The Presidential election in Liberia is already under way, a poll that will see the country’s first transfer of power from one democratically elected leader to another in over 70 years.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, will step down when her second term expires in 2018. She has served a total of 12 years in office – the maximum that is allowed under the Liberian constitution.
In 2003, a brutal 14-year long civil war ended in Liberia, leaving an estimated 250,000 million people dead.
Under Sirleaf, the Liberian economy expanded at an average rate of 7.5 percent a year between 2006 and 2013 until the country was hit by the worst-ever Ebola epidemic that killed thousands of people.
As it stands currently, 20 candidates are jostling for the post of Presidentc, including an ex professional footballer, a former model, a rebel leader-turned preacher, a poultry farmer, a former Central Bank Governor and the current Vice President.
Here are some of them:
JOSEPH BOAKAI, 72
He is the current Vice President of Liberia and Leader of the ruling Unity Party, which is widely credited with consolidating peace in the country after the civil war. Previously he was Minister of Agriculture from 1983 to 1985.
Sirleaf is fully behind Boakai’s presidential bid and analysts believe her support counts for so much.
CHARLES WALKER BRUMSKINE, 66
Brumskine is the Political Leader of the opposition Liberty Party which came third in the 2005 Presidential election.
A former ally of Charles Taylor (currently serving a 50-year jail term in the UK), and former Senate President, Brumskine is considered the most popular opposition politician in Liberia.
GEORGE WEAH, 51
Weah is regarded as one of the all time African best football players. In 1995, while playing for AC Milan in Italy, he was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or, becoming the first African player to win these awards.
He was also named the African Footballer of the Year in 1989, 1994 and 1995, and in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century.
As a politician, Weah ran unsuccessfully for president in 2005, coming second behind Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the second round of voting. In 2011, he was the running mate to Winston Tubman as candidate of the Congress for Democratic Change. However in 2014, Weah was elected into the Liberian Senate.
MACDELLA COOPER, 40
Is a philanthropist and founder of the MacDella Cooper Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and women in Liberia.
Before delving into philanthropy, Cooper was professional fashion model and planner. She worked extensively in New York City, Paris, London and Milan, modelling for clients such as Ralph Lauren and Jones Apparel.
She was a regular feature in fashion magazines such as Glamour and Marie Claire.
The school run by her foundation, the MacDella Cooper Academy, currently houses 80 Students, aged 4 to 13 years.
Johnson, a former rebel leader, played a prominent role in the first Liberian civil war. It was Johnson’s men that captured, tortured and executed former President Samuel Doe, who had himself overthrown and murdered the previous president William R. Tolbert.
The gory incident was recorded and broadcast around the world. The video showed Johnson sipping a beer and being fanned by an assistant as his men cut off Doe’s ear.
Johnson was forced to flee to Nigeria to avoid capture by forces loyal to Charles Taylor, and so he was not involved in the second Liberian civil war.
While in Nigeria Johnson became a Christian and preacher. He reconciled with the Doe family through the intervention of Nigeria’s T. B. Joshua.
JOSEPH MILLS JONES
Jones is a Liberian politician and Former Executive Governor Central Bank of Liberia.
As CBL Governor between 2006 and 2016, Jones played a key role in managing the Liberian economy, and was an important member of the team that managed the debt relief process for heavily indebted poor countries with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
BENONI UREY, 60
In 2014 ‘The Economist’, a UK-based business magazine reported that Urey was Liberia’s richest man.
Urey, a former Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, was said to have made his fortune through poultry farming, however there are indications that he may have profited from the series of civil wars that ravaged Liberia.
In 2000 Urey was sanctioned by the United Nations for his alleged role in arms procurement and also for his alleged “ongoing ties with Charles Taylor”.
His name was added to the US Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals list, prohibiting him from conducting business with US companies, citizens and residents, and blocking all US based assets.
But currently, Urey owns a number of businesses including Lonestar Cell (Liberia’s largest mobile network provider), Wuki Farms, Love Media, U-Housing etc
The other contestants include: Alexander B. Cummings (former Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Coca-Cola); MacDonald Wento; Jeremiah Whapoe; and Richard Miller;
A candidate must get at least 50 percent of the votes cast, plus one, in order to be declared outright winner. However, if no clear favourite emerges, a second round of voting is likely.
Liberians will also elect 73 members of the House of Representatives or the upper house, where the representative with the highest number of votes is elected. No senators (lower house) will be elected this year.
And as the attention of the world turns to Liberia, albeit for a few days, the words of President Sirleaf to citizens of the country re-echoes:
“Go to the polls peacefully, respecting every Liberian’s right to vote with dignity and pride. Embrace your neighbour, regardless of their political choice. The future of the country is in your hands. Vote for the person and persons you believe will make Liberia a better place. The world will be watching. Let’s make them proud.”