Liberia 2017: Pass the baton of the presidency to a young generation

By Rep. Worlea Saywah Dunah

A Reply to Robert W. Kpadeh

True, Liberia is on the cusp of a historic milestone and we are excited; our views as carried in the papers last week has ignited the debate to the extent that five local daily papers printed an opinion by Robert Kpadeh as a response. I was in my constituency for ground breaking for a surgery theater for the Saclepea Health Center when word came that the gentleman says the debate is worthy only for the sewages of Monrovia; and as I read the piece I realized that he dumped drums loads of Soniwehn sewage waste on me. Unfortunately tons of sewages cannot bury this issue, but this debate cannot go away until the vote is cast.

Rep. Dunah ‘Age-Debate’ Certainly Belongs in the Garbage

President Sirleaf who has made so many histories is poised to make the sweetest of all, to turn over the helm of power to an elected new President, a development that has not happened since the late President Tubman received the mantle from the late President Edwin Barclay in 1944. Certainly President Sirleaf will answer the call of history by presiding over the elections; the only obstacles that may prevent this is the expansive use of the Writ of Prohibitions by the Supreme Court to deny seating of legislators as per the Constitutional date may well in a Presidential race throw Liberia into an interim leadership. Besides this singular concerns history beacons and in my view our generation must rise.

Before long let me clearly say here that my only focus in writing and policy debate has been to deal only with the facts and the views of discussants; so if Robert Kpadeh were to dump the entire content of Soniwehn on my head I will not leave this settled mindset- we stick to issue since 1997. It is fundamentally instructive that in discussing only issues and facts we find solutions to the problems of our society whereas the converse is the roman road to conflict.

My issue remains that Liberia is ripe for a generational change. I insist that by elections to the legislature and by appointment to high public offices our generation has acquired the requisite skills, experiences, and exposure necessary to receive the Baton of the Presidency in 2017. I further reiterate that as an executive of the ruling Unity Party it is binding on us to see the demographic realities of today Liberia as we search for a ticket for the 2017 presidential race. And the country is entering a complex stage which needs strong shoulders with more energy.

A Wiseman somewhere said , “genesis has nothing to do with relevance”; perhaps we need to say so here: that the call for a change of guard is very relevant regardless of who propounds it. And perhaps to add for the benefit of our beloved Kpadeh, I speak as a veteran and winner of two political battles. I have won the political gridiron twice; and all of my victories has been won on the basis of support from the youth and women who are the dominant demography of this country. I know what I talk about because I walk the towns and villages of Liberia and know what they say to me; my relevance to the debate is thereby a public knowledge and undisputable fact.

Of Veep Boakai and The UP

In my interview for the record I correctly was quoted that Vice President Boakai has served this country long with distinction from the President Tolbert regime in the 1970s and so along with President Sirleaf should guide the UP in fashioning a ticket given the rich fields of eligible partisans from both the executive and the legislature. He should be honored as fitting to one who has such history of strong nationalistic service in the public sector.

I was therefore surprise that Kpadeh would attribute harsh words like ‘betrayal’ and ‘back stabbing’ because they do not apply when national leaders are discussing national issues such as this one. And I am compelled to give a brief background to my relationship within the Unity Party since these words have no bearing on the essence of this debate.

In October 2005, when we have won our seats as Representative for the then Electoral District # 3 in Nimba County, the then candidate Sirleaf send emissaries of people some of who are in the senate and some sit on the Supreme Court to woo our team to support her for the second round. After a single meeting with her at her Campaign Offices in Sinkor, I knew she was right for Liberia. During that time I never met the Vice President neither was he party to any of the subsequent discussions leading to that famous victory for President Sirleaf. And for the record while Senator Johnson led the CDC Weah’s campaign we gave them training in grassroots mobilization by massive number, we even carried Madam Sirleaf to Bahn City on the choppers, the records are there.

Straightly speaking, the Veep and I have had no arrangements or agreements for his vision neither have he and I worked on anything for which I could betray or back stab. Fundamentally as an executive and member of the UP I am entitled to my views, but if having a different views as that of the Vice President is now construed as a wrong then it is apparent something is been misunderstood. Vibrant policy debate is the lifeline of any society and organization, I am sorry, no apology for disagreeing with anyone on any issue at anytime.

And for the records issues of health of the Veep and others originate with Kpadeh so I will not respond. My premise in arguing for a youthful ticket is based on generally acceptable and irrefutable medical fact that age brings weakness of the body. Isn’t is true that a person in the age range of 40-60 years is in a different medical class as compare to one in the 70s? Besides in Liberia, the Constitution in Article 72(b) stipulates that Justices and Judges in the Judiciary Branch of government should be retired at the age of seventy and the Civil Service Act set the retirement age at sixty-five years or alternatively after twenty-five years of continuous service. These examples are the best practices within our own system and so you see the argument for a more youthful ticket find weighted system support within our judiciary branch and the civil service law.

There is further misunderstanding of the concept of institutional disagreement and loyalty; we shall transverse these lightly. Within every institutions debates should be engendered, our UP in its organic papers ensure that there should be contestation of ideas, ideals and policies by enshrining a free democratic selection process of voting to determine our leadership. Again all experienced political actors know that when a ticket is settled, even the defeated opposition remains within the party and canvass for the ticket; we are at pain to explain that our statement is therefore not a contradiction but a reflection of the normal democratic practice and the tenets of the Unity Party internal democracy. Hilary Clinton campaigned for President Obama her opponent who defeated her in primary because it was the ticket; allow me to say again I will support my party ticket even if my counsel and analysis is not accepted.

The Two Places Where UP Finds Change of Guards Ticket

The practice of contemporary politics as a norm rather than a rule gravitates towards more youthful persons to lead nations. This idea is not new in human history, Africa being no exceptions; and as one who grew up in the progressive I well know that many of our own legendary chiefs in Liberia ascended when very young. When we consider Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Genghis Khan, George Washington, Patrice Lumumba, Sekou Toure, Shaka Zulu , etc. the argument is gone.

However, as a direct reply, in my interview and as quoted by these papers, I pointed clearly to where the UP will look to find the youthful candidates for our 2017 ticket: the legislature and the ranks of executive appointees (tenured autonomous commissions and cabinet appointees).

Inarguably, these are the two are very rich and fertile grounds for my party to search. Elections everywhere are a sign of one’s acceptance by the people for leadership; the masses have seen capacity, skills, and the spirit of leaderships in that person. Here in Liberia we just completed the first full circle of legislative elections and given the disastrous turn over, it is safe to conclude that those who won reelections certainly enjoy not only leadership skills but the trust of the people which is critical. Of the senators elected in 2005 along with us, only three won their reelections while of the sixty-four representatives elected in 2005 only twenty-four returned in 2011. And then in 2011 and 2014 about twenty-seven new senators came to Capitol. These are political high achievers who by acute exhibition of political skills have brought themselves to national leadership must surely be recognized for what they are and how the Liberian masses regard their leadership skills.

The second palace is the one built by the President in the exercise of her Constitutional rights to nominated properly trained and experienced Liberians to various posts in government to help her lead the nation. The President overtime has given a huge number of youthful Liberians the opportunity to showcase their leadership and professionalism at various levels within the cabinet, within the local government, within the diplomatic services, at autonomous agencies and commissions and at the central bank. Given the achievement of this government which I have also said is foundation on which the UP can win a third time, it is generally accepted that they have for the most part performed very well. Many have excelled beyond expectations; in all this present another very promising search fields for our party.

The way I see it then is instead of the usual kowtowing, the UP should now take advantage of this huge pool of talented and experienced persons take into account the value of connecting with the dominant population and propel an attractive balance ticket to the Liberian nation. I say for free, that is the Rosetta Stone to the succession headache. And The Call for Generational Change of Guard within the UP Belongs on the High Agenda

In Kenya, the intellectual, internet savvy and youthful Uhuru was preferred to the Raila Odinga,68, at that time; in the United States a first term Senator named Barack Obama was elected over a veteran and old John McCain; in the United Kingdom, youthful David Cameron just won a landslide that is historic. We could go on, but it is the norm and not the rule; it gravitates on the wish on the dominant demography.

The UP Ticket for 2017 must come from the above group for success to attend our effort, this I sincerely believe; and in believing I injure no man. I also by the same token say that all parties with candidates that attract the youths will stand a chance to capture state power. At the end of the day, what matters are we should have a vigorous debate and contestation of ideas in finding the way forward, and if I may add devoid of the excesses. It is true that mankind fears transition, the past holds us and exert strong influences but the path of change remains the hope for humanity and this we say that great nations have been built on the strong shoulders.

Thus the Baton must pass to a new generation in 2017, a generation which to paraphrase the youthful President Kennedy of the United States, is a generation that has tempered by the civil crisis, who came to age in the rebirth of Liberia and who above all else have grown their worth and proven their capacity in elected and appointed positions during the last decade of rebuilding the war ravaged Liberia. This generation sees feels and knows the challenges of our time and this generation can competently translate the policy of nation building to this generation; remember though the great teacher Jesus Christ said and I quote: “the only generation that can save this generation is this generation.”

The Author: A second term Representative from Nimba County, who won his first term on the New DEAL Movement ticket and currently an executive of the Unity Party. He has been commenting in papers since 1997

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