Joseph Boakai, the veteran politician who narrowly won Liberia’s presidential election, is set to focus on kickstarting an economy in the doldrums. It’s one of many challenges he will face when he takes office in the West African country.
The economy grew 4.8% last year but double digit food inflation is taking its toll on Liberians. More than half of the country’s 5 million people are estimated to be poor, according to the World Bank. Three in four Liberians often did not have enough money for food in the past year, a poll by Gallup found. Most Liberians surveyed reported feeling that their standard of living is falling.
Boakai will prioritize “resuscitating” Liberia’s economy, his spokesman Amara Konneh told Semafor Africa. The president-elect’s strategy will be to encourage the private sector to “do business and also pay their taxes which will create the fiscal space to deliver basic services in health, water, and sanitation,” said Konneh.
The president-elect’s administration will also conduct “a complete review of all mining concessions in the country to determine whether the country is benefiting from these concessions,” said Konneh, adding: “The idea is not to shut them down, the idea is to make sure that the country benefits.” He said the focus would be on the mining of diamonds and gold, specifically citing the need to review the mining concession awarded to a Turkish company that exports gold out of the country.
The president-elect also faces the challenge of changing the decades-long perception held by a majority of Liberians (81%) that corruption is widespread in government. Boakai will also be tasked with fixing Liberia’s internal security problems and the growing problem of youth drug addiction.
Liberia will have its fourth successive democratic government when Boakai takes office next year. He defeated President George Weah in a run-off vote, winning 50.89% of the votes to Weah’s 49.11%, Liberia’s electoral body announced on Monday.
The president-elect is a political veteran, having previously served as the head of Liberia’s petroleum company and agriculture minister before taking on the role of vice-president for 12 years. He was deputy to former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf between 2006 and 2018.
This year’s election pitted him against Weah, a former global football star, for the second time. They faced each other six years ago, when Weah swept to victory.
Joseph Boakai’s victory in Liberia’s presidential election was both worryingly familiar and full of hope. The familiarity comes in many forms: Boakai, who turns 79 next week, will be the latest addition to the roster of elderly African leaders overseeing a young population. The median age in Liberia is 18. This raises fears that, like previous leaders of his vintage, he could prove to be low on energy and fresh ideas. His “sleepy” image, in reference to the many times he’s been caught apparently taking a nap at public events, only adds to this impression.
The sense of hope springs from the nature of the outcome and Weah’s concession. Given the country’s tumultuous history of conflict, it was heartening to see that the razor-thin margin of Boakai’s victory was respected by Weah. He accepted defeat in a dignified manner. That points to a reassuring respect for the will of the electorate in a sub-region that has been rocked by coups in recent years. Given the country’s tumultuous history of conflict, with bloody civil wars in recent memory, it was important that the result was accepted peacefully.
The president-elect is clearly taking the helm at a challenging time for the country. His focus on the economy will need to be backed up by action. And it’ll be in his best interests to act decisively to overcome his “sleepy” image.