The journey had been tortuous, but former Liberian soccer star, George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Weah, was on Monday, January 22, sworn in as the new president of Liberia. He succeeds President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia’s 24th president.
The new president had promised to, among others, tackle the endemic corruption among the key officials of the outgoing administration; help the private sector by removing the unnecessary restraints on business in a country that ranks near the bottom as a place of doing business despite abundant natural resources, and embark on massive training of the ‘lost generation’ – youths who missed out on formal education during the 14-year civil war in Liberia – to get vocational training so as to reintegrate them into the society.
Weah was declared winner of the Liberian run-off election when he defeated then sitting Vice President Joseph Boakai in what could be called Liberia’s first successful democratic transition since 1944.
Weah’s inspiring rags-to-fame story could be summed up thus: moving from the slum of Monrovia to Europe’s most famous football pitches and now to the country’s seat of power as the Number One citizen.
Weah grew up in Clara Town slum, just an hour away from the Executive Mansion, with his grandmother. Yet, it took the former AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Chelsea football clubs’ star 51 years, dogged determination and unwavering focus to clinch Liberia’s presidency.
Born on October 1, 1966, Weah got to the peak of his footballing career in 1995 when he was named FIFA’s World Player of the Year, adding in his kitty the same year the prestigious Ballon d’Or, making him the first and the only African player till date to win these awards. He is also the recipient of the African Footballer of the year in 1989, 1994 and 1995. And in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century.
To achieve these feats, ‘King George’, as he is fondly called by fans and admirers, had to drop out of school in his final year in secondary school to concentrate on football. Though this decision led him to riches and fame, it haunted him much later in life when he decided to contest for his country’s highest position.
Weah has surmounted this obstacle and gone back to school and studied for his school certificate, first and second degrees.
Noted for his acceleration, speed and dribbling ability on the field, in addition to his goal scoring and excellent finishing, the legendary Pele placed the striker in the FIFA 100 list of world’s greatest living players.
After getting to the top of his footballing career, Weah returned to Liberia as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations in 2003 following the ouster of President Charles Taylor who infamously led the country through the civil war where millions of Liberians were killed.
In 2005, he contested for Liberia’s presidency as a member of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party and lost to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Never a man to lose focus, ‘King George’ contested again in the 2011 presidential election, but this time as a vice presidential candidate with Winston Tubman on the CDC ticket. Again, Sirleaf was re-elected based on Tubman’s withdrawal from the run-off.
The never-say-die spirit of this former striker brought him up again in 2014 when he ran, this time, for the position of Senator of Montserrado County. He won by defeating his closest opponent and one of the president’s sons, Robert Sirleaf with a landslide 78% of the votes to Sirleaf’s 11%.
2017 saw Weah contesting again against Sirleaf’s Vice President, Boakai. Weah eventually won the Liberian presidency after a run off.
While we congratulate President Weah on his victory, we advise that he should hit the ground running as there is a lot to do. Governance, like football, is teamwork. He needs all hands on deck to take his country to the Promised Land. As a successful goal-getter that he was as a footballer, he must never lose focus or be carried away by the trappings of office. Expectations are high on his government from his people.
His government needs to move fast to create employment opportunities for the youth who form the majority of his teeming supporters. President Weah also needs to grow the economy and improve the deplorable state of public infrastructure in Liberia. He urgently needs to tackle corruption headlong. These are tasks he cannot handle single-handedly. He should look beyond party leanings for technocrats who can act fast to bring the country out of the woods. This must have informed his invitation to his opponent, Boakai, to “put forth his people that he believes are capable of helping to move Liberia forward.”
He sure needs the support of the international community, investors and Liberians in Diaspora to build the country from the ruins of the civil war. He should not surround himself with sycophants, but people who are willing to roll up their sleeves in readiness to work and move the country forward and fast.
Grassroots man, he knows the expectations of Liberians. He should not, however deliver excuses instead of his electoral promises.
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