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Joseph Boakai: Can Liberia’s deputy leader succeed his boss?

Joseph Boakai’s tenure as Liberia’s vice-president will be remembered as a period of uninterrupted peace – no small feat in a country torn apart by years of civil war.

Unfortunately for Mr Boakai, he will also be remembered for an apparent tendency to fall asleep during official functions, earning the nickname « Sleepy Joe ».

He, of course, vigorously denies this: His face may look sleepy, he says, but he’s not actually asleep.

But Mr Boakai is hoping to put the latter behind him as he enters the final days of the 2017 election, and his attempt to follow in the footsteps of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president he has served loyally for the last 12 years.

It is no easy task: While he and Mrs Sirleaf may have overseen a period of peace, it has not brought with it the much-needed prosperity Liberians were hoping for.

Humble beginnings

Mr Boakai was born in a remote village in the northern Lofa county in 1944 to illiterate parents.

He would go on to attend school in neighbouring Sierra Leone, before completing a degree in business administration at the University of Liberia.

By the 1980s, he was serving as the country’s agriculture minister under President Samuel Doe, who would be mutilated and then murdered in 1990, a decade after he had taken power in a bloody coup of his own.

His oversaw the programme to decentralize agriculture by creating regional agriculture hubs – a major project in Liberia, where many people are subsistence farmers.

But it would be more than 15 years before he returned to the heart of the political fray when, in 2005, he was announced as Mrs Sirleaf’s running mate, becoming the country’s vice-president for the next 12 years.(with bbc)

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