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Boakai’s  presidential inauguration and the future of Liberia

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After a competitive presidential runoff election that saw former Vice President Joseph Boakai beating the incumbent President George Weah with over 20,000 votes, a new dawn has arrived in Liberia.

President Boakai was finally inaugurated into office on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in what could be described as a huge consolidation of the country’s checkered democratic dispensation.

The inauguration of President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and Vice President Jeremiah Kpang Koung marked the second peaceful and smooth transition of democratic power since post-war Liberia.

The first peaceful transition occurred in 2018 when Africa’s first female President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, handed power over to former soccer legend George Manneh Weah.

The swearing-in

Article 53 (a) of the Liberian constitution states, among other things, that “The President and the Vice-President shall, before entering on the execution of the duties of their respective offices, take a solemn oath or affirmation to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the Republic and faithfully execute the duties of the office. The oath or affirmation shall be administered in joint convention of both Houses of the Legislature by the Chief Justice…”

Many world leaders, including the United States representative to the United Nations, Madam Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and the president of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, were present and observed with admiration the swearing-in of the new Liberian president.  

The occasion, officially starting at around 10 am on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, was also a huge cultural exhibition for the country.

The president arrived in a stately regalia with a touch of Liberian culture. There were cultural performances and National songs by a local choir, Little White Chapel, that reminded observers about the rich Liberian culture. The event was also witnessed by a joint session by the speaker of the House of Representatives of the 55th legislature of the Republic of Liberia.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, then invited the president-elect to take the oath of office.

The Inaugural Address

Having taken the oath of office, it was time to deliver his first speech as the president of Liberia. The sun was scorching. The atmosphere was electric, with supporters chanting and singing the new president’s and his government’s praises.

Speeches at presidential inaugurations are inevitable. For some political watchers, nothing beats a well-rehearsed and delivered inaugural speech by a sworn-in president.

President Boakai mounted the podium to deliver his inaugural address and was at it for about 30 minutes, enumerating his plans for Liberia’s growth and development. However, an unforeseen event happened. The president cut his presentation short due to what many believed to be exhaustion.

It became a subject of media discussion both locally and internationally, as seen here and here. It was also reported by the Daily Observer Newspaper that several other persons who had gone to witness the event also fainted due to the scorching sun. 

Official Response

Shortly after the abrupt end of the programme, the communication officer, Charles Snetter, said that President Joseph Nyuma Boakai suffered heat exhaustion during the inaugural ceremony.

“His doctors have declared him perfectly fine. He has resumed his normal activities. He is expected to meet with the Ghanaian President and other dignitaries today,” the statement noted.

A private health practitioner, Standee Pinky Weah, told DUBAWA,

“Yes, it is normal (for heat exhaustion to occur), but his age might also be a major factor. Heat exhaustion can cause block-out to the brain that can lead to shortage of breath from low oxygen intake, which can lead to fainting or possible death.”

She further added, “For his age, his immune system is weak, so he is susceptible to any health-related illness, and for those who may be claustrophobic too, they can also pass out when they are in extreme heat or a very cluttered  space.”

The future of Liberia

While the inauguration of President Joseph Boakai represents a major constitutional undertaking that will set the new government on course, the biggest challenge by the new president and his government is how to build a resilient economy, fight corruption, and put Liberia well on the trajectory of growth and development.

That challenge does not appear lost on the 79-year-old consummate politician who served for two terms as the country’s 29th vice president from 2006 to 2017. He was a member of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration.

In his inaugural address, before the heat exhaustion, President Boakai told the people of Liberia that his vision for the country, dubbed ARREST (Agriculture, Roads, Rule of Law, Education, Sanitation, Tourism), defines the development path for the people.

“I have come to rekindle hope, to reposition us on our national pathway,” he said.

The new government’s policies are bound to affect the generality of the population in Liberia irrespective of status, gender, age, and political affiliation.

However, what are the expectations of these major stakeholders as the new president begins his six-year tenure in the West African country?

Amie Barclay, a widow of four children selling fruits along the streets of Paynesville, said:

“The way things are hard with our businesses, at least this new government should help us reduce the prices of our goods so we can profit from the businesses we are selling.” 

Samuel Paygar, a businessperson with a physical disability, is hopeful about the new government’s ability to change the nation’s fortune. He is convinced his recharge cards business will see a facelift.

“I only want this new government to get rid of the drug problem in this country and create more jobs so that we will be able to sponsor ourselves and families,” he mentioned.

Anthony Jones  has been working for more than nine years as a civil servant and said:

“The salary structure for us civil servants is so low. We work, but the pay is not enough to take care of us and our families. I want President Boakai’s government to fix this.”

Representatives of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL), the umbrella organisation for all civil society organisations in Liberia, said the government would go far if it listened to workers. 

“The CDC government failed to listen to CSOs or see us as key stakeholders. The UP government should learn from this and involve CSOs at all levels,” said Loretta Pope Kai, Chairperson of the NCSCL.

Torbor Wonokay is an activist and independent candidate who contested the 2023 elections in District Three, Montserrado County.

Wonokay cautioned the new administration to refrain from what he calls the “Blaming of predecessors” and to work to deliver on its rescue mission.

A member of the ruling Unity Party (UP) and the former Deputy Presidential Press Secretary for former President Ellen Sirleaf, Abel Plackie, is hopeful Boakai’s government will meet the expectations of Liberians.

“We are taking over from a government that has broken down the entire system of the country. It is going to be very hard to rebuild the country, but I trust the ability of President Boakai’s government to rebuild this nation,” Plackie said.

Conclusion

With the job cut out for the new president and his Unity Party, what the Liberian story will be like in the next six years remains to be seen.

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