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Joseph Boakai: Who is Liberia’s Next President, Set to Replace George Weah

Joseph Boakai, a 78-year old opposition candidate who describes age as a “blessing”, has been congratulated by the incumbent after Liberia’s closely fought presidential election. The latest results give him an unassailable lead against former football superstar George Weah in the tightest poll since the country’s civil war ended.

He is known by critics as “Sleepy Joe” after reports of him falling asleep at official events, but Mr Boakai has promised to restore hope in Liberia and prevent the country “from falling over the cliff”.

Having served for 12 years as vice-president under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female African head of state, he is familiar with running a country.

He will officially start in January 2024 when he is sworn in.

Mr Boakai famously characterised himself as a “race car parked in a garage,” a phrase which trended during the 2017 elections, in which he was defeated by Mr Weah.

He has said that description related to him wanting to do more as vice-president.

His website lists 58 achievements, ranging from championing community colleges to reconciling various disputes around Liberia.

The biggest achievement from his time in office, however, was an entirely peaceful tenure, following almost 15 years of war.

Search for a ‘better life’

Born in November 1944 into what many have called “humble beginnings,” Joseph Boakai grew up in the remote village of Worsonga, in Liberia’s northernmost county, Lofa.

His parents could not read or write.

Mr Boakai studied at a school in the neighbouring country of Sierra Leone and graduated from the College of West Africa, in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

He then went on to complete a business administration degree at the University of Liberia.

In a radio interview, Mr Boakai said that as a young man, he walked from Wonsonga to the capital in search of “a better life”.

Mr Boakai and his wife Kartumu have four children. He is a Baptist and a deacon of the Effort Baptist Church.

In the 1980s Mr Boakai served as Liberia’s agriculture minister under President Samuel Doe, who was violently murdered in 1990.

One of his earlier projects took place in his old village, where he supervised and personally financed the construction of a new seven-mile (11.2 km) road.

He has worked with others to build a school for 150 students and a clinic for a community of 10 villages.

Mr Boakai also oversaw the programme to decentralise agriculture by creating regional hubs – a flagship project in Liberia, where many people are subsistence farmers.

After losing the 2017 election, Mr Boakai was determined to try again.

In the first round of this election, neither Mr Boakai nor Mr Weah secured the more than 50% required for victory, so they faced off in a second round.

Mr Boakai’s campaigning focused on agriculture, while accusing Mr Weah’s administration of “mismanagement”. Mr Weah dismissed Mr Boakai’s allegations.

Speaking to the BBC about his aims before the election, Mr Boakai explained that he wanted to focus on fighting corruption, boosting agricultural production, bringing down the cost of food and improving the country’s roads.

He said: “Our people need to have a country that they can call their own, a country that they can respect and corruption has been an impediment.”

He promised there would be a “sword drawn against corruption”.

“In the first 100 days, we are going to make sure that no vehicle will be stuck in the mud in the country. That will affect the price of food and the health condition of the people.”

The president-elect also pledged an investigation into the reasons why food prices were so high, while saying he would help farmers.

“The agricultural potential of this country is so high but nothing is done in that area. We are dependent on everything that comes from outside. This is going to change. I know we can do it.”

Mr Boakai describes his journey to the presidency as long, but says that he is determined to help “millions of Liberians who have been left to face abject poverty, disease, ignorance and insecurity”.

Source: BBC