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Dr. Seton, Not the OTHER Candidates

As I watch the race for the ULAA presidency get underway and see the other candidates battle it out and beat on one another in their quest to outdo each other, it only reinforces my determination to back Dr. Seton’s bid for the ULAA top post. The other candidates Messrs Anthony Kesselly and Abraham Massaley, no doubt are two fine and smart gentlemen who Liberia is blessed to call sons. However, I am not carried away and I believe many are not thrilled by what seems to be a long and ever invigorating rivalry between these two former student leaders. But I should know better not be weary of witnessing these two Philadelphia residents fight each other with the last fiber of energy inside them for a very long period of time even beyond the ULAA 2008 elections.

I could be wrong about the duration of this long and bitter hauling and pulling but since it started long before their bids for the ULAA residency, history and common sense should tell me or anyone that we are in for a long fight. The both men have shared a lot in common that one may think such should bind them closer together than what we continue to see happening. Although these two come from the same political upbringing, their personal ego and clashing aspirations continue to drive them farther apart that many of us find it hard not to believe that their fight has become personal , bitter and nauseating. The major area where they draw much of their strength and which also brought them to the limelight is their involvement in student politics by way of being presidents of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU). Both men won the top post for the University of Liberia student body from the same student party –the Student unification Party (SUP).

As members of SUP, they became members of the Liberian Peoples Party (LPP), a national political party for which SUP implicitly or explicitly served as a feeder party or a recruiting agency. Until very lately, this SUP-LPP transition was an obvious trend as far as my knowledge can serve me. Although some of the higher ups of the LPP who had groomed both Kessselly and Massalley like Amos Sawyer, Dusty Wolokollie, and H Boima Fahnbulleh have developed cold feet towards the LPP/MOJA establishment lately, both Kesselly and Massalley take enormous pride in their tides with the Student Unification party or mini LPP and continue to use those tides to press their luck for bigger leadership positions.

They may be right, that was the point; the University of Liberia trains future leaders and so what can be a better test for future presidents other than president of ULSU? And with so many former student leaders and activists all over the place including other palava hut trained politicians, one former leader must out-LU the other to make the case why they should be picked for the ULAA presidency. No wonder these other ULAA candidates are putting their ULSU credentials on public display for the purpose of luring voters who may fall under this LU “morale” and find it difficult to differentiate UL from ULAA. Mr. Massalley has used footages and pictures from his ULSU victory and student activism to make the case for his ULAA candidacy. Kesselly on the other hand has found his most loyal supporters from the University of Liberia Campus many of whom were amongst those singing “Kesselly: ay-ay-ay, Kesselly: ay-ay-ay” during his 1986 ULSU victory. In his view, this was like officiating a wedding between him and his presidential ambition.

Although there were few skirmishes which characterized their eras as ULSU leaders, they did their utmost to live up to the expectation of the office of president of the University of Liberia Student Union . For Mr. Kesselly, it was “betrayal” when students felt that he stabbed them in the back by unilaterally dissociating himself with strike actions against the appointment of Kesselly’s town man Dr. Stephen Yekeson as president of the University of Liberia . The story is long but that was one main case in point that saw the Student Unification Party (SUP) almost disintegrated and divided even up to this day.

That upheaval almost broke SUP apart with Messrs Anthony Kesselly and Christian Herbert leading the two rival groups. I can still recall one bitter and heated argument between the two students right in front of the Tubman Hall where Mr. Herbert indicated that he had lost confidence in Mr. Kesselly to the cheers and delight of many of the listeners. I was there and watched president Kesselly swirled under campus heat. Since the University campus was boiling during that time, we high school students found time to catch some of the actions. Besides his typing pool project which became a disaster as it never got off the ground due to “chopping”, no other major controversy surrounded the Kesselly presidency.

For Mr. Massalley, it was during the war time era when the country was like sitting on a time bomb. At such time, the University of Liberia Campus was “infiltrated” by rebels turned students, some of whom may have never attended high school before. Everyone was afraid of the next person as either a rebel spy or some sort of unreliable individual. Then came the issue of scholarship money which many said Mr.Massalley “played in.” Things were difficult in Monrovia at that time and Mr. Massaley had taken over the ULSU leadership after another SUP President Patrice Weah was disposed for embezzlement. Whether the student body once bitten by Patrice was now afraid of Mr. Massaley or that he actually took enough for the owners to notice, I don’t know but fraud allegations against Mr. Massaley persist up to this day.

Long story short both Massaley and Kesselly in my opinion did remarkably well as ULSU leaders and I am proud of them. After all, that was college life. I was not at the University of Liberia when Mr. Kesselly was president but I closely followed events at LU since the presidency of Samuel Koffi Woods. Mr. Woods also had his beef with his successor over President Doe’s activities on the University campus and close ties with Mr. Kesselly but it did not put on a war face or generate into a lifelong rivalry that seems to dominate Mr. Kesselly’s post ULSU relationship with other student leaders.

The second time I had come to meet Mr. Kesselly face to face on campus was when he appeared as “Veteran” to campaign for the soon to be dethroned Patrice Weah. We nearly sat on top of one another at University of Liberia Cafeteria to listen to veteran “Kezzo” who was then an Assistant Minister in the Interim government of his guru Dr. Amos Sawyer. He began by deflecting popularly-held beliefs and opinions in the student circles that Mr. Kesselly who had once “betrayed” them during the Yekeson debacle because of his closed ties with President Doe who made the appointment was now enjoying the sweets and other ill-gotten gains of government and has therefore grown fat. In opening, Mr. Kesselly threw out a challenge for anyone to show him any constitutional stipulation, a legislation or decree against fatness. There were cheers and battle cries that greeted the challenge and thus swallowed up the minister’s ending words. Not that the students who had brought the allegation of fatness against Mr. Kesselly cared about his physical looks, they meant that he was now part of the corruption in government that he once spoke against. For many, many years, it became a pattern that those who were once vocal critics of government, upon entering government [the proverbial zoe bush], became three times more corrupt than the ones who they once condemned. The students thought that Mr. Kesselly had fallen to that evil spell of gluttony and corruption but since the gathering was a SUP rally the “fatness” allegation did not take center stage.

Mr. Massaley, although not as strong as other SUP presidential candidates that had come before him, was the best from his party during that time and the one qualified to contest, as it was common knowledge at that time that the hardest for a SUP aspirant to do was to win the party’s nomination and that was it, presidency sealed, signed and delivered. Understandably so, students voted on party lines and therefore the biggest and oldest party was poised to win election after election and of course SUP did year after year. His critics called him “war time” student leader to diminish his achievements just as they did to the successive interim presidents of Liberia who came and went during the same period of Massalley’s ULSU presidency when the country was engulfed in war. But that was student politics; all these happened over 15 to 25 years ago. But things are different now and the field is much bigger.

Many years have passed and you will think that the other candidates who are both SUP and LPP members would be partisans and fight for a common cause but that has not been the case. The feud existing now between these two former student leaders started after they have both served their terms. The argument as to who was the better ULSU leader and therefore better placed to be a future Liberian president has taken hold of these men. In the United States where we find ourselves, the two happen to live in the same city of Philadelphia where political activities are common and as such they compete for every little advantage. In the city of brotherly love and sisterly kindness, you will expect the ladies to sing songs similar to “Saul killed a thousand and David a ten of thousand.” Nice looking Massaley on one end who has been pumped up to believe that he was a better ULSU leader and more charismatic than Kesselly thinks the only one standing between him and his ambition to “rule the World” is rival Anthony V. Kesselly. Anthony Kesselly of course who cherishes natural ranking –first come first serve is going to fight back to teach young Massaley a lesson that once your senior is always your senior. After all, no one can ever be taller than his/her own neck. Because the race of a thousand miles begins at step one, the two find it expedient to outdo the other now if they reach out for and get hold of that higher price.

Mark my words, the bottom line of this endless cock fight is what the two have set their eyes on and that is the Liberian Presidency, no more, no less. As you may soon come to realize, it is not the present stages that matter to the two, their aspirations are truly clashing and they can’t stand each other’s guts. In error, they think that the better chance one will have at the top post in our country depends on who wins the other now in whatever race being it in ULAA, MOP, LAP, PHP, Philadelphia United, Old timers Sports, July 26 celebration or whatever. Expect them to go at it where ever you find the pair in their desperate attempt to test their electability for the office of the president of Liberia. There is nothing wrong with contesting for the highest office in our country or having the ambition to do so; my interest is in who can serve us better as president of this umbrella ULAA rather than watching or participating in an exhibition match for future would-be presidential candidates.

So these ensuing ULAA elections present an opportunity for Liberians in the Diaspora to sift through the pettiness, noise and what seems like a sibling rivalry. As I think through the whole process, I am of the opinion that voters are smarter than what these other candidates think they are and can clearly distinguish facts from fiction, genuine leadership from personal vendetta, leadership traits from selfish ambitions. As I have resolved not to get mixed up in this “ego competition”, I call on my fellow Liberians in the Diaspora to do the same. If you don’t want to be part of people who want to prove “who born dog,” or become guinea pig for tryouts for the Liberian presidency or referee a sibling rivalry, then the opportunity has presented itself and the options are clear. Instead, if your interest is in a leadership that looks out for you and not to settle score, audition, soothe an ever increasing personal ambition or quench an insatiable thirst for power and glory, then the choice is Dr. Mariah Seton, not the OTHER candidates!

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