Liberian President-elect Boakai to be Sworn in, Backers Include Former Warlord

Liberian President-elect Boakai to be Sworn in, Backers Include Former Warlord


What You Need to Know: 

President-elect Joseph Boakai is to be sworn in on Monday after winning the October 2023 Liberian election with 50.64% of the vote. 

Boakai’s election campaign under the Unity Party (UP) centered around fighting inequality, access to resources, anti-corruption, and job creation, with the election passing without any civil unrest. 

The 79-year old has had a long career in politics, serving as Vice President to the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration between 2006 and 2018. 

Diplomatic envoys from the United States, Japan, and China have been dispatched to attend the inauguration, with foreign investment being a key policy goal of the incoming President.

In a statement by US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield claimed, “The United States applauds the people of Liberia for executing free, fair, and peaceful elections to lay the groundwork for the country’s second democratic transfer of power in over 70 years. We congratulate President-Elect Boakai on his victory, commend President Weah for his gracious concession, and call upon the Liberian people to heed the candidates’ calls for unity. The resilience of Liberia’s democratic institutions was instrumental to achieving this milestone and serves as an example for the region and the world.” 

One of Boakai’s key backers, former warlord Prince Johnson, became infamous during the first Liberian Civil War (1989-1990) for drinking beer on videotape while his men tortured former President Samuel Doe for 12 hours before executing him. 

Additionally, Boakai served under President Doe as Minister for Agriculture from 1983-1985.

Prince Johnson, who has been sanctioned by the United States since 2021, has nominated his associate Senator Jeremiah Koung as Boakai’s Vice-President.

The History: 

The First Liberian Civil War (1989-1990) was brought on through a 1980 coup which toppled the administration of President William Tolbert. The orchestrator of the coup, Samuel Doe,  followed a policy of ethnic favoritism towards the Krahn people. In 1985, a coup against Doe backfired and thousands of those of Mano and Gio ethnicity were killed in retaliation. 

Dissenters from Doe’s administration formed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), with Charles Taylor as its head. 

In 1989, Taylor spearheaded an attack from the Ivory Coast into Liberia’s Northeast, which became the first official act of the civil war. 

During this time, Prince Johnson, created a splinter group of the NPFL, the Independent Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL). It was the INPFL that captured, tortured and eventually executed President Doe in 1990. 

The execution of Doe did not end the fighting however. Taylor became President in 1997, and the nation witnessed a brief peace for two years. The Second Liberian Civil War began after an anti-Taylor faction launched an incursion into Liberia from Guinea. 

The second Liberian Civil War ended in 2003, with Taylor fleeing to Nigeria after being ousted from Government. 

The Details: 

On December ninth, 2021, The US Embassy in Liberia released the following statement: “Prince Yormie Johnson is a former warlord and current member of the Liberian Senate. He is the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security, Defense, Intelligence, and Veteran Affairs. In 1990, he was responsible for the murder of former Liberian President Samuel Doe, and Johnson is named in Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Report as having committed atrocities during the country’s first civil war.

As a Senator, Johnson has been involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment. As part of the scheme, upon receiving funding from the Government of Liberia (GOL), the involved government ministries and organizations launder a portion of the funding for return to the involved participants. The pay-for-play funding scheme involves millions of U.S. dollars. Johnson has also offered the sale of votes in multiple Liberian elections in exchange for money.

Johnson is designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.”

So What Now?:

With the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken set to visit Nigeria, Angola, Cape Verde, and the Ivory Coast in the following week, and with a stacked diplomatic envoy heading to Liberia, it is clear that the superpower is intent on establishing stronger diplomatic and economic ties in the continent.

However, in a nation such as Liberia which does not have a civil war crimes court, it is seemingly impossible in the current political climate to hold war criminals to account, leaving them ample support and funds to involve themselves either fully or by-proxy, in politics.

S. Karweye, in a commentary for the Liberian Observer claims, “It is no longer a secret that Senator Jeremiah Koung has emerged as a powerful symbol of the rotten sweetness of democratized corruption in Liberia.” The commentary highlights the difficulties post-civil war nations face in building fair and transparent political systems.

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.
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