It’s been quite an ascent for George Weah – from international football star to president of his country, Liberia. He was sworn in on January 22 to a crowd of adoring supporters who voted for a change, as well as heads of states and football stars, including Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o.
From one of Monrovia’s poorest slums, Weah made a name for himself as a talented footballer at Monaco at the age of 21, and went on to play for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan. He won the prestigious Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year awards in 1995. During his illustrious career that ended in 2003 he also led Liberia’s national team. Musa Shannon, a Liberian businessman and former teammate with Liberia’s national team says Weah’s temperament on and off the field was unparalleled.
“He was inspirational and expected nothing but excellence from all his teammates. He was able to get the best out of everyone. He never took shortcuts.”
Considered the choice of the masses, Weah’s humble beginnings combined with his international celebrity status earned him tremendous support from the mostly youthful Liberian population, especially the poor. In the December run-off elections, Weah easily earned 61.5% of the votes over then Vice-President Joseph Boakai.
“He is the people’s president, he is the one they have chosen,” says Shannon.
Weah’s win marks the first peaceful transition in decades for the Liberian people. “We have arrived at this transition neither by violence, nor by force of arms. Not a single life was lost in the process… this transition was achieved by the free and democratic will of the Liberian people,” said Weah in his inauguration speech.
Although he moved from sport to politics, the transition hasn’t been sudden, nor without struggle. In 2005, Weah ran unsuccessfully against Noble Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who made history as the first democratically-elected female African president. Through his party, the Congress for Democratic Change, Weah ran again in 2011 as running-mate to Winston Tubman, losing again to Johnson Sirleaf.
Citing inexperience and a lack of formal education as the main reason for his losses, Weah earned a degree in business and took a seat on the senate in 2014.
“People speak of George Weah as though he doesn’t have a political history, so that if he doesn’t succeed they will say he was new to the game,” says Ezekiel Pajibo, political analyst and human rights activist. “He has been in politics for 12 years and there is no evidence of anything he has done for the Liberian people.”
Expectations are high. Weah promised jobs for the youth and poverty alleviation. Of Liberia’s 4.6 million inhabitants, over 60% are under 25, many of whom voted for him in the hopes of a quick reduction in unemployment.
He inherits a country that has survived two bloody civil wars between 1989 and 2003, a fledgling economy and a young population that is largely unemployed. The Ebola epidemic, which killed over 5,000 people, also showed cracks in the healthcare system. The country still does not have adequate running water or electricity since the civil war, and properly staffed schools remain a problem.
In his inauguration speech, he made a series of promises.
Firstly, he would stamp out corruption. Secondly, he would assist the private sector. Weah says he wants Liberians to stop being “spectators” in their economy while foreigners control the majority of their resources. Thirdly, he will focus on vocational training for the youth.
Promises must be followed by action. His party has been criticized by the opposition for not clearly outlining how these goals will be achieved.
There are also doubts about Weah garnering the same amount of respect from the international community as his predecessor. “He has to exude leadership capability and have presence in front of the international community. Johnson Sirleaf, as the first female president in Africa, brought international goodwill towards Liberia. She also had a history of working in development structures. President George Weah has none of that,” says Pajibo.
Weah achieved more than was expected of him as a footballer. Liberians will be hoping he can do the same as their country’s president. – Written by Lamelle Shaw
IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections
FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalists immortalize the tension and elation of the South African elections in May that saw the African National Congress win for the sixth time since 1994.
In what was a landmark 25 years since the first democratic elections, South Africa registered, voted and elected the African National Congress (ANC) for the sixth time to govern the nation again for the next five years. The 2019 elections saw many surprises and plenty more political action compared to the previous polls.
In the run-up to election day, political parties (48 in all) emphasized the country’s socio-economic challenges such as unemployment, education, housing and the contentious issue of land expropriation.
On May 8, the day the country cast its vote, voters woke early to congregate and line up at the 22,924 voting stations strewn across the country.
I was among them, a citizen also doubling as a photojournalist on the quest to document this historic election, my camera strapped around my neck and my constant companion.
This Wednesday morning was particularly cold but voters were in sweaters and armed with their identity books to have a say in South African politics with an ‘X’ mark on the ballot paper.
Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was among those at the Presbyterian Church in Dobsonville, Soweto; the township where he was born.
His arrival created a frenzy as international and local media wrestled with each other for the perfect shot.
After casting his vote and walking out of the church, he addressed the public.
“On such a historic day, it is important to vote in Soweto with the people of Soweto to express hope and a future for our country. Soweto, to me, represents the home of where the struggle is and now we’re entering into a new struggle for jobs for many South Africans. I remember, vividly and well, when I played in these streets and I remember too well the release of Nelson Mandela, therefore today, I urge that we come and cast our votes,” Maimane said.
He spoke about the new struggle.
“To me, there could be nothing more special, nothing more historic than being able to express our future. Vote for the future of this country and for the unemployed South Africans; it’s a new struggle and we are fighting for the protection of freedom and advancement of freedom.”
Post the election results, Maimane was the first DA leader to not have grown more supporters, whereas the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with the third highest number of votes, gained more in all South African provinces except the Northern Cape.
A few kilometers from Dobsonville is Mzimhlophe Hostel. A hostel among many others in Soweto that erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections. On election day, it was more peaceful and locals were going about their daily lives.
In the same vicinity is a squatter camp (informal settlement) allegedly set on fire weeks before the elections.
Residents and brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22) came to Johannesburg looking for employment.
“This is my first time voting this year; I wish the economy could strengthen so we can move out of the squatter camps and live in houses. Our camp burned around the Easter holidays while we were at church. We used to sell African beer and our stock got burned along with the money and clothes that were inside. All we have is what we are wearing now,” Kwenzi says.
About 12 kilometers away was where national president and president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in his hometown of Chiawelo, at a local primary school.
The supporters of various parties, the media and voters were out in full force to witness their president in Soweto.
“The nation and the people are energized. They can see their votes are heralding a new dawn. This is a vote that reminds me of 1994 when the people were just as excited as this because they were heralding a new period, a new future for our country,” said Ramaphosa.
“Today, this is what I am picking up, our people are excited about what lies tomorrow and they want to vote for a government that is going to serve them, that is going to address their needs and aspirations. So, I am truly humbled by the turnout that I’ve seen here.
“There is a great vibe and it’s a vibe for democracy, it’s a vote also for our democratic system that we’ve been building over the last 25 years. So, 25 years later, we still have a nation that is breathing confidence and excitement casting their vote. Today, I will go home to sleep very peacefully like I did last night.
“This vote is about confidence, it is about the future and it is about us that are going to be elected to work a lot harder, much harder than we have in the past to realize the ideals, wishes and hopes of our people, so this, to me, is like a rocket booster for democracy and we are going to build a great country because we will be doing so standing on the shoulders of our people,” Ramaphosa said.
Like the DA, the ANC lost more supporters nationally; Gauteng province was the gold prize, for the first time since 1999, the ANC had to battle to remain above 50% to secure the province.
May Will Be Gone In June Ending Months Of Political Battering And Speculation
British Prime Minister Teresa May – just under three years into the job – says she will step down on June 7.
This follows a hammering, from both sides of the house, over her clumsy handling of the Brexit process. She has lost countless votes in Parliament over a Brexit deal and was seen by many in politics as weak and dithering. It is ironic that May herself voted to keep Britain in Europe, only to see her career expire as she struggled to make the opposite happen.
Her heartfelt farewell speech on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street concluded that she had done her best to make Britain a better place not merely for the privileged few, but also for the whole population.
The supreme irony is that her shuffling off of the Prime Minister’s job will see the shuffling in one of Britain’s best known members of the privileged few. Eton and Oxford educated Boris Johnson is likely to step in as leader of May’s Conservative party ahead of what surely is going to be a snap election.
Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections
May 8, a landmark day for Africa’s second biggest economy. South Africans will cast their votes for the country’s sixth general elections since the dawn of democracy in 1994.
In the run-up to the polls, the country saw flagrant protests in some parts, as disgruntled citizens expressed disapproval of their stifling living conditions.
In this image, a resident of Alexandra, a township in the north of Johannesburg, squats in the middle of a busy road leading to the opulent precincts of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile.
The dichotomy of socio-economic circumstances is an accelerant in one of the country’s poorest communities filled to the brim with squatter camps and the restlessness of unemployment.
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