Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

By Ojukwu Emmanuel Chiadikaobi

Mocked by his critics as “Sleepy Joe”, 79-year-old Joseph Boakai is set to be sworn in as Liberia’s oldest-ever president after scraping a win in November’s run-off election, with the help of a former rebel commander.

It will mark a generational shift, as Mr Boakai will take the reins of power from the nation’s youngest-ever elected leader, George Weah.

The former international football star rose to the presidency at the age of 51 after defeating Mr Boakai in elections six years ago, but lost to him this time around by just over 20,000 votes.

For Rodney Sieh, the editor of Liberia’s FrontPage Africa news site, Mr Boakai’s victory did not come as a surprise.

“People were fed up with the Weah administration – its corruption and opulence, the flashy cars and fancy restaurants. An official from the presidency even threw a bottle of Moet champagne over a flashy car he bought for his wife, and put a photo on social media.

“Voters questioned how officials could lead such lifestyles when ordinary people are struggling more and more to put food on the table, and to pay school fees for their children,” he told the BBC.

Mr Boakai won despite the fact that for years he has been derided by his opponents, and some ordinary Liberians on social media, after appearing to doze off at public meetings – a charge his aides deny, saying his small eyes and drooping eyelids give this impression.

To improve his image, Mr Boakai often wore dark shades on the campaign trail this time around. But concerns remain about his fitness and health – especially as his term in office will end when he turns 85.

“Boakai did not travel a lot to the different counties to campaign for votes. He says he has a clean bill of health, but we know that he has a pacemaker because of a heart condition,” Mr Sieh said.

Before the election, Mr Boakai dismissed the concerns about his health.”Age should be a blessing to this country,” he told the BBC. He said he considered himself “a man who is old, who is wise, a man who is sound and a man who is committed to the cause of the country”.

Mr Boakai was vice-president in Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government until 2018, and contested the presidency under the banner of the United Party (UP).

Gyude Moore, a Senior Policy Fellow at the US-based Center for Global Development, said that what counted heavily in Mr Boakai’s favour was that voters saw him as a man they could trust after the scandals of the Weah administration.

“He has been involved in Liberian politics in some form or another for decades. He is regarded as an elder statesman,” said Mr Moore, who was a minister in the Sirleaf government and came to know Mr Boakai well.

Meanwhile Liberians are generally hopeful that Mr Boakais coming would signal better days for a country in need of urgent Renaissance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *