Liberia: ‘We want to make Weah a one-term president’ says Alexander Cummings

By 'Tofe Ayeni

Posted on Wednesday, 21 July 2021 18:18, updated on Thursday, 22 July 2021 10:06
Alexander Cummings, leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) in Monrovia, Liberia October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

The wave of popular support that Liberia’s George Weah rode on in 2017 is quickly fading ahead of the upcoming polls slated for 2023. Weah is increasingly facing allegations of humans rights abuses under his administration and widespread corruption. Meet Alexander Cummings, the man who hopes to give Weah a run for his money in the next election. 

Liberian businessman, politician and philanthropist Alexander Cummings is currently the leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), one of the four parties that formed the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) opposition alliance.

He is the founder and chairman of Cummings Investments Holdings Ltd., and chairman of the Cummings Africa Foundation, which has invested a substantial amount of funds in Liberia’s health, education, entrepreneurship and arts sector as well women and youth empowerment projects.

In 2015, he received the country’s highest honour – the Humane Order of African Redemption – for humanitarian work in Liberia and acts supporting and assisting both the nation and the continent.

Cummings is looking to win the party’s presidential ticket against another frontrunner, Joseph Boakai. But does he have what it takes to run a country? What can he bring to the table?

Speaking to The Africa Report, the head of the ANC lays out the problem with Liberia today and his vision for tomorrow.

The problems under Weah

Under Weah’s administration, “by every objective measure, our country is [moving] backwards. These are not CPP or ANC measures. This is why it is even more important for us to stick together as the CPP,” Cummings tells us.

“This country is dangerous” says a Liberian expert who lives in the country but who asked to remain anonymous. “There is a lot of resentment against the administration.” It is no secret, both nationally and internationally, that Weah’s government has left a lot to be desired.

For another anonymous independent observer of the Liberian political science, it is clear that: “If you judge them [Weah’s administration] against what they said they will do for the people – they have failed. Even their own supporters are saying that they are not doing what they said; even as a friend of the administration you have to [admit] that they are not passing the test.”

But the real debate is really whether Weah is incompetent or corrupt. “What the administration is suffering from is inexperience when it comes to governance of the country. Most of the people in key positions are not experienced, though academically they are good. For example – the minister of finance and the minister of state that runs the president’s office: these two run the show and most of the experienced ministers are not happy with that,” says the Liberian expert.

Until they do what they say they will do when they are in the opposition, things cannot change.

But according to Cummings, the administration is suffering from both incompetence and corruption: “If you look at President Weah’s past experience – he had never run anything substantially, whether it be a business or an NGO. When our president was a senator, he never proposed any bills, never co-sponsored anything; he was silent. I’ve said this publicly: there’s ineptitude and incompetence. I don’t think our president still understands fundamentally what his job entails.”

Cummings admits that “Liberia had high corruption prior to this administration,” but notes that it is now “a bit more in your face. In the past, people would try to hide and pretend; now it’s like …the level of impunity is galling.”

Disappointment in Weah’s regime has many people reminiscing about former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, despite the state in which she left Liberia. Still, for Cummings, “the former administration left the country with institutions that have been unravelled since this government came to power.

There were integrity institutions such as the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and the Liberia Public Procurement and Concessions Commission that were all set up and resourced – this government has basically unravelled all of those institutions.”

Liberia’s economic state

The economic state of Liberia before Weah came into power was not strong, but it has been deteriorating throughout his term. In 2019, the country ranked 175 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list – out of just 190 countries. Some blame Weah completely, but others think that he came into power at an unfortunate time with an economic downturn, and then Covid-19 hit.

“It would be unfair to say that outside forces have not contributed,” says Cummings. But he firmly believes “the administration owns most of the issues [economically]. If you look at the region: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast [Côte d’Ivoire] – all of them have been challenged with Covid-19, but all of those economies, I believe, are growing faster than Liberia’s.”

I think we can change Liberia – not overnight or easily – but it can be done. Liberians want a new way, they know that.

To add to Liberia’s economic woes, Cummings points out how Weah’s government is involved in controversy linked to missing dollar notes and sundry state procurement scandals. He has been “very active in calling on the government to come clean – to share, analyse and investigate all of these allegations. For example, about 16bn Liberian dollars ($93.2m) were printed, but there’s no account of it. We need to know what happened to the money.”

Africa has been witnessing a rise in social movements and protests, particularly on social media, and Liberia has been no exception. Social movements such as the #BringBackOurMoney is, for Cummings, a reflection of citizens’ feelings, but he’s not sure “whether it will have an impact on President Weah’s administration.”

“When the US or Western governments put sanctions on individuals, this gets their attention and it can be helpful in curtailing some of the aggressive behaviour around corruption.”

Mysterious deaths

Recently, one of Weah’s bodyguards, Melvin Earley, died in a supposed suicide. It was just the latest in a series of suspicious deaths linked to the presidency.

  • In January 2020, presidential bodyguards brutally assaulted journalist Zenu Koboi Miller, who died from his injuries three weeks later.
  • And in October of the same year, four auditors probing government accounts died days apart, also under suspicious circumstances.

Asked about this string of mysterious deaths, Cummings says he is indeed “aware of the allegations and the rumours.”

I believe that we have an opportunity to serve our country and bring about the transformation we need – a different way, a new way.

Global media outlets have touched on these claims of extra-judicial killings and Cummings admits “it is suspicious that these things are happening.”

“There are allegations of government complicity in these things; it is very concerning, but there is no proof. Yes, these deaths have occurred, it does raise flags and the investigation left a lot to be desired, but there is no proof.”

By way of action, “the CPP has called for investigation as we believe it was poorly done before and did not get to the facts. However, there are limits to what we can do as the opposition.”

‘Positives? That’s a tough one’

Most governments have a mix of negative and positive points, even if one is clearly leaning towards one side. However, when asked to name positives of the Weah government, Cummings changes to a serious tone and says it’s “a tough one”.

“They have done what they call some quick impact projects, such as roads and street lights in some parts of the country, although I don’t know how efficient they were because those things actually cost a lot more than they [should] have – I think that’s where some of the corruption came into play. However, I am struggling to find something substantial that this administration has done.”

One thing he acknowledges though, is the passing of the domestic violence act, which for him is “necessary as sexually-based offences are a big problem in our country.”

Who will win the CPP ticket?

The CPP is a merger between the four largest opposition parties in Liberia: All Liberian Party (ALP), Cumming’s Alternative National Congress (ANC), Liberty Party (LP) and Boakai’s Unity Party (UP). The CPP holds 13 out of the 30 seats in the Senate, and is the largest bloc following the 2020 senatorial elections. Weah’s CDC, with the second largest number of seats, only holds five.

Boakai was instrumental in the formation of the CPP, whose main purpose is to unite against Weah for the upcoming elections. However, all parties have individual frontrunners eyeing the presidency. The two main candidates of the CPP alliance are Cummings and former Vice President Boakai.

When the US or Western governments put sanctions on individuals, this gets their attention and it can be helpful in curtailing some of the aggressive behaviour around corruption.

When asked about the rumoured split in the party with Boakai, Cummings says: “The party will support one of us. This is politics – we are competing for the standard CPP [flagbearer]. You have partisans on both sides making attacks.”

But he brushes aside any claims of deep divisions. What’s important, he says, is making sure Weah does not win again. “At the end of the day, once we reach a decision, the CPP will come together. We will support the outcome of the decisions. The one thing we are allied on is the need to replace President Weah in 2023. We want to make him a one-term president.”

Bottom line

Coming to the end of our interview, Cummings is eager to share his ultimate hope. “I think we can change Liberia – not overnight or easily – but it can be done. Liberians want a new way, they know that. Our country will be 174 years old on 26 July – whatever we have done in the past has not worked.”

“That said, with every successive parliamentary election, the incumbent parliamentarians are voted out, which shows that Liberians are trying to find the right group of people to lead them. I believe that we have an opportunity to serve our country and bring about the transformation we need – a different way, a new way.”

But power often changes people.

“The main issue is that those who are in power, once they are in power, are not doing good for the people. Some are saying Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was worse than Charles Taylor, and that George Weah is in turn worse than Sirleaf,” says the observer.

“Until they do what they say they will do when they are in the opposition, things cannot change.”

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