toured several agricultural projects in Denmark, Belgium, Great Britain, Malaysia and Ivory Coast in connection with poultry, cattle grazing, rubber and oil palm production and processing and assisted in the first PL-480 program evaluations for Liberia.

At the LPMC, he was the chief executive officer and as the first Liberian managing director of that entity, he was responsible for export marketing of coffee, cocoa and palm kernel oil and was responsible for arranging purchase, shipment and handling of the PL-480 program from 1980-1984.

As a result of his vast knowledge in the social sciences, the Honorable Vice President offered short term consultancy to a number of institutions including serving as chief technical advisor on agriculture policy, Ministry of Agriculture. He reviewed and evaluated the Liberian 1986 proposed Green Revolution and FAO World Bank 1986 Agricultural sector Review Document and evaluated AMSCO, Amsterdam-funded training program for projects in Uganda in 1994 and Tanzania in 1996.

In the civic and self-help sector, as part of his philanthropic support to humanity, the President-elect Boakai supervised and personally financed up to 75 percent a seven-mile rural village road construction to Warsonga, Liberia.

He worked with the Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY) and the Danish Youth to construct a school for 150 students and clinic for a community of 10 villages. He influenced the erection of OIC project in Foya Kama, Liberia, organized and headed fund raising for rural electrification of Foya Kama in Lofa County, Northern Liberia.

The President-elect also served as member and chairman of many boards including chairman of the Liberia Finance and Trust Corporation, Chairman of the Board of Star Radio, member of the board of LOIC, member of the board of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, founding member of Bethesda Christian Mission, founding organizer of the African Methodist Episcopal University, founding organizer of the C.W.A. Methodist University and President of the Monrovia YMCA, president of LUSU Resource Corporation and ex-president of the Monrovia Rotary Club. Review Document and evaluated AMSCO, Amsterdam Funded training program for projects in Uganda in 1994 and Tanzania in 1996.

Presidential Odessey

As President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ended her constitutional two terms, the Unity Party tipped its Vice Standard Bearer, Mr. Boakai, to take onto the party’s ticket in the 2017 presidential elections. His political rival was the Standard Bearer of the Coalition for Democratic Change George Manneh Weah.

Weah had been on the CDC ticket for some time, first in 2005 as the standard bearer and then in 2011 as vice standard bearer, while Boakai was on the UP ticket consistently with Madam Sirleaf in those elections.

The first round of the 2017 elections, none of the candidates obtained 50% +1, though Weah won slightly over Mr. Boakai. In the second round, the results were devastating for UP and Boakai, as Mr. Weah and his CDC won the elections, giving the mantle of Liberia’s presidency to the CDC.

Boakai and his UP went into opposition, and for six years, they pleaded with the Liberian electorate to give the CDC only one term on account of what the UP considered to be “massive corruption and incompetence” brought to the presidency by the CDC.

2023 was a payback time. Six years after Boakai and his UP suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of the CDC, another contestation ensued. CDC, as the incumbent, leveraged its powers during two months of clamorous political campaigns, while Boakai and his UP tactfully and strategically combed major cities and towns with a well-measured message that apparently resonated with the population.

After the October 10, 2023 polls, the CDC slightly topped the UP, but at the end of the runoff which was held November 14, power reverted to the UP, this time under the leadership of the Foya progeny.

Though the margin between the CDC and UP is thin, some 20,000 votes, the history made is that the one who walked from his Foya village some 54 years ago, who became a janitor to survive in school and was bullied and taunted by peers, and who “the racing bike that was packed in the garage” for 12 years, has climbed to the most enviable apex of Liberia’s leadership, the presidency.

High Expectations—and the urgency

No doubt, the new Liberian president has a worldful of emergency calls to answer, even today as he takes the oath office. The new President voluntarily pledged and vowed to making things better, having known the challenges firsthand and having sought the responsibility to address them.

Liberians might have turned their back on Weah and his CDC in favor of a Boakai presidency for a couple of things. Liberians say they want food on their tables now; they jobs or the opportunities to get them; they want good roads linking Monrovia to all major provincial capital cities, mainly in the southeastern and the western regions; they want to actively and directly participate in the country’s economy presided over and dominated by foreigners; they want medical drugs and ready access to medical services at all hospitals and clinics across the country; they want stable and expanded electricity; they want curtailment of rampant drug and substance abuse; they want youth exposed to trade and useful activities and women empowerment and protection; they want an end to graft and corruption which has stolen their progress and betterment away; civil servants want increment in salaries and wages.

The Liberian people’s list of expectations is not only long; it also is urgent and demanding. Judging from the people’s protest vote against the outgoing CDC government, one can safely say it is clear that the people of Liberia don’t expect a cherry-picking or selection of few handouts here and there. What is expected by the people is the tangible and forceful tackling of ALL their felt needs and expectations, and they want these things done RIGHT NOW.

How the Boakai and his administration respond after today, and in the coming days and months and years will determine the level of stability, peace and order the world will see. It will define how the grandeur of the occasion will be justified and interpreted by history. It will be the decisive point in October 2029.

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