George Weah, former football star, is President–elect of Liberia

The presidential election victory of Mr. George Opong Weah in Liberia must go beyond the adulation of his countrymen and women as spectators in a football contest. The Presidency in today’s Liberia carries a huge historical and political burden. We are dealing with one of the world’s poorest countries that had borne more than its fair share of the calamities of the late 20th and early 21st century. In many respects therefore, Weah has his job as the 25th president of Liberia well defined.

Ruined by a series of civil wars unleashed by the greed of plain megalomaniacs who masqueraded as leaders and ravaged by some of the worst epidemics-Ebola-in human history, Liberia has in the past 12 years relied on the steady hands of Ms Ellen Sirleaf Johnson to pick up the pieces. But now set to replace Africa’s first female head of state, economist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Weah’s inauguration would be the first time power was transferred from one democratically elected government to another in Liberia. Inherent in his victory therefore is the challenge to deepen the gains of democracy.

While Weah can bring his star power to carry the masses along in tackling the lingering immense socio-economic problems in Liberia, only a mix of that star power and the legacy of tested statesmanship of his immediate predecessor can guarantee a consolidation of the modest gains of the past decade. It will not be easy but we believe Weah is now more prepared than he was 12 years ago when he first contested for the office.

A former Liberian international, Weah played for Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain (France), AC Milan (Italy), Chelsea and Manchester City (England) before returning to France with Marseille. Named African Footballer of the Year three times and to date the only African to be named FIFA World Player of the Year, Weah is also the only African player to win the coveted Ballon d’Or in the same season he also won the UEFA Champions League Top Scorer award. In the course of his illustrious career, Weah won Coupe de France, Ligue1, Coupe de la Ligue, Serie A title, English FA Cup, among several other laurels.

What is, however, remarkable about Weah is his political trajectory. In the first post-war election in 2005, Weah, at age 39, ran for the presidency on the platform of the Congress for Democratic Change and while he was popular with the masses, his lack of formal education counted against him, especially as his opponent was a Harvard-educated former Finance Minister. Although Weah led in the first ballot, he was defeated in the run-off by Sirleaf who had the support of most African leaders who were wary of electing a footballer with little education to run Liberia at such a critical period.

Following that experience, Weah went to school; first to obtain his school certificate in 2006 at age 40 which then qualified him to seek university education in the United States. He obtained his first degree in 2011 and his masters two years later in 2013. With that, Weah contested for a Senate seat in 2014 and won. Today, he is the president-elect. The moral of his political trajectory is that those who will succeed must also be prepared to self-improve.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) need to support Weah so he can also score goals of progress and stability for Liberia as president. ECOWAS needs a stable Liberia to thrive. It cost the sub regional group enormous expense in human lives and financial terms to guarantee the modest recovery that created the atmosphere for democracy to produce peaceful change in Liberia.

While we therefore congratulate Weah and wish him all the best in his new assignment, the Liberian president-elect must be guided by a determination to avoid the ugly past of his country and instead embark on a transformative leadership. His illustrious career as a star footballer uniquely equips him to appeal politically to the youthful majority and cultivate a new generation of Liberians who will obviously look at the past of the country with horror and insist: NEVER AGAIN!

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His illustrious career as a star footballer uniquely equips him to appeal politically to the youthful majority and cultivate a new generation of Liberians who will obviously look at the past of the country with horror and insist: NEVER AGAIN!