Thursday, 31 March 2011

THE UNDERDOG: Can Nathaniel Barnes Turn His Diplomatic Fortunes into Political gold in his Quest for the Presidency.

Rodney D. Sieh,
Monrovia -

The air-cool office in Washington, D.C. is long gone. Nowadays, Nathaniel Barnes is rolling up his sleeves even dropping the coat suits and ties. On a recent visit to Gbarnga, Bong County, the former Ambassador accredited to the United Nations and the United States of America came down to earth on his second quest for the Liberian presidency.

Months after his forced resignation as Ambassador to the U.S. and from the confines of the ruling party post, Barnes is embarking on his second sojourn into the rugged jungle of post-war Liberia politics, trumpeting himself as the new ''breed of leadership''.

For now, no one is giving Barnes a shot at winning and for obvious reasons. In 2005, Barnes, running on the ticket of the Liberia Destiny Party, placed 12th out of 22 candidates, receiving 1.0% of the vote. He endorsed Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the second round against George Weah and was rewarded with an appointment as Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Barnes, a finance minister under Charles Taylor from 1999-2001, was later appointed as Ambassador to the United States of America, succeeding Ambassador Charles Minor.

'Not deterred by that'This time around, Barnes is giving himself an outside chance but is familiar to the realities the incumbent power. ''Any one going up against an incumbent, especially in Africa should consider himself an underdog. But we are certainly not deterred by that,'' he tells a visitor during a recent chat at his party's headquarters located in Congotown.

Barnes believes that much has changed since 2005 and feels even better prepared and more experienced than before. ''You can rest assured that the voter of 2011 is certainly not the same voter of 2005. They have six years of experience in addition to an enlightened awareness of the dynamics upon which they will make sound decisions. Given this fact, I believe that this is a whole new "ballgame" and how one performed in 2005 may not be a significant factor unless he has been stagnant and completely ineffective over the last six years. I believe that my chances are very good even as an underdog. Just ask one Mr. Barack Obama about being an underdog.''

Quest for national appealBarnes, under-pressure to declare his allegiance to the ruling party, stood his ground and some say, the decision cost him his high-profile ambassadorial post. Now on his second quest for the presidency, Barnes is slowly reestablishing his political guise in hopes of turning the tide from 2005. That begins with making himself prominence in the counties.

Besides his quest for national appeal, Barnes also faces herculean tasks in his homeland Maryland County, also home to Ambassador Winston Tubman, one of his opponents in this year's race. Complicating things for Barnes is the departure of Senator Nathaniel Williams from the LDP. Williams, is the party's only representative in the Senate. A few years ago, Williams bested the ruling party's Conmany Wesseh for the seat vacated in the aftermath of the death of Senator Isaac Johnson.

Barnes' task in this year's race is to establish himself as a national figure. His recent stop in Gbarnga, Bong County drew hundreds but many remain unconvinced that Barnes can pull it off. Bong, recently anointed as the new vote-rich county outside Montserrado is already salivating to become the potential county likely to crown the next president with thousands of votes up for grabs. The recent alliance of Liberty Party's Charles Walker Brumskine with the popular Franklin Siakor and the speculated alliance of Dew Mayson and the popular former First Lady Jewel Howard Taylor has made Bong the most sought-after county in this year's race, a title previously held by Nimba.

During the recent voter registration exercise Bong secured 93,149 registered voters opposed to Nimba's 90,046 registered voters, making the county, at least for now, the second largest populated county anticipating an elaborate and eventful campaign when NEC officially declares same a few months away.

According to the NEC data, Montserrado County retained the highest number of registered voters with almost 190,000 voters followed by Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Margibi, Grand Bassa and Bomi Counties respectively. They constitute between the first to the seventh highest populated counties as far as the voting population is concerned. Grand Kru County retained the lowest registered voters with Maryland and Sinoe Counties lying at the bottom as per the preliminary result.

So with a lot of votes up for grabs in Bong, Barnes is hoping to cash in. In the provincial city, Barnes had gone purposely to dedicate his party local office but the atmosphere became colorful when thousands of Bong County citizens swelled the main entrance to the city to pledge support for his intent to contest the Liberian Presidency.

Some said they see him as a unique replacement of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whom they claimed has not fully lived up to the many campaign promises. Among those in the crowd was Ester D. Wenna, a cement dealer with offices located on the Gbarnga Broad Street who told a visitor that President Sirleaf has done well in laying the foundation but it was time for her to leave the stage for another person to continue. Asked who could that person be; Ms. Wenna, an outspoken lady said, “I see Nat Barnes as the one who possesses the necessary pedigree to lead our country.”

In recent weeks, several politicians have stormed Gbarnga in hopes of leaving an impression on the mind of voters although the NEC has warned candidates against pre-election campaigning.

For Wenna: “Many politicians have visited Gbarnga and speak of their interest in the Presidency of Liberia. Regrettably none has been able to convince me. I am moved by what is transpiring here today and I certainly have no doubt that Mr. Barnes is the most suitable candidate for the job.” Ms. Wenna said following a short statement delivered by Ambassador Barnes at the dedication of his party's local office.

Barnes told a visitor upon arrival at Gbarnga's Iron Gate that he was not really surprise by the turnout. ''This is a manifestation of a long time engagement with the people of Bong County,'' he said. “It will hold, it will hold, it will hold. You like it, you not like it, it will hold.”

Feeling abandoned in David TaBarnes' LDP is now a handful of political parties with local headquarters in the voting stronghold. In the town of David Ta, located in Jorquelleh District, Jorquelleh Clan, considered a disadvantaged community with some 5,000 registered voters, residents expressed disappointment that over the past eight decades no aspirant, including President Sirleaf, has ever visited them. “We feel abandoned here. We always vote for people but they don't care about our plight,” says Ma Weetah, a sixty-nine year-old lady, speaking through an interpreter.
Residents in David Ta were particularly keen to consider themselves forgotten. The town lies just across the famous Jor River, which Joequelleh District is named after. A visitor to the area and others had to be ferried to get across due to the lack of a bridge linking the area.
Peter Kanmue, the Youth Leader of the David Ta community lamented that residents of the area have been abandoned for years in terms of the provision of educational and medical services.

Kanmue says a few of them are opportune to cross the river and get to school. “Many of my friends do not have the opportunity to get there. We really need people to assist us in building a bridge.”

David Ta was burnt down on two occasions during the civil war. Currently there is no clinic, safe-drinking water, road among others. The residents presented a list of projects to Ambassador Barnes and pleaded with him for assistance.

Playing on the concerns of the town, Barnes, says being in the area has given him the opportunity to see the harsh conditions under which residents were living. ''We cannot promise here that we can solve all of your problems but we can offer some assistance.”

A 'gentleman of passion'While in the area, the LDP leader provided 50 bags of cement as an initial contribution for the erection of a school building for kids. He also pledged specified number materials for the construction of roads to connect David Ta to other major communities. Barnes also visited a women project site in the Chief Compound Community in Gbarnga where he made some contribution.

The community leader, Mr. Henry N. Wennie expressed gratitude to Mr. Barnes for taking off time to identify with the plight of people within his community. Mr. Wennie is the Zonal Head for the 19 communities in Gbarnga, Bong County. While he did not openly declare support for the LDP Leader, Wennie believes people like Ambassador Barnes must be given the chance to lead.  “He is a gentleman of passion and these are the kind of people needed to lead our country.” He indicated.

Don't accept status quoDuring his tour of the various communities, Ambassador Barnes carried the same message. Unlike others who waste their precious time to castigate the incumbent, the former Finance Minister holds a different notion.  He is convinced that the incumbent has done well and that people must acknowledge this. He praised the regime of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for taking Liberia thus far but warned Liberians not to accept the status quo.
“We must admit that this woman has done so well but it is time she gives way to a new breed of leadership who will push the dreams and aspirations of the Liberian people forward in a positive direction.” Barnes told thousands of youth who gathered in Suakoko District to receive him last week. “Enough is enough.” He said, noting that it is about time for Liberians to take their destiny in their own hands.

'No one person has monopoly'The question of jobs, he observed remains a major factor confronting general progress in Liberia. In spite of the many concession agreements that have been ratified, Ambassador said it was regrettable to see thousands of youth languish without employment. “We must work together to change the status quo if our condition as a nation and people must change.” He said.

With Gbarnga now behind him, Barnes says his focus is now on winning the presidency as he keeps his options open. In recent weeks, speculations have heightened that Barnes has been in talks with football legend George Weah with some suggesting that Barnes had agreed to run number two to Weah. It is a speculation Barnes says he is aware of but says he simply wants to be part of the leadership of the future and if that means him becoming president, so be it. Says Barnes: “Mr. Weah and I have met but we have not spoken anything formal about partnering Barnes-Weah or Weah-Barnes. I haven’t seen the opposition plan nor Mr. Weah’s plan but we are prepared to engage whoever is willing to discuss on our plan for the future of Liberia.”
For the foreseeable future Barnes says he believes that no one person has the monopoly on effective leadership and it takes a team effort. For that he says he is prepared to be a part of any effective team on the condition that that team has a workable, sustainable plan for Liberia.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You have just completed a tour of Bong County. Do you think you can be a factor in this year's presidential race?

BARNES:  Absolutely! I am convinced that we will be a significant factor this time around. We have had the last six years to exhibit to the voters and the Liberian people in general that we possess requisite leadership skills to take Liberia into the new era of true growth and development. We have also clearly shown that we can deliver for the Liberian people.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What would a Nat Barnes presidency do to impact the lives of Liberians?

BARNES: The Liberian people need to be empowered economically, socially and politically. We firmly believe that our plan for Liberia which is built around three basic pillars -HEAL, FEED and GROW will do this. Under the Heal pillar, I believe that our country is still deeply divided and must reconcile in order to effectively move forward. Our Heal pillar has specific solutions incorporating our young people. The Feed pillar addresses the issue of food security and agriculture self sufficiency. My plan is focused on putting thousands to work as we attain sustainable food security, an imperative for our national survival. Under the Grow pillar lies education, healthcare, infrastructure and governance. My plan will also effectively address the dire need for Liberians to take their destiny in their hands through ownership and leadership.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What shortcomings do u see in the current government, your former employer?

BARNES:  We view the current government as the true Transitional Government of Liberia. This is by no means a shortcoming. This transitional government has built a foundation comprising of peace and stability; the establishment of important institutional frameworks (i.e. The Land Reform Commission); the formulation and implementation of macroeconomic initiatives etc. As we come to the end of this transitional era, we must now shift gears and move into true growth and development which require a different leadership team, management style, vision, energy level, skills sets and focus. I believe that should we continue with the incumbent government, we will continue in this transition mode. It's time for the NEW BREED

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Is it true that Senator Williams has jumped ship to Dew Mayson?

BARNES: Ask Senator Williams.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do you consider yourself an underdog in the presidential race?

BARNES: Any one going up against an incumbent, especially in Africa should consider himself an underdog. But we are certainly not deterred by that. Much has changed since 2005! I believe that I am personally even better prepared and more experienced than before and just as importantly, you can rest assured that the voter of 2011 is certainly not the same voter of 2005. They have six years of experience in addition to an enlightened awareness of the dynamics upon which they will make sound decisions. Given this fact, I believe that this is a whole new "ball game" and how one performed in 2005 may not be a significant factor unless he has been stagnant and completely ineffective over the last six years. I believe that my chances are very good even as an underdog. Just ask one Mr. Barack Obama about being an underdog.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How do you rate your chances? You received one percent in 2005. How do you turn the tide this time around?

BARNES: As far as I am concerned I left this government proud of the valuable services I rendered and confident of the significant positive impact I made for my country and it's people. I will serve Liberia till the day I die. And I pray that the Liberian people will find it in their best judgment to allow me to serve them as their President.