By Ryan Love | LIBERIA
They say third times the charm: for former Liberian soccer star and now president-elect of the West African country George Weah, this certainly rings true. In a runoff election against the countries current Vice President, Joseph Boakai, Weah won convincingly carrying 12 of the 15 counties in Liberia. In an election with low voter turnout, usually the candidate with the most name recognition has the advantage. This was true for this election as well, only it wasn’t the politician who served for over ten years as the vice president, but rather a soccer star who benefitted.
President-elect Weah was a striker for Chelsea, AC Milan, and Manchester City in his storied career. His accomplishments include winning the FA Cup and being the first West African to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or, the highest honor awarded to an individual soccer player. President-elect Weah’s stardom benefited him most among youths under 30, a demographic that makes up the majority of Liberians.
The challenges that lay in front of him as President are most certainly going to be more difficult than anything he encountered on the pitch. Liberia is one of the poorest countries in Africa and is recovering from both a civil war fought a decade ago and an Ebola epidemic still fresh in everyone’s mind. President-elect Weah is no stranger to politics, however. Since 2015 he has served as a Senator from Liberia’s Montserrado County.
He also has a few political actions on his record that should bode well for the public. President-elect Weah, a member of the Coalition for Democratic Change party, has co-sponsored bills to improve the lives of youths in Liberia, including initiatives to help with employment and education. He is also a former UN peace ambassador who worked to disarm child soldiers. President-elect Weah is perhaps most of all a symbol for what Liberians are capable of accomplishing on the international stage. Someone they can rally behind and support in politics as much as they did during his soccer playing days.
However, President-elect Weah is not without controversy. He has been criticized for his lack of formal education, including a scandal that involved him claiming a degree from a less than accredited university, accused of awarding degrees without formal class work. He also came under fire for leaving a meeting with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) before any serious business had been discussed, perhaps indicating that he intends to take on a more ceremonial role as President, and that his running mate Jewel Howard Taylor, veteran Liberian Senator and politician of the National Patriotic Party will handle the more day to day aspects of the presidency.
Ultimately, whatever happens in Liberia should be interesting to follow. Perhaps President-elect Weah will help to revitalize a country plagued with political, health, and economic problems? Or will he fall into corruption that is unfortunately all too common in the game of politics? There may also be some parallels between Liberia and the United States. President Trump and the President-elect of Liberia came to power because of their celebrity and discontent with current political structures. As they both come to grips with the political game, will they be as successful as they were outside of politics? Or will politics prove to be an all too different beast? Only time will tell.