As a teen just in his final high school year at the Cathedral Catholic School in Monrovia, he was appointed Youth Advisor to the Liberian President. His appointment followed a sharp mouth speech not typical of a high school teen, but one in the class of speaking truth to a tyrant, which he delivered at the National Conference on the future of Liberia, in 1998. He was 17.
Sixteen years later, young Benjiman Sanvee, now an adult, is exploring the possibility of bidding for the Senatorial seat of Montserrado County, in the midterm elections due to be held late this year. His opponents include a former renowned world football wizard, now a formidable politician, George Weah. Weah’s near miss of the presidency twice like one missing a penalty kick, makes him a strong, old guard with pop star character to beat.
But the boyish face Sanvee appears undeterred. Although his critics are having field day with his past as Youth Adviser to former President Charles Taylor, Sanvee is unapologetic about his service in the government during those despotic years.
“I did not know Taylor from Gbarnga. I knew Taylor through speaking truth to power,” Sanvee defended. “At the end of the day, our people will judge us by what we bring to the table.”
When Sanvee left government service before the demise of the Taylor regime– his tenure was just a year–he traveled to the United States where he studied Political Science at the University of North Carolina. He returned home and began youth programs.
As little Ben then and big Ben now, he reflected on his past and affirmed: “My years at the Executive Mansion were the beginning of my nurturing into politics.” On seeking higher office, Sanvee has fixed his eyes on noble goals even his Goliath opponents hardly talk about: jobs creation, social justice and community change as well as a dignified public service that puts the concerns of the people first. And to begin with, he toured 110 local communities in Montserrado, listening to the cries of the people.
“There is a general public sentiment that the people need jobs as much as they feel the terms of elected officials in the country are very long,” Sanvee echoes. But the issue of reforming terms of office of elected government officials is a question of constitutional amendment, which falls within the purview of the National Legislature.
“But who is going to put it on the ballot for vote?” he asked. “Absolutely no current law maker,” he said. “If anyone wants to be elected to the Senate, that person must support reducing the presidential term from six to four, and legislative terms from nine and six respectively.” Sanvee further challenged candidates and potential candidates to make a pledge that once elected, they would make constitutional changes on terms of offices a priority.
“If the National Legislature fails to put it on the ballot, we will sing it through bigger drums,” Sanvee vowed.
Come to think about his approach to politics, one is reminded of the 1979 Mayoral elections that should have taken place in Monrovia. It was about 34 years ago, at the height of agitation for political and social reforms in Liberia that a University of Liberia Political Science Professor, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, 33 years at the time, entered the mayoral race for the city of Monrovia, as an independent candidate. His first opponent was incumbent un-elected Mayor Edward A. David, but as Sawyer’s popularity skyrocketed, the True Whig Party abruptly changed gear, bringing in Francis “Chuchu” Horton, a well-known upper class banker as its candidate. Of course, Horton’s elitist credential didn’t help the TWP.
Sawyer’s iconic campaign symbol, the broom, he said, signified the sweeping reforms agenda he had made his platform. His eloquent articulation of burning issues affecting Monrovia and its residents in every way unexpectedly challenged the True Whigs that the elections had to be postponed by President Tolbert,the TWP’s standard bearer. It was never held when the military coup took place in 1980, and it was the first time a real campaign for Mayoral elections in Liberia in which issues, not personalities were discussed by a candidate with no party affiliation.
Since then, voters in Monrovia, and Montserrado County in which the city is located, have never experienced an election in which competitive ideas bring out the brightest of the candidates. But politics have never meant serving the voters in Liberia. What matters to the voters is what Frank Barton once called, “politics of full bellies.” Politics of full bellies have never been successful in transforming Liberia. Yet, that seems to be the only political reality Liberians understand.
Now, however, young candidate Sanvee is about to challenge that popular maxim. How strong a young man’s ideas are to part way from the old guards will be an interesting episode to watch.
Sanvee says his bid for the Senate is inspired by the stories and resilience of ordinary people he meets in the community; as well as his desire to give youth their voice in policy making. So, like Sawyer of 1978–79, Benjamin Sanvee is stumping on an agenda that does not neglect the survival of the young people who make up majority of the voters.
In a recent interview with The News Pinnacle, Sanvee, unveiled specific policy proposals he hopes to introduce, if elected, to spur jobs creation and support local economic growth. He identified key programs like public-private partnerships, construction projects and the strengthening of existing industries by introducing new models of business operation that work.
He said in the public-private partnership venture, the Liberian government should become the investor in a vital industry like, say, the fishing industry. “It is a vibrant industry but lacks storage facilities for long term commercial activities.” He cited fishermen in communities like New Kru Town, Clara Town and West Point, among others, who have to sell their products at an auction price because they do not have access to storage facilities to store their catch for a longer time to allow fair market prices. Maintenance of the cold storage facilities would offer jobs opportunities for young people, he said.
Another strategy for jobs creation is construction industry. Building new affordable public housing project would provide work for many of the young people, he said. “The growth of the housing and other construction projects hold tremendous prospects for massive jobs creation”, Sanvee emphasized, adding that it would make idled youth busy while at the same time improving the social and economic standards of the poor.
One other cue that can be taken from Sanvee’s platform is prioritizing what’s important for the country’s development. For instance, he pointed to a recommendation by the former Speaker of the House, Edwin Snowe, in which he proposed a radio station for the Legislature. The station’s price tag is estimated at about $400,000 initially. “This is an example of misplaced priority,” Sanvee lashed out. “Why would they need a station when the national broadcasting company needs assistance to boost its efficiency?”
From the News Pinnacle