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“We need a Liberian middle class. Our middle class is our diaspora,” he said, referring to Liberian exiles including more than 300,000 in the United States. “It’s time for a change.”

He said his political party is center-right and strongly embraces free-market policies.

Mr. Barnes also is concerned about the ethnic divisions that remain in Liberia, a nation founded in 1847 by freed American slaves. The capital, Monrovia, was named after James Monroe, the U.S. president who supported the recolonization effort in West Africa.

Mr. Barnes traces his own roots to a freed American slave: his great-great-grandfather Nathan.

However, tension between the descendants of the American slaves, called Americo-Liberians, and the indigenous tribes of the region continue to this day. Liberia has 16 ethnic groups.

“We need a unifier, and I see myself as a unifier,” Mr. Barnes said. “I don’t see her as one.”

However, much of the world reveres Ms. Sirleaf. Foreign Policy magazine named her among the top 100 “global thinkers.” Time, Newsweek and Fortune magazines also have ranked her among the world’s foremost leaders.

Mr. Barnes remains unimpressed.

“Foreign Policy magazine and people who read it don’t vote in Liberia,” he said.

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