Biography of President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Sr.
President Boakai was the 30th Vice President of Liberia before becoming President. In his new role as president, Joe Boakai has promised a new mindset for the country by rallying Liberians to “Think, Love, and Build Liberia.”
Joe Boakai, in full Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Sr., was born on November 30, 1944, in Wasonga, Lofa County in northwest Liberia, the 5th of seven siblings, he served as the 30th Vice President of the Republic of Liberia (2006 -2017) in the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state. He previously ran for President of Liberia in 2017 and lost to former President George Manneh Weah.
Early Life, Education, and Career
The story of Joe Boakai’s rise to national prominence should inspire hope for any African child with courage, determination, faith in God, the spirit of hard work, and dreams.
Born of poor peasants in the remote village of Wasonga in Lofa County, with extended families straddling across artificial borders into Sierra Leone and Guinea, young Joe was, at an early age, determined that he must go to school. He walked more than 300 miles twice from Warsonga to Monrovia in search of his dream to be educated. Along the way, on this journey of an uncertain future, he made stops in various places including Bomi Hills in the west of the country and the American rubber giant Firestone Plantation in Harbel (more than 35 miles from the capital), where he helped his guardian in tapping rubber for livelihood.
Once in Monrovia, and as with many African children of limited means, he bounced from one family home to another until he enrolled at and graduated from the College of West Africa (CWA), one of Liberia’s prestigious secondary schools. Joe Boakai later graduated from the University of Liberia with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
As someone born in poverty, Joe Boakai has worked hard most of his life, carving a career for himself in the process. At CWA he worked as a janitor, where he rose to become Assistant Dean of boys. He paid his way through school by working in the Business Office selling books and uniforms. During vacations, he remained at the dormitory to work for his upkeep and school requirements for the following school term. Joe was later recruited by the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) and assigned to head its branch in Voinjama, Lofa County.
There he introduced many reforms and innovations and empowered cocoa, coffee, and oil palm farmers by improving their incomes. His hard work, diligence, and dedication were recognized and he was promoted to the position of Managing Director of LPMC in 1980, becoming the first Liberian to occupy that position. Boakai was later appointed Minister of Agriculture. In 1991, he served as Managing Director of the Liberian Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC) under the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) at the time of the Liberian Civil Conflict.
Boakai went into private business following the end of IGNU and traveled extensively. He spent some time in Ghana but mostly remained home during the crisis.
Political career: the Vice Presidency and presidential run
Joe Boakai became a towering figure in Liberian politics by an indomitable will, strong faith in God, hard work, honesty, loyalty to the country, and service to humanity. Boakai’s vision of leadership was summed up in a speech he gave some time ago when he said: “ I believe serving at the highest level is an obligation; it means that through you, others would be blessed.” When peace was finally restored to Liberia in 2005, Mr. Boakai was elected Vice President under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a position he held for 12 years.
There are very few Liberian leaders who can claim to have the leadership experience of former Vice President Joseph Boakai. In a television interview with a foreign news organization ahead of the 2017 election, he smartly said: “I come with a wealth of Experience… why get someone to learn on the job?” As someone who was a heartbeat away from the presidency for 12 years, and deeply involved with the difficult task of transition from conflict to peace and development, he played a key role domestically and on the global stage in shaping policies that set the country on the track to recovery. On the world stage, he was known as the trusted and loyal lieutenant of Africa’s first female president.
When President Sirleaf's two terms ended, Vice President Joe Boakai ran for president in 2017 but lost to George Weah in a runoff that year. He, however, never quailed in his determination to serve his country at the highest office in the country since that disappointment, declaring a year ago, his intention to contest the October 10, 2023 presidential elections, the runoff of which he won. This determination stems from his conviction that “Liberia is not a poor country, but the perennial problem of this country is mainly triggered by the lack of a sound and honest leadership.” Joe Boakai is on a mission, which he says “…is to ensure that the lost image of Liberia is restored.” This mission is conveyed in the now ever-popular rallying call slogan of THINK LIBERIA, LOVE LIBERIA, BUILD LIBERIA!
Integrity and Honesty
It is said that though the wages were low while working in the Business Office at CWA, Boakai proved highly disciplined and honest. He was never a penny short throughout his many years in the Business Office at CWA. Not once did any parent return to complain about unrecorded payments. Boakai also proved the experts wrong about self-reared children. He was well-behaved, courteous, and decent. Never was he subject to disciplinary action by the school. He displayed the same model behavior through college and his public life. Known for his honesty and integrity, Joe Boakai has championed public integrity and–corruption, has lived those values throughout his public career, ran on them in the 2017 presidential race, and will do so again this year. In an interview with an international television station on the question of corruption, he summed up his view on the subject in public life thus, “Corruption in all its manifestations brings about underdevelopment and deprivation, and that is what African leaders should fight against.”
As a humanitarian, former Vice President Boakai is selfless and has demonstrated a keen sense of compassion in his private and public life. Joe Boakai has been providing humanitarian assistance to the needy in Liberian society all his life, and since 2006 has stepped up such interventions. He once said, “I firmly believe that every person, regardless of the situation or circumstances, has something to offer humanity. Every one of us has built within, the capacity for caring and the capacity … to alleviate human suffering and contribute to human dignity.”
Joe Boakai has always served his country, people, and humanity. In high school, he was a member of the Hi-Y. In College and throughout his adult life he was associated with the YMCA. He became a founding member of the Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY). He is also a strong Rotarian and served as president of the Monrovia Rotary Club. His humanitarian work has earned him many honors. He has provided hundreds of scholarships both local and international for Liberians, some of whom have since graduated and are making significant contributions to national development. He has also funded medical treatment and care for many. Many of the programs that are the focus of the Joseph Nyuma Boakai Foundation are offshoots of his kindness.
The Foundation is institutionalizing and sustaining strong discipline to prove that Liberians can indeed make development work. A reviewer of his official biography captures his humanitarian nature in this tribute “He puts his faith in God and practices what he believes: He lives simply and honestly; he cheats no one and holds no grudges against others, no matter the case; he willingly shares whatever he has, no matter how little, and works very hard while denying himself basic pleasures…” Joseph Boakai is widely embraced as a role model for Liberians from all walks of life and ages. He is a living example of what can be achieved through hard work, determination, and perseverance.
Joe Boakai is a devout Christian and a Senior Deacon at the Effort Baptist Church. He has been married to Kartumu Yatta, his spouse, for 50 years, and together they have 4 children.