P eace is guaranteed in Liberia after another round of presidential elections which confirmed former Vice President, Joseph Boakai, as next president of the poor West African country. But the news behind the news is George Oppong Weah. President Weah graciously accepted the result which was announced after a run-off. Beyond that, he has also received Boakai warmly at the Presidential Lodge, with malice towards none and respect to his fellow country men and women.
Of late, sit-tight leaders have created instability in the West African Sub Region. While many ECOWAS and African leaders condemned the military for flushing out constitutional governments, Weah advised his colleagues against winning elections at all costs. By allowing peace to reign in Liberia, Weah has shown that there must be life beyond the presidency. Sworn in on January 22, 2018 at the Samuel Kanyon Doe (SKD) Sports Complex, Paynesville, Monrovia his six years in government will end in January 2024.
The worst form of corruption in tropical Africa is election manipulation. It has destroyed many democracies and continues to stain ties between friends and neighbours. Weah has saved ECOWAS another peace mission and also spared his country a possible third civil war. There are lessons to learn from this act of statesmanship. Here is a man who could actually have become president in 2005 after coming out tops in the first round of elections. The result apparently did not sit well with some world leaders and international donors. He was ahead of closest rival Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; a Harvard trained former minister who also had United Nations and World Bank experience.
Weah’s best certificate was obtained in football. That was considered not enough to lead his country out of ruins. In the run- off, Sirleaf was declared winner with 59.4 percent of total votes counted. Weah came second with 40.6 percent. President Olusegun Obasanjo took the bold move of inviting him to his Otta Farm to douse the tension generated by that result. A Charles Taylor would have done things differently and possibly plunged Liberia into another war. Wear listened to the various homilies preached in Otta and beyond.
He also showed wisdom remembering that Taylor’s stay in Nigeria did not end well. In 2011, he ceded the presidential ticket of his party, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) to Winston Tubman, choosing to stand as running mate. Again, Johnson’s Unity Party emerged victorious. Weah did not quit. He stayed put, learning the ropes. By 2014, the struggle continued. Weah won a seat in the Senate, to represent Montserrado County. His opponent, Robert, was one of President Johnson Sirleaf’s sons. The experience gained between 2005 and 2017 was enough to propel him to the top.
Weah also went for a degree in Business Administration at Dervy University, Miami. It is to his credit that in the 2017 elections, President Johnson Sirleaf backed Weah against her Vice president, Boakai. That she chose a man who had defeated her son, Robert, three years earlier, over the country’s number two was also good for firming up the nation’s fledgling democracy. Weah did not forget that gesture. When he assumed office as president, he retained another of his predecessor’s sons, Charles Sirleaf, at the Central Bank of Liberia. And when the man got involved in a scandal, Weah wasted no time in sacking him.
There were allegations that the Liberian president was not hard enough on corruption and refused to declare his assets in 2018. It is also remarkable that three top government officials including Nathaniel McGill, a Minister of State, resigned after being fingered in untoward deals. Weah also went against Article 60 of the Liberian constitution by reducing his salary and allowance as president by 25 per cent. If he could not curb corruption, it was not because he favoured corruption. Perhaps a second tenure would have brought drastic measures. This man carried Liberia on his head as a player.
In 2001, he was the financier, skipper, manager and chief supporter of the senior national football team, Lone Stars. In 2024, he leaves the Liberian ship as a worthy captain who kept democracy afloat. In 1995 President George Weah made history when he was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or, becoming the first and only player to win these awards while representing an African country internationally. He won the Ballon d’Or. In 1989 and 1995, he was also named the African Footballer of the Year winning the official award twice, and in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century.
In 1996, the star bagged the FIFA Fair Play Award. That spirit of sportsmanship has now turned to statesmanship. In West Africa, losers hardly quit. African leaders should learn from this.