Could George Weah be Liberia’s next president?

George Weah emerged from Liberia’s slums to become a superstar footballer in the 1990s, and has leveraged his status as a revered figure among the country’s young and poor in his second run for the presidency.

Weah will face Vice President Joseph Boakai on December 26 in a presidential run-off, the culmination of 12 years spent building political credibility to match his huge popularity.

“You know I’ve been in competitions — tough ones too and I came out victorious. So I know Boakai cannot defeat me,” Weah said ahead of the vote. “I have the people on my side.”

The first African player to win both FIFA’s World Player of the Year trophy and the Ballon d’Or, Weah was largely absent from Liberia during the 1989-2003 civil war period, playing for a string of top-flight European teams including Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.

After running unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2005, when he was defeated by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Weah says he has “gained experience” since becoming a senator in 2014.


Another fruitless run for the vice-presidency on the ticket of presidential candidate Winston Tubman in 2011 brought him to further prominence among the nation’s voters, many of whom say this time it is “Weah’s turn”.

Weah, 51, has put education, job creation and infrastructure at the centre of his platform — in line with Boakai — and won 38.4% of votes in the first round election on October 10, while Boakai came second with 28.8%.

Beloved by young and poor

Younger voters overwhelmingly favour Weah, who is idolised in his country as “Mister George”.

A member of the Kru ethnic group, Weah was raised by his grandmother on a reclaimed swamp in one of the worst slums of the capital Monrovia.

“Grassroots citizens identify with George Weah, considering that he is close to their day-to-day experience,” explained Ibrahim Al-Bakri Nyei, a Liberian political analyst at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

His critics say the high school dropout, who later completed a degree, is unprepared to lead a country.

“George Weah is a good, humble and respectful person that should not be given the Liberian presidency, because he is being controlled by an evil hand,” said Benoni Urey, a losing presidential candidate who switched his allegiance to Boakai.

Urey and others say Weah is being manipulated by Sirleaf so she can continue to push an agenda when she steps down after 12 years in power.

But many voters see a poor boy from the slums who made good against the odds.

“I believe that whenever we give him a chance, he will be able to give a better Liberia to the youth and the homeless,” Andrew Janjay Johnson, a shoeshiner in a Monrovia market, told AFP.

‘Vague’ platform 

Critics also accuse Weah’s Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of having too vague a political platform, and have challenged his long absences from the senate since being elected in a race he won over Sirleaf’s son.

Weah has also fended off barbs over his vice-presidential pick, Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex-wife of jailed former president and warlord Charles Taylor.

Howard-Taylor however is also a respected senator in her own right, bringing him important votes in the key county of Bong, and along with Sirleaf is one of few powerful women in Liberian public life.

Weah is married to Clar Weah, and his son, Timothy, signed a professional football contract with Paris Saint-Germain in July.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

ANC wants pension funds to finance infrastructure build

The party released its plan for the reconstruction of the country’s post-coronavirus economy on Friday. This would involve changes to Regulation 28 of the Pension Funds Act

The case against Floyd Shivambu

The flow of money from VBS Bank would seem to suggest that the EFF’s second-in-command was an ultimate beneficiary of proceeds of a crime

Cabinet reshuffle rumours: Unlikely to happen any time soon, but…

Persistent rumours of a cabinet reshuffle may be jumping the gun, but they do reflect the political realignment taking place within the ANC

Nigeria’s anti-corruption boss arrested for corruption

Ibrahim Magu’s arrest by the secret police was a surprise — but also not surprising
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday