It was only natural for the 66-year-old Liberian businessman-turned-politician to greet The Africa Report for coffee at his office building in Monrovia.
Cummings is calm, warm and confident as he plots his rematch against President George Weah in the October general election after falling short in his first bid for the highest office in 2017. Our wide-ranging conversation covers everything from his morning espresso routine to his ideas for reforming a country that is still healing from more than a decade of civil war.
After a successful four-decade business career marked by philanthropic achievement in the fields of health, sanitation and entrepreneurship, Cummings is eager to abandon the familiar boardroom for the unpredictability of the campaign trail as he ponders a new way that he can help his country, the 11th poorest in Africa according to the World Bank.
“I want to serve Liberia,” Cummings says. “While I have done this through business and philanthropy, politics is the surest way to be able to impact all Liberians.”
Having worked all over the world, from Nigeria to Kenya and from the UK to South Africa, he is confident that he brings a unique breadth and depth of knowledge to the table.
“I want to bring the experience I have gained from all over the world to Liberia,” he says. “And I believe if I want to have a positive impact on all of Liberia, the presidency is the job to do it.”
Growing the pie
Cummings sees a raft of problems facing the country, from corruption and mismanagement to inferior healthcare and infrastructure. Key to it all, he says, is growing the economy.
“Most of the issues are tied to the economy in some way,” he says. “Growing the economy will solve most of our problems, it will allow us to create jobs and increase revenue. That revenue will then be put into better educational and healthcare systems.”
Cummings likens Liberia’s economy to a bowl of rice, one that he is uniquely qualified to help grow.
“As the bowl gets bigger, that’s more jobs, better education, infrastructure, and so forth,” he says. “Our goal is to ensure that every Liberian regardless of tribe, religion and politics gets access to that bowl of rice once they follow the law. That’s the Liberia we aspire to create.”
Accusations of rampant corruption in the public sector have plagued the Weah government, with the US government last year sanctioning three top officials including the president’s chief of staff. Cummings vows to empower the private sector.
“The government is not a job creator, it is a job enabler,” he says. “The private sector grows the economy, and that is my area.”
Part of his plan is to provide Liberian businesses with credit and financing.
“We don’t have the infrastructure for five-star tourism,” he says. “We will invest in eco-tourism while also boosting agriculture and infrastructure.”
Issues of justice
Just days before our coffee date, Cummings had announced his choice of running mate – Liberian lawyer Charlyne Brumskine.
His choice was informed by Brumskine’s qualifications and integrity. It’s also a chance to take a stance on women’s representation.
Women are woefully under-represented in Liberian politics. They only hold eight out of 73 seats in the Liberian House of Representatives, and two out of 30 seats in the Senate.
Last month, Cumming’s opposition party, the Alternative National Congress, signed a memorandum of understanding setting a gender quota for this year’s election.
“We are trying to get at least 30% of our candidate listings to be women, we are trying very hard,” he says. “What I can say though, when we win, in the executive branch, women will make up at least 30% in the cabinet.”
Cummings reiterated his support for a war and economic crimes court to hold accountable those responsible for the civil wars of 1989-1997 and 1999-2003, promising that it would not turn into a tool to go after political opponents.
“A war and economic crimes court is a good way to deal with [those implicated during] the era of impunity,” Cummings says.
“We will not target any one person, we will get the right people to gather evidence.”
Tackling economic crimes such as corruption is crucial, he says, as it deprived Liberia of critical investments in education and healthcare.
While the opposition coalition, Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), has endorsed Cummings as its standard-bearer, his pathway to the presidency is not a sure thing.
Incumbent President George Weah is backed by the Coalition for Democratic Change, a coalition of three parties. Also running is former vice president Joseph Boakai.
The CPP has suffered from internal strife, with two of the four parties in the coalition departing last year in a breakup that saw Cummings accused of altering coalition documents.
“They took me to court and said I forged documents because I insisted we follow the official process,” Cummings says. “They couldn’t point to the thing I changed that gave me an advantage. And, as we know, the case was thrown out.”
In Liberia, coalitions and alliances are integral to electoral victory. Every presidential election since the end of the country’s civil war in 2003 has been won based on a party’s coalitions and alliances.
Cummings remains confident.
“There are still two parties in the CPP, and in the next two weeks other parties will join or endorse us,” he says. “We would have a bigger coalition than just the current two parties. That’s one of the reasons I believe we will be successful in October.”
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