Liberians are expected to go to the polls on October 10, 2023, to elect a new head of state following the expiration of the six-year mandate given to the incumbent president, George Manneh Weah.
In 2017, Liberians elected President Weah into office, after winning 14 out of 15 counties in the election run-off. His rival, Ambassador Joseph Nyumah Boakai, was consoled with a solitary victory in his home county – Lofa County.
Almost six years later, George Weah returned to the polls. This time, not as the “babe in the woods” as he was called when he was newly navigating a volatile political terrain. This time, he enters the race with a rich political experience after manning the highest office for the last six years.
The election process has since gotten underway after the National Elections Commission (NEC) officially declared political campaigns open from August 5 to October 8.
DUBAWA followed the incumbent’s campaign, tracing his roots to his days as a global football icon. Following his steely determination, he became the first footballer to rise to the position of presidency in Africa.
Weah’s Early Life
The rags-to-riches story of George Oppon Weah will always remain indelible on the minds of many. He grew up in the slum community of Gibraltar located in Clara town- a few miles from the Liberia Executive Mansion. According to a biography published by the Ministry of National Defense, Weah was born on October 1, 1966, on the Capitol Bypass in central Monrovia in Montserrado County.
Born to a large family, Weah had 13 siblings, with Mr. William Tarpeh Weah and Madam Anna Quayeweh Weah (both now deceased) as parents. He married Clar Marie Weah in 1992.
Weah is known more for his football career than his educational journey. Nonetheless, the Liberian leader had his early childhood education at the Daniel E. Howard and C. W. Brumskine Elementary schools. He later moved to the G. W. Gibson and Ellen Mills Scarborough for his junior high education. President Weah attended Muslim Congress and Wells Hairston High Schools, but no record shows whether he graduated from high school.
Weah on the Soccer Pitch
George Weah started his professional football career with a local Liberian premier league club, Invincible Eleven (IE) before moving to Cameroon. Robust, agile, and ruthless in front of a goal, Weah’s talent and pedigree were hard to miss. He was scouted from Cameroon into Europe, where the fairytale story of the only African Ballon d’Or winner began. He played Europe’s creme de la creme, banging in goals and shattering records. From the dusty streets of Monrovia, Weah played for AS Monaco, PSG, AC Milan, Chelsea, and Manchester City. It was at AC Milan that he was voted the African and World Best Footballer in 1995, after which he crowned it with an impossible solo goal against Verona in 1996.
In riches and glory, Weah remembered his roots and challenges growing up. He gave back to society. While playing in Europe, he served as UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 1997. In 2004, Weah received the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN for his work on behalf of children who were affected by conflict, disease, and poverty. As Goodwill Ambassador, his role was to support HIV/AIDS prevention and polio vaccination campaigns. He also partnered with UNICEF to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers (boys and girls) back into their families and communities in Liberia, as he did in Sierra Leone.
Having achieved success in football, Weah turned his attention to education and pursued a high school diploma in 2007, bachelor’s degree in business management from DeVry University in Florida, and a master’s degree with several other honorary degrees.
The Road to Power
Weah took to changing the lives and destiny of the people of Liberia, and the vehicle he needed was political power. In 2005, Weah contested against Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for the position of president but lost to the Havard-trained Economist in a popular election best captioned as “Qualification Vrs Popularity.”
Yet, Weah did not relent. He contested again and won the Senator position in 2014 to represent the western province of Montserrado, which includes the capital, Monrovia. In 2016, Weah announced his intention to vie for the highest position of the land yet again. This time his major contender was Joseph Boakai, who served as Vice President under the two-term Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf presidency.
President Weah campaigned on the mantra of “Change for Hope” and won a historic run-off election in 2017, representing the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
Weah in Executive mansion
In 2018, when President Weah took the oath of office, he promised hope, charging Liberians not to be spectators but to enjoy the fruits of a functioning economy. This statement was embraced by many Liberians, especially among the business community.
However, a few years on, the Liberian business community began to complain about the debilitating state of the economy, with some Liberians taking to the streets in protest.
Admittedly, the global economic situation may not have helped, as the Covid-19 global pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine war have left third-world economies devastated.
The country’s economy even worsened due to the drawdown of peacekeepers from the country. The final troops of the UN peacekeepers left the shores of Liberia in June 2018 a few months after President Weah took the oath of office of the Liberian presidency, thus creating a deep cut in Liberia’s annual economic growth projection, from 4.7 percent to 0.4 percent.
This situation led to a sharp decline in business in Liberia as inflation was at an all-time high, and employment became scarce.
Also, President Weah’s first years were marked with a series of controversies, ranging from the disappearance of billions of Liberian dollars, the securing of a billion United States dollars loan that did not materialise, mysterious deaths across the country, and the one hundred million United states dollars drugs bust that was taken to court where the government lost consequently setting the accused free.
There have also been corruption issues, including the infamous Global Magnitsky Act and Liberia’s corrupt officials.
However, on the flip side, some gains were made by the Weah-led administration for the first six years. The Weah administration waived tuition at all public universities in the country, built homes for ordinary Liberians, paid West African Examination Council (WAEC) fees for 12th graders in the country and for 9th graders in private schools. Weah also constructed several feeder or community roads across the country.
Weah’s government has also raised the country’s national budget from over five hundred million United States dollars to a little over seven hundred million United States dollars.
What are the chances for President Weah’s re-election?
The Liberian leader is still prevalent in some parts of the country, particularly within the southeastern part, including Grand Kru, Sione, Maryland, and Grand Gedeh Counties
But In Monrovia, the place that hosts a little over a million voters could be a battleground between the ruling CDC and the main opposition Unity party, looking at the huge turnout of partisans, well-wishers, and sympathizers at both parties’ official campaigns launched recently in Monrovia as seen here and here.
Lofa County, the only county that did not vote for President Weah in the last elections could also be a different scenario this time. President Weah could pull some votes there looking at the level of work done there and the recent by-election’s results that saw a candidate whom the ruling CDC supported, Senator Joseph Jallah, emerging as winner, even though he, Senator Jallah, did not contest on the CDC party’s ticket. Also Nimba, a vote-rich county, might be a different case this time, as Senator Prince Johnson, who once supported the CDC, is now contesting with the main opposition Unity Party of Ambassador Joseph Nyumah Boakai. This situation could apply to other counties such as Grand Bassa and Bong.