Monrovia – Regional endorsement is becoming a key requirement in modern African democracy. In West Africa in particular, the past few years have seen regional leaders quietly throw their weight behind one candidate in closely-fought races. This proved to be a decisive factor for Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s first term victory over football legend George Manneh Weah in 2005.

During her inauguration, Sirleaf personally handed over a letter of appreciation to Nigerian President Obasanjo, who was among eight African leaders at her inauguration. It was those same dynamics that played out for Sirleaf in her second term triumph six years later in 2011. During the 2011 presidential and general elections, the only significant international observers were the African Union and ECOWAS, with a tough international observer team from the Carter Center, Commonwealth, European Union, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, playing a low profile in the 2011 elections.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan then Chairman of the ECOWAS Commission, played the major role in ending the election conflict, inviting CDC Candidate Winston Tubman to Abuja in a bid to allow peace to continue and eventually paving the way for Sirleaf’s second term victory. In July 2011, barely three months to the general and presidential elections, President Sirleaf decorated President Jonathan with the award of ‘Grand Cordon in the Most Venerable Order of the Pioneers of the Republic of Liberia.’

This is why diplomatic and political observers in Monrovia are struggling to decipher or read between the lines of recent invitations extended by Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama to two figures rated highly as possible contenders in the 2017 presidential elections: Vice President Joseph Boakai and businessman and former Maritime Commissioner, Benoni Urey.

FrontPageAfrica has learned that Vice President Boakai has become the latest to make the trek to Ghana at Mahama’s invitation. The vice president, according to sources departed Monrovia Sunday, April 5th 2015 and is spending seven days in the Ghanaian capital. Mahama, who himself served as Vice President from 2009 to 2012, reportedly sent his private jet to pick up the Liberian vice president for a seven-day visit ‘just to relax’, according to a source familiar with the arrangement. Mahama took office as President on July 24 2012 following the death of his predecessor, John Atta Mills. He was elected to serve his first term as President December 2012.

A similar invitation was extended to Urey recently, but it is unclear whether any commitments were made. Urey, who has not hidden his quest for the presidency, is quietly expressing confidence to aides and associates that he has what it takes to become the next president. “At this Point in the life of our nation, we need somebody with the requisite experience and know-how to run the country. I have worked in several governments. I have both political and business experience. I have the requisite education, and I have been able to show that I can use all of these things to run the country,” Urey was quoted in The New African magazine last March.

Many political observers say Urey’s massive wealth from his association with the influential LoneStarCell/MTN, where he is the majority shareholder and head of the board, gives him the financial muscle likely to propel him into a formidable opponent in what is expected to be another wide field of contenders in a sea reminiscent of the 2005 race which featured 22 politicians vying for the top prize. The businessman’s supporters under the banner of the Friends of Benoni Urey, have already jumped ahead of the field with a Facebook page, to support the election of Benoni Urey in the 2017 Presidential and Legislative elections.

Urey, looking to dismiss suggestions that he acquired his wealth from his time in the Charles Taylor government, insists that he acquired his wealth through hard work. “I started my poultry farm during the Taylor administration. At that time we were the only poultry producers in Liberia. “We were selling eggs. We were growing pepper. We had cattle. We had a fishery programme. That’s where my wealth started from. Then after Taylor was removed from power, I devoted my time and energy to my business, and from there it grew and grew.”

While very little is coming out of the meetings in Ghana, first with Urey and now Boakai, some political observers say much could be taken from Veep Boakai’s invitation. “If President Mahama sent his private jet to pick up Boakai then it must have been with EJS’s blessings, meaning she is seriously looking at Boakai as a replacement,” said a source speaking on condition of anonymity. This coming amid increasingly-mounting speculations that Sirleaf remains uncertain over whether or not to throw her weight behind the man with whom she has ran the state of affairs since her 2006 inauguration.

President Mahama is an influential member of the West African community, currently serving as head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which makes him a big deal in the political future of any West African country including Liberia. Support of regional groupings such as ECOWAS, an organization credited for helping to bring peace to Liberia and known for making significant contributions to the country is a major factor in the body politics of Liberia. ECOWAS is known for brokering deals in Liberia and other West African countries, helping to play mediatory role in terms of politics and settling any dispute arising amongst actors.

With news that President Mahama sent his private jet for Vice President Boakai, political analysts believe ECOWAS might be the brain behind the separate meetings with high political figures in Liberia in an attempt to calm what is seen as growing political anxiety. Sirleaf 's ruling Unity Party is gradually disintegrating as it did during the 2014 special senatorial election where partisans were divided in supporting the party’s candidates.

Robert Sirleaf, son of President Sirleaf, decision to contest for the senatorial seat of the most populous Montserrado County led some partisans of the Unity Party loyal to the President to pledge support to her son instead of Ali Syla won the party caucus. Wilmot Paye, Secretary General of the Unity Party at the time called on partisans of the Unity Party to act against the political ambition of Robert, whom Paye said was harboring presidential ambition 2017.

Robert recently admitted that he cannot rule out his ambition to contest the Presidency of Liberia, a decision that will cause stir in the Unity Party, where some UP officials could support his presidential bid over the party candidate as was the case during the 2014 senatorial election. Nigeria and Ghana, in particular, have vested economic interests in Liberia and its leaders have made it a no secret working behind the scenes to influence events in Africa’s oldest independent republic, Liberia.

Former Nigerian President Obasanjo and former Ghanaian President Kufuor have current business interests in Liberia, including poultry farming and container businesses. The brother of the current Ghanaian President, Mahama has been involved in big business in Liberia with the mining giants, Arcelor Mittal, to provide mining services at their iron ore mining site in Yekepa in Northern Liberia.

During the 2012 elections in Ghana, a Ghanaian newspaper, reported that a company owned by the younger brother of Vice President John Mahama, Engineers and Planners had dismissed media reports linking the Vice President to an aircraft procured by the company. The company said the Vice-President had nothing whatsoever to do with the aircraft

FrontPageAfrica has been unable to get a response from President Mahama’s office regarding the recent invitations to the two Liberian politicians. It is also unclear whether other key contenders will also be extended invitations in the coming weeks and months leading to the 2017 presidential elections.