Who is George Weah?

The wider world was ultimately proven to be premature in offering its congratulations to George Weah on becoming president of Liberia on October 10.

The AC Milan legend had indeed garnered the most votes in the first round of voting but he nonetheless failed to meet the required amount to secure election, rendering the abundance of good luck messages on social media inconsequential.

As a result, Weath now faces a run-off against the current vice-president, the Unity Party candidate Joseph Boakai, on December 26.

The world at large may recognise Weah as an inspirational figure who has made the transition from sporting to political life, but the perception of Liberia’s most famous son is not so clear-cut in his homeland.

The dethroned ex-president of Liberia is serving 50 years in a British prison for war crimes committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Weah has also earned the backing of defeated presidential candidate Prince Johnson, who was aligned with Taylor during the early days of the bloody civil war, as well as being responsible for the gruesome murder of ex-president Samuel Doe.

Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change party has entered into an alliance with Taylor’s National Patriotic Party.

“They are our natural partner,” Taylor’s ex-wife and NPP senator Jewel Howard Taylor was quoted as saying in November 2016. She is now serving as Weah’s running mate in the presidential race.

“The CDC was created out of the NPP and so the alliance with the CDC is a natural alliance.”

Some members of Taylor’s party suspended their membership, while several CDC partisans left because of the link with an allegedly ruthless warlord.

“The way Mr Taylor ruled and tortured us during those days, I doubt anyone who suffered will ever forget those painful memories,” noted entertainer Kekura Kamara – aka Balawala – who was a member of the Weah PR team during the iconic forward’s playing days.

“George was a very good footballer,” Kamara said. “He showed that on the field but, as a politician, I doubt that he will make it.”

Kamara insists that the CDC leader is a reactionary and deemed him an unpredictable decision-maker.

Having worked with Weah for several years, Kamara is sure that Weah’s ideology could not now be the same as it was when he first launched his bid for the Liberian presidency back in 2005.

The 1995 World Player of the Year is seeking the country’s highest office for the second time.

On the first occasion, he was beaten to the post by the first and – still – only female Liberian president, the esteemed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Weah went from winning the first-round vote to losing in the run-off to Johnson Sirleaf. This time around, though, he is expected to triumph over Boakai, with whom he has been engaging in a bitter war of words.

Weah ran for vice-president in 2011 and went on to easily win a seat at the senate in 2014 – beating the son of President Sirleaf, Robert, by clinching 78 per cent of the votes in Montserrado County, which holds the country’s capital, Monrovia.

His political rallies are never short of fans. One supporter, James Pewee – decorated with a Weah t-shirt, a scarf around his neck and a CDC flag in his hand – says his Judgement Day will arrive when Mr Weah is finally pronounced as President of Liberia.

“I just love Weah,” he says. “He loves this country and he has the country at heart.”

“I don’t know what the world thinks but I know Mr Weah has proven to be formidable politician in Liberia,” Musa Shannon, the vice-president of the Liberian FA and a former team-mate of Weah, told Goal.

“He contested the presidency of Liberia [in 2005] and also won the senatorial seat of the largest County – Montserrado – by a landslide. He is the standard-bearer of the most consistent opposition party. I think that would classify him a popular politician.”

Today, as well as being a member of the Liberian Parliament and senator of the country’s biggest county, Weah is also the serving Chair of the Committee on Youth and Sports, and a member of the regional ECOWAS Parliament.

He is banking on his fame and popularity to win, travelling extensively and drawing massive crowds on the campaign trail. He has talked about reconciliation after the decades of civil strife, pointing to his time as a former UN peace ambassador working on disarming child soldiers as evidence of his suitability to the role of peace-maker.

He has, however, received criticism for doing little to impact the sporting sector, given the country has not qualified for a major football competition in 15 years.

Weah’s campaign has little of the trappings of what would be expected in Liberia and he has yet to adequately explain his manifesto.

As in 2005, several of Weah’s famous Lone Star team mates have again refused to support him and some even actively campaigned against him.

Speaking at a news conference on October 10 on behalf of several former team-mates of Weah’s under the banner ‘Soccer Legends’, ex-defender Dionysius Sebwe explained that their stance was “one of conscience devoid of any prejudice; it’s a decision to support the strong foundation of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration.”

They also declared support for vice-president Boakai and, at the same, recognised his competence, quality and leadership ability to maintain Liberia’s democratic gains.

Mulbah Reeves, a videographer, told Goal his admiration for Weah dates back to his playing days.

“He was an excellent player, he never had disparity in his game at country and club level,” he says. “His discipline levels were excellent, one reason I think he succeeded.”

Reeves, however, does not support Weah’s bid for the presidency, arguing that football was his true vocation and he should never have moved into the political sphere.

Weah’s former team-mate Shannon thinks that, as a competitive person, Weah would have the requisite leadership skills to be his own man if elected, despite being allegedly surrounded by Taylor’s people.

“He was Liberia’s best player, he led most of us to become better players, so I think he would run his regime.

“The whole country holds Mr Weah in high regard; he is our all-time best football player, he was a leader, he always wanted to win.”

He said the mark left by Weah on the global stage, which has been reflected in Liberian national pride, can never be forgotten – no matter who is supporting his political ideology.

Another former Lone Star player who didn’t go the way of his rebellious colleagues this time, defender Terrance Dickson, said Weah was a philanthropist who empowers everyone – including some of those who may not have supported him.

“Though I didn’t benefit personally from Mr Weah during our playing days like he did for others, his goodwill towards everyone has created admiration for him everywhere he goes,” Dickson explains.

“Mr Weah is good man, he loves his country, he loves his people, he has sacrificed for the country. He is the leader Liberia needs now.”


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