Prince Johnson: Liberia’s kingmaker

By Simon Allison 14 October 2011

The provisional results of Liberia’s election aren’t good news for President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who probably can’t avoid a difficult run-off election. That means that the supporters of third-placed candidate Prince Johnson – notorious former torturer and warlord – will likely determine who Liberia’s next president will be. By SIMON ALLISON.

The defining moment of Prince Yormie Johnson’s political career happened in 1990. He was a rebel warlord, and his militia (run on drugs and child soldiers) had just taken Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. Liberia’s president at the time was Samuel Doe, not a nice man either. Doe was captured by Johnson’s forces, and he was tortured and killed. In the notorious video of Doe’s torture, Prince Johnson can be seen in the corner of the shot drinking a Budweiser as Doe’s ear is chopped off.

Twenty one years later and Johnson has cleaned up his image. He’s a senator representing the powerful and iron-rich Nimba state, he’s apparently found god and he’s also running for president. His campaign, while never expected to seriously challenge the incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf or Winston Tubman – her main opposition – has proved surprisingly popular. Provisional results show that he’s captured nearly 10% of the vote. This is despite (or because of?) pledging that if elected, he would appoint former rebel leader Charles Taylor as foreign minister. Taylor is currently at The Hague being tried for war crimes.

The provisional results also indicate that it’s unlikely that either of the main candidates will get over 50% of the vote. This will trigger a run-off election, and suddenly Prince Johnson’s 10% becomes very important indeed. Whichever candidate can secure his endorsement will probably go on to secure the presidency.

This, perhaps, is the danger of democracy and reconciliation; after all its impressive progress, Liberia now finds its democratic future in the hands of one of its most notorious warlords. DM

Read more:

  • Liberian election is pivotal moment in Africa’s democratic development on Daily Maverick;
  • Meeting the hard man of Liberia on the BBC.



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