-Ahead of “2020”, “2023” Political Slugfest OPPOSITION ‘COLLABO’ AGAIN – Any Lessons Learned?

It was sometime in September 2016 when 20 opposition political parties gathered in Ganta, Nimba County, to sign a communique dubbed the Ganta Declaration that would have unseated the then-ruling Unity Party, headed by former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The main signatories to the Ganta Declaration were then-Senator George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC); Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty Party (LP); Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC); Senator Prince Y. Johnson of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), and businessman Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP).

According to the terms of the Ganta Declaration, the participating opposition political parties, among other things, vowed never to castigate nor denigrate one another in any form or fashion. But even if such should occur, grievances thereof would have been channeled through a joint technical committee (JTC) comprising two reps from each of the political parties.

Alas! Hardly had the ink dried off the Ganta Declaration when the collaborating parties started fighting one another, thus leading to members of the group forming inter-collaboration alliances that saw George Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) forging a coalition with the National Patriotic Party and the Liberia Democratic Party of Liberia (and, as well, Senator Prince Y. Johnson’s MDR on the sideline), that culminated to the Coalition for Democratic Change dislodging the Unity Party in 2017.

Now, fast forward to February 21, 2019.

Yesterday, four opposition political leaders met at the headquarters of the opposition Unity Party where their heads signed a joint Statement and Resolution of Commitment, pledging among other things to commit to forging, branding and/or rebranding, and supporting a common national interest upon which they may collaborate, keeping in focus the welfare of the people, and not allowing their political differences and personal ambitions to derail the cooperation among Opposition Political Parties in Liberia.

In that resolution, the parties also pledged to openly and consistently engage and collaborate on various issues of concern to the people whom they represent, establish common national positions; promote a common agenda (where necessary) to aid, support and encourage the ongoing efforts of their individual political parties aimed at ensuring responsive governance and effective collaboration for the good of our country; and demonstrate, above all that political collaboration is not only possible, but also necessary and crucial to the development of the country’s democracy; and to encourage the participation of all political parties.

Opposition Wahalla Redux?

The formation of an opposition collaboration at this time comes against the background of simmering tensions between President George Weah’s Coalition government and opposition politicians over recent allegations from the presidency of plans to assassinate the Liberian president. The issue of the missing 16 Billion Liberian Dollars and the ongoing impeachment trial of Associate Supreme Court Justice Kabinneh Ja’nneh also unpinned the collaborative effort.

Yet, in the wake of the opposition’s attempt to forge a unified front to bring government to book, while establishing itself as the best alternative for future leadership, it has been observed that the issue of leadership could be the undoing of the present collaboration, just as it happened with the Ganta group.

To understand what this writer is driving at, one needs to look back at the Ganta Declaration Group and the February 20, 2019 new group signers. Is it the same old, same old? With the exception of former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, this is the group that attempted to unseat the former ruling Unity Party which was headed by former Vice President Boakai. So what is extremely different about this collabo that will make the necessary change in 2020 and 2023?

UP’s Joseph Nyuma Boakai

When one carefully reads the cards of the new collaborative effort, former VP Boakai is definitely the odd man out, taking into account the Ganta Declaration that birthed Liberia’s collaborative attempts to unseat the ruling establishment at the time, through democratic means. Against the wishes of his former boss Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Boakai became the face of the Unity Party in 2017. Inter-party wrangling and indecisiveness at the time cost the Unity Party its ticket to the presidency in 2017, many outsiders and even core UP stalwarts believed. By the time the votes were announced at the close of 2017, Boakai and his former boss Ellen were so estranged, it would have taken a miracle to salvage the wounds of the woebegone days. Despite the odds, former VP Boakai is still perceived as a political stabilizer. But will Boakai learn lessons from 2017 that denied him the coveted office?

LP’s Charles W. Brusmkine

As a key signatory to the 2016 Ganta Declaration, Cllr. Charles Brumskine was left holding an empty bag when serious members of the Ganta Collabo later turned coat. The breakaway of then-Senator Weah and Senator Johnson was the final straw that broke the Collabo’s back. After Weah and his Coalition won the 2017 elections, Brumskine went into political hibernation. LP’s Senator Lawrence became the face of the LP – fighting, expending her own resources, and facing the ire of the ruling party; until Brumskine recently resurfaced as the face of the Liberty Party. The confounding scenario nearly brought the LP at loggerheads with key stalwarts like Abraham Darius Dillon, a man that is widely considered the voice of the Liberian opposition.

ALP’s Benoni Urey

Mr. Benoni Urey, despite what his critics may say, remains the consummate businessman and chief architect of Liberianization, through his numerous business ventures. Although some may believe that his business interests come first above his political affiliations, but that’s what politics is all about – no permanent friends; only permanent interests. While it’s a fact that Mr. Urey was signatory to the Ganta Declaration, his absence was glaringly recognized during the 2017 elections, when the Liberty Party took issue with the first round electoral results and took its case to the Supreme Court, where the Unity Party supported its cause. Urey and his ALP were nowhere to be found. Despite Urey’s disappearance from the scene then, he has now thrown his weight (NO SMALL WEIGHT indeed) to support the opposition collaboration.

ANC’s Alexander Cummings

Cummings was among the key signatories in Ganta, 2016. A no-nonsense pragmatic technocrat, Cummings is your atypical politician who has entered the den of lions. Many see him as the key financier of the opposition’s attempt to wrestle state power from the current establishment. But even within the past and current collabo, many remain apprehensive about Mr. Cummings attachments in the Diaspora. On the other hand, Cummings is a man whose strict corporate discipline could be replicated into the country’s governance structure; but his undoing could be his neophyte standing with the electorates.

Citizens’ Reactions to Opposition Collabo

George Werner is a former minister of Education in the past government, a man who is seen lately as a strong critic of the ruling establishment. But this is what he has to say about the opposition’s attempt at collaboration:

“Liberia’s main opposition political parties came together today around “an intention to collaborate”. They described their coming together a “bold step towards successful collaboration”. The party leaders are all wise men who have lived and studied Liberian history, have considerable wealth, are very well-educated and influential.

But where these leaders come from, their parties have judges and justices, senators and representatives, who are not aligned with today’s declaration. We have seen no unified opposition positions in the Legislature, for example. Some of the leaders on stage today had either said they were retiring from politics or would never run for president again if they lost the 2017 presidential elections. They’ve all returned, all men in a country that prides itself for having elected Africa’s first female president and currently has a sitting female Vice President, holding the same hands that were held in Nimba two years ago.

As I looked at the faces of crowd, I saw many unsuspecting young partisans who will be a part of the human costs associated with today’s intention, while their leaders hold onto their wealth, their education, and their influence. Nothing has changed. I’m reminded of a famous line from James Joyce’s Ulysses, “History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake”.

My deep sense is that the real opposition to the CDC isn’t in place yet. Déjà vu won’t cut it! The opposition in Liberia needs an opposition,”

Despite the bashings from critics, only time will tell whether this new collaboration would not be a repeat of Ganta 2016.

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