2017 Liberia Presidential Elections: Dark Horse Richard Tolbert?

Liberian Listener Staff Report

Richard Tolbert, the former National investment Commission [NIC] Chairman during President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s first term could be mulling a run for the Executive Mansion sources say. Although he is yet to make a formal declaration, his name has been mentioned in quite a few places as a possible replacement to Africa’s first female president.

Already Liberia’s vice president Joseph Boakai has thrown his hat in the race, the first to do so, with two years to go, telling newsmen in a recent interview in Monrovia, that President Sirleaf called him and encouraged him to run and has endorsed his candidacy. Sirleaf, observers say is betting that Boakai will continue her policies.

A newspaper editor in Monrovia says, with Boakai at the top, most likely, those indicted by Liberia’s transparency institutions [LACC, PCCC, GAC] may likely not be persecuted, in which case he will have less weight to fight corruption; the regime Liberians cite as the most important factor, to bring sanity to the public sector in post reconstruction Liberia, and basically speaking Liberia’s most acute perennial problem for most of its conflicts the last decades. To persecute those with whom he served, under an Ellen led administration would be unthinkable. “Some powerful people want to see the vice president succeed Sirleaf, for their own selfish reasons,” he said.

In accepting a recent petition in his home county of Lofa the vice president said “We will form partnership with concessionaires and engage in integrate[d] development planning…” Liberian companies will be betting on the status quo, in a Boakai presidency to protect their investments in the West African country, according to well-placed sources.

But so too could investors be interested in a Tolbert presidency who was according to reports, responsible largely for attracting the flow of investment to the country. His supporters cite his educational, and strong business and corporate ties, which saw him rise on Wall Street as an investment banker and also as Vice President at Merrill Lynch. The former NIC chair was also “Senior Vice President of PaineWebber Inc., one of America’s largest investment houses and [was] responsible for developing international business, especially in Africa. He is a member of the Corporate Council on Africa, based in Washington and African Business Roundtable, based in Johannesburg,” says TLC Africa, a Liberian based website.

It is said, he has over 30 years of public and private sector practice. Qualifications, he could use to sell his standing as a safe bet to lead a Liberia that is still reeling from the after effects of a deadly civil war and the Ebola Virus Disease.

Tolbert reports indicate supervised about $16 billion dollars in Foreign Direct Investment as chair of NIC, which had seen years of inactivity before he accepted the post from Sirleaf. “Richard’s ability to attract investors and find jobs for Liberians in need of work could be his strong suit,” according to a supporter.

Most of those investments attracted to Liberia under his watch are found within the extractive industry and mining sectors, with others in the agro forestry. The real dividends of those returns are yet to trickle down to the population, with bad roads hampering investments in the country and the planting of palm and extracting ore still in their infancy. With those in mind, his bid could therefore be a hard sell. Already Accelor Mittel is rolling back, complaining last week that its operations in the country is being less profitable in the aftermath of ebola, and the falling of ore prices on the international market, according to a report. Meanwhile concessions in the country are seeing increase strikes with the latest being in Butaw, Sinoe County.

Richard Tolbert comes from a famous Liberian family in Montserrado County. President William Richard Tolbert, his uncle was deposed in a 1980 coup de tat which saw the 20th president of the republic gruesomely murdered in a violent military takeover, ending 133 years of Americo Liberian rule, in what was expected to be a new dawn, but since then nothing has changed, according to analysts. The Tolbert’s presidency gradually, is grudgingly gaining respect from Liberians, given the ruthlessness with which the coup leaders led, orchestrated by the so-called People Redemption Council [PRC], and the way it handled the affairs of state for a decade; headed by Master Sergeant, Samuel K. Doe, who later gained the rank of general, before becoming president, in what was largely regarded as a 1985 rigged elections, in which prominent political opposition parties were banned and or disqualified.

Tolbert, a nephew of the former president enjoyed an Ivy League education and is also is seen as widely connected outside of Liberia, attributes which some say could sell him. But it is not clear which political party or grouping he would associate himself with, or if he will run as an independent. Most political parties and leaders in the country are currently thinking about coliations and talking mergers in an effort to present a united front as the fight for Executive Mansion intensifies ahead of 2017.

There is also the possibility that Tolbert could put himself forward as a unifier since in fact there is today some nostalgia in the country for President Tolbert’s legacy whose popular themes: A WHOLESOME FUNCTIONING SOCIETY, FROM MAT TO MATTRESS and RALLY TIME is still being remembered, popular leitmotifs in the country today, which defined the former president’s vision for lifting Liberia and moving the country forward. But Richard Tolbert’s purported presidential interests, his critics say, could also stoke fears of Americo Liberian dominance and the emergence yet again of the powerful Tolbert family that hails from Bentol.

Meanwhile, recently, the former ruling True Whig Party, Liberia’s oldest political party whose last political leader was President William Richard Tolbert Jr. said it was reconstituting itself after years of dormancy.

Pic: Richard Tolbert

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