Friday, 6 May 2011

Political Labels Are Overrated: Winston Tubman is a True CDC Grassrooter

Samuel D. Tweah, Contributing Writer,

Ambassador George Manneh Weah’s ceding the CDC’s standard bearership to Cllr. Winston Tubman, a rare, herculean act of selflessness, is a political game changer for the CDC and the larger opposition.
Prior to Weah’s choice the country had virtually been barreling toward a de facto one party precipice. Opposition dysfunction has recently strengthened perception of the likelihood of a UP victory.
Defections to the UP from varied political quarters over the past several months have only reinforced this perception. In fact, opposition elements, in abiding their most recent misfortunes to work out an effective challenge to the UP, may have been  depicted as political lemmings headed for the cliff of the 2011 futility.

This characterization may have been in order until the corrective outcomes of the CDC convention, which has turned a corner not just for the CDC but for the Liberian electoral competiveness. It is remarkable that George Manneh Weah, whose emergence in 2005 rekindled the grassroots hopes and aspirations begun by progressives on the 1970s, has yet again provided a strategic and pragmatic conduit through which grassroots interests and priorities can be realized.

The President and the UP Must compete on her, their own laurels.

For starters, Weah’s decision packs a hard punch against the governing UP. With this outcome, the CDC forces President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the UP to compete on the terms of their six-year accomplishments or failures. This is only necessary.
Sitting Liberian presidents should win re-election because Liberians believe such presidents have led capably, not because a decisive electoral victory obtained because of such indirection: many voters, inspired by the populism of Weah’s 2005 bid, hedged on account of questions of his presumed lack of experience or absence of formal college training. In a watershed election in which the substance of post-conflict-governance ought to have preoccupied voters, they instead had to weigh preparedness and education concerns, leaving agar a political door through which Mrs. Sirleaf squeezed to power. Such indirection impoverishes democratic elections. George Weah’s patriotic decision averts a replay of this dynamic, undoing an outcome on which UP’s electoral strategy hinged.

An Electoral focus on the substance of governance.

And for the competition on the substance of governance, the CDC has fielded a candidate who brings decisive credibility in his criticism of President Sirleaf’s governance failures. Brandishing a world class education and comparable work experience as the president’s, Winston Tubman and the CDC can present to Liberians a vision that contrasts markedly from the president’s pre-packaged externally driven national development agenda that aims to achieve growth benchmarks which fail to square the difficulties Liberians currently face. He can show the president has squandered the peace dividend delivered after the important 2005 election in four critical areas: 1) an absence of serious national reconciliation social capital formation program on which long term peace and national security must depend in the absence of UN peacekeepers; 2) an inability to plan for and structure a new economy founded on Liberian institutional and entrepreneurial capabilities; 3); a failure to give the fight against corruption the presidential priority policy it deserves, consistent with the president’s declared but aborted “corruption is public enemy number one” inaugural intention; and finally a failure to deal with short-term challenges and problems imposed on the poor by the austerity and budget stringencies related to long term macroeconomics fundamentals. The vision Tubman and the CDC put forward resolves these fundamental lapses by entrenching a home-grown, localized nexus of governance, institution  strengthening and pro-poor public policy innovations that can unravel decades of social inequities, corruption, abuse and misrule.

Meshed within this cocoon of substance and away from the distraction that is the campaign gimmick of the UP, Winston Tubman and the CDC can show that much has happened under President Sirleaf merely depended on international goodwill. International goodwill is not a substitute for Liberian capability. Many internationals, in working with their Liberian counterparts, have yet to experience the confidence – at least the formative confluence-of talents and institutional processes that begin to address the binding constraints on Liberia’s socio-economic development. Reliance on goodwill does not produce such outcomes; visionary presidential leadership is a major catalyst and candidate Tubman can show the president has failed on this front.

A smooth transition is assured under Tubman

If voters and the international community are concerned about a continuity shock – the fear that new leaders would require some time to master the dynamics of governance and build trust and credibility with international partners- Winston Tubman, having worked within the international system, can absorb any such shock and assure a faster pacing of governance than would otherwise be the case.

Winston Tubman is a grassrooter in deed, not in labels.

Promises that Tubman would be a president who prioritizes the interests of those on the margins of Liberian society are credible at least because the man is a grassrooter by action. His second round support for CDC in 2005, his untiring maneuvers to build a coalition with the CDC after 2005 and his recent election as the party’s standard bearer validate his grassroots bona fides. Those who see a Tubman heading a CDC ticket as a contradiction of sorts mistakenly interpret grassroots, or pro-poor politics, solely in terms of surnames, rather than in terms of the choice of political actions that impact the poor. For example, both Winston Tubman and Varney Sherman endorsed Weah in the second round of the 2005 balloting. One would have hoped such endorsements derived primarily from an iota of conviction, or at least meant something.
Unfortunately, Sherman soon showed after the elections that his owned more to personal problems he had with Mrs. Sirleaf prior to the presidency. Tubman, on the other hand, in maintaining solid ties with CDC and in maneuvering to forge an alliance with it over the past five years, has evidenced a conviction that hinges on a preference for the political aspirations of grassroots peoples and their agendas. There is no better grassroot requirement for a Liberian of privileged upbringing to meet than preferring a grassroots CDC presidential candidate over an elitist candidate and remaining consistent in that preference. Political labels are overrated.
So those wihin the CDC and outside who raise questions about Tubman’s commitment to grassroots Liberians have to consider his recent trajectory. Even Tubman’s service in the Samuel Doe administration in the early 80’s provides telltale signs of  a politics that has consistently aligned with the interest of the deprived majority, in their quest to settle the historical injustices meted against them.
No matter how vilified majority, Samuel Doe may be, the social forces such as G. Bacchus Matthews and Togba Nah Tipoteh enlisted originally. Although the 1980 process proved a disaster, Winston Tubman was on the side of the masses to the extent they rejected the True Whig Party and saw in Doe a semblance of promise.
Similarly in 2005,  Tubman saw in Weah and the CDC an opportunity to perfect what may have derailed under Samuel Doe in the 80s. Such consistency has to count for something and cannot be dismissed.
As such Winston Tubman has every incentive to use the levers of policy and governance to address the problems, issues, challenges and abuses that have pushed millions of Liberians on the margins of their society. In light of this context and his political history, he is more suited and able to manage a transition to democratic governance and affect social equity, resource distribution, national development and national reconciliation outcomes in way the president has been unable to do.

Do we go the route of Ghana or the True Whig Party
All this means that the decisive mass of voters who handed victory to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the second round of 2005 now has an even richer menu of options from which to choose. Voters can choose to see Liberia head in the direction of Ghana where the alternation of power between the ruling N.D.C. and the opposition N.P.P. drives Ghana into being a sub-regional economic giant and a global example in democratic excellence. Or voters in 2011 can choose the path of political monopoly in which the Unity Party oversees the country for 12 uninterrupted years of governance (the last party to enjoy 12 years of uninterrupted years governance in Liberia was the True Whig Party); uses national resources acquired during those years to stifle the emergence of credible opposition; and confines Liberia to a lower development trajectory in the absence of political competitiveness.
Celebrating a National Icon
No matter which choice voters make in 2011, they would be able to do so on substantive grounds because an uncommon Liberian who holds sway over a significant stretch of the electorate has decided to place his country above his ego. None of this would have been possible had George Manneh Weah taken the road traveled by the egotistical politicians of the last generation. His demonstrated commitment to his country led his compatriots to entrust him to lead the continuation of the fazzled progressive struggle of the late 1970’s. And now his humility to run second to Winston Tubman may well be the cornerstone for grassroots social ascendancy. Few Liberians are more bi-directionally consequential!

To George Manneh Weah, must go significant praise.

The author served as Senior Political Advisor to Ambassador George Manneh Weah in 2005. He can be reached at