NewsWest AfricaPeople to watch in Liberia


Posted on Thursday, 04 October 2012 16:19

People to watch in Liberia

By Tamasin Ford in Monrovia

Photo©MICHEL SPILOTRO/UN; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED; PEWEE FLOMOKU/AP/SIPA; TALEB AHMED BAAH/PANAPRESS/MAXPPPClaims of fraud in the 2011 presidential election contributed to a hostile political environment, and both governing and opposition parties are now looking for the men and women to lead the next campaigns.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won her second term as president in last year's elections with a victory of 90.7% due to an opposition boycott. She will be too old to run in 2017, and her party needs a popular replacement to challenge the youthfulness of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC).

"The Unity Party needs a strong person for the next elections," says Abdullai Kamara, a political analyst who believes there will be new faces entering the fray. The question is, who will it be? Sirleaf 's finance minister, Amara Konneh, is widely seen as one of her closest confidants.

He led her 2005 election campaign and then was sent off to Harvard. He has had a meteoric rise in power since his return. But as he is a Mandingo, a largely Muslim ethnic group that has historically been discriminated against in Liberia, as well as being seen as 'American', he will find it difficult to garner popularity.

Foreign minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan (1), on the other hand, is from Lofa County and one of the few members of Sirleaf's cabinet who does not use Liberia as his second home. At 44, he is young and dynamic, having led Liberia to the completion point for debt relief through the Heavily Indebted Poor Country initiative in 2010. However, his move from the finance ministry to the foreign ministry in February was seen as a demotion, and some say he is being pushed out of Sirleaf's inner circle.

Then there is Samuel Kofi Woods, a leading human rights activist and the public works minister. Like Konneh and Ngafuan, he is also in his 40s and has been a rising star. Rumours of his ties with the CDC coupled with disagreements with Sirleaf make him unlikely to be an anointed successor.

Sireleaf 's closest and most trusted ally is her son Robert Sirleaf (2), the chairman of the board of the National Oil Company of Liberia. He does not have the popularity required for the presid- ency but does have a strong education and international contacts.

Jewel Howard Taylor (3), former President Charles Taylor's ex-wife and now senator for Bong County, should not be overlooked. As the second most powerful woman in Liberia, she has spoken out for women's rights, so she could be a strong contestant in 2017.

Football legend George Weah is back again as the standard bearer of the CDC after the party expelled its 2011 presidential candidate Winston Tubman. Weah is the CDC's original leader and led the party in the 2005 elections, when it came a much closer second. Weah is seen as a 'man of the people' after growing up in the slums of Clara Town in Monrovia and is an indigenous Liberian.

With the exception of Samuel Doe in the 1980s, the country has been ruled by Americo-Liberians, descendants of the freed slaves who declared Liberia an independent republic in 1847.

Weah's grassroots image and his celebrity status appeal to the young and disillusioned who are fed up with the lack of jobs and rising price of food.

But for the CDC to be strong in 2017, it needs to expand its support base bey- ond Liberia's unemployed and former combatants. The new party chairman, George Solo (4), Weah's cousin, is another former footballer and now a bank executive who is evidently the brains behind the CDC. He is intent on uniting the party and moving it away from the tenuous but potentially dangerous links with former warlords who would like to see Sirleaf removed from power.

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