From Obscurity to Favorite: How Joseph Boakai Has Transformed The Unity Party into a Populist Movement

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He has been a relatively unknown figure in the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for nearly ten years. He has played the role of a Vice President to the letter: loyal, quiet, dutiful, humbled and disinterested.
His reclusive nature rendered him dismissive whenever there is a discussion regarding Johnson Sirleaf’s successor. Not ever his boss – the President had the thought he could be the political heir of the ruling Unity Party and the country after her 12 years rule.
She would famously declared in 2011 when seeking a second term that “Joe and I will leave” at the end of our presidency.
In May 2015, Vice President Joseph Boakai for the first time in ten years spent 10 days outside the capital Monrovia, in his native Lofa County touring key towns like, Salayea, Zorzor, Voinjama, Quardu Gboni, Kolahun, Vahun and Foya, and his been petitioned there to contest for the office of President.
The state owned Liberia News Agency would provide the following accounts about the Vice President visit in the North.
“In Salayea, he met with the people of the District in a town hall meeting and was read a statement of appreciation for his hard work during the outbreak and for the great statesmanship he proved over the years, including his position as Vice President of Liberia.
“In Zorzor, where more than 5,000 people lined up to greet the Vice President, with more than 200 motorbikes flanking his convoy, Vice President Boakai was escorted to the administrative grounds for a brief welcoming ceremony ahead of the main program scheduled for the next day. Pomp and pageantry filled the air as he, in a black Tahoo Jeep, waved to crowd. The motorcyclists had been waiting for hours to receive the Vice President.
“Expectedly, the crowd in Voinjama was the largest so far, spanning over a mile as the security personnel worked over time to control human and vehicular traffic in the city of Voinjama.
“An intercessory prayer was held for him and his entourage at the Free Pentecostal Church for his safe arrival in Lofa County.
And On the Morning of May 17, the Vice President and entourage visited several towns in Quadu-Gboni District and a program was held in his honor, where he was gowned and presented several gifts [including] a cow.
At the end of the tour elders, chiefs and traditional leaders would petition him in the city of Voinjama to contest for the Presidency. At this point Boakai’s presidential bid was taken lightly.
The country has just emerged from a devastating public health disaster (Ebola Virus Epidemic) that killed more than 5,000 Liberians. The economy was at ground zero and corruption scandal has swamped the Johnson Sirleaf administration while the President was facing a fading popularity and the ruling Unity Party in disarray.
On top of this, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has just released its 2015 Human Development R report; putting the poverty rate in Liberia at 81.86% with vulnerable employment population ration stands at 72% while 94.4% of the country’s workforce is considered ‘working poor’ as they live on less than $USD 2.00 a day.
How can a Vice president unheard of about 10 years be a serious candidate for President in an election that would largely rest on the legacy of the government he has served? This was the lingering question as people assess with skepticism the viability of Boakai’s presidential challenge.
But one year after the Voinjama petition, Boakai would move on to win the ruling Unity Party presidential nomination in a historic style that recorded the first ever major transfer of political power in decades when incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on July 8, 2016 stepped aside as leader of the ruling party and ushered her deputy to the helm following her 19-year incumbency.
The country’s 29th Vice President immediately launched his political manifesto “known as The Agenda for Total Inclusion and Transformation,” which he said represents a goal to operationalize his mantra, Think Liberia, Love Liberia; and Build Liberia!”
He has been rallying the country that his leadership is a symbol of hope for every Liberian and that with unity every obstacle will be overcome “The battle to bring the Agenda for Transformation into the lives of our people; this battle to touch and transform our communities, villages, towns, and cities is winnable. Let us come together as one,” he declared.

Unity, inclusion, Liberia and Liberians are words that frequently appear in all his speeches. His mantra “Think Liberia, Love Liberia; and Build Liberia!” is a standalone that has made him popular with voters who admire and adore him.

With less than five months to the October elections and nearly one year following his nomination, Boakai is enjoying a remarkable popularity across the country, winning the hearts of many Liberians who see him as an indigenous driven candidate.

Influential politicians and national actors, traditional chiefs and elders have all reached a conclusion that: integrity and humanity is in Boakai.

Former Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly in a June 2016 statement of endorsement, said this of Boakai while recounting the Vice President enviable role in making Liberia a rice exporting country when he played an influential role in the nation’s agriculture sector as head of the Liberia produce and Marketing Corporation and as Minister of Agriculture.
He argued International recognition of the country’s true democratic credential will be registered based on the new administration’s socio-economic programs; respect for civil liberties; infrastructural development; improvements in the education of children, and the development of health and agriculture sectors.

“For me, I have found the candidate who will deliver the type of leadership I have described here this morning. That Candidate is His Excellency Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai.

“He is a man of high integrity. This is not just my determination. It is the conclusion reached by the generality of the Liberian population. From his days at LPMC as Manager and subsequently as Managing Director, Ministry of Agriculture where he served as Minister, Liberia Petroleum Refining Company where he was Managing Director, and then the Vice Presidency, his records of integrity and selfless service are indisputable. Under his leadership, all Liberians will be valued and allowed to enjoy their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. The press freedom will continue to flourish – and the writ of free speech expanded”

Boakai has been visible across the country using every opportunity to articulate his platform to voters in a clear and simple language. His message at face value appears applicable. For instance while someone would promise to provide pay check for less fortunate Liberians or vulnerable population, he says public officials will be required to enrol their children in Liberian schools and that they will not be allowed to seek medical treatment outside the country.
His honesty about the Johnson Sirleaf administration’s failure and success; stretching from the “we squandered our opportunity” statement on state radio and defence of the government’s gains had played a significant role in propelling him to the top of the race.
“It was the Unity Party led Government that in less than six years in its first term secured waiver of the country’s crushing debt of US$4.5 billion accumulated by previous governments over decades,” he declared that the UP convention in Gbarnga, telling the nation that as a two-term incumbent Vice President, he is worthy to lead Liberia because he has seasoned hands with years of impeccable public service record at the helm of the country’s leadership.
“This day, I promise you with every fiber of my being that I shall not relent, I shall not turn back, for our cause is too great and the task ahead too enormous. I make a solemn pledge that by my dedication to hard work, that by my utterances and by my acts, not as an individual, but as your Senior Partisan, I will prove myself worthy to lead the nation, building on the solid foundations already laid by this Party-led Government. Yes, together we will win, and the process begins now!

Now, what started in May 2016 as a Lofa thing has no doubt become a country thing. The country’s 16 tribes have been gravitating towards the camp of the Vice President, thus enhancing his credential as a unifier.
A recent poll conducted by a group whose ownership had ties with the leader of the opposition Liberty Party had named Boakai as the frontrunner in October elections. He has strong support in voter rich Nimba, Lofa, Bong, Margibi Bomi, Gbarpolu and the southeast. Grand Basss that is somewhat considered the stronghold of the Liberty Party seems falling towards Boakai when thousands defied heavy downpour of rain to demonstrate their support for the Vice President.
While former President Charles Taylor used fear, force and blood to gain control of Bong County, Boakai used smile to takeover Taylor’s stronghold.
His popularity has shifted attention from the performance of the President who is now having an easy ride in the 12th year of her administration. Boakai now enjoys majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives, something the President has been lacking.
At this moment, he is smelling victory and there could be a 1997 sixe victory in the making. The diversity of his support base is promising news for a country that is still seeking genuine reconciliation 14 years after the end of almost two decades civil war.
“You saw history in the making when 31 legislators endorsed us, you saw history in the making when 19 Senators endorsed us, you saw history in the making when the people of Bong County endorsed us and the people of Bahn said because you have now put a farm here, you can now go to Gbarpolu, they endorsed us. The people of Gparpolu, you were there you went all in that mud. You were there when the staff of the Senate and the house they called us and endorsed us. Yesterday, we were in Bomi County we were endorsed. Show me your own of record. The people have record of everyone and know who mean well for this country,” the Vice President said Saturday in the port city of Buchanan.
With lust four months to elections date, Boakai is enjoying a groundswell support and the scattered opposition is explicitly facing the risk of vote splitting and spoiling a pivotal factor that will complicate their uncoordinated fight to beat the second term- incumbent-scandal-free Vice President.