Joe Boakai Promised to Prosecute Prince Johnson and Others

One of the most interesting developments to take place thus far in Liberia’s 2023 presidential election campaign has been the very public and disruptive disagreements taking place between the Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson and the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) coalition led by the incumbent President George Weah.

The support of Sen. Johnson and the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) is crucial for any presidential candidate, as the longtime politician commands an enormous bloc of voters and was instrumental in helping President Weah win in the 2017 elections. However in recent months, the CDC-MDR alliance has frayed, and recently hit rock bottom when MDR party leaders held a press conference to accuse the president – without any evidence – of plotting to “assassinate” Sen. Johnson.

But the Nimba kingmaker’s entrance into free agency has attracted a wide range of suitors among the opposition eager to gain his support, and among those most keen to shake hands has been the Unity Party standard bearer former Vice President Joseph Boakai.

According to a statement released by Boakai’s media team, the two men met on Thursday the 16th of February and “held critical discussions on matters of national concern, including the upcoming 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections”.

Another issue of discussions that took center stage, according to the statement, was the “current poor state of National Governance by the CDC-led government and the future of Liberia”.

However there remains significant worries among PYJ’s camp is Joe Boakai can be trusted given his past promises to prosecute all of Liberia’s remaining war criminals, among whom Prince Johnson is at the top of the list.

Although many have forgotten the past statements by Boakai on this issue, there is a clear and irrefutable record about his intentions toward men like PYJ.

Speaking in an interview with the publication Africa Briefing in September 2021, Boakai expressed a strong desire for accountability for the horrors of Liberia’s civil war, arguing that impunity for crimes committed demand the formation of a War Crimes Court. He lamented that “Most of the war lords are the ones who want to be in the legislature, they’re the ones who want to be President, as if to say nothing has happened…Impunity is what for me, I believe, should warrant the War Crimes Court to come.”

This of course wasn’t the only time that Joe Boakai promised that he would go after alleged war criminals like Prince Johnson and make them accountable before the law.

“I have come to learn that impunity, when people do things wrong and they never repent, it would appear that other people would begin to imitate them,” Boakai said in a 2018 interview with Punch Liberia. “Perhaps they need to come and justify their case. So if it is a war crimes court that will do that, I will support it.”

As Prince Johnson is currently under US sanctions for his alleged actions during the Liberian civil war, Joe Boakai has at numerous points denounced the Nimba County Senator, and further heaped shame upon the Weah administration for working alongside such individuals. Now however, he seems to have changed his tune.

Sources in PYJ’s camp have thus far been quiet about the Thursday meeting with the former Vice President, however junior MDR members speaking on record have expressed deep skepticism about such a partnership with someone who is likely to betray their standard bearer.