Liberia has been through its fair share of issues when it comes to leadership, with ruthless dictators like Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor in power in the 1990s during its bloody civil war, there was a glimmer of hope given to the country when it elected the first African woman to be President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and although she was accused of nepotism during her administration, the Nobel peace prize recipient made significant changes to the country that aided them to their road to peace in the country. However, she was defeated by former soccer superstar George Weah in 2017 and his administration has been in hot water for their corruption as well as their civil unrest during the coronavirus outbreak that has affected the entire world. From shutting down social media, to investigations regarding his finances, will Liberia ever get out of the cycle of constant political corruption?
Like many presidents, Weah made a serious of promises to fix the broken economy of the country and ran on the notion of him being “pro-poor”. He even took a pay cut:
“In a symbolic act, the president announced he was cutting his own salary by 25% and fulfilled his campaign promise to waive exam fees for around 34,000 secondary school students. The government announced plans to provide a digital registration system and free Wi-Fi at the University of Liberia. It vowed to pay the salaries of hundreds of teachers and fill vacant positions.” (African Arguments).
He also sparked controversy with his people because of who he chose to be his running mate Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex-wife of former president and war criminal Chrales Taylor. Weah thought it was good idea to have her because of her strong role as the first lady and experience in the running’s of the Liberian government, but it rubbed many of his supporters the wrong way due to her contributing to the deaths of many Liberians during the civil war.
In the summer of 2019, many Liberians had enough and began protesting the administration accusing them of nepotism. Weah in response not only shut off social media but made a chilling statement to his people stating “If you think you can insult this president and walk in the street freely, it will not happen. And I defy you.” (The Guardian)
One of his biggest controversies was the accusation of him mishandling money, “Since Weah became president, inflation has soared and growth has shrunk, according to the IMF, which said in a recent report that the government’s wage bill was too high. The rising cost of living has had a devastating effect on many in a country where 64% of the population live below the poverty line.” (African Arguments)
He was also accused to stealing money after he lost 8 million of the 25 million dollars what was said to be used to revive the already failing economy, and he stated that he had no clue where the money had gone.
I believe all these factors are nothing new regarding leadership in Africa, as an African myself, I don’t see this going away at all, and the current covid-19 pandemic is just exacerbating the issues that many of these countries already had and will continue to have. I do not believe that President Weah is a “bad” man, because let’s face it, Liberia has seen much worse in leaders, if people took to the streets and protested during the presidency of Charles Taylor, the headlines would have been different, and bloodier.
The democratic erosion of Liberia has come to a head, and with Weah stating he will not be going for another turn, this is the time for the Young people Liberia to step up and find proper leadership. They have been through enough, with sexual assaults being unreported and many workers not receiving their paychecks due to the messed-up economy, this could be a good turning point for them. It will be interesting to see who steps up to the plate and gives the country the amazing leadership they deserve. Many Africans are saying “mama Africa is bleeding”, although the next election in Liberia will not happen until 2023, the times we are in are ample for young leaders and activists to establish the kind of country they want for themselves and their children, the choice is theirs.
KOLLIE, S. D., 346, 3, & 224. (2018). Liberia’s President Weah 100 days in: Promises made, promises kept? Retrieved November 23, 2020, from https://africanarguments.org/2018/05/02/liberia-president-weah-100-days-in-promises-made-promises-kept/
Football. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/sports/football-the-games
Maclean, R., & Boley, T. (2019). Protests in Liberia over George Weah’s failure to tackle corruption. Retrieved November 23, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/07/thousands-protest-in-liberia-against-failure-to-tackle-corruption
Rouse, L. (2020). Liberians grow wary of George Weah as economic woes deepen. Retrieved November 23, 2020, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/1/28/liberians-grow-wary-of-george-weah-as-economic-woes-deepen