A key factor for voters in choosing their favored political candidate must be their health. After all, if there are worries about a candidate’s stamina, energy, and their ability to physically fulfill the high demands of high office, there is little use concerning oneself with their policy positions or other considerations.
Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party (UP) has long faced questions about his health, and as he gets older these questions are only growing louder. At age 76, he has not done himself any favors by fumbling questions about his hospitalization in May – “I went to the hospital because of the stress from campaigning” – and his refuting of claims that he underwent heart surgery by explaining that he has a pacemaker.
Within Boakai’s circle, however, it appears the candidate himself is not the only politician about whom health concerns should be at the top of everyone’s mind.
Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP) has long served as the financial muscle behind Boakai, throwing his weight behind him in Boakai’s unsuccessful 2017 bid for president and – at least for now – signaling his continued support for the aging candidate in the 2023 elections. He has recently been sending out his surrogates and party loyalists to vociferously defend against claims that his loyalty to Boakai might be wavering amid an unusual months-long public silence from the ALP leader.
But why haven’t we seen Urey in public recently – why has he been hiding? Some have suggested that Urey’s hiding from public view may have as much to do with his wavering support for Boakai – and the Boakai camp’s own efforts to distance themselves from an individual deemed toxic by many including the US government – as it does with his recent ill health.
At 64 years old, Urey is not getting any younger and rumors have been swirling for months in Monrovia that his health has deteriorated. Even Boakai, who admitted publicly that he was hospitalized has still stuck to a grueling travel and campaign schedule, crisscrossing the country and making constant public appearances.
Inside sources close to the Boakai camp say that Urey is in fact going through serious health struggles at the moment, that he has suffered both heart and lung ailments, which may or may not be related to the unrelenting spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Liberia. The sources say that Urey was rushed to the Snapper Hill Clinic for emergency treatment on the Morning of August 3. Following a short stay, he was allegedly discharged but continues to receive private care at home.
Recently, public revelations from Urey himself about his poor medical condition seem to lend credence to the rumors. An editorial penned by Rodney Sieh, editor-in-chief of Front Page Africa (FPA) recounted the horrific treatment and threats against his emanating from individuals in Liberia unhappy with FPA’s investigative journalism. One of the most prominent individuals cited in Sieh’s editorial is none other than Benoni Urey. Sieh recounts that a colleague of his at another media outlet was deluged by messages from Urey and his supporters demanding that pro-Urey articles be published in their outlets.
But it was a revelation about Urey’s health in Sieh’s editorial that should really raise eyebrows. Sieh quotes a message Urey sent to one of these colleagues which read, “Pls publish this Front page. I will see you tomorrow. I’ve not been well, but will make up tomorrow when we meet. Pls handle.”
In addition to his less-than-ethical approach in interacting with Liberian media, Urey’s message specifically states very clearly that he has “not been well.”
If the rumors swirling around Liberia that the aging ex-Charles Taylor confidant Benoni Urey was in poor health needed any further validation, here it is – straight from the horse’s mouth.
Liberian media has been awash with references to “Sleepy Joe” Boakai and his recent health scares have been well-documented. But it may just be a matter of time before Liberia is awash with even greater concerns about the well-being of Benoni Urey, who appears to be so unwell that he is unable to make public appearances.
If Liberia’s politicians needed any further reason to distance themselves from Benoni Urey ahead of the 2023 elections – that is, if a history of collaborating with a convicted war criminal, arms trafficking, sanctioning by the United States and the United Nations, and unexplained sources of wealth are not enough – his worrying health condition and unexplained absence from public view present yet another cause for grave concern.