Tuesday, January 22, George Oppong Weah was sworn in as the 24th president of Liberia. It was historic, being the first political transition between two democratically-elected governments in the country in 44 years.
While promising no quick fixes but steady progress in addressing his country’s problems, Weah told the cheering crowd in Monrovia, the country’s capital that “today is a feeling like no other.” However, in the immediate for President Weah is to fight corruption in his country and pay its workers “a living wage.”
Also is to reposition education and healthcare and create jobs for the unemployed in the country.
Born on October 1. 1966 in a slum of Monrovia, Weah emerged a successful professional football player, winning African Footballer of the Year, European Footballer of the Year and World Footballer of the Year in a trot–the only African professional footballer to have done so.
The newest of African Heads of States told BBC that observers should look beyond him as a successful professional footballer but as a human being who strives to be excellent, adding that with the help of Liberian people, “I will be successful.”
Many people in the West African country that have survived two ghastly civil wars believe strongly that the hope and future of the country would be better assured with Weah’s leadership.
This would not end up misplaced if President Weah buckles down to tackle widespread poverty in a country of less than five million people where 63 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line with corruption described as “endemic and permeating most of the society,” by Transparency International.
It could be recalled that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Weah’s predecessor made similar pronouncements against corruption in the country upon assumption of power in 2006. Sirleaf promised to fight corruption which she described as a “major public enemy,” but 12 years later, the country ranked 90 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2016 corruption perception index.
Sirleaf earned high marks in nepotism for appointing her son, Charles as the governor of the Liberian Central Bank. Charles Sirleaf was later indicted for breaching asset declaration rules.
She also chose another of her son Robert as chief executive of the National Oil Company of Liberia. She made her third son, Fombah, head of the country’s national security agency, charged with superintending the country’s internal security. Accusation of expropriation of funds against Fombah later emerged.
The orchestration of the investigation panel by President Sirleaf forced Justice Christiana Tah, the country’s Justice Minister to resign in October 2014, in protest, leveling an accusation of interference against Sirleaf. She did not bother much with critics’ worry that she appointed three of her sons into critical positions in her government.
In driving the programmes he has earmarked for his government, President Weah must be mindful of the fact that many divisive utterances in the presidential electioneering tended to open the scars of the country’s brutal civil war and as such don’t lose sight of pursuing an enduring reconciliation initiatives.
Clearly, not much in concrete terms had been done towards giving life to the recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission launched in 2005, following the end of the civil war in 2003.
Many of the young people who fought in the country’s long-drawn civil war are still jobless and angry at the lack of economic opportunities for them.
The United Nations states that more than 60 per cent of Liberia’s population is made up of young people with youth unemployment estimated to be as high as 85 per cent. This is in the face of a population growth rate of 2.7 per cent.
The ravages of the civil war on the country’s infrastructure are indeed, still visible and present. The gruesome civil war raged for 14 years (1989 and 2003), leaving about 250,000 people dead. Following the devastation, most citizens still do not have access to electricity, while power cuts are commonplace occurrences in the country’s major cities and towns.
Those who access electricity do so at a prohibitive cost, leaving many of the citizens to rather prefer running power generators. If Weah completes the reconstruction of the Coffee Hydro Dam–which is Sirleaf’s flagship project–it will only add about 22 megawatts of electricity to the country’s national grid.
Teenage pregnancies, gang crimes, poverty, youth delinquency, all of which spilled from the war still dominate the Liberian society. Health and education are decrepit with over 50 per cent of the country’s schools and hospitals destroyed in the war.
President Weah’s Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries, ranked 177 out of 188 in the UN Development Index. This places the new president in no enviable position and gives him more than a handful of problems.