Viewing cable 09MONROVIA169

09MONROVIA1692009-03-03 18:56:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Monrovia
P 031856Z MAR 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L MONROVIA 000169 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/02/2019 
Classified By: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield for Reasons 1.4 (b) a 
nd (d). 
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: In a severe setback for President Sirleaf's 
Unity Party, its candidate, Liberia's Permanent 
Representative to the United Nations Conmany Wesseh, lost a 
senatorial by-election run-off in River Gee County to 
Nathaniel Williams (Liberia Destiny Party), a River Gee 
Senator during the Taylor regime.  Wesseh's loss indicates a 
growing public perception that the Unity Party is full of 
"big city" people who take advantage of poor rural farmers 
for their own gain.  There were accusations on both sides of 
unethical campaign tactics.  Notably, Williams campaigned in 
villages with AmCit missionaries whom he portrayed as 
potential investors.  Overall, the National Elections 
Commission (NEC) did an excellent job independently managing 
this by-election, thanks in part to International Foundation 
for Electoral Systems (IFES) training through USAID.  Post 
sent observers to both the February 10 first round elections, 
and the February 24 run-off. End Summary. 
¶2. (U) The NEC announced the official results February 26 of 
the February 24 run-off in the River Gee County by-election 
to replace the late Senator Isaac Jackson.  Former Taylor-era 
River Gee Senator and Liberia Destiny Party candidate J. 
Nathaniel Williams won the race with 3,498 votes (52.8%). 
Liberia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and 
Unity Party Candidate Conmany Wesseh received 3,123 votes 
¶3. (C) Both candidates ran a hard and sometimes negative 
campaign.  Williams campaigned with the message that he 
better represented the poor rural farmers of River Gee than 
the elitist, intellectual Wesseh who left the county for the 
bright lights and big city of Monrovia.  (Williams spent 18 
years himself in the United States in Washington, DC and 
Minnesota.)  Williams' campaigners convinced villagers that 
the spirits were backing Williams.  Williams falsely claimed 
that Wesseh was rejected by the United Nations as a Permanent 
Representative because he was corrupt.  Wesseh countered that 
he had presented his credentials in New York but ran for 
Senator instead because he sincerely wanted to help the 
development of his native county.  Wesseh attempted to 
convince voters that Williams was illiterate (in a meeting 
with Emboff, Williams did appear barely literate) and would 
not be able to represent River Gee in the Senate.  President 
Sirleaf visited River Gee prior to both rounds in support of 
Wesseh, and the Ministry of Public Works built a bridge in 
River Gee (the only completed bridge this dry season of the 
27 planned bridges.)  There were accusations that Wesseh was 
giving out rice for votes, but there has been no confirmation 
of that, and the story may have been disinformation. 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
¶4. (C) However, one William campaign tactic resulted in 
Embassy involvement.  Following the first round February 10, 
Minister of Justice Philip A.Z. Banks informed the Embassy 
that two "Caucasian" missionaries with the West Africa 
Children's Support Network (WACSN) were in River Gee and were 
being brought to villages and presented as American investors 
who will bring investment to the county if Williams is 
elected.  The Minister's call came after Wesseh lodged a 
formal complaint with NEC and MOJ that these AmCits were 
interfering in the campaign.  Banks warned that the Americans 
would be arrested if the MOJ determined the missionaries were 
violating Liberian law by engaging in a local election, and 
asked the Embassy to contact the missionaries to ask them to 
desist.  (Note:  Embassy observers noted a WACSN vehicle 
apparently taking voters to the polls, but did not note the 
presence of any white missionaries.  End Note.) 
¶5. (C) Treating the matter as a Welfare/Whereabouts case, 
Consul contacted WACSN head Maria Luyken to convey the 
Minister's message.  Luyken denied that the missionaries were 
involved with the campaign.  However, when PolOff, as one of 
the Embassy's observers, called on Williams on February 25, 
Luyken was present and said WACSN and all of its pastors 
supported the "holy" activities of Nathaniel Williams and 
therefore agreed to travel with him around River Gee County 
as he visited villages.  She brought two AmCit female 
volunteers (both 21-year-old single females) to live in 
Williams' mud house in Fishtown for six months.  Williams 
admitted to PolOff he took the young women around to River 
Gee communities to tell people in the Grebo vernacular that 
"American investors like these will come if you vote for me," 
but Luyken maintains the women did no campaigning themselves 
and have never been interested in politics.  In the end, 
while the Liberia National Police gave the women a formal 
warning that they would be arrested if they continued to 
attend campaign events with Williams, the two were not 
¶6. (C) WACSN is a network of approximately 1,000 evangelical 
pastors from the United States and Liberia that supposedly 
supports charitable activities in Liberia.  The organization, 
however, has been suspected of fraud and was shut down as an 
adoption agency in Liberia January 9.  It is not clear 
whether WACSN's active support of Williams was an attempt to 
embarrass Sirleaf for the GOL decision to shut down the 
adoption agency. 
¶7. (U) The NEC did a good job of managing this election 
independently.  Emboffs observed 33 out of the 58 polling 
stations and found the process in both rounds ran smoothly 
and transparently everywhere.  All NEC officials were 
well-trained thanks in part to the USAID-funded training of 
poll workers through IFES.  The Liberia National Police was 
present at all stations to provide security.  UNMIL support 
was limited to financial and some transportation (six polling 
areas were reachable only by helicopter).  One man was 
arrested in Fishtown for attempting to use another man's 
voter registration card (he was caught by NEC's polling 
station ID-checker).  Neither one of the two parties made any 
complaint as to how the election was handled.  UNMIL and 
local NGOs observing the election also agreed it was free and 
fair.  Voter turnout was only 31.1%, but the NEC advised us 
that many River Gee voters have permanently migrated to 
Monrovia and will probably register there for the 2011 
Presidential Election. 
¶8. (SBU) The only serious misfeasance by a GOL official we 
observed was that River Gee Elections Magistrate Gbaye 
Sylenyentu, the highest-ranking NEC official in River Gee 
County, pulled his pickup off to the side of the road and 
drank palm wine at about 11:30 in the morning.  Emboffs 
passed him again in the same spot about one hour later and he 
was still drinking, and clearly under the influence.  Emboffs 
informed Deputy NEC Chairman Elizabeth Nelson, who was in 
town for the election, and she severely reprimanded 
Sylenyentu.  His case will be dealt with at NEC headquarters 
in Monrovia in the near future. 
¶9. (C) Chairman of the Unity Party Dr. Charles Clarke told 
PolOff February 26 the party will rethink its entire outreach 
strategy following Wesseh's loss.  He said that Wesseh faced 
an uphill battle to win because Williams was regarded as "a 
founding elder of River Gee."  Even President Sirleaf's visit 
to the county and an increased emphasis on development 
projects there was not enough to gain the majority of the 
votes.  Clarke called the people of River Gee "ignorant" for 
choosing an uneducated local over someone who could really 
improve their lives.  He acknowledged, however, that Unity 
Party must do a better job of taking local preferences into 
account and selecting electable candidates in the future. 
(Note: This seemed to be a reference to the local Unity 
Party's preferred candidate of Jonathan Boy Charles Sogbie. 
When he was bumped off the Unity Party ticket by Wesseh, he 
ran independently and placed a close third in the first 
round.  Some analysts believe he could have beaten Williams 
because he had better ties to River Gee than Wesseh.  End 
¶10. (C) Wesseh's own future is not clear.  In anticipation of 
a Wesseh victory, President Sirleaf asked UNHCR Africa 
director Marjon Kamara to take on the UN PermRep position in 
New York and Kamara accepted.  We understand that Kamara was 
Sirleaf's first choice to replace Nathaniel Barnes, but 
Kamara declined, so Sirleaf turned to a reluctant Wesseh. 
This time, Kamara has already given her resignation to UNHCR, 
and it is doubtful Sirleaf will now turn back to Wesseh. 
Wesseh told us he would meet with Sirleaf on March 2, and 
would have a better idea of his future after that meeting. 
¶11. (C) Despite the results, the Unity Party remains the 
strongest party at the present time and its influence 
continues to grow.  However, Wesseh's loss demonstrates the 
greatest weakness of the party -- the perception among rural 
voters that it is filled with Sirleaf cronies there to enrich 
themselves.  It is unfortunate that Wesseh fell out of touch 
with his native remote, rural River Gee and could not connect 
with the local Unity Party machine and the voters in any 
meaningful way, despite all he had to offer.   His loss has 
already made the Unity Party rethink how to reach out to 
rural and uneducated people at their level.  Overall, NEC did 
a superb job running this election and it continues to be one 
of the cleanest and best-managed GOL entities.  USAID's money 
was well spent on the IFES program, but NEC will need 
continuing financial assistance and training in preparation 
for the 2011 Presidential and Legislative elections.  We will 
continue to monitor the welfare of the two young AmCit 
volunteers living in Williams' compound.