- 26 Feb
Joseph Nyuma Boakai – A Man in Waiting
Full article written by Charlene Harris, Contributing Writer and originally featured : Front Page Africa
When the story of this generation of Liberian is told about a 100 year from now, several important names are bound to be placed on such a list and certainly for various reasons including the good, bad and the ugly. While some will be remembered for the contribution they made for the positive transformation of the motherland, others will be chronicled for the destruction, shame and grief they brought to this country. However, one name that is certainly to outshine many for reasons not currently glorified and popular in present day Liberia is current Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai of the governing Unity Party.
VP Boakai as he is affectionately called by most Liberians is a man of humbled beginnings whose story ; characterized by trials, tribulations and godly interventions has served as a source of inspirations for many Liberians who collectively have a common history of shared poverty, deprivation, and untold hardship.
As the lifespan of the current regime is being halved, the question that is beginning to form on the lips of most Liberians is, who is going to succeed President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and take our common denominator on its next voyage of sustaining our hard won peace and stability, re-distributing collective wealth, deepening democracy, strengthening good governance and rule of law, economically fortifying the general citizenry, concretizing reconciliation and unity, reengineering our country and diplomaticallyentrenching our presence amongst the comity of nations.
Although there are some within and outside government who feel the discussion about who succeeds the President is premature, there are others including me who believe and think otherwise. To put it squarely, three years is absolutely nothing but a whisper in the passage of time.
Secondly, too much damage has already been done to the current regime as a consequence of the lack of a clear line of succession within the rank and file of the ruling Unity Party and the government it birthed 9 years ago. All of the infighting and the deviation from planned national programmes and activities have been as a result of the desire by so many people in and outside government to democratically replace President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf when her time is up in 2017. Thirdly, on the question of wisely electing or choosing our leaders, we as Liberians have gotten it wrong more than right and hence the need to start the ball rolling now so that with a little bit of luck on our side we might get it right this time.
Furthermore,the highly unprofessional and opportunistic attitude demonstrated by the likes of rock star Central Bank Governor J. Mills Jones and former Maritime boss and now millionaire Benoni Urey makes it all the more meaningful as to why 2017 can no longer wait. As to what happens to the government’s on-going development platform, let the President emulate the example of neighbouring Nigeria-where the climate determines the calibre of appointees at a given time; though I am not too sure if it is not already too late to embark on this exercise.
Informally, the exercise basically calls for technicians to be appointed when elections are over and serious developmental plan of actions need to be unrivalled for the benefit of the electorates; and remove them when elections are around the corners to assure continuity. The few remaining months to Presidential and gubernatorial elections in Nigeria are characterized by the replacement of technocrats with politicians for the purpose of ensuring victory for the incumbent. Whether the ruling PDP will be lucky for the strategy to work this round is another article for another day.
Sadly for Liberia, three good years have witnessed the bickering and undermining activities of ambition-ridden ministers and officials who have concentrated more on self-glorification as opposed to collective national delivery of projects; something that portends danger for the President’s legacy. The President must now man the courage and replace all ambition-driven ministers, managing directors, etc., and bring in nonpolitical professionals to fast-track on-going projects while the politicians too will have the time to plan for the battle ahead. Time is indeed not on our side!
The boy from nowhere to somewhere:
Born at a remote village called Worsanga in Foya District, Lofa County, on the 30th of November 1944, Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai has certainly defiled the odds of failures and made something meaningful out his life. Flash-backing on his story as a boy born of a poor peasant family and juxtaposing same with his current role makes it sound like a fairy tale, thus epitomizing the adage that “it does not matter where you are coming from, but where you are headed.”
Vice President Boakai had very humble beginnings as his parents were indeed poor and had to struggle to make ends meet. From a very tender age, VP Boakai began the arduous task of looking after himself including the struggle to become an educated person. One story is told as to how this boy from Worsanga paid his tuition through the provision of janitorial services at the then prestigious College of West Africa; a school meant mostly for elite’s children.
Assumedly, it is these “grassy” experiences that helped to form the endearing character and integrity he now possesses; traits that have propelled him to stellar pinnacle never imagined by him. The enormity of difficulties-such as the tortuous journey in acquiring secondary education as well as often-frustrated university education the VP had to go through to become a successful personality arelife-long lessons that have toughened him up to today’s date.
That is why it is no flattery for anyone to conclude that Vice President Boakai is a definition of success in Liberia as well as a template for generation of Liberians. And anyone born with humble beginnings similar to his; will appreciate and understand the impact of a man whose life spells nothing but hope for generations of young people who look up to him. And it was not a surprise when the author of his biography described him as “a radiant of hope for his home town and model citizen”!
Indeed, victims of such circumstances such as Vice President Boakai and so many of us have slimmer chances to reach the peak of the ladder of success. The VP’s character, perseverance, and fear for God-have all collectively not only brought him to his current station in life, but also given him the mission to revive the dreams of so many people who have been inspired by him.
Public Service Credential:
To say that the Vice President indeed possesses an impressive public service credential would be an understatement considering his more than 35 years of service to people and country.
Beginning from his early days as the first truly Liberian Managing Director of the Liberia Produce and Marketing Corporation (LPMC) in the early 1980s to his days at the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC) in the early 1990s, the Ambassador has been able to not just serve his country but has immensely contributed to its upward growth and development. In addition, VP Boakai also served as Minister of Agriculture between 1983 and 1985. At the LPMC, Hon. Boakai was responsible for export marketing of coffee, cocoa and palm kernel oil as well as arranging purchase, shipment and handling of the highly rated PL-480 program from 1980-1984.
As Minister of Agriculture, the Vice President among his many tasks was responsible for guiding the strategic direction of the Ministry, national agricultural policy formulation, implementation support and research as well as regulatory services. During his tour of duty at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), he also chaired domestically the boards of more than 20 agricultural development organizations and projects, while at the same time chairing the 15 nation West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) among others.
A resourceful professional of vast technical expertise, Vice President Boakai has provided valuable consultancies to a number of reputable institutions including the MoA, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank and AMSCO of Amsterdam. Positioned on this vast precipice of executive knowledge is the legislative grounding he has been opportune to acquire as a result of his pivotal role as the current President of the Senate. For consecutively 8 unbroken years, Ambassador Boakai has come to understand both the complexities and nuances that characterize legislative politicking as far as representation, lawmaking and oversight are concerned.
The Church, Education, Philanthropy & Social Engagement:
As a staunch believer and follower of Jesus Christ, Ambassador Boakai is a Baptist. He is one of those who can effectively be considered as those who continue to strive in the Lord’s vineyard. Having spoken with some of those who know him in this regard, it is my understanding that his humble contribution to the church in Liberia is quite substantial not just in monetary terms. Despite his Christian background, the Vice President has been able to distinguish himself as someone who believes in religious diversity and is therefore very tolerant of others who do not see matters of God through the same prism as him.
Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai holds a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in Business Administration from the University of Liberia as well as an Advance Management Certificate from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA). Hon.Boakai also possesses several professional certificates from various institutions of learning and honorary degrees as well. Traditionally, he speaks and writes Mendi and Kissi. Vice President Boakai is a responsible man who cherishes family life and this is evidenced by his being happily married to Lady Kartumu Y. Boakai and the union is blessed with 4 children; a girl and three boys.
As it is often said that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; Vice President Boakai’s love for sports has been reflected in his unending enthusiasm for the beautiful game of soccer. In concrete terms, Ambassador Boakai has been supportive of the development of football and other sporting initiatives in the country. On many occasions, he has personally graced several sporting events in his boss’ and at times his own name thus enlivening the spirit of the nation’s sports lovers as was recently observed during the just ended 2013 County Meet.
An avowed humanitarian with a magnanimous heart for doing good, Ambassador Boakai has always been of help to the needy in our society even before he became Vice President of the Republic of Liberia. Beginning with rendering invaluable services to the poor and physically challenged irrespective of who they are, where they come from and other peculiarities.
Regarding his philanthropic engagement, he has been able to bring development closer not only to his home town and county but also to several communities across the nation. A keen believer in youth affairs, Hon. Boakai has been able to work with several youth organizations in addressing issues cardinal to the country’s young people including education, vocational training, and employment. In fact on one occasion, the Vice President worked with the Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY) in partnership with the Danish Youth of Denmark to construct a school and clinic for a community comprising 10 adjacent villages. In addition, the Vice President’s philanthropy has led him to significantly contribute to the construction of road, clinics and schools in needy communities nationwide.
In continuation of his services to society, Ambassador Boakai has served as member and chairman of the boards of several important organizations including the Liberia Finance and Trust Corporation, Chairman of the Board of the now defunct 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-African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU), founding organizer of the United Methodist University and President of the Monrovia YMCA, President of LUSU Resource Corporation and former President of the Monrovia Rotary Club.
The Vice President Endearing Qualities:
It is often said that you cannot hold a good man down for a long time and so also is his dreams. This assertion too many times has been validated throughout the sojourning story of the Vice President. For instance, in 2011 when the Unity Party had not conducted its convention, rumours abounded the corridor of power, the airwaves and street corners that President Sirleaf was not going to re-pick him as her running mate due to multiple conspiratorial hypotheses.
The Vice President as the humbled, matured and God-fearing personality he has always been maintained not only his composure and sobriety but also his deep respect for the President while thanking her for having afforded him the opportunity to serve his people and country. And that if he did not get picked for the second time, he would go to his farm and fully engaged the agriculture sector by concentrating on his farming.
In fact contrary to all the doomsday speculations, Madam President ended up re-picking her ever-committed and hardworking Vice President for the second time. Such display of humility, reason, fortitude, maturity and reasonableness may not be too easy to find in present day Liberia and ought to be cherished by those of us interested in Liberian politics. In a nutshell, such trait of maturity is uncommon in our current dispensation. A simple but conscious man, the Vice President is an inspirational personality who possesses the following characteristics: ability to inspire, positive attitude, commitment, confidence, sense of humor, honesty, humility, level-headedness, people-oriented, and peaceful demeanor.
Vice President Boakai as an inspirational leader has often re-echoed the call by President Sirleaf for Liberians to remain hopeful and have faith in the forward march of their country despite challenges we faced as a nation and people. He has not only made these rallying comments just for the sake of being heard, but has taken practical steps to showcase his commitment to what has been uttered. Perhaps, that is why in close concert with his boss, he has been very closed to initiatives gear towards bringing ray of light signaling hope and a brighter future to darkened spots countrywide. Whether it is youth and women-related; two of the most challenging population groups in our country, the VP has been the face of national government in paying keen attention to those issues nearer to their hearts.Where there have been low morale and energy levels are fading, the Vice President has made it one of his key responsibilities to keep spirits up and acknowledging the resilience and commitment of Liberians to peace, socio-economicdevelopment and stability.
On any day at any time, if you were to call or come in contact with Vice President Joseph Boakai you will definitely realize that you are in the company of a cheerful personality who above all else understands that he is human and shares a common bond with the rest of humanity. Certainly with your presence, you can be assured that the Vice President will be all ears to listen to you no matter who you are or where you come from. Like a father, he has the ability of making one feels good and upbeat despite the mood the person might have been in prior to meeting him. A grade school friend of mine who currently works in the Office of the Vice President of the Republic of Liberia recently told me that his people to people skills is indeed welcoming for all purposes and intent. He concluded by telling me that he feels blessed working with this true gentleman in every sense of the word.
Relative to being committed to values and beliefs he holds dearly, the Vice President is one person that leads by example and this has truly endeared him to his boss; President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who have profoundly though quietly acknowledged not only his loyalty but maturity in the way he has performed his role as Vice President.
The Vice President as the President’s assistant, has shown greater motivation by being practically involved with every aspect of the government’s development platform for this country. Working alongside Madam President, VP Boakai has been in the trenches working with everyone else, demonstrating that the country is being rebuilt for the good and benefit of all Liberians. By extension, he has helped the President in fulfilling the various promises made to the Liberian people and through this; he has further acquired the knowledge and experience needed to safely keep Mama Liberia afloat. On a personal level, the Vice President has been able to demonstrate his commitment by sticking to promises he makes to individuals and institutions with which he is associated or those that need his assistance be they financial or otherwise. As it is often said, “it is important to show your commitment not only to the work at hand, but also to your promises. If you pledged to host a holiday party, or uphold summer Fridays, keep your word. You want to create a reputation for not just working hard, but also be known as a fair leader”.
In terms of being calmed and self-assured during period of crises, the Vice President is always available to help put out the fires and maintain high confidence level. He has always exuded a level of calm damage control. During last year “Ellen steps down campaign” staged by anti-government and some opposition elements, the Vice President not only re-confirm his commitment to the President and the ruling Unity Party Government but was one of those who worked behind the scene to avert an impending danger of varying dimensions. I mean, Ambassador Boakai is a consummate peacemaker who understands and appreciates the road we have travelled to come to where we currently find ourselves as a people and country.
Speaking of honesty, I think the Vice President is one leader who holds high the precept that “whatever ethical plane you hold yourself to, when you are responsible for a team of people, it is important to raise the bar even higher.” Over the years, the VP has continuously demonstrated that he is a man of honour by speaking with honesty, thinking with sincerity and acting with integrity.
Liberians, we have come a long way with each of us having to contend with very personal experiences; some of which do not amount to the slightest of comfort under the garment of pleasantries and have the propensity to generate varying responses as per the performance of our current political construct.
However, we will have to accept the fragments of reality that maintaining the current peace, stability and development the nation currently enjoys remain major determinants of the kind of leadership that will emerge beyond 2017. Producing a leadership that will improve and speed up the gains already made will have to be a priority decision for all well-meaning Liberians. To say that we will need a matured, honest, experienced, focused and committed leadership is no understatement but a stated reality.
It is as a consequence of the above mentioned relevancies that I am beginning to see a ray light of hope in the face of the growing list of Presidential wannabes. A list that now includes Ambassador George Oppong Manneh Ousman Weah, Central Bank Governor turned politician J. Mills Jones, Charles Taylor re-incarnated turned Business tycoon Benoni Urey, and many others yet to be made public. As it is too earlier to commence the thorough examination of each of these names, I will only say that any decision by current Vice President Joseph Boakai to contest will be a manifold blessing unto the nation state Liberia and its people. So far, an idealcandidate he would be for a God-fearing, peaceful, stable, honest, reconciled and development-conscious nation! Liberia is a country at a critical crossroad that will need a matured but dynamic leadership to continue from where President Sirleaf will stop and take us to the next level. As enticing as it may seem, what we will not need is an age-favouring but overly ambitious youngster who will learn on the job, serve his or her two terms and attempt to manipulate our constitution and democratic institutions to launch a 3rd and 4th terms bid respectively.
In my mind, we need more would-be one timer than two timers so that we don’t get stock with an ambition-satisfying President who will be interested in the longevity of his tenure than the transformational impact he will make in our lives.
Disclaimer: I like to clearly state for the records that neither did I contact nor inform the Vice President or any of his aide while writing this article. As an independent minded Liberian professional and political commentator, I personally assumed full responsibility for the thoughts herein expressed. This is not the work of a hired pen but the handiwork of a lady of conviction.
The writer Charlene Harris is an independent Liberian woman who currently resides in the Republic of South Africa, but with frequent travel to several countries in and out of the continent of Africa. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and International Affairs and can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org