ALEXANDER B. Cummings, Jr. is a Liberian politician, philanthropist and a proven business leader. Born at the Liberian Government Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, Cummings is a man of humble background from Maryland County. He started his elementary education at Monrovia Demonstration Elementary School and attended high school at the College of West Africa, where he participated in various social and intellectual clubs. He served yearly as a class officer including first as class senator, then treasurer and eventually senior class president.
After graduation from high school, Cummings attended the Cuttington University College for two years before leaving for the United States to further his studies at the Northern Illiis University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and Economics. Dedicated to his roots, he returned to Liberia and worked at Liberian Bank for Development and Investment, LBDI, as an analyst.
He later returned to the US to further his studies and earned an MBA in Finance from Atlanta University (currently Clark-Atlanta University). After his MBA, he joined The Pillsbury Company in the US where he climbed through the ranks, eventually becoming Vice President of Finance for Pillsbury International. There, he had financial responsibility for a growing $1.2 billion international branded food business with operating companies in 16 countries.
Cummings joined The Coca-Cola Company, the world’s largest beverage manufacturer, in 1997 as region manager, Nigeria. In 2000, he was named president of the company’s North & West Africa Division.
In March 2001, he became president and chief operating officer of the Africa group, responsible for the company’s operations in Africa, encompassing a total of 56 countries and territories across the continent. In 2008, he was appointed executive vice president and chief administrative officer, CAO, of The Coca-Cola Company and has served in that capacity since that time. As CAO, he leads a structure that consolidates key global corporate functions to effectively support the business operations of The Coca-Cola Company’s five operating groups across over 200 countries.
Cummings has a long history of philanthropy and supporting Liberia globally; supporting funding for water projects and providing students scholarships in Liberia, and donating to various causes including the African Methodist Episcopal University’s Innovation Centre named in his honour.
In 2011, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf conferred on Cummings the distinction of Knight Great Band – Humane Order of African Redemption; the medal is one of the highest honours in Liberia and is awarded for humanitarian work in Liberia, for acts supporting and assisting the Liberian nation. He recently launched the Cummings Africa Foundation, and facilitated the construction and dedication of a self-named STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, academic institution, the first of its kind in Liberia.
Cummings currently serves on the boards of Chevron, C.A.R.E. and Clark Atlanta University. He also is a board member of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. and Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, a publicly traded bottler of The Coca-Cola Company, NASDAQ. He is a member of the Executive Leadership Council. He has previously served on several international boards. His interest in the Liberian political development has been welcomed and hailed by the generality of the country.
Cummings, who is also a presidential aspirant, was inducted into the prestigious Realnews Hall Fame at the Fourth Anniversary Lecture of the organisation, which held in Abuja, November 17, for being a discussant at the Lecture on “Security and National Development in a Plural Democratic Society” delivered by Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the United Nations’ Secretary General for West Africa and Sahel. In this exclusive interview with Anayo Ezugwu, staff writer, Realnews magazine, Cummings speaks about his ambition, security and leadership in Africa and why Africa needs open market. Excerpts:
Realnews: Do you think you have the credentials to be the next president of Liberia?
Cummings: I have worked with multi-million dollar company like Coca-Cola and consistently delivering results, and consistently accomplishing goals and objectives. And I have done that very consistently in my career. It is something I’m very proud of and something I can bring to bear to help the people of Liberia. And it’s up to me to convince the Liberia people to give me the opportunity to serve them, work with them for our country.
Realnews: What are the key things you think Liberians need now?
Cummings: Liberia needs quite a few things. One is we need to come together as a people and work together to change the country. That means no Liberian can stay on the sideline. We all need to get engaged in our different ways to transform Liberia. We call it engaging the heart and mind of people in transformation of the country. And it is very important because no one person can build a country. We all have to do it together. There is a saying I always like to use that many Liberians want to move into a finished house and we need Liberians to build the house we all want. Because in Liberia, I don’t know if it happens in Nigeria, we build houses that all the rooms are very small but we need to build a comfortable house together. I think that is the first thing we need.
The second priority is that we need to find the revenue to do all the things we want to do. Without money nothing happens. So we can all have aspirations for Liberia and we all know what needs to be done but unless we can raise funds we will be unable to do those things. So we have specific ideas on what we need to do to raise revenues for the country to do all the things we need to do.
The third priority for us is job creation. You know, today, we are here to discuss national security and I believe the biggest national security risk in the contest of Liberia, and I will suggest Nigeria as well, is high level unemployment of young people. Unemployment is the biggest risk we have to national security because those people have nothing to lose and unless we provide them with economic means of living and supporting their families, support them with ideas, create jobs and provide trainings national security will continue to be a problem to us in Liberia and Nigeria.
Next priority for us is agriculture. These things are related because that would help in job creations as well. We live in a country in Liberia where we don’t feed ourselves. So I will invest in agriculture and prioritise agriculture so that we will create jobs and people will feed themselves. This is a very high priority for us.
Education is also a priority for us and again within all these sectors we have to make successes. But in education we have four priorities, vocational training for the young people, teachers training, adult education – Liberia is a country where a larger percent of her people fall in this category, and child education. These are our priorities in education.
Health, you know you cannot have all the things I mentioned without good health. It’s a problem. We must ensure that our health sector is privatised.
Finally and most important is infrastructure, which underpins everything we need to do. Without electricity you can’t run a hospital, schools, small businesses can’t thrive. Liberians talk about manufacturing with a cheap consistent electricity. We can’t talk of health without portable water to all Liberians. So infrastructure is very important. Without good roads you can’t get goods to the market. So those are the priorities that we have for our country.
Realnews: Looking at the wider West Africa, despite the ECOWAS free movement of goods and persons, integration is still lacking. What are we really missing and what do we need to do to get things right?
Cummings: I think integration is very important and it will help create skills and opportunities for all West Africans. I think the challenge is for us to be willing to team-up because in life you need to make choices and we all have to realise as individuals, as countries that we will not get everything we want. But if we make the right choices in the end we will benefit more than we will lose. And I think the challenge is in getting our leaders to understand that they need to do that and to recognise the benefits of having an open market. ECOWAS is a 320 million population market, which is about the size of United States.
And if we can open our borders and get rid of the official barriers and move goods and services and people freely across we can create a thriving sub-region in Africa. Of course, this is easier said than done but I believe if we understand the true benefits, if we understand the steps we need to take to get from where we are to where we need to be, we can certainly benefit from ECOWAS.
A country like Liberia can benefit more because we are about 4.2 million people and therefore we can benefit from the larger ECOWAS market of 320 million people. The incentives for the bigger countries like Nigeria but I’m not comparing because Nigeria is a larger market on its own. For smaller countries like Liberia would like to see ECOWAS work.
Realnews: Nigeria played a key role in helping Liberia come out of civil war. Nigeria has played this similar role across Africa but what it gets back in return is stab on the back. What do you think Nigeria should do instead of playing this big brother role?
Cummings: Well, I don’t know if Nigerians are regarded as enemies per say. I think Nigerians are being perhaps hard on themselves. But you know sometimes in life you don’t always get acknowledged in a moment for what you do. I think fortunately Nigerian leaders have taken a longer term perspectives and I think history will treat Nigeria well in terms of her role not just in the sub-region but in Africa.
Going back to Nigerian leadership in the fight against Apartheid, Nigeria was in the forefront in that fight in South Africa. And Nigeria continues to lead sub-region and play a leadership role across the continent. And so while the country might be appreciated by many today, I think it is high time Nigeria get recognised for her contributions to the continent.
Unfortunately, as I said Nigerian leaders have had their say for not necessarily being recognised today, I’m sure they will like it but I think they understand that history will treat Nigeria well in the sub-region. And you know in life that happens in families, relationships, organisations. In a moment you may not be recognised for your good deeds but overtime when people look back that acknowledgement will come. And I think Nigerians should understand that the acknowledgement will come overtime.
But there are some of us who recognise the role Nigeria played and will continue to recognise it even today.
Realnews: Today, many political officers in Africa don’t fulfil their manifestos. They promise a lot and the moment they get into office, they start doing the opposite. What will you do differently?
Cummings: The way I answer that question is that you have to look at the history of what the individuals have done in their career. The best predictor of future behaviour, future performance is past behaviour and past performance. This is undoubted facts. If a person is good in their entire life they will likely be good in future. If a person has been bad in his/her past life, it is unlikely he or she will be good in the future. If a person has consistently delivered results in the past it is likely they will do it in the future. If they haven’t done it in the past it’s unlikely they will do it in the future.
So what I say in the case of Liberia and the Liberian people is look at the person’s past, what have they actually and truly done in their lives. Of course, look over their professional lives and if they have been consistently delivering on commitments they will likely deliver for the country. If they haven’t, there is not going to be a miracle that will change them overtime. And so I will say to all voters in Nigeria, Liberia and Ghana, having elections in December to look at past behaviour and they will be the best predictor of future behaviour because anyone of us can run around and win elections but we need sure proofs.
Realnews: With the rising insecurity across West Africa, what would you do if elected the president of Liberia in tackling internal security in Liberia?
Cummings: I think there are several things I need to do to tackle internal security. First, I think the underlining cause of security challenges are economic. When you have a people who are impoverished, people who do not have resources or do not believe they have a bright future or ownership of the government, they are very susceptible to violence, to external influence that may promise them those things either in life today or in the future unless we address the systemic economic issues that will be susceptible to security issues and challenges.
Of course, beyond that, we need to look at the issues of policing and we need collaboration across the sub-region to make sure that our military intelligence agencies are coordinating to provide protection. But I believe the fundamental is to address security true for the sub-region and true for Africa and certainly for Liberia by providing economic security for our people. If they have something to protect, if they believe in their future, they will not be susceptible to outside influence or to violence.
But if they have nothing to lose they will be much more prone to external and internal security threats. The other one which is smaller is that there have to be consequence for big and small misbehaviours and I think in many countries in Africa, certainly in Liberia there are no consequences for breaking the rules. People get away with it and they feel they can and smaller crimes turn to bigger crimes and bigger crimes turn to security issues, so we need to address it. But the economics for sure to me is the final solution.