President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hasn’t gone out once to show support for her deputy during the whole of the election campaign. She’s been calling for generational change and saying that she wants the country’s youth to take over the mantle of leadership. This, according to many observers, is a clear sign that Sirleaf favors any candidate over 72-year-old Joseph Nyuma Boakai. Liberians believe that the rift between Sirleaf and her deputy was caused by the party’s decision to force Boakai on her. She hadn’t wanted him for her deputy for another six-year term when elections were held in 2011. In an interview with Boakai this week Boakai said that he didn’t know what he had done to hurt Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president.
DW: You’ve been part of this government for the last two terms, but most Liberians say they have not seen any development. Why should Liberians vote for you in order to get the same government policies as before?
Boakai: Well, if the Liberians say that they haven’t seen any development. I think they may not have been very honest with you because this government has done quite a lot. This government is on record with having surpassed all governments that have come before it in terms of achievement. You are not going to resolve all the difficulties of 170 years in just 12 years. Generally we know that the government has achieved a lot.
What do you think are some of the pressing issues that need to be addressed by whomever becomes the next president?
My belief is that our infrastructure needs to be fully developed, and that we need to move up. I am also experiencing during my campaigns that it’s difficult to get around in this country, even with all the resources we have. We believe first and foremost that we have to open up this country.
Do you mean to say that the Unity Party didn’t realize that in the past 12 years?
The Unity Party has its own limitations. You know very well that apart from the general global economic situation, we had a setback because of Ebola, and we also had a setback from the fact that this society lacks the relevant human capacity for development. We have a huge number of young people who need to be brought on board; they need to be educated and given vocational training to be able to contribute to nation building.
What do you make of the president’s call for a generational change in government considering that you are in your 70s?
The president is older than I am, so it might be another generation that she is thinking about. The one thing that I know is that our constitution spells out the number of years you have to attain before you can run for presidency. So she’s not the one to define that.
How do you intend to deal with the people who committed atrocities in Liberia in case you become the next president?
It’s a whole process. When the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] came out with a report – they made recommendations and some of these recommendations have been addressed. I don’t believe that reconciliation in this country is going to be difficult because Liberia is a country I know very well, whose people are willing and ready to reconcile under conditions that we know we can handle very well.
The TRC also recommended that people who committed atrocities during the war should be prevented from occupying public office. But we’ve seen candidates notorious for serious atrocities campaigning for the presidency like Prince Johnson. What’s your take?
A lot of people who have been accused of atrocities are already in public office, so the next government will decide the way forward. I am not going to talk about the past – I will talk about the future.
Joseph Boakai is Liberia’s vice president and the ruling party’s presidential candidate
Interview: Abu Bakarr Jalloh and Evelyn Kpadeh