By Bishop Kortu K. Brown
Liberia is again confronted with selecting a President, Vice President and Members of the Legislature in October 2023. There is much talk about who will be running mates to major Presidential candidates in the ensuing Presidential and Legislative election. It is no doubt a forgone conclusion that the ruling party, Coalition for Democratic Change or CDC has settled to retain their 2017 ticket that landed them the coveted seat of the Presidency of Liberia. Consequently, Madam Jewel Howard Taylor, the vice running mate to President Weah only now has to focus on helping her presidential candidate retained the presidency in the October polls.
The story has not been the same for the Opposition community. There’s been much wait for the main opposition party, Unity Party that came second in the 2017 polls to name a running mate. The party had named former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai several months back as their flagbearer for the 2023 polls but extensively delayed on naming a running mate. Finally, the party decided to name a running mate on Friday, April 28, 2023 in Monrovia. The expectation was that the pick will come from other members of the opposition bloc who have stayed ‘loyal’ to Ambassador Boakai and Unity Party. However, when the program was finally held, the story was different. And the fall out came before even the program begun.
The remaining political parties in Liberia have also not been able to name their running mates. Amongst the notable names who have declared interest in the Presidency are Mr. Alexander B. Cummings of the ANC/CPP, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe of LPP, Lusuine Kamara of ALCOP, amongst others. When will they announced their running mates? What quality of running mates will they be choosing? What will be their criteria for selection of a running mate? Will their running mate largely follow in the rich tradition of the selection of capable and qualified Liberians especially over the past 80 years since 1943?
Over the past eighty (80) years or so, Liberia’s presidential candidates have had an impressive “record” of selecting vice presidential candidates or running mates who have been credible, qualified and dedicated public servants, amongst others. From President William V. S. Tubman in 1943 to President George M. Weah, the people who have been selected as vice presidential running mates have been capable and committed individuals, educated and proven, unassuming and modest, amongst others. According to several accounts written by Wikipedia, World Biographical Encyclopedia, Britannica, etc. Liberia’s Vice Presidential, picks have been outstanding individuals in both the public and the private service:
- In 1943, Presidential Candidate, William V. S. Tubman chose an astute politician and statesman, Clearance Lorenzo Simpson, Sr. as his Vice President in 1944. Mr. Simpson was previously Post Master General of Liberia, Liberia’s Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States, Secretary of State and Speaker of the House of Representatives before becoming Vice President of Liberia. During the period of World War II, Ambassador Simpson was Secretary of State from 1934 – 1943. He was the Liberian delegate to the League of Nations in 1934 and headed the Liberian delegation to the United Nations in 1945. That team stayed through until the 1952 polls when he was reportedly dropped by President Tubman for another running mate, William R. Tolbert, Jr.
- In 1952, Presidential Candidate, William V. S. Tubman chose a young visionary, speechmaker, preacher and political scientist, Dr. William Richard Tolbert, Jr as his vice running mate. He was trained as a civil servant before he became a member of the House of Representatives. Some sources suggest that Tubman took notice of Tolbert as a young Representative based on his performance in the House of Representative. At age, 39, he was chosen as Liberia’s 24th Vice President for about 19 years. While serving as Vice President of Liberia, Mr. Tolbert, a pastor, also served as President of the 40-million-member at the time, Baptist World Alliance (BWA) for about five (5) years, from 1965 to 1970. President Tubman and Vice President Tolbert’s team stayed in control of the leadership of the country from 1952 when they won the elections to July 1971 when President Tubman met his demise in a London clinic.
- In 1972, when Vice President William R. Tolbert was sworn-in as President of Liberia in 1971, he chose Senator James E. Greene as his Vice President. Mr. Greene started his career as a teacher at Sinoe High School from 1941 to 1949, later becoming Principal (1949-52) and then Superintendent of Sinoe County, 1952-61. He also read law and was admitted to the Bar as an attorney in the Third Judicial Circuit, Sinoe County in 1946, becoming a counsellor in the Supreme Court in 1961. His political career started with his election as a senator for Sinoe County in 1961. He became chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and Enrolled Bills Committee and a member of the Board of Trustees of Liberia University in 1962. By 1963, his personal popularity and ability was such that he was elected national vice-chairman of the True Whig Party in 1963 and later chairman in 1967.He was elected unopposed as Vice-President on April 4, 1972
- In 1977, when Vice President James E. Greene died, President Tolbert chose Bishop Bennie Dee Warner as the country’s 25th Vice President. He served as Director, Pastors’ Institute of the United Methodist Church 1961; Education counsellor and Math, and Social Studies teacher, W.V.S. Tubman Elementary School 1962-1968; Former Chairman National Student Christian Council of Liberia; Later ordained Elder; Former Pastor, St. John’s United Methodist Church, Gbarnga, and Reeves Memorial United Methodist Church, Crozierville; Former Chairman Interim Committee the Admin, of the College, of W. Africa, Board of Ministry, Liberia Annual Conference of United Methodist Church; and Ordained Bishop 1973. Later Chairman Board of Trustees of the College, of West Africa before becoming Vice-President of Liberia from 1977-1980.
- In 1985, during the first post-1980 coup Presidential and legislative election, Presidential candidate, Samuel Kanyon Doe chose Dr. Harry Fumba Moniba as his vice running mate. Dr. Moniba served in the posts of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Liberia to the Court of St. James and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Dr. Moniba also held the posts of Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Director of Research at the Ministry of Education in Monrovia, Liberia and First Secretary & Consul to the Embassy of Liberia in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa, Canada. Dr. Moniba served as interim vice president from 1984 to 1985 before serving as elected vice president from 6 January 1986 to September 1990. While interim vice president, he was captured by dissident forces in 1985 and, at gunpoint, was told to turn in the resignation of the government on national radio. Refusing to do so, he gave a speech pleading with all Liberians to never resort to violence to settle disputes
- In 1997, during the first post-civil-war Presidential election based on the majoritarian system, Presidential candidate Charles G. Taylor picked Mr. Enoch Dogolea as his vice president. Mr. Dogolea was a politician, clergyman and ‘freedom fighter’. He was softspoken, quiet and engaging. He was also Mr. Charles Taylor’s deputy for most of the First Liberian Civil War and then, following Taylor’s election as president, served as the country’s 27th vice president from 1997 until his death in 2000. He died after falling into a coma in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where he had been taken a week before due to illness, according to the government. Taylor ordered an autopsy to counter rumors that Mr. Dogolea did not die a natural death. Because of their civil-war experience, Mr. Taylor had reported to have committed to choosing a Special Forces Commando as his running mate or vice president.
- In 2000, President Taylor chose Mr. Moses D. Blah as Liberia’s 28th Vice President following the demise of Mr. Enoch Dogolea. According to the BBC Africa Service, he was born in Toweh Town, a Gio-speaking hamlet in north-eastern Nimba County, close to the border with the Ivory Coast. He completed his secondary education at Tappita Public school in 1967. His further education included stints in Hamburg, Germany and at a military college in Tajura, Libya, from 1985 to 1989. At the end of that year, he joined a few hundred exiled Liberians led by Mr. Taylor to wage the war against the Doe government. When Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front had succeeded in taking control of the whole of Liberia except Monrovia, Mr. Blah served in the Front in several capacities, including inspector general, adjutant general and Mr. Taylor’s special envoy. Before he was appointed vice president in July 2000, Mr. Blah had been Liberia’s ambassador to Libya and Tunisia for three years.
- In 2005, during the second post-civil-war Presidential and legislative election, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf chose Ambassador Joseph N. Boakai, Sr., as her running mate. He became Liberia’s 29th Vice President. Before becoming Vice President, he worked as a resident manager (1973–1980) and managing director (1980–1982) for the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC). From 1983 to 1985, he served as Minister of Agriculture under President Samuel Doe. While Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Boakai chaired the 15 nation West African Rice Development Association. In 1992, he was the managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC). He later worked as a consultant to the World Bank in Washington, and also founded a firm dealing in agricultural equipment and consultancy. He has served as board chairman of the Liberia Wood Management Corporation and of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company. He has also been active in philanthropic, research, consultancy, community and other engagements both locally and internationally.
- In 2017, during the first Presidential and legislative election for a democratic transition in 74 years, Presidential candidate George M. Weah made history by choosing Madam Jewel Howard Taylor as his running mate who became Liberia’s first female Vice President. Before becoming Liberia’s 30th Vice President, she, according to the platform, Women Political Leaders, had served her Nation and people for over 20 years in many capacities both in the Public and Private Sectors; Senior Senator of Bong County for over 12 years; First Lady of Liberia from 1997 to 2003 during which period she founded and led the National Humanitarian Task Force to provide food, humanitarian and medical services to thousands of Liberians who were displaced as a result of the civil war. She also is credited for advocating and championing the creation of the Ministry of Gender, which is today the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. Between 1996 and 1997, she served as Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Liberia, now Central Bank of Liberia, and as President of the Agricultural Cooperative Bank in 1996, amongst others
Now the onus is on this generation of political leaders and presidential candidates to follow in the rich tradition of choosing men and women as vice running mates and/or vice presidents, who are capable, qualified and ready to serve on Day One if fate were to call on them to serve in the highest office in the Land. That person cannot be a novice; he or she must be prepared, a people’s person, a reconciler, dedicated to the State and not just an individual and above all, a God-fearing person. We’ll see what happens in 2003!