We congratulate Mr. George Oppong Weah, 51, on his stunning victory in the presidential election run-off in Liberia, having won 13 of the 15 counties in the country and 61.5 per cent of the votes cast. We commend his opponent, Liberia’s Vice President Joseph Boakai, 73, for his gallantry in conceding the election and congratulating the victor. It is reassuring that Boakai went further to dispel the suggestion of any future legal challenge.
That is as it should be in a clean, free and fair election. We, therefore, congratulate the people of Liberia for a peaceful democratic exercise and for building on their democracy after decades of dictatorship and nearly 15 years of civil war and social strife.
George Weah is something of a prodigy. Arsene Wenger, who took him to Europe in 1988 for the first time, could not help but recall the humble boy picked up from Clara Town slum where he grew up, an hour away from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. He appeared in Monaco, unknown, looking lost and unsure of anything but his mental and physical strength, plus a determination to succeed. In seven short years, he had worked himself to the pinnacle of global football by winning the FIFA World Footballer of the Year and the Ballon D’Or, becoming the first and, till date, the only African to win those laurels. That year, he also won the European Footballer of the Year Award and was named the African Footballer of the Year. The following year, 1996, he was named the African Footballer of the Century.
Weah demonstrated that football is, first and foremost, a mental contest to which physical strength is an essential complement. In his most sensational goal in Italy against Verona, he ran the whole length of the field, beating seven defenders. So much has been said about his skills – his speed, dribbling ability and clinical finishing – such that FIFA describes him as “the precursor of the multi-functional strikers of today.” It is in recognition of his skills that he is on Pele’s list of the “World’s 100 greatest living players.”
His return to “adult education” after his soccer career shows a motivated man who knows the value of education, a model sportsman who after all those enviable attainments, humbled himself to return to sit for his school certificate in 2006, then went ahead to seek tertiary education till he obtained a Master’s degree.
We think Weah is probably one of the best prepared Africans for the post he has been elected into. Having been raised in a slum, he would have no excuse not to understand the needs of the poor. Having been in the Senate, he cannot but be familiar with the workings of the legislature. He was always considered a man with a good heart. Even while he was still playing in Europe, he was so committed to Liberia, he was willing to pay his own money to help the national team when the government was unable to do so. He is considered a man of peace and his attitude to politics is considered exemplary. In the 2005 presidential election, he was narrowly beaten by the incumbent Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, yet after the elections, he did not have a rancorous relationship with her.
Weah’s job is well cut out for him. He has to build on the efforts of the outgoing president. He must consolidate the peace which has prevailed during the years of democratic rule. He must work harder on the provision of essential infrastructure. Liberia has been able to attract a great deal of international understanding and sympathy, and he must explore the enormous goodwill the country enjoys to boost electricity supply and other facilities which are now in short supply. His victory should be an inspiration for African youths. He must realise that Africa’s eyes are keenly watching how well he justifies the responsibilities placed upon him by his election.