Can A Coca-Cola Exec Save One Of The World’s Poorest Countries?

Alternative National Congress of Liberia candidate to October 2017 presidential elections Alexander Cummings poses on January 28, 2017. A football superstar, a former warlord and a soft drinks millionaire have thrown their hats into the ring for the post of Liberian president as Africa’s first elected female leader prepares to step down. ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty ImagesNobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was in America last week, conducting what was essentially a goodbye tour after 12 years as the president of Liberia – the first democratically-elected woman head of state in Africa’s history. She has a lot to be proud of – after decades of Civil War, and even after the recent Ebola crisis, she has stabilized Liberia. It’s still among the poorest countries in the world, but basic services are vastly improved, and innovative social entrepreneurs are revamping the rural health care system and the education system.
Last week marks a turning point. Liberia goes to the polls to elect her successor and the outcome will have a lot to determine whether they move forward or not. Some of the choices are scary, including a former soccer star who clearly has no business as head of state. One is very intriguing: Alex Cummings, a former Coca-Cola executive who promises the kind of solutions-oriented thinking that he honed in the private sector.
Does this outside candidate have a chance? I was able to put some questions to him ahead of the election:
When did you decided to run for the presidency, especially after being out of the country for most of your adult life?
Well let me correct you there, I have traveled the world and worked for international companies, but I’ve always returned to Liberia regularly, had a house here, managed a series of philanthropic efforts, et cetera. I had always planned on living full time in Liberia after my retirement from Coca-Cola. In fact, my wife will be quick to tell you that Liberia has always been my first love. My decision to run for president came a few years ago when I was discussing with my family and friends the best way I could contribute to our country. We discussed the challenges facing Liberia, primarily the high level of youth unemployment and underemployment, which I have said is a national security risk. However, with proper investments in things like vocational and technical training, the youth can be transformed into a national asset.
The Ebola crisis was also a contributing factor for me jumping into the race. I was still the executive vice president at the Coca-Cola Company and we were one of few international businesses not to close shop in Liberia. The company’s profits were down by 60% at the time but we kept the workforce in tack and didn’t lay off any staff. I saw the devastation people were experiencing and knew that long term change had to come at the highest levels. I saw a unique opportunity for change with the Sirleaf administration in its final years and I also saw a maturing political system where someone with my experience, skills and vision could be a serious contender.
What is at stake for Liberia in the upcoming presidential and legislative elections, for the region and for the Continent of Africa?
Liberia has come a long way in the last 12 years. It has been safe and peaceful over that period of time. Indeed, Liberia has never been as free as it has been over the last decade. On the economic front, however, Liberia still faces many challenges that will only get worse if we continue down the same path.
The upcoming elections are vital and will be the first peaceful transition of power from one democratically elected government to another in nearly 75 years. It is an opportunity for Liberia to cement its democratic progress. We hope a transition from the Unity Party to the Alternative National Congress will also establish Liberia’s ability to transition from one party to another, peacefully, as we’ve seen in Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere. Courtesy ofForbes.

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All Liberia Party Standard Bearer Benoni Urey speaking to media executives at his residence in Careysburg.