The most discussed public post in Liberia since yesterday is Madam Gbowe's Facebook post, in which she called on the arrowhead of a formidable opposition political party to decline his interest as a presidential candidate for the pending 2023 general and presidential elections. Among other things, Madam Gbowe cited that the erstwhile vice president is medically sick; consequently, he needs to retire and spend the rest of his "Golden age with his grandchildren "quote Madam Gbowe. What appears to be a direct appeal from the Nobel Peace Prize winner and campaigner for peace in Liberia has met strong criticism from followers of the Vice President, auxiliary groups, and stewardess of the Unity Party. Before Madam Gbowee’s public post, it's been speculated that the Vice President (Joseph Boakai) had been sick and taking treatment at ELWA. However, no medical report suggests that he is unfit to perform any political function, as claimed by the Noble Prize winner. Many people question her reliance and even suggest that she is a secret operative of the incumbent democracy and other rights wing elements of the opposition block plotting to distort and distract the Unity Party.
The anger and extreme reactions from the VP's followers
Those who follow the VP see him as a man to unseat the incumbent president (George Weah) and redeem the country from the hands of the CDC. So, to argue that he is unfit means that you are also validating the arguments of the CDC and its partisans that he is unfit to lead as a president. Madam Gbowee's post has armed the current government to advance further the debate that George Weah is more physically fit than JNB. Therefore, the country doesn't need a sick person to lead. Furthermore, the post appears to weaken and dwindle the support for the Unity Party among those sitting on the fence. Moreover, the people who see the VP as John the Baptist and a political Messiah are outraged by her comment. Hence, one should not be surprised by the extreme reactions unleashed against Madam Gbowe. It is a political package you want to avoid receiving at your doorstep during these heated political times. The flurry of reactions meted out against Madam Gbowe also shows that the build-up to the 2023 election is influenced by many interests, for which supporters of any political party may go to any lengths to bring anyone down to protect their interests. Such is the case with the Unity Party and enthusiasts of the VP. They believe the VP is the magic bullet to the opposition's victory in 2023.
Political neutrality and where did madam Gbowe cross the line?
Neutrality in politics means you don't openly support any side of the political divide. You have pledged that you don't stand for/by anyone. By that, you also manage your utterance so that it doesn't provoke or undermine any political party's interest. Consequently, you have no fish to fry in active political activities that may lead to flame. People who take on such a posture are expected to be passive in words and actions. Now, to Gbowe's post and the choice of words used is more of a person who has taken off the neutrality garment and transitioned overnight into a secret political opposition. And this is where her post and intent have been placed and subjected to severe scrutiny to understand what she aims to accomplish by coming up with such a post when political tensions in the country are high. Moreover, the ruling government is waiting for the slightest opportunity to grab something they can use to destroy or dampen the opposition's chances.
To have used one of the most active platforms used by most Liberians worldwide to offer such advice was politically mistake and unnecessary. As mentioned by Madam Gbowee in her post, her aunt is with Unity Party. If I were Madam Gbowee, such words should have been communicated through her aunt instead of coming public. Whether she did or not is also another thing. Regardless, it would have been nice if she should have kept quiet and focused on issues that have no direct connection with any political party affairs. Is JNB illness the most pressing issue in Liberia at the moment? I don’t want to believe so. There are more urgent critical issues in the country than just JNB hospitalization. What about rape, human rights violations, corruption, and rent-seeking in government- like the Western Cluster saga, as argued by those who take an affront to her Facebook post? Madam Gbowee has crossed the line. She is not the right person to offer such a recommendation. The associates of the VP, like his family and the Unity Party, are better clothed with the onus to decide if he should decline or contest because of a vested interest. And even if such a discussion were to be held, it would not be a public discussion.
Where did the Unity Party go wrong?
The failure of the Unity Party to manage information surrounding the well-being of JNB is one contributing factor to some of the speculations that lead to people thinking that the vice president is seriously ill and unable to walk. Some of these speculations could have influenced the post from Madam Gbowee. This is a complete distraction for the Unity Party- something that could have been avoided in the first place. But It appears that the Unity Party has blundered in managing JNB's information since he got sick. In the first place, there was no need to arrange an interview for the vice president while on his sick bed. There was no urgency for the interview. It was not necessary. He should have been distanced from all public interviews until he was okay. Anyone can get sick; it should not be news when the VP gets sick. It is normal. But how you manage his information to avoid public speculation surrounding it is essential. Let the post from Madam Gbowee serve as a lesson to the Unity Party going forward about communication management and also for all political parties. If you can not manage information properly about your political leaders, the public will damage them. It will be too late to repair the damage.
Information management is key, and it is something to learn from the Unity Party's mistakes and the handling of the VP's well-being. On the other hand, we should expect to see more partisan reactions toward public figures and opponents in the coming weeks and months. Those who want to remain neutral in times of moral crisis are free to do so. There is nothing wrong with neutrality politics. Remain neutral as much as possible, but don't cross the thin line that will bring you public disrepute. If you don't wish to support a political party openly in the coming election, don't criticize or utter words that might cut deeper than a knife. If you do, you will be confronted and should be ready to take the political bullets.
The same goes for our religious prelates. If your inner man is challenging you to speak out against the ill in society, do it balanced and not against one side if you want to maintain your religious balance. But If you want to take a side openly, you are also welcome but don't hide under the neutrality cap to undermine the efforts of others. Remember, there is no neutrality in times of moral crisis, as the situation presents in Liberia. Either you are for or against it because we are political animals which also means that we have hidden interests.
About the Author: Keifala Kanneh holds a master's in International Development and Social Change from Clark University, USA. Keifala has just completed his second master's in Public Governance from Tilburg University, The Netherlands. He graduated from the University of Liberia with a BSc in Economics. He is a former Chairman of the Intellectual Discourse Committee of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU) and erstwhile Student Representative (SR) to the University of Liberia Faculty Senate.
He can be reached @ [email protected] and via telephone on +31616824319