Can George Weah win a 2nd term as President of Liberia?

By Nemen M. Kpahn

George Weah is an incredibly blessed man, for lack of a better word. So, how could a man born into poverty in the slum community of Gibraltar with low formal education and no history of political activism ascend to the highest office in the land, trouncing many rivals with enviable experience and degrees?

How could a man without a revered family name who has spent more than half his adult life away from Liberia playing the beautiful game in Europe win the Liberian presidency hands down against more experienced candidates?

While his country burned, George Weah displayed his dazzling Football skills in European capitals, winning the 1995 World, African and European Best Footballer of the Year.  Winning, it appears, was George’s portion when he won the 2nd round of the Presidency with a landslide victory in 2007 against Joe Boakai, an incumbent Vice President, winning 14 out of the 15 counties of Liberia. But where were the illustrious sons of the land with a strong history of activism? Where were intellectuals like Dr Boima Fahnbulleh, Dr Togba Na Tipoteh, and Alexander Cummings? Activists Like Tiawon Gongloe, Leymah Gbowee and others?

Previously, George Manneh Weah won the Senator position against a cashed-up Robert Sirleaf, the favourite son of the then President Sirleaf, with a whopping 78% of the total votes in 2014. Even with an unenviable record as a Senator of a demurred stature who kept mum on most issues, the Liberian people love their darling son even if he lives a privileged life far above his fanatical, mostly young supporters. The man had a magic wand and a place in the heart of his young supporters, who see him as above criticism with a pure heart. His supporters often use phrases such as “The man get the country at heart.” Or “George Weah is a good man who loves the country, only the bad people around him spoiling his government.” Somehow the man Weah seems impervious or above criticism to his supporters, who deem any criticism against him as disingenuous. His supporters see any criticism against Weah as coming from a cabal of the rich and otherwise powerful envious of their man. Nothing could dent the image of their star.

To understand George Weah’s enigmatic appeal is to understand the psyche of the young, the poor, and the dispossessed in Liberia.

 After more than five years in power, where Liberia remains plagued by low economic growth, high youth unemployment, and increased crime, George Weah is asking the people of Liberia to give him another 6 years. But has the Weah Presidency taken the shine out of the man? Can the Golden Boy from Gibraltar manage to win a second term? Can his star continue to rise and shine bright?

One of President Weah’s previous strong supporters, Prince Johnson and his MDR, broke up with the CDC government and announced his support for Liberia’s main opposition leader Joseph Boakai’s Unity Party. Prince Johnson’s protégé Jeremiah Koung is now running as JNB’s running mate. The CDC coalition seems to be fracturing with Alex Tyler failing to endorse Weah’s second term. Only a fraction of former President Charles Taylor’s NPP is pledging support to the President’s 2nd term bid leaving the James Biney wing of the party out in the cold. With civil servants not being paid on time and the Americans sanctioning three of the President’s inner circles, the cloud seems dark for the President. To add insult to injury, President Weah, unlike his predecessor Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has never been invited for an official standalone visit to Washington D.C. to meet with President Joe Biden. The odds for President George Weah’s re-election seem bleak to a casual observer. When was the last time the ruling CDC put up a candidate to run in a by-election, and they won without hiding behind the skirt of another party to avoid the ignominy of defeat?

While government supporter turned vociferous opposition supporter Eugene Fahngon and others would have us believe that George Weah’s government is on its deathbed, nothing could be further from the reality.

President Weah, aka ‘The Black President’, remains a folk hero to his supporters because he represents more than a mere politician to them. George Weah for them is an embodiment of themselves. If a boy from the slums without impressive academic accolades or an illustrious family name can be President, then I, too, John Yarkpawolo for Soniwein, can be President. Or I, Krubo Davis, from Gobachop Market, can be President too. Isn’t election time the best time to show my power to the rich with their big book knowledge and nasal accent talking like white people? Whether you have a PhD and I dropped out of school at 13 to sell fish in the market, your vote is the same as mine. There is also resentment for people from the urbane class of Monrovia by the primarily poor and young from the interior.

Writing in his book, The Mask of Anarchy, and I paraphrase here, Stephen Ellis writes. At the same time, rural folks bitterly complained about their countrymen and women who had gone soft in the city during the first Liberian civil war; the fighters were themselves anxious to enjoy the loot, plunder, and comfort of the city (A conflict of generations,). When George Weah built mansions for himself, he was not building them for himself; he is building them for their aspirations because at least he built them in Liberia and not America like the elites of yester years. When President Weah lost the 2005 and 2011 elections, some of his supporters said blood was in their eyes—a reference to the intense poignancy of his defeats to them.

Now with the power of an incumbency flushed with money and power, the President has the means to distribute the spoils of war to his supporters. The office of President George Weah has 4.3 million U.S. Dollars budgeted for 2023. The Ministry of State, which falls directly under the Presidency, has a budget of 15 million U.S. Dollars to spend. In addition, there are Presidential projects and LACE to beef up the President’s image. The considerable money budgeted to the NSA and other security apparatus with little scrutiny can also be used to boost the President’s campaign. The strong emphasis of President George Weah on infrastructure, especially the building of roads and hospitals (14 Military Hospital and the Emirati Hospital in Gbarpolu) to his supporters, provides ample evidence of the need to re-elect President Weah’s government.

With a cash-strapped government and several high-profile murders (Richard Tolbert III, Gifty Lamar and others) remaining unsolved, the President is doing what he does best. Keep quiet except when he is in the sanctuary of his Forky Klon church, where everything he says draws applause from an enthusiastic audience. George Weah is on his way out.

But those who say that the President is on his way out forget one thing: George Weah is one of the most charismatic leaders of recent times. What others could consider a burden, i.e., being born in poverty and not having a gift of eloquence, is his trump card.

While he may not win an outright first-round victory like Acarious Gray, Mulbah Morlu, and others believe, the 2023 elections will almost certainly go to a 2nd round. And it will be President George Weah and another opposition candidate. I am still gazing into my crystal ball to see who will win this one.

As the saying goes, ‘Time will tell.”

Nemen M. Kpahn is a communication specialist who lives in the state of Queensland in Australia. He holds a Master degree in  Communication and Research.

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