Running the race
Who is Benoni Urey?
“I come from a humble background. My father was married to three wives. My mother, a classroom teacher; and my father a subsistent farmer. I grew up in a home with my other ten siblings, and I learned how to farm from my father,” says Urey.
No family member of mine will be given jobs in my government when I become president.
Heralding what can be considered a ‘litmus test’ for Liberian peace and democracy, the 10 October 2017 election will mark a renaissance period in the political life of the country. Indeed, this election is an onerous task for the fleet of politicians seeking to succeed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
But, Benoni W. Urey―a farmer turned politician says he wants to build a middle class. “In Liberia, there is no middle class, and I want to create that by investing in Liberian businesses, and empowering Liberians to be self-sufficient.”
Chances of winning
But, he will need more than just his two-year old political party, ALP to secure victory. He says he is willing to work with other politicians and consider merging parties. The 2014 passing of the election ‘code of conduct’—which prohibits “all officials appointed by the president” from engaging in political activities— may sideline Alexander Cummings, J. Mills Jones and others. This might give Urey a better chance against Vice-President Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party. Urey has been making impressive strides in getting his campaign message to Liberians.
“My outreach is in the rural areas because the citizens in the different counties are those whose lives need to be transformed the most,” he adds. But his relationship with erstwhile president Charles Taylor, might hurt his chances of winning.
Urey says: “I did work in Taylor’s government as commissioner of maritime. He is my friend. But that’s all in the past now. I find no interest in regorging the past. I want to focus on moving my country forward.”
Why Urey for President?
“I have lived with my people. Through war, difficult economic times, and even the time of Ebola. Over the years, I have visited the rural areas, I know what is lacking in this country, and what my people’s needs are. My goal is to provide a panacea,” he notes. He is one of the government’s toughest critics. In 2014, at the onset of the Ebola epidemic, he criticised President Sirleaf for being inactive when she was most needed.
But some of his rivals say that his vitriol is just political rhetoric. Urey has made a name for himself in the business world. He owns shares in Lonestar Cell (MTN) and a consortium of businesses in the country that has provided jobs for Liberians.
He also has the third-largest poultry producing farm in the country and a farm resort that host guests from all around the world.
“Every year, the government of Liberia spends six million dollars or more to import rice in the country. Liberia is not an agro-based economy,” Urey says.
We have to make a radical intervention into healthcare and education.
Liberia’s extractive economy is teetering on the edge of collapse. Over the past few years, it has experienced some trouble, especially with plummeting commodities prices. Urey says that soon the country will have to find another mode of economic survival. Known for his agriculture background, the farmer says he wants to not only invest in small-scale farming but to drive agro-industrialisation.
“If we decide as a people that we will grow what we eat, we cut down the cost of importing rice into Liberia. Not only will agriculture provide jobs for our people, but it will also provide security,” he explains.
Healthcare is one of the sectors in which the country faces a huge challenge. That has been proven by the government’s inability to tackle the recent Ebola outbreak. Public medical facilities are dysfunctional, and run by poorly paid workers. Even government officials seek medical services from outside. Urey says: “my first hundred days in office will focus on healthcare. We have to make a radical intervention into healthcare and education.
To be honest, every sector of the country needs attention.” He said his policies will be directed to building an inclusive and diverse labor-force that is essential to forward-economic development.
“On January 18, 2018, that will be the death date of corruption, Urey says. That is when we will announce the death of corruption. I want you to remember my words.”
Previous governments have been plagued with institutional failures, and Urey has sworn to begin the fight against by first eradicating nepotism.
“No family member of mine will be given jobs in my government when I become president”, he adds.
Africa’s economic renaissance is fast progressing, and China has taken a role as lead partner. Chinese loans continue to attract the interest of many African leaders. But, Urey says that changes are needed for foreign-backed deals. “I know that foreign businesses want to make profit, but we must set in place a system by which both sides would be equally satisfied,” he asserted. “My goal is to provide an equilibrium.” In his comment on foreign relations with China and the United States, Urey says: “China has always been our partner in helping to drive our developmental goals. We have always enjoyed good relationship with China. And we are prepared to continue our relationship, and even take it to another level.”
The 2016 election of President Donald Trump turned a new page in global politics and international relations. The US is strongly considering protectionist policies, with the intent of revisiting its engagement with Africa.
Trump’s goal of cutting aid to Africa could cause problems for aid-dependent African states. But what would this mean for Liberia―and a potential Urey-led government?
Urey notes: “I do agree with President Trump that his first priority is America, and it should be America. President Trump said he was elected President of America, and not President of the world, and he’s right. Liberia and the United States enjoy a long and cordial diplomatic relationship. And as President of Liberia, we hope to work together.”