February 2018

The daunting tasks of George Weah

By George OLA-DAVIES
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Mr. George as he was fondly called by followers of world football has always been a crowd puller. In his days as a footballer, fans would troop to stadiums to watch how he mesmerized his fellow players to score goals. He scored another impressive goal on December 26 when he won the presidential race to become Liberia's 24th president.

Clad in a long white flowing gown for his inauguration, George Manneh Weah, 51, held the Bible as he took the oath of office as President in front of a crowd that analysts affirm has been the biggest at the Samuel Kanyon Doe stadium. That official ceremony on January 22nd marked the beginning of a long and tempestuous six-year journey ahead of him.  

His speech was laced with conciliatory messages, warning, optimism and hope. He called on the international community, the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union, Arab States and with a singularly very strong emphasis on China to help move the country from its current marasmic state.  
President Weah has a daunting and unenviable task in his hands. Will he live up to the occasion? There is every reason to believe this is the case. His rise to power is unprecedented on the African continent. For a relatively young man, he used his charm and a language void of political rhetoric and vague promises to appeal to the Liberian people.   
His slate is clean. His wealth is not through politics but via his football talent and shrewd business ability. Many Liberians therefore saw him as someone who will deliver the goods in a country that is endowed with natural wealth. Weah is also not known for any corrupt practices. "I am the poor man's president," he told the crowd that turned out for his inauguration. "I will fight corruption and will show visible results." 
 
 His initial gesture after being declared the winner was laudable. He jumped into his car and went straight to former Vice President, Joseph Boakai whom he had just defeated at the polls, to comfort him and by the same token asked that they work together for the good of the nation. 
The tasks ahead are gigantic. The country's road network, education, health, agriculture, mines, infrastructure, communications and many more are in dire need of changes, improvement or revamping. What pops up for particular mention is peace and solidarity. The elections campaign proved once again how much divided the country remains in spite of the dogged efforts at peacebuilding. 
Weah is aware of all these facts and wants to prove his doubters wrong especially against the backdrop of charges against his capability to do the job. His critics point to his educational background and lack of managerial skills as major setbacks. But he had been in the Senate for six years representing the Montserrado County and served as UN peace ambassador, two missions that he acquitted very well. 
Perhaps what may go to hunt him most is his association with former warlords who brought misery to the country. First, he chose Jewel Howard-Taylor as his running mate. Then he accepted the alignment of Prince Johnson to fight in the runoff.  While Howard-Taylor had strenuously been trying to extricate herself from acts of her ex-husband, Charles Taylor, now serving a 50-year jail term for atrocities committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone, Johnson is credited with having killed President Samuel Doe, an act that added more fire to an already blazing war in the country. Liberians will hardly forget that but Weah is looking to put the strain of the war behind and rebuild a new nation. With these two lieutenants, who control huge support in their counties, Nimba and Bong Counties, he will try to bring the estranged peoples of their regions on board and work towards the peace he did not stop preaching during his campaign.
 
With this in mind, coupled with the country's regional and indeed tribal divide which had threatened all regimes since the 1940's, he believes his role should be all encompassing and that all hands should be on deck. 
 What appears worrying is the fact that the former warlords wield so much clout that the new president may find himself to be a "Yes sir" man towards them. 
In his maiden speech he told his compatriots that he is not a magician but he will transform the country.  
We wait to see what his first 100 days in office will yield. This period will be very critical as they will determine his direction.  
He had not cried down all what his predecessor, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had done but said they were hardly enough. One area which he lauded the previous government for is the freedom of expression –press freedom- which he said he also badly needs for checks and balances. This is a bold step.  
Weah has emerged in a sub-region that had been crippled by both wars and epidemic. What with the Ebola virus that claimed thousands of lives in the Mano River Union that groups Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia?  
 
The Weah administration will have to work in close collaboration with neighbouring countries, (Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone) especially on matters of cross border security. But if what happened at the inauguration ceremony when he visibly snubbed his Sierra Leonean counterpart – whether by design or not - in front of world television cameras, he will have to make some rapid amends to that. His saving grace here is that the Sierra Leonean President, Ernest Bai Koroma, has less than three months in office. 
His presence at the recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, barely six days after his inauguration, spoke volumes. He received, yet again, another elongated and thunderous applause from both his peers and other participants. He did not profess to know it all. Instead he requested guidance and support to help him succeed “My responsibility is a serious one” and went on to talk about corruption which he described as “a plight that seems to present itself in all of our countries and manifest itself in many forms.”
 
He left an impressive imprint at the Summit which he left mid-way through “to attend to pressing matters at home,” with the blessing of other African leaders.
All told, President Weah is young, energetic, full of ideas and vigour, loves his country, has popular support - albeit for now - and most of all, the charisma to make things happen. He is at a crossroads. Time will become one of his biggest enemies but everything else points to a difficult road to success. 
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