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Op-ed Politics 

Liberia: Richard Tolbert and 2017 Presidential Election

By: Meniapkei  Dumoe

While he has done nothing to attract attention to himself after his time at the helm of NIC (National Investment Commission), Richard Tolbert is not to be forgotten in any sound analysis of who could contest and win in 2017. Richard Tolbert has a lot on his side he could use in a potential play for the presidency in 2017. Apart from having solid professional credentials, he also proved effective in attracting $16 billion dollars in FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) during his time as head of the NIC. Richard’s ability to bring in the investors and effectively market Liberia has earned him a clear legacy on which he can lunch a Presidential campaign.

Those who say that the $16billion dollars in investment has not translated in to jobs and opportunities for the poor cannot blame the man who attracted the investment but the system that was meant to manage the process after the investors arrived. In a sense, Richard Tolbert is like a surgeon who completes a successful operation; he (the surgeon) must rely on the ability of the nurses to manage the post operation care for the patient. Richard Tolbert’s critics will have a hard time explaining to the public the slow down in investment flows after his departure. With fears about the continuation of the country’s progress post Sirleaf, Richard Tolbert could sell himself as someone with similar academic and professional capacity as the president and therefore a safe candidate. He will be right if he did that as both he and the President hold Harvard Degrees, successful banking careers and significant experience at the very top of Liberian Government.

Dr. Tolbert has over 30 years of both public and private sector experience that stretch from his native Liberia to Wall Street where he served as vice President one of the world biggest investment firms Merrill Lynch. His credentials towers all of the ones we have heard so far and it will be the first reason why the game will change if he enters as the nation’s “safest option.”

The name that works: The coming race for the Presidency may seem far away on your calendar but on the political field, 2017 is a year that starts in 2014. Monrovia is awash with rumors about who wants to President and discussions about who should or should not be. The pundits and gossips are having a field day with the question of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf succession. The President by law and her advanced age cannot re-contest the presidency. The Liberian Constitution is quite clear in Article 50 it says: “The Executive Power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The president shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of six years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the elections. No person shall serve as President for more than two terms.” It is for the reasons stated above that anyone with ambition can be certain they won’t have the unattractive task of fighting an incumbent for the seat in 2017. With a disorganized opposition and no clear chosen successor of the President yet, the 2017 race appears open to anyone who wants to fight for the most powerful position in the land- The Liberian Presidency.

Although we hear a long list of cabinet Ministers fighting to be tipped by President Sirleaf for a 2017 or positioning themselves to take it on their own in case their looks somewhere else, most of said Ministers are under performing and suffering public rebuke. It will be hard any of them to attempt the presidency with the grievance of the people still so fresh. This bad cards situation currently facing the cabinet could benefit a dark horse.

Richard Tolbert could be that dark horse and fare really well in this kind of crowded field as someone with strong name recognition and an enviable credential especially as the leader of the opposition, George Weah continues to be unimpressive despite his newly acquired Masters Degree in Business Administration. There is also a William R. Tolbert nostalgia going on in Monrovia. This was demonstrated when popular radio talk show host Henry Costa ran a show on the legacy of President Tolbert that saw ordinary Liberians call in their number expressing love and admiration for the slain Liberian leader. One of them even said: “ I will vote for Tolbert toady if he was on the ballot.” Now we all know Richard Tolbert is not President William R. Tolbert but it would be stupid to ignore the significance of the name-Tolbert and how it plays in favor of Richard Tolbert who is a nephew of the former President. Richard Tolbert who was also active in the private sector during the Tolbert (William R. Tolbert) years, could argue that he understood his uncle vision and can give Liberians another time in the global economic sunshine.

International credibility: The Wikileaks cables on Liberia revealed that the Americans see Mr. Tolbert as a credible contender for the presidency of Liberia 2011. Thomas Greenfield, the American Ambassador at the time, in her cable about potential successor to President Sirleaf in the run up to the 2011 polls, informed Washington that Richard Tolbert is well educated, intelligent and committed to the country. Here is a direct quote of relevant part of her cable on Richard Tolbert: as a potential successor of President Sirleaf 2012: “High on the list is National Investment Commission chair Richard Tolbert, nephew of former President William R. Tolbert, Jr. (1971-1980). Tolbert is Harvard-educated, Intelligent, well connected both inside and outside Liberia, and truly committed to encouraging investment in Liberia.” Many insiders believe it was because of such positive reviews that Richard was kicked out of Government before the 2011 elections. The influential Africa Confidential predicted that Richard and other top professionals in Madam Sirleaf cabinet were going to be fired before the 2011 polls as they were seen as threats. This clear show of respect for Mr. Tolbert coming from the Americans strengthens his image as a “safe candidate.

Not Bitter: Richard Tolbert very good relationship with people like Nancy Doe the wife of former President Samuel K. Doe and other people blamed for the coupe that led to the death of his uncle (Former President William R. Tolbert) is remarkable. He (Richard Tolbert) could also sell himself, as reconciler and he will have a demonstrated record to back up such claim. A friend of mine who had attended an event in Monrovia recounted to me the healthy hug he saw exchanged between Richard Tolbert and Samuel K. Doe (Jnr.)and said he was really impressed. Not known to be a combative person, Richard Tolbert could bring his easygoing attitude to the national stage as the man for the job of national healing. There are also downsides to Richard Tolbert and these are: He is an Americo-Liberian, he stayed 25 years out of the country and would need to build a base anew and some of his critics say he is a ladies man. As a pundit I think Richard Tolbert would make 2017 a different race from the one anticipated by most analysts. I will continue to search out those unanticipated candidates that might show up and surprise in 2017. Richard is first and hopes there are many more interesting ones out there.

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