Joseph Boakai’s quest for the presidency: a win-or-quit battle for Liberia’s veteran politician?

The constitutional power vested in registered Liberians will be exercised on October 10, 2023.

On that day, the electorate will be given a chance to decide who amongst 20 presidential candidates is best fit to hold executive power for the next six years.

Chapter (6), Article 50 of the1986 Constitution of Liberia states, “The Executive Power of the Republic shall be vested in the President who shall be the 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 hold office for six years…”.

One of the 20 seeking to become the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia is Joseph Nyumah Boakai. The calm-speaking political veteran is no stranger to Liberia’s politics. He is believed to be the head contender for the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and leader of the opposition Unity Party.

At age 78, the election on October 10 will be a win-or-quit affair for Joseph Boakai, whose public life and political credentials in Liberia need no underscoring.

Who is Joseph Boakai?

Digging into the life, career, and aspirations of Joseph Nyumah Boakai, DUBAWA found a story of a man on a mission with a purpose which is to lead the people of Liberia. His 2023 campaign website encapsulates a grass-to-grace profile of a man with humble beginnings but a steely determination to change the story of his life, family, community, and country. It is a walk down the armpits of society as a janitor and climbing the social and political ladder to the high estate of political power as vice president. There is one more political rung left to climb for the Lofa County-born consummate politician. On October 10, Liberians will decide whether he is fit to occupy the highest rung of political office or retire him honorably for his years of selfless service.

Born on November 30, 1944, in Wasonga, Lofa County in Liberia, Joseph Nyumah Boakai served for two terms as the country’s 29th vice president from 2006 -2017 in the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was the first female president to be elected into office in Africa. A devout Christian and a Senior Deacon of the Effort Baptist Church, Joseph Boakai is a family man, having stayed married to Katumu Yatta for 50 years. They have four children together.

The Early Life of Joseph Boakai

Joseph Nyumah Boakai was born to peasants in the remote village of Wasonga in Lofa County. Early in life, he saw education as a vehicle for transformation and spared no effort in oiling that vehicle for most of his life. With extended families across all sides of his home, he bounced from one family home to another until he enrolled and graduated from the College of West Africa (CWA). It was during this period that he worked as a janitor and provided other services, first for survival and then for education. 

Hard work pays, they say, and Joseph Boakai (as he is popularly called) became a testimony to this long-held mantra. He graduated from the University of Liberia with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and from the Kansas State University in the United States.

Public Life

Joe was not only a man of politics. He paid his dues in public service as well. At a young age, he was recruited by the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) and assigned to head its branch in Voinjama, Lofa County. After a stellar performance, he was promoted to the Managing Director role of LPMC in 1980.  In 1991, he served as Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC) under the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) during the Liberian Civil Conflict. Boakai went into private business following the replacement of IGNU.

Political life

It didn’t take too long for his services to be acknowledged and demanded in the politics of Liberia. He was appointed Minister of Agriculture in the pre-civil war of Liberia. As minister of agriculture, Joe Boakai was credited with formulating national agricultural policies, implementation support, research, and regulatory services, all of which positively affected the people of Liberia at the time. Having served as board chair of over 20 agricultural development projects and Agricultural Cooperative Development Bank and support institutions, Joe Boakai is known to have good knowledge and understanding of the agricultural economy. He later became chair of the 15-nation West African Rice Development Association (WARDA). He toured research projects of WARDA in Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Guinea Bissau – a position he held for a year.

From Foya to the Capitol

Having played a role in the pre-civil war politics of Liberia, it was only natural that when the flames had become ashes and there was the need for rebuilding, experienced hands would be called upon for the rebuilding exercise. Joe Boakai was available. From Foya to the Capitol, as was aptly captured by Sakui Malakpa, in his biography about the Unity Party leader, Joe Boakai was elected Vice President under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for 12 years.

Quest to Liberia’s Presidency

As someone who was close to the presidency for 12 years, Joe Boakai decided to run for president in 2017. In the first round of that election, Joe Boakai polled 28.8% of the votes, with then-candidate George Weah polling 38.4%. Since no candidate polled more than 50% as required by law, the election was dragged into a run-off, eventually won by George Weah.

Joe Boakai is a man who does not give up easily. He has not quailed in his determination to serve his country at the highest office, hence his return to the race for the October 10, 2023 elections.

His conviction and mission are conveyed in his now famous rallying call slogan: “THINK LIBERIA, LOVE LIBERIA, BUILD LIBERIA!”

The former Vice President Boakai runs with former Nimba County Senator Jeremiah Koung as his running mate, calling themselves “Rescue 1 and Rescue 2.”

Few days from now, Joseph Nyumah Boakai, the incumbent presidential candidate George Weah, and other opposition presidential candidates will depend on the 2,471,617 million voters of Liberia to bestow the country’s Executive Power on who the voters deem fit.

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