10:55 am
21 October 2016

Charles Taylor’s Ex-Wife Announces Presidential Bid in Liberia

When now imprisoned former Liberian President Charles Taylor was departing Liberia under extreme situations during the battle for control of Monrovia between his loyalists and fighters from the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), he told Liberians few words -promising to return by the grace of God.

“God’s willing, I will be back,” Taylor said these words to his supporters as some form of comfort while other Liberians who were opting for his departure also still remember those words to date. Taylor eventually left for asylum in Calabar, Nigeria from where he was transferred to the United Nations backed International criminal Court for Sierra Leone before later going to The Hague in Netherlands to face trial for acts committed during the Sierra Leonean Civil war.

Years later, Taylor was found guilty for war crimes and crimes against humanity and is currently serving a prison sentence in the United Kingdom; but while he is still in confinement, his presence is still visible in Liberia. His estranged former wife Jewel Howard-Taylor has won two successive senatorial elections in one of the populous counties in Liberia, Bong, heavily relying on her husband’s popularity.

Bong was the headquarters of Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and later became the home of the former Liberian leader after he won general and Presidential election in 1997. It was in Bong that Taylor had his farm and spent his weekends. Jewel, still bearing the Taylor’s name, has been able to fend off stiff competition from several prominent individuals from Bong County winning two elections and it seems the former first lady is pushing further with her political ambition, announcing her bid for the presidency of Liberia in 2017.

Until Charles Taylor became very popular in Liberia, Jewel was not a household name in Liberian politics but her former husband’s popularity, which was also shown during the 2011 general and Presidential elections when individuals from the National Patriotic Party (NPP) won several senatorial seats, is still strong.

Declaring her Presidential intention, Jewel said she will contest the upcoming elections but added that she is also leaving her options open for President or vice President post. She boasted of her numerous contributions in allowing peace to prevail in Liberia, stressing, “Liberians will be happy to see another female becoming a President of this nation. I have all of those credentials to become President.”

If Jewel is elected as President, Liberia will have a female succession following two terms of Africa’s first democratically elected female President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but her chances look bleak as many Liberians are attributing the country under-development to the current leadership led by a female President.

Confident, Senator Taylor says her quest of becoming Liberia’s second female President will not be thwarted, stressing, “The Liberian people love me, and I know I will receive all the support needed for my Presidential bid.” Senator Taylor is currently the only female to declare her intention of vying for Presidency or Vice Presidency. She called on Liberians to look at all aspects as she is serious about contesting for the high seat.

“When you look at the issue of the presidency, you must look at all aspects. We have one female President, so can you judge the President that will come 2017 the same? I think every individual should be judged by his own knowledge, what he/ she brings to the table and if all of those things are in that person, then that’s a viable candidate.”

She argues that President Sirleaf has done well and she cannot equally be judged by the performance of Sirleaf. “Will someone say to me because over the last 30 years, all of the male Presidents we had, led us to war and all of our citizens were placed in exile; so can you say that every male President after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will take us to war? I say no, and those are the lenses people should look at.”

Senator Taylor added: “So it is alleged that President Sirleaf has not done well; I’m of the opinion that she came in at a very difficult time and she did the best she could–she has changed the image of Liberia and erased the debt, she called on partners to help in our development initiative, there are lots that she has done.”

No blame shifting

The Senator contends that holding President Sirleaf for any wrongdoing will be injustice because men have been in power since independence until President Sirleaf won election in 2005. “Though there are difficulties, I can’t be the one saying that because she has not done well so women can’t do well. If I could say that, then I will say to all the men who want to contest that 160 years, men carried our country and ended our country in the gutter. So should we judge everyone by that? I say no.” She said she should not be judged by the lenses of President Sirleaf, saying that women are mostly judged harshly than men in competitions.

Former Husband not a problem

While many Liberian electorates will be judging Senator Taylor by the actions of her former husband, who was considered as a tyrant and a dictator, Senator Taylor said she has no regret of coming in contact with him though they have divorced.

“I left from here and went to school in America and if I did not marry to President Taylor, I wouldn’t have been the first lady and if I had not become the first lady, I wouldn’t have done the level of work as a first lady that has given me the edge of becoming who I am today,” she told FrontPage Africa in an exclusive interview. She boasted that she is not ashamed of the past record of her estranged husband.

“I am not ashamed of my past and there were difficulties. You will hear a lot of negative things about President Taylor but not me, so I am not ashamed. Some may want to cut off from their past but this is where I came from and this has made me who I am today.”

Political collaboration

Senator Taylor also commenting on the issues of collaboration said it is high time for the almagation of forces. Said Senator Taylor: “Political parties should co-exist and the first thing is all political parties should come together and collaborate because we are opposition, not the ruling party. There are lots of things we have to do as an opposition. Also we have to come together and talk the best for our country and target the dreams and aspirations of our people so that we know what we are doing.” She said no one political party can win an election and is therefore calling on Liberians to still consider having another female President or vice President.

Teaming Up with Urey?

Businessman and Presidential hopeful Benoni Urey was a strong stalwart of the former ruling National Patriotic Party but early this year he formed a new political party which has been certificated by the National Elections Commission and is expected to officially be launched this Wednesday. It is not known whether Senator Taylor will collaborate with Urey but on the question of Urey she said “Well he has found his party but we don’t know what his intentions are but we hope he comes on board to be part of the opposition political parties’ coalition because that is the way forward”.

 What to look for?

Boasting of her popularity in Bong County, Senator Taylor said the Liberian people should be looking for educational experience and experience from working in the three branches of Government. “If someone is looking for attributes, I can say I have the educational experience. I have more than 15 years’ experience in the executive because I was the former first lady. I am now in the legislature and I have a law degree so I understand the system. I am the only qualified in terms of experience and qualification”, said Senator Taylor.

Pointing fingers at some of her would be political adversaries, the Bong Senator said “Presidential hopeful Urey has not won a race unlike Charles Brumskine, Prince Johnson and maybe house speaker Alex Tyler; but if you look at my years of experience I have been in the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary I have an idea of how the country branches run and I am a patriot”.

Senator Taylor announcement adds to potential candidates who will provide stiff competition and counter the Presidential ambition of Vice President Joseph Boakai. In addition to Vice President Boakai, there are four leading potential Presidential candidates according to analyses of constituencies supporting each of them: George Weah, Benoni Urey, Charles Brumskine and Mills Jones.

Although the Presidential succession line may be deeper than the four leading candidates, with others like Simeon Freeman, Kennedy Sandy, and the nativists led by Emmanuel Nuquay in the newly formed PUP, but it is clear that unless there are dramatic shifts in the current Liberian political configurations, these four leading candidates will continue to be the key figures to watch.