As Liberia heads to the polls on 10 October, the debate around who should take over from the current President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf continues.
Expectations are also high as supporters of different political camps move around the country with the hope of winning majority support for their candidates.
Many analysts have described it as a high-stakes election as it is the second democratic election to happen in the West African nation after many years of civil war. Besides, 20 candidates have been cleared to vie for the top seat.
One of the main presidential aspirants is Alexander B. Cummings, the former Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Administrative Officer of Coca-Cola.
Cummings, who is the flag bearer of Alternative National Congress (ANC) party, is a prominent Liberian businessman, politician and philanthropist.
Face2Face Africa had the opportunity to talk to Cummings about his presidential ambitions. Here is how the interview went down.
Face2Face Africa: When did you decide to run for President of Liberia and what triggered your decision?
Alexander B. Cummings: The inspiration came to me during the Ebola crisis, while I was still Executive Vice President at the Coca-Cola Company. During Ebola, Coca-Cola was one of the few international businesses to not close shop in Liberia.
The company’s business in Liberia was down by 60% at the time, but the company kept its workforce intact and didn’t lay off any of its staff members. After seeing the devastation and lack of basic services available to Liberians, I knew it was time to do more. I have always given back and done a lot for the country personally, but I felt the presidential seat would provide the opportunity to impact more – all four million people.
I also saw a unique opportunity for change – a generational change, because of the vacuum that would be left by President Sirleaf. I also saw a maturing political system where someone with my experiences, skills and vision could be a serious contender.
I have been blessed in my life and have always felt it is my duty to share my blessings with my fellow Liberians. Liberia has always been in my heart and I have never forgotten about the plight of my people. I have been able to impact Liberians’ lives in business and philanthropy, but I want to help as many Liberians as I possibly can. I want to transform Liberia and the lives of all four million people.
Face2Face Africa: What are your thoughts on the performance of the previous administration and what would you do differently if you were elected?
Cummings: I believe President Sirleaf’s administration had some wins; we were able to enjoy 12 years of peace under her leadership, we now have a functioning government, and some of the country’s infrastructure were fixed… but I also believe that there were some missed opportunities, including reconciling the country, leveraging and empowering our youth more, fighting corruption more vigorously and providing basic services for our people. However, I believe it is time to move our country forward and become a more economically driven country and I believe I am the right person to lead the change.
F2F Africa: In your opinion, what is preventing Liberia from realizing its full potential, and if elected, how would you address this?
Cummings: Leadership is at the core of Liberia’s challenges. After 170 years of independence, Liberia remains economically fragile and amongst the world’s poorest, most corrupt and least developed nations. The country still faces the same challenges now that it faced when I was a child. We continue to elect the same leaders with the same skills and I believe that has to change.
From a day-to-day perspective, most of our problems as a nation begin and end with infrastructure. It is the key to providing quality healthcare, education, jobs, and food security.
The productivity in our country greatly suffers from the lack of infrastructure, en route to our campaign launch in Maryland County, I clearly saw firsthand how the lack of basic roads, electricity and internet connectivity greatly stall development. We cannot develop Liberia when it still takes farmers days to carry their goods, and people no longer have access to the rest of the world once nighttime falls.
By developing infrastructure, we can bring Liberia into the 21st Century. We can also strengthen our private sector by privatizing infrastructure development, and thus attracting investment. By developing reliable and widespread electricity, running water and roads, we will create jobs for millions of Liberians, and most of all provide everyday Liberians with a better quality of life.
Face2Face Africa: What would be your top priorities or areas of focus for the country?
Cummings: Our first and most important priority is infrastructure, which underpins everything we need to do. Without electricity, you can’t run a hospital, schools, and small businesses can’t thrive. Liberians can’t manufacture without cheap consistent electricity. Without good roads, we can’t get goods to the market. So, infrastructure is very important.
The second priority is revenue creation, so that we can fund all the things we want to do. Without money, nothing happens. We have specific ideas on what we need to do to raise revenues for the country, to do all the things we need to do.
The third priority for us is job creation. I believe it is the biggest national security risk in Liberia. Unemployed people have nothing to lose and unless we provide them with economic means of living and supporting their families, support them with ideas, create jobs and provide training, national security will become an increasingly large problem in Liberia.
The next priority for us is agriculture. Our country doesn’t feed itself. We will invest in agriculture and prioritize sustainable agriculture that provides jobs and feeds Liberians. This is a very high priority for us.
In education, we will prioritize vocational training for the young people, teachers training, adult education – Liberia is a country where a large percent of our people are illiterate. These are our priorities in education.
Health, we cannot have all the things I mentioned without good health. We must ensure that our health sector is brought into the 21st century and provide it with the support it needs to be efficient.
Face2Face Africa: Considering that you credit your mother for introducing you to the world of business, what are your plans to empower and create more opportunities for women in Liberia?
Cummings: My administration will work to support measures that promote women’s leadership and participation in politics, government, business and society. I personally will spearhead this initiative, by ensuring that 30 to 40% of my cabinet members are women. We are targeting a 40% overall increase in female participation in government.
The economic empowerment of the women of Liberia at all levels is essential to the development and economic growth of the entire nation. Our administration will seek to improve and promote women’s economic empowerment that is safe, secure and sustainable. We will also work to lessen disparities in education, health, land rights, and trade opportunities for women, which we know greatly influence their economic empowerment.
Face2Face Africa: You’ve had quite a distinguished career outside of politics. How has it prepared you for this moment?
Cummings: I’ve had the opportunity to run various sizes of organizations, small to very large, complex organizations over the years. I’ve lived in multiple countries doing that, dealing with all the challenges that come with that; holding people accountable and consistently delivering results.
You don’t go from being born in Monrovia in Point Four, Bushrod Island to becoming one of the most senior executives in one of the biggest corporations in the world worth $180 billion dollars’ in market value without being an achiever and quick learner.
You don’t get from where I started to where I ended up without delivering consistent results and getting things done and making things happen – creating value, creating jobs, and making choices, making tough decisions, hiring the right people, building the right teams, even firing people when necessary.
I believe that I bring the experience needed, plus an illustrated commitment to Liberia and to our people.
Face2Face Africa: African leaders have generally been blamed for the many challenges facing the continent today. As a presidential aspirant, what change do you hope to bring, not only to Liberia, but the whole of Africa if elected?
Cummings: I believe Africa needs a new breed and generation of leaders and I hope to bring a new sense of accountability and integrity not only to Liberia, but to leadership in Africa. The development of so many of our nations, especially Liberia, is shackled by corruption because we do not hold each other accountable.
I want to change the perception that corruption is inevitable in Liberia and African countries…yes it will be difficult, but it’s not impossible. I’d like to see that change occur, and when elected I will lead this change by example.
Face2Face Africa: Currently, a number of African presidents have been amending their constitutions to extend their stay in power. First of all, what’s your opinion on this and what guarantees do you have for Liberians that you will adhere to the constitution if elected?
Cummings: I promise to work within the constitution of Liberia. I will not stay longer than the two terms in office that our constitution allows.
One of the initiatives in our first hundred days will be to hold a national unity conference which will look at issues like these and allow us to make collective decisions on matters that affect all of us.
Face2Face Africa: If you do not win the presidential election, how do you hope to continue to make an impact in Liberia?
Cummings: I believe we are going to win and I do not spend too much time thinking about the alternative. In life, I have come to realize that when you spend too much time thinking about the backup plan, some times that becomes the plan. However, in the very unlikely case we do not win, my family of course will continue the on-going work we are doing through our Cummings Africa Foundation. I personally will focus on making an impact in Liberia in the private sector, creating new businesses and opportunities for Liberians.
Face2Face Africa: Tell us about a living or deceased African Head of State who inspires you and why?
Cummings: Nelson Mandela inspires me the most. He was able to reunite South Africa after it had been torn apart by racism and apartheid, but also sustain the nation’s strong economic power. I also admire his wisdom to retire with dignity.
Face2Face Africa wishes Mr. Cummings the best of luck in his race to the top office in Liberia. We hope that Liberians will set a precedent for other African countries by carrying out a free, fair, credible and peaceful election.