Profile: One lady, seven men up for Nimba tough Dec 8 race

Following the official opening of campaign activities for the 2020 Special Senatorial Elections, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has confirmed that seven individuals are in the race for the Nimba County’s seat.

With the election expected to be held on December 8, 2020 in the 15 counties, incumbent Nimba County Senator Thomas Grupee is seeking re-election on the ticket of the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC).

Thomas Semandahn Grupee hails from Zuatuo, Boe-Quella Administrative District, Electoral District #6. He studied Public Administration at Cambridge College and a holder of Master of Business Administration at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology. 

He also studied Banking and Finance at the Suffolk University and obtained his Associate Degree in Business Administration from the Quincy College all from the United States of America. 

Senator Grupee is married with his wife and children currently living in the United States of America.

Grupee’s active political life started in 2011 when he returned from the United States ahead of the 2011 legislative and presidential elections. 

He joined the National Union for Democracy Progress (NUDP) of Senator Prince Y. Johnson and won a heavily contested primary in Bahn City, which qualified him to contest as a candidate on the party’s ticket for the Nimba senatorial seat.

With the full support of Senator Johnson who also contested the 2011 presidential election, Grupee won the 2011 senatorial election in Nimba County with 48,911 votes amounting to 30%. He defeated eight (8) candidates including the incumbent Senator Saye-Taayor Adolphus Dolo of the then ruling Unity Party (UP). 

As an executive member of the party (NUDP) in 2013, Grupee replaced Senator Johnson as the caucus chairman for Nimba County after he (Senator Johnson) was expelled from the caucus. 

In the same year, Senator Johnson was also expelled from the party (NUDP), which he established and contested as standard bearer in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. Grupee, under an immense pressure from the chiefs and elders of the county, relinquished his position as chairman of the caucus in 2015 during the county council sitting in Sanniquellie. 

With the demise of his original party (NUDP) from where Senator Johnson was expelled, Senator Grupee joined the Unity Party (UP) and supported the candidacy of ex-Vice President Jospeh Boakai for the presidency in 2017.

However, the UP suspended Senator Grupee and seven of other Senators who affixed their signatures for the controversial impeachment of Kabineh Ja’neh as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia. 

Instead of serving the suspension, Senator Grupee withdrew his membership from the Unity Party. Therefore, as he seeks re-election, it is not known which party he will join to contest, although the possibility of going as an Independent cannot be ruled out.      

Meanwhile, Senator Prince Johnson has given his justification for not supporting incumbent Senator Grupee despite raising his hand in 2011.

“We put Thomas Grupee there. That is true, but we have every reason why we don’t support him this time. The NUDP brought him on board. He went to Buchanan and they removed me illegally and put Richard Toweh as the Standard Bearer of the party. He destroyed the party. When I was contesting in 2014, I went as Independent because the party was killed and he Grupee went and supported Cllr. Gbehyisei,” Senator Johnson explained.

Senator Johnson also accused Senator Grupee of supporting former Vice President Joseph Boakai for the Liberian presidency in 2017 as campaign manager of the Unity Party (UP) in Nimba County. By then, Senator Johnson himself was a candidate for President of Liberia.       

Also eyeing the Senate seat is the immediate past Superintendent of Nimba County, David Dorr Cooper on the ticket of the Rainbow Allaince (RA).

Cooper hails from the town of Glehyee Zorpea, Electoral District # 9, Nimba County. He was born on November 12, 1966. 

After completing elementary and junior high school studies, he obtained his high school diploma from the Tokay Derlene Memorial Academy in 1989.

Desirous of climbing the academic ladder, Cooper enrolled at the University of Liberia where he is currently pursuing further studies and is a candidate for a Bachelor’s degree.

He is no stranger to the political landscape of Nimba County, having navigated through the corridors of power from the position of Mayor of Gompa city, to become Assistant Superintendent for Development unto becoming Superintendent of Nimba County, the highest executive seat in the county. 

Many are of the view that the new look of Gompa city can be attributed to the brainwork of Cooper when he was serving as City Mayor. 

Widely known for his involvement into entrepreneurship in Gompa city and other parts of Nimba County, Cooper had a taste of political leadership when former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed him as Mayor of Gompa City, taking over from long serving Mayor Nohn Tensonnon.

As a newcomer in the political sphere, not much was expected of him in his newfound role but to the surprise of many, he had a somewhat smooth beginning in taking over a municipality still trying to recover from the devastation of the Liberian civil war, especially the events of 2003 that literally destroyed the city in its entirety.

Though one of the oldest cities in Nimba County, Gompa still had challenges with street connectivity as most parts of the over 30 communities by then were not laid out and existing streets were either impassable as a result of being blocked due to lack of routine maintenance or citizens had constructed homes or other structures due to lack of zoning enforcements due to the periods of crisis.

It was a towering task to embark on this venture considering that citizens and other residents were still just trying to restart their lives after a period of devastating crisis. It took the boldness and courage of then Mayor Cooper with the support of the Gompa City Corporation (GCC) to commence the rehabilitation and construction of streets and at the same time set the standards for the onward growth of the municipality. It was a painstaking moment, characterized by the demolition of properties amidst protests and threats.

As with many other development projects, the period of anguish and disapproval was short lived. 

He began to utilize the new streets. Metropolitan structures were being erected along the main streets of the city as the economic life of the city was showcased, further marketing and rebranding Gompa as an economic powerhouse of the country.   

The activities of the Gompa city mayor did not go unnoticed. While the deadly Ebola crisis of 2014 was health emergency with devastating effects, it also provided an opportunity for Mayor Cooper to move one step further in his leadership role. He was appointed to work along with the Nimba County Health Team to help combat the virus, which, by then, was incrementally killing citizens with Gompa as the epicenter. 

He soon organized the Nimba County Ebola response team and working with health authorities, they disseminated the relevant approved preventive messages.

Mayor Cooper was later appointed by then President Ellen Johnson Sireleaf to serve as Assistant Superintendent for Development, thus replacing Teeko Tozay Yorlay.

It was a leap that came with mixed reactions with some doubting his abilities to fill the post while others boasted that based on the transformations in Gompa, this bigger platform was an opportunity to extend his works to all parts of the county.

It was an ever-growing relationship of glamour between Cooper and Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia. 

After a brief period of working together in running the affairs of Nimba County, the Assistant Superintendent for Development again rose to the scene, replacing his then boss Fong Zoaglay as Superintendent of Nimba County, a position he held up to the expiration of President Sirleaf’s constitutional mandate in 2018.

As a member of the then ruling Unity Party, Cooper was a staunch supporter of then Vice President Joseph N. Boakai and a frontline campaigner in his bid to ascend to the presidency of the country. 

The Superintendent, however, changed gear after the first round of voting in which none of the presidential candidates managed to accumulate an absolute majority to uprightly win the presidency in keeping with law.

Cooper’s relationship with the Unity Party continued to sour. He later pledged his support to the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of Ambassador George Manneh Weah, who was in the presidential runoff with his Standard Bearer, Ambassador Joseph N. Boakai and much to the dislike of partisans, loyalists, supporters and sympathizers of the Unity Party and Joseph N. Boakai.

George Manneh Weah eventually won the presidency and Cooper got re-appointed as Superintendent of Nimba County not to the surprise of many political commentators who termed it as a reward for going against his own Unity Party in the presidential runoff. 

What remains unclear is whether Cooper was recommended by Senator Prince Y. Johnson, who is widely believed to be in charge of forming the local government of Nimba County. 

As news continued to emerge as about his senatorial bid, Cooper got dismissed as Nimba County Superintendent on January 25, 2020. 

Although Cooper and an array of county officially joined the ruling CDC in 2018, it is not known whether the former Superintendent will contest as an independent candidate in that the CDC has already endorsed the candidacy of Representative Jeremiah K. Koung of Senator Prince Y. Johnson’s Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), which also supported President Weah during the 2017 presidential runoff.    

As a matter of pushing gender balance, Madam Edith Lianue Gongloe-Weh has stepped into the race as the lone female candidate on the ticket of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) through the Liberty Party (LP).   

She is a politician, social worker and mass communication practitioner who hails from the Town of Glehyee Zorpea in Electoral District #9, Nimba County. 

She acquired her Secondary Education in Nimba County, graduating from the St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Sanniquellie, the political capital of Nimba County in 1983.

She is the sister of veteran human rights lawyer Tiawan Gongloe, who is currently President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA).  

Her quest to further advance herself and acquire tertiary education saw her at the University of Liberia where she pursued undergraduate studies in mass communication and obtained a Bachelors of Arts degree. Not satisfied with this level of education and intending to increase her knowledge base for public service, Madam Gongloe-Weh sought admission at the Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsyvania, United States of America. At Temple University, Madam Gongloe-Weh pursued studies in Social Works and graduated with Master’s Degree.  

In January 2020, she was petitioned by residents through the elders of the 32 towns of Yarwin Mehnsonnoh Statutory District to contest the pending 2020 mid-term senatorial election. Yarwin Mehnsonnoh, located in Nimba Country Electoral District #9, is one of the populous areas within the county and is also the home of Madam Gongloe-Weh.

In their petitioning statement, the elders stated that in Madam Gongloe-Weh, they find a prepared Senator who is sophisticated and has proven to be that beacon of hope for their district and other marginalized areas including Gbi-Doru, Kparblee and Boe & Quilla Administrative Districts and the county-at-large. 

Excerpt of the statement: “Being further aware of the seriousness of the issues and reasons listed above, now therefore, we, the elders and people of Yarwin Mehnsonnoh Statutory District, having previously met and discussed the significance of the coming mid-term senatorial election, have decided to petition our daughter, Madam Edith Gongloe-Weh to contest the Senatorial electoral election in October 2020.” 

A seasoned journalist, Madam Gongloe-Weh once served as Superintendent of Nimba County during the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She is credited for reaching out to the minority and ‘marginalized’ tribal groups within the county during her leadership.

Further in the people’s petition statement, the elders indicated that they resolved to petition their daughter being “painfully aware that our district is among few of the most forgotten districts in Nimba County, where our health, education, agriculture sectors and road infrastructure are severely challenged.”

In addition, they pointed out that it was time for Nimba County to demonstrate an acceptable level of gender equity in the leadership of “our great county, wherein gender-specific issues affecting women will gain government’s attention for adequate intervention.”

They pledged to form a united front and mobilize support for Madam Gongloe-Weh throughout the county to ensure that she emerges victorious comes October 2020.

Madam Gongloe-Weh has contested the county’s senatorial seat twice, coming second to incumbent Senators Thomas Grupee in 2011 and Prince Johnson in 2014, respectively.

She came to the political limelight of Nimba County and Liberia in 2009 after she was nominated as Superintendent of Nimba County to replace another female Superintendent, Madam Christiana Dagadou. Her appointment came as a surprise as not much was known about her public life due to her prolonged absence from the country at the time.

Born in Glehyee Zorpea, Yarwin Mehnsonnoh Statutory District, Edith Gongloe-Weh is the first female child among eight (8) siblings. She comes from a humble background with a father who became poor by choosing to return to his village to teach instead of accepting an offer to work for LAMCO in the sixties. 

As Superintendent, she completed over 16 projects ranging from schools and clinic construction to building bridges and roads throughout cities and districts of the county, within the span of 10 months and with astounding fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency. 

Also eyeing the Nimba County seat for the Senate is Representative Jeremiah Kpan Koung, who most recently stepped aside as Co-Chairman of the House Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning alongside Chairman Thomas Fallah in order to focus on their respective ambitions.

Representative Koung was born on March 17, 1978 and obtained his secondary education from the Yini High School in Ganta City and graduated in 2001. In 2010, he graduated from the Cuttington University in Suakoko, Bong County.

In 2011, Representative got his first elected post as a Nimba County lawmaker from Electoral District Number One on the ticket of the defunct National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP). He got re-elected in 2017, this time through the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruct (MDR), established by Senator Prince Y. Johnson.    

The governing party, Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) has also endorsed Representative Koung as the choice in Nimba County.  

“We have conducted primaries in 14 of the 15 counties in Liberia, but we’ve come here to inform you that the CDC will not have any primary in Nimba. Whosoever that will win the MDR primary will be endorsed by the CDC,” Koijee said.

Mayor Koijee disclosed that the decision is based on Senator Johnson’s political support to the CDC since the runoff presidential elections that brought President George Manneh Weah to the presidency.

The Monrovia City Mayor stated further that the CDC has a collaboration with three political parties in Liberia and the endorsement of the MDR candidate might serve as pathway for collaboration.

“It is no secret that Nimba County is important in the political arena of Liberia and is no doubt, that Senator Johnson is the father of this county who continues to support the CDC, so it will be necessary to also do likewise,” Koijee noted.

Thereafter, the lawmaker was officially endorsed by Senator Prince Y. Johnson, also political leader of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR). The Senator at the same time declared himself as Campaign Manager for the election of Representative Koung in the impending election.

Representative Koung, who is also a full member of the MDR, won a white ballot vote on August 5, 2020 in Ganta, Nimba County.

Senator Johnson descried the Nimba County District #1 lawmaker as faithful, loyal and obedient servant who has never transgressed on his loyalty since his ascendancy in 2011.

Senator Johnson recounted that he brought several young men including Representative Koung to contest on his former National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP) in 2011 who won as Representatives, but later betrayed him, but said only Representative Koung stood with him until 2017 elections and still with him.

He however said Representative Koung has done lots of development projects in District#1 and the entire county that worth recognition in such glamorous manner.

According to him, based on his loyalty and respect for county, Rep. Koung deserves to be on the ticket of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction and vowed that he will be the next Senator of the county.

The MDR political leader said Representative Koung is going to win the entire county because he is a unifier and development giant.

Upon his ascendancy as Representative of Nimba County in 2011, Representative erected the Esther & Jereline Medical Center in Ganta, commonly known as E & J Hospital. He has now turned the hospital over to the Government of Liberia.

The hospital has been one on of modern health centers built in Nimba County in recent times, where the wards are decorated with sets of televisions and fully air conditioned. The private wards are well equipped will all modern facilities, including mini icebox, fully air conditioned and a good sanitation system.

He explained that the government taking over is part of his contribution to the society for the health needs of the citizens of Nimba to be addressed free of charge.

Rep. Koung said, the takeover will mean that the hospital is a government hospital and services there will be almost free of charge, something, he said will enable those who cannot afford to go to private hospitals to have access to a public health facility where their health needs will be met.

He didn’t disclose in detail the terms and conditions of the turnover to government but said if everything goes well in the 10-year period, he may turn it over finally to the government with a condition that it must bear his name.

In the agreement, the government will take over the staff when the previous management now has settled salary arrears it owes the employees.

On the question of whether the decision is meant to gain political relevance in his pursuit of the county’s senatorial seat in October this year, Representative Koung said the money spent to construct the hospital is huge as compared to what he may get from the Senate in nine years.

“I sold my hotel, which is now Jackie Guest House and lease several properties to construct the hospital,” he said.

“I am not desperate for the senatorial position, rather, I want to make my contribution to other parts of Nimba, like I have previously done in my district,” he said.

One person who is making a comeback as an Independent Candidate is Saye-Taayor Adolphus Dolo, who got defeated as an incumbent in 2011. 

Born 21 March 1963 (age 57) in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, Dolo got elected in 2005 as Junior Senator as an Independent Candidate. He later joined the then ruling Unity Party (UP) of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf but failed to maintain his Senate seat through the UP.

Popularly    known as “General Peanut Butter”, Dolo, while serving as Senator, purchased land and erected offices in each of the District headquarters and major cities. He served the presidency of Charles G. Taylor as a senior security official.

The former Nimba County Senator is an accomplished businessman as he is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the North Star Enterprises, Inc. 

Since venturing into business, Dolo has been running the North Star Guard Service for the past 30 years and established the Insight and Focus newspapers between 2010 and 2011. 

He also runs the Insight Printing Press and Adolphus Guest House. Dolo owns a mineral water company at the North Star stadium. He is also the owner of Nimba United Football Club, a former champion of the Liberia Football Association (LFA) National League.   

While serving as the junior Senator of Nimba County, Dolo was the Chairman of the Statutory Committee on Internal Affairs, Governance and Reconciliation.

Dolo entered politics in 2005 as one of the first batch of post war Senators, along with Senator Prince Johnson. Because he came second in the election, he served for six years and was voted from office during the 2011 election.

During his tenure as member of the 52nd Legislative Caucus, Nimba County benefited from several developmental projects, including the Jackson Fiah Doe Memorial Hospital, Nimba County Community College, now university, as well as the purchase of the county road-building equipment, among others.

During his term as Senator, there was always confusion within the Nimba County Legislative Caucus, where he and Senator Prince Y. Johnson were always at loggerheads over the leadership of the caucus.

Some of his colleagues in the 52nd Legislature considered him too authoritative and wanted to dominate every discussion or meeting, something that could not go down well with others, thus leading to confusion.

Ahead of the campaign activities, Dolo is said to be strengthening his presence in his home district of Sanniquellie, in northwestern Nimba, going from community to community, where he has received overwhelming support.

The former Nimba County Senator is also said to be making some gains in his ambition to enter politics for the second time since he was defeated in the 2011 senatorial election.

Currently, Dolo is touring the county on what his supporters consider as a consultative tour to acquaint himself with the voters.

Recently, he visited the commercial city Ganta and held town hall meetings with motorcyclists and some civil authorities, as he was distributing posters bearing his picture.

Another senatorial candidate is Attorney-at-Law Garrison Doldeh Yealue, who was a member of the 53rd Legislature in the House of Representatives (2012–2017) but he controversially could not to get re-elected in Electoral District Number Four. He will contest on the ticket of the People’s Unification Party (PUP).

Atty. Yealue is a 1997 graduate of the Sanniquellie Central High School and later attended the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion University, where he acquired a Bachelor degree in Public Administration.

He got enrolled at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia and obtained a law degree.

In 2011, he contested on the ticket of the defunct National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP) and won. While serving as Representative, Yealue became Chairman on the Committees Education and Public Administration; Co-Chairman, Committees on Public Account and Expenditure; Member, Committees on Banking and Currency, Contracts, Monopolies, Public Procurement and Concessions, Judiciary, State Enterprises, Public Autonomous Commission and Agencies.

Atty. Yealue was overwhelmingly petitioned by elders, chiefs and citizens of Zoe Geh in Electoral District #5. They overwhelmingly endorsed Atty. Yealue and expressed their commitment to support him in the December 8, 2020 midterm senatorial elections in Nimba County. Zoe Geh in Electoral District #5 comprises two administrative districts, namely Buuyao and Zoe Geh, which are among the most populated districts in Nimba County according to the 2008 national census report.

Responding to the petition, Atty. Yealue named 27 personal and legislative projects that were implemented in his district when he served as Representative. He named some of the projects as the construction of the community banks and budgetary supports to health facilities in Nimba County.

Yealue was controversially defeated during his re-election bid of October 10, 2017 despite complaints filed by his lawyers as a result of the way the National Elections Commission (NEC) handled the Supreme Court’s mandate.

As an Independent Candidate, Taa Wongbe is the newest face and youngest entering the Nimba County body politics as far as the forthcoming Senatorial election is concerned. Wongbe hails originally from Graie, Nimba County.

Wongbe is a member of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC), which is part of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) headed by Alexander B. Cummings but controversially went independent.

He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in the United States of America (USA). In addition to his work impacting lives, he sits on the board of a number of non-profit organizations.

Wongbe is founder of the Khana Group (TKG), which focuses on positively transforming and impacting lives through advocacy and partnerships with organizations to develop more sustainable programs that are informed by research and local cultural context.

In Liberia, TKG is the largest management consulting and research firm. TKG also has offices in Ghana, Nigeria and the U.S and has worked in 18 countries across Africa.

He previously co-founded and served as Chief Technology Officer for Pangean Technologies, a technology firm that provided communications solutions and services to corporations globally. He has also served as a consultant for Deloitte, McKinsey & Company, Gartner, and ThruPoint and has supported projects for many global and Fortune ranked organizations. 

He was 10 years-old when the civil war started in Liberia and moved to the United States after being a refugee in Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire for several years. Having experienced the devastation of the civil war and living in poverty, Taa developed a passion for development and people, especially empowering youth, women and societies most vulnerable. That passion led him to return home in 2007 for the first time after the civil war where he quickly discovered the gaps in the development activities in his country, Liberia. While many programs were being implemented with great intentions, many lacked local cultural context and good data. These gaps led to programs failure or limited impact.

“As you know, I am one of the biggest financial supporters for education, but I had to prioritize public institutions like Nimba Community College (NCC) and others and sending our children to school abroad. I do promise to support his school later, but I do not want to be seen as buying his support.”

When asked about the strength of Wongbe in the county, Senator Prince Y. Johnson referred to the ANC man as an alien, but Wongbe hit back, declaring that he does not believe anyone from the county can be considered alien to its politics.

Wongbe added that the outburst against him is perhaps due to his refusal to prioritize the Senator’s request to purchase 50 computers and 100 chairs. 

“I believe I am the only one who has not sought his support since I started my process. Also, in 2017, seven of the nine candidates he supported were massively defeated. Even in his home district and town, he lost,” Wongbe stated.

Wongbe boasts of having a strong political base in Nimba that could shock his opponents, citing his stronghold as the Doe and the Tappita belt.

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