Presidential elections in Liberia have assumed increased global significance in the country’s contemporary history. And no doubt, the country remains an important West African country as it is the only African republic to have self-proclaimed independence. It is also the continent’s first and oldest republic.
One of the reasons for the nation’s increased attention is the caliber of personalities presenting themselves for presidential elections since 2005. Apart from the current president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, iconic African football great, politician, and reputed Harvard-trained administrator George Oppong Weah has declared his ambition to run for the highest office in Liberia in the 2017 presidential elections.
Before now, he had contested for the same position in 2005 as well as vice president in 2011, coming in second in the elections, but he won the race for senator in Montserrado County in 2014 against Robert Sirleaf, son of President Sirleaf.
Some have dismissed Weah’s capacity to deliver quality representation and tangible democratic gains, which is one of the reasons he lost the 2005 election due to his naivety in Liberian politics.
Before venturing into the turbulent political waters of Liberia, Weah was known globally as one of the most fearsome strikers that ever lived. Born in the slums of Monrovia, Liberia, Weah started playing in Europe at the young age of 22 at AS Monaco under the evergreen Arsene Wenger.
He has also played at a number of different clubs, including Paris Saint-Germaine, AC
Milan, Chelsea Football club, Manchester City, Marseille, and Al-Jazira in the United Arab Emirates.
In a career spanning more than 25 years both in Liberia and Europe, Weah became one of the world’s best when he was awarded the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Balloon d’Or, becoming the first African player to win this award.
To date, no other African player has reached this height.
Watch some of Weah’s best plays here:
Apart from there, Weah received the African Player of the Year award three times. One of his most-celebrated periods is was when he zoomed past seven Verona players to score a goal, after running the entire field.
A lot of his critics have said he doesn’t have the required knowledge to nurture Liberia’s economy and turn the country into an investor’s haven. But to his credit, he has gone on to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Keller Graduate School of Management and DeVry University in Miami.
Weah has also participated in several humanitarian interventions and programs not only in Liberia but all over the world. He was named UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1997, participated in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and rehabilitated child soldiers through vocational training earning Nelson Mandela accolades in the process.
A lot of political analysts are interested to see whether a top global soccer player-turned-politician will win the highest political post in an African country for the first time.
The challenges, though, are numerous.
Weah is vying against other great compatriots, such as Jewel Howard Taylor, former wife of the Liberian warlord Charles Taylor who is also a senator with two MBAs in the bag; Leymah Gbowee, a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; Joseph Boakai, the vice president of Liberia; Mill Jones, the Central Bank governor, and others.
The next president of Liberia will have to tackle the challenges of poor economy occasioned by the sporadic decrease in the nation’s commodities as well as challenges in education, health, and more.
Whatever people are saying about President Sirleaf, it is to her credit that Liberia was able to settle down after the turbulent conflict that ravaged the country before 2005. In addition, she was able to manage the Ebola crisis, even with a large number of victims recorded.
In spite of the numerous challenges in Liberia today, it is to President Sirleaf’s credit that Liberia has not plunged into anarchy. She has improved the country’s Human Development Index as well as the economy as a whole, even with the challenges of high-scale corruption and massive poverty.
What happens in Liberia in 2017 will be dependent on the resolve of stakeholders in Liberia to move the country forward. As an important West African country, they must get it right. If not, it will be bad news for the impoverished citizens of Liberia and a burden to the entire continent.
Consequently, George Oppong Weah is an interesting candidate to watch in the elections but how well he can translate his vision into reality remains to be seen.