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Liberia 2017: Is Kwame Clement Ready?

By Hawa Wesseh [analysis]

Talk about the upcoming 2017 Liberia’s presidential and legislative elections and names will start popping up! It is the perfect opportunity: Johnson Sirleaf will be leaving office after what has been a long twelve years of two consecutive presidential terms! Those who watched Liberian developments will tell you that two established political parties stand to gain the most, the Congress for Democratic Change [CDC], Liberia’s largest political opposition and the ruling Unity Party [UP]. The CDC and the UP will be looking to consolidate their ranks and gains by absorbing smaller parties to bolster their chances in an effort to bag the Executive Mansion—Liberia’s presidential palace! Liberia is never short of political candidates and especially the presidency, when general elections rolled around, but it remains to be seen if Kwame Clement whose name has been heard repeatedly, has what it takes to win this coveted seat. His name is mentioned almost instantaneously whenever 2017 comes up in public debates and discussions!

He has a mountain to climb, if he’s going to run for the presidency, for sure. Campaigning for the Executive Mansion is not for the faint hearted. Asked Charles Brumskine who lost twice, Winston Tubman who lost twice, and Togbah Na Tipoteh who also lost trice—Tipoteh seem well intentioned, But, Na Tipoteh have never managed to attract any following worthy of his stature, given the long years he stayed in the political trenches! He has been described as honest by those who know him, but it seems his glory has faded, but it also remains to be seen if he could resurrect himself. That stars are beginning to shine on new comers like Clement two years to the coveted contest has surprised some.

However, the ANC and Clement have not said, if, — he will run for president, despite these speculations. Clement, given his limited governmental experience, might also want to play VP say some, and if his party wins with an established candidate, he would be well groomed by 2023, the same could be said for George Weah. It is being rumoured again that he might play second to Winston Tubman! Kwame Clement going as a vice presidential candidate come 2017 must not be ruled out, and might not be a bad idea too. But Insiders within the ANC, have however mentioned a Kwame Clement, Francis Johnson Morris Allison ticket come 2017!

Other possible candidates like Cllr. Tiawon Saye Gongloe, Cllr. Kofi Woods, Cllr. Nagbalee Warner or Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Nguafuan, and former Truth and Reconciliation Chairman, Cllr. Jerome Verdier are being talked about also—this aforementioned generation hence, contrasts, Vice President Joseph Boakai, Senator Varney Sherman, Governance Commission Chair Amos Sawyer and two times presidential candidate, former Justice minister Cllr. Winston Tubman, and Togbah Na Tipoteh!

The man most likely do well if he decides to run could be Senator Varney Sherman now a wealthy and powerful senator from Cape Mount. On the other hand, Sherman and the ruling UP will be going into 2017 without an incumbent, with a brutal contest expected to ensue, look to see Robert Sirleaf and clan to pick sides. Pundits are however predicting that Varney Sherman is expected to lead the party, he was instrumental according sources working behind the scenes in denying Robert Sirleaf endorsement during the just concluded senatorial race, with Wilmot Paye, party general secretary doing Sherman’s dirty work.

Having said that the CDC and the UP remained strong enough to cause an offset in two years, but since politics is unpredictable, and any good showing in any contest depends on a candidate’s own strengths and organizational apparatus, betting on the CDC and the UP would be unwise this early in the game just yet.

Therefore smaller parties like the Alternative National Congress [ANC] led by Kwame Clement, a former Liberian broadcast journalist could make headways if their message catch on early, and can convince the skeptic electorates that a new dawn is here. Given its short life span, the ANC already has a senator in the upper chambers of the Liberian Assembly, winning against some politically savvy individuals, with Daniel Flomo Naatehn beating the CDC and its Secretary General Nathaniel McGill, long-time political activist and former vice presidential candidate Alaric Tokpa of the National Democratic Coalition [NDC] Gbarpolu County. But It was also a disappointment that That Francis Johnson Morris failed to cross the threshold in Bomi. She would make a great senator.

What does he want?

Clement and his ANC have been vocal on national issues quite recently and like the Liberty Party, it has also been a leading voice for press freedom in Liberia. It issued a strong worded statement when talk show host Henry Costa was jailed by the Liberian courts as he and the president’s son, National Security Agency Director Fombah Sirleaf were at logger heads while calling on the govt to “release him promptly.”

Kwame Clement would also offered pro bono services to defend perhaps Liberia’s leading journalist Rodney Sieh in a well published court case with former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe, these moves and his speaking engagements at various locations in the diaspora and back home has kept him in the public eye and endear him to some.

But what does the ANC want to achieve in a Liberia where governance issues and corruption seems to be top of the agenda? In a 2014 national convention the ANC adopted a set of policy goals it hopes to use as a blue print for governance according to reports. The ANC set forth education, health and the agricultural sectors as prime agenda for national development, hence promising to “bring long-term development to Liberia.” The party has also said it intends to create jobs and attract investments. Easier said than done for any political party that wants state power.

The ANC national Chairman Lafayette Gould, a former executive of the Congress for Democratic Change have said his party intends to espoused “a set of visionary policies to address the key development challenges Liberia now faces.” And that the “ANC agenda will [undertake] a job creation policy that seeks to create decent jobs for the thousands of unemployed Liberians.”

The nuance of these policies and the nitty-gritty of their advancement have not been told in detail in tandem with required political discourse, according to observers. For example if the ANC is investing in primary education what is the operational modus and the compelling arguments on the table for Liberians to gauge as far as accomplishment and implementation. To improve education, is it smaller class rooms and investing in retraining teachers?

Kwame Clement and his party executives like other politicians in the country want to win elections without putting forward the hard facts to convince Liberia’s disillusion electorates that have always had high expectations and hopes, only to see those prospects dashed—now look on wearily as they demand more answers— scarred by a lethal civil war and a deadly epidemic their hopes are even now more higher!

Hence, Mr. Clement is yet to deliver any major policy speech on the so-called transformative agenda he hopes to use to rescue Liberia from the doldrums of years of decadence and inefficient governance in Africa’s first republic. Speeches alone about generalities without the skeletons that support the issues any politician intend to advance wouldn’t just cut it! Policy nuance must not be beyond our presidential candidates, AND if Clement is thought to be as eloquent and detail as he is assumed to be, he must then present a convincing agenda, to be taken seriously!

If the “The Alternative National Congress is the brain child for the 2017 Presidential candidacy of Cllr Kwame Clement” then there is still a lot of retail politics and selling to do.

He has the name recognition, although some Liberians bordering on the trivial say his name Kwame is a disadvantage because of its Ghanaian origins. Utter none sense many Liberians have said. Liberians tend to accept names like Tubman, Tolbert or Taylor easily as authentic Liberian names, but would rather deride such names as Kofi, Kwame and Koroma as not uniquely Liberian, forgetting Liberia’s unique culture and history.

Why must Americo Liberian surnames take precedence over indigenous African names in Liberia? English names vs African names is not and must not be a disadvantage to any political actor who is uniquely Liberian, who was born in the country and has given so much in terms of social justice and political freedom including Kofi Woods and Kwame Clement if I may argue, who are more eminently qualify in my opinion than some of those who have put themselves forward in the past!

No doubt Kwame Clément is eloquent, is young and seems ripe, but is not tested as a leader. His student leadership credential has always been touted and cited but that is not enough! However to be fair to Clement and others like him, seeking the presidency, political leadership is not decentralized and independent as per elections, and the imperial presidency still wields enormous appointing powers, it is hard to know which local executive administrative leadership within the country performs adequately with cited results [Superintendents, Mayors and Commissioners], but more than that, the Alternative National Congress and Clement are yet also to speak to perhaps Liberia’s three most pressing needs: The rule of law, political decentralization and national security!

Crime is rampant both at the lower and higher levels of society and prosecution and the courts not vigorous enough. Liberian borders are fragile after almost two decades of war and UNMIL will be leaving, and so much is still to be desired from the national police, immigration and the army. And without political decentralization again as per electable posts, Liberia remains essentially an imperial unitary state with the presidency exercising titanic powers, not good for a country pushing on to 200 years since independence!

To Clément’s credit though he has spoken on the much debated dual citizenship and its potential benefits for Liberia, commendable. But Liberians don’t know his so-called purported political philosophy and long-term governing strategy just yet. Does he wants a smaller government or will he used the powers of the presidency and deploy it for mass job creation? It is not fair to Liberia that everyone running for political office is labeling themselves as progressives cum liberals! Where are those who are arguing for conservative values within the Liberian society?

Political candidates for the Liberian Presidency including Kwame Clement cannot expect the Liberian people to blindly follow them when the pressing issues that need attention and in-depth explanation are gloss over! Kwame Clement like other candidates still has a lot of explanation and selling to do, if they want the nation’s highest office. His chances like any candidate may be bright come 2017, but the next president must prove she/he have the mantle and gravitas to beat President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her record of twelve long years—which legacy is now on trial!

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