Joseph Nyuma Boakai—The Historic Journey To A Legacy Of Hope And Opportunities
By: Robert W. Kpadeh
The current life of Liberia’s Vice President, Joseph Nyuma Boakai confirms and personifies two popular axioms, “no condition is permanent” and “no one knows tomorrow”. Boakai is a product of a humble and disdainful background—beginning his early life as a child-farmer in Lofa County his native homeland and would later migrate to Monrovia in his teenage to seek opportunities for education and better living conditions—in search of the ‘Monrovia dream’, they called it then.
Here in Monrovia, Boakai would have to summit to the offer of odd jobs like janitor, a restaurant boy, bar tender and any other offer he could grab to survive and become who he is today—an unassuming gentlemen who, on every given day, must continue to graciously shear the weight of a nation’s difficult past and yet lead a people, made suspicious by broken promises of past administrations, to the fulfillment of their cherished destiny.
In this piece, I will endeavor to put the spotlight on his journey to the Liberian presidency and his desire to transform Liberia into a nation of hope, opportunities and possibilities.
I mid June, Veep Boakai had agreed to sit and chat with me, and afford me a glimpse into the future he envisions for the country should he receive the mandate of the Liberian people in 2017.
As I was being ushered by his protocol officers into his simple looking Office up Capitol Hill, I could not help thinking that I was being brought into the iconic but humbling presence of someone whose generosity and humility continue to give hope, inspiration and motivation to many across this country.
For telling seconds, I stood, watched and took in the surroundings. The Vice President was deep into a book, perhaps, a world history book or something about agriculture development. Documents of all sorts were stockpiled on his simple-looking desk. His deportment appeared captivating about something in that book he could probably replicate here in Liberia.
Then he paused for a moment and welcomed me in his honorable yet common office—not the usual look of a Vice President office. The furniture, he tells me, are the same one he has been using for the past 9 years. “Why don’t you change them,” I asked. “Why throw out perfectly good furniture and they are still serving the purpose! My staff have tried to changed them, but I encouraged them to spend the money on something else,” he responded in a matter of fact manner. It appears glamour and luxury don’t matter much for Veep Boakai, but rather anywhere that presents him a perfect space and ambiance to conduct the business of the Liberian people.
“Mr. Vice President thank you for this opportunity and rare privilege to sit and hold a conversation about the future of our country with one of your citizens”, I said. He responded, “I should avail myself always especially to engage with citizens on the forward march of our country. We own this country together, we must chat its course together”.
“Mr. Vice President, I heard you were recently petitioned in a massive fashion by the people of Lofa County and you graciously accepted. I want to seize on this opportunity to catch a glimpse of what you have to offer the Liberian people as President”, I began my conversation with Mr. Vice President.
He responded, “Yes, I was petitioned. Yes I did accept my people petition and I consider that a blessing from the great and generous people of Lofa county. It was an exciting moment in Lofa but also a moment to soberly reflect into the future of this country. The expression on the people faces was one seeking hope and opportunities—and craving for a leader that guarantees a ‘Liberian dream’ for them. I am that Leader that is better ready and prepared to lead the country when my Friend and sister, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shall have honorably completes her tenure”.
“I had actually gone to Lofa to say thank you to my people for the resilience and gallantry they demonstrated against the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in the county. You know Lofa was the first epic center of this killer disease and hundreds of our people painfully died, and doing the rage of this virus, I should inform you that I also went to the county to provide support for my people against the advice of health experts who thought it was risky for me to go in there. And so even, as the disease subsided, the fear of the virus still loomed—so I needed to go in again and give hope, courage and inspiration to my people, for they have fought back and returned the county to normal livelihood. I am proud of their collective and resilient spirit.
And so while touring the County with my family, staff and friends from other counties coupled with the support of the Unity Party Chairman, Hon. Varney B. Sherman who graciously accompanied me, my people took me by a big surprise. Short to a long story, I got a populous petition and I am singularly obliged to rise to their expectation…it gives me a good feeling that the people in Lofa and other counties are particularly concerned about Liberia’s transition and who can better manage such historic transition”, the Vice President stated with a straight face.
He intimated that Liberia is at a critical juncture with the imminent departure of the United Nation Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in June, 2016 and the holding of the much talked about presidential and general elections in 2017.
Henceforth, it is critically significant for the people to begin to look among their best minds and elect the one that can provide quality leadership in the face of this critical juncture, adding, this is about the peace and stability of the country. He indicated that Liberia could relapse into chaos if the right Leader—someone with the maturity, experience, integrity and sensibility is not democratically presented the gable in 2017.
Mr. Vice President believes he possesses these qualities and feel compelled with courage and will to stand up and provide the Leadership the people deserve which is why he tells me, he profoundly accepted the petition of his people and has also accepted dozens of petitions from well-meaning people from other counties, “I will run and will win simply because I have the overwhelming blessing and support of the Liberian people”.
Looking into his vision for the Country, Veep Boakai believes that Liberia has plenty of opportunities for all of its citizens and that all that is needed is, properly and responsibly managing the vast resources of the country—with patriotism and transparency being the course.
He tells me it is about firstly conceiving that Liberia and its abundant resources belong to every Liberian, hence, he intends to preside over a government that will fully bear in mind that the wealth of the country belongs to the people, hence, it must be used to impact the lives of the citizenry in the areas of roads, healthcare, education, electricity, water and economic opportunities for all.
He asserted that his Boss, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made the job a bit easier given that she has accomplished a lot with his unwavering support every step along the way—citing massive reforms, foreign direct investment, rebranding the country’s doom international image, upholding the values of democracy, press freedom and the absolute adherence to the dictate of ‘separation of powers’ in line with the country’s constitution.
“So I have a solid foundation upon which I can advance my platform and keep the country staying a course that incorporates all and radically stamping accountability and integrity in the governance structures of our country with the strong view of kicking poverty out of Liberia”, the Vice President stated in a very confident tone.
As a man who grew up enduring harsh poverty and sufferings—sometimes sleeping with hunger if no one came his way with a piece of bread, Veep Boakai tells me his Presidency would mean a fierce war waged against poverty, adding, poverty must not be allowed amidst all that God has blessed Liberia with.
Quizzed on what strategy he has to address poverty and other perennial problems crudely besetting the country, Veep Boakai pointed out that it would be premature to make public his platform but assures that he has a decent package for the Liberian people.
However, it is a known fact that Veep Boakai has his strength in agriculture as he served the country agriculture sector with distinction and proud—beginning with the Liberia Produce and Marketing Corporation or LPMC as its first Liberian Managing Director, a little income generating company he took over and built to become a US$48M annual profit generating entity.
It was at LPMC, Veep Boakai became a ‘rock star’ for his outstanding service to country. He rocked the farmers’ world and attracted Europeans and Asians to troop into Liberia to get a peek of the magic Liberia was making that led to the generation of millions of United States dollars into the country’s economy and local farmers becoming strong foreign exchange earner.
Then In 1983 he went on as Minister of Agriculture where he served again with distinction becoming a two-time Minister of the year. As Agriculture Minister, he chaired a joint project of Small Holders Rice Seed project and the Agricultural Development projects ensuring quality control to regulate farmers and faming seeds.
With such rich background, it is expected that a Boakai-presidency will transform Liberia to a self–sufficiency nation with mechanized farming at the core of the government agriculture program. He believes the country should stress agriculture and encourage private Liberian investment in the sector.
Soil specialists say Liberia has very rich soil coupled with plenty of rains but is sadly spending a staggering amount of $US200 million on a yearly basis for the importation of rice, the country staple. Boakai as a farming genius will have to shift the paradigm and change the course. He believes agriculture is the surest way forward to food security, job creation and economic growth—urging citizens to get ready to return to the soil as Liberia with such rich soil and vegetation cannot continue to look to India and other Asian countries for rice. Veep Boakai tells me private investment in mechanized agriculture is the magic to a booming Liberian economy. On the issue of corruption, the ‘President-in-waiting’ appears uncompromising and ready to defiantly take the fight to the perpetrators of this deadly national menace. He categorizes the corruption fight in two aspects- the prevention and the punishment.
On the prevention phase, Veep Boakai believes a lot has been done and paid tribute to the will and courage of President Sirleaf in this regard. He said government has increased the salaries and benefits of its low and high levels employees. This is the first step toward addressing concerns and the popular cliché that people are corrupt because they are not being paid well. He is of the view that honest Labor must be justly rewarded at the same time stressing the need to develop local capacities.
He furthered that “the prevailing view still is that notwithstanding the increment in salaries and benefits, people are still stealing public money.”
Still on preventive measures to fight corruption, the soft speaking Liberian Vice President intimated that the government has tightened the laws and has closed loopholes. From giving teeth to the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to bite to strengthening of the General Auditing Commission (GAC); and from providing for whistle blowing to public financial reforms under the Public Financial Management Law (PFM), Liberia is poised to win the fight against corruption but was quick to interject that eliminating corruption is not a one day matter giving that it is a mindset that have dogged the country since its inception.
He believes the rules of the road are now clearer. Hiding places have been identified and sorted out. Through these necessary preventive measures, the Vice President is confident, “we are ready for the fight”.
On the aspect of punishment, the Vice President said government is yet to bring perpetrators to book blaming a challenging judicial system. However, with the preventive laws in place, and a massive reform of the judicial system now on going, Boakai believes prosecution of alleged corruption cases will be commenced and are expected to proceed swiftly in the interest of justice.
Deferring to Liberian wisdom as he usually does, Mr. Vice President reminded that charity must always begin at home. This is why he believes President Sirleaf is on the right track when she instructs her cabinet officials to forthwith declare their assets to the LACC. She led the way in declaring assets, income and liabilities to the LACC. This pattern is the beginning of fighting corruption, he noted.
Veep Boakai tells me that as President comes 2017; his administration will “name and put to shame corrupt people insofar as facts are available to nail them. We will move decisively against corrupt elements, be you so-called ‘big name’ or ‘small name’, we will find you out and we will punish you”.
“The days for corruption are near over. We will be robust and we will be aggressive. And we will win this fight. Enough is enough,” Our country and people deserve better then people preying on the national treasury for self-aggrandizement.
He challenged every Liberian to join the fight against corruption by using the available Whistle Blower Act, adding, “We will make sure you are protected but at the same time, don’t tell lies on people.”
Mr. Vice President viewed as a man of culture and tradition and dubbed by many as a traditionalist, would not conclude his chat with me without touching on the youth of Liberia, “our your people are the future of our country…they are going to be the doctors, economists, politicians, lawyers, journalists, nurses, farmers, engineers and builders. We have to provide them the opportunity to reach their full potentials. We have to graciously propel them to prosperity by rightfully preparing them for the jobs our country can provide. The future of Liberia remains doom if we cannot shape meaningfully the lives of our young people. Quality education is the way forward—for it will competitively prepare them to tap into the vast opportunities this country has”.
Our chat had come to an end. Everything was said.
I could not press Mr. Vice President any further. Thankfully, he has promised to sit with me sometime next year and will hopefully unravel few more things to me. He sat for few minutes looking above my head in contemplation of Liberia’s future. Suddenly, he returned to the present and thanked me in smiles. I really thought, I, who enjoyed his humility and simplicity coupled with the honor of his office for an hour, should have been the one thanking him.
I replied, Thanks a million for the privilege, Mr. Vice President as he walked back to his work-loaded desk to continue the business of the Liberian people. Indeed, there was work to be done!