The international community has greeted with sincere enthusiasm the election of ex-footballer and Ballon D’or winner, George Weah as the President of Liberia. Again, another African country had buttressed the rhetoric that democracy can work in Africa. Weah’s victory is special not just because of his rags to riches rise, but because of his rise from Footballer to President.
The Man, George Weah
Though a highly successful and celebrated footballer, George Weah’s victory is inspiring for two reasons. Firstly, his decision to go back to school despite achieving a global level of success in another field. Second, his tenacity towards his goal of becoming President. Like a good sports man, He conceded defeat with a simple resolution to play the game better next time after being defeated for the office in 2005. He lost also as running-mate to William Tubman in 2011. Just a few days ago, the electoral commission declared him winner of the run-off election against incumbent Vice-President, Joseph Boakai. Even if it has taken him 12 years, winning the Presidency is just the beginning of probably the toughest game of Weah’s career.
Is Politics in West Africa changing?
Asides being inspiring and a breath of hope for the West African country, Weah’s victory is symbolic for politics and politicking in West Africa. Perhaps, it is safe to say that there’s a ‘wind of change’ in West African Politics. The opposition parties are getting their political arithmetic right. In the space of only three years, long standing, ruling political parties have lost their grip on power. In 2015, chanting the ‘change’ mantra, Nigeria’s incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and his opposition party swept the corridors of power clean of the then, ruling People’s Democratic Party. Again, in Ghana, the world was stunned. The then incumbent President, John Mahama of the ruling National Democratic Party lost power to Akufo-Addo, a three-time Presidential Aspirant. The most surprising was Gambia. Tired of a 22-year dictatorial rule disguised as democracy, President Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office. The peculiarity in Gambia was that Adama barrow the President-Elect literally had to be forcefully enthroned. Now it is Liberia! The Congress for Democratic Change capitalized on the inadequacies of the current administration to spring herself into power with the flag bearer being George Weah.
What to expect from Liberia’s New President?
The narrative in Liberia is similar to nearly all African countries: corruption, lack of infrastructure, youth unemployment and poverty. The difference with Liberia however is the underlying tension resulting from the unhealed scars of a two-round Civil War that lasted from 1989-2003. The pungent smell of war and frustration is perceived on the dusty streets of Monrovia. Factions are agitated and only a ‘spark’ may cause a fire the world may be unable to contain.
Unfortunately, Weah’s policy stance remains largely unclear. Throughout the campaign trail, he promised the obvious, purposely restraining from making statements that merely stir the crowds that trooped his campaign. However, it is still possible to predict policy actions from his persona and political party.
Being a successful footballer and on such an international scale, his charisma may be instrumental in providing much needed debt relief packages for the country and attract Foreign Direct Investment necessary to stimulate her dwindling economy. Further, it will not be unusual if he pursues a course of creating employment and unify the country through Sports. After winning the highest honor of a Ballon D’or, anything less may be utterly disappointing.
On a continental level, he will be expected to spear head a new era of Sports in Africa. Already, former Super Eagles Captain, Segun Odegbami has predicted that his Presidency will boost the perception of sports in Liberia and indeed, Africa.
For many Liberians, a vote for George Weah was really not a guarantee of a solution, rather, it was a vote away from the old establishment and clique of politicians that have long decided the fate of the country. His success as President is premised on his admittance of weaknesses, openness to divergent political divides and the resolution of his team to transform the stereotypes the world has always had about Liberia. Winning the presidency is just the beginning of what is probably the toughest game of Weah’s career.