The ball now at his feet
The emergence of George Opong Weah, the soccer star, as President of the Republic of Liberia is clearly a victory for democratic process in Africa. It is a lesson in dogged quest for national service on a continent notorious for poor leadership, poverty of ideas and ineptitude of their management when proffered by those who have them. It is an inspiration to the youth of Africa.
The football star was elected President in a run-off poll conducted on December 26 last year, an election with very serious implications for Africans all over the world.
A committed investor in the development of his country after his retirement from soccer, Weah is well known as a man concerned about the poor condition of his people and his determination to do something about it has never been in doubt. After his first shot at the presidency in an election which he contested against Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Nigeria’s then President Olusegun Obasanjo advised Weah to suspend his ambition of becoming president, albeit temporarily, so he could go back to school. Obasanjo told him that if he (Weah) heeded his advice, he would personally campaign for him to become the next President of Liberia. Weah indeed, listened to Obasanjo, took his advice and went back to school. Today he holds a Master’s degree and is back as leader of Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic.
He is thus a product of rigorous grooming and a well prepared leader ready to roll. The hope therefore is that George Weah would succeed as Liberia’s president largely because of his desire to truly serve, his personal bond with the people and the level of commitment he has put into developing himself for the office.
With Weah, Liberia has recorded yet another first: the first nation to produce a footballer-President had produced the first democratically elected two-term female President in Africa, the outgoing President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.That peaceful transfer of power through election is, indeed, a remarkable lesson for all.
Also, Weah’s coming as President should be inspiring for the African youth. In the young, there is hope for the continent. When they are in constructive engagement with the people and they fully identify with their society’s common challenges with a view to being part of the solution, the world is theirs to conquer.
George Oppong Weah was born on October 1, 1966 in Monrovia, Liberia. His soccer imprints are indelible as he was African, European, and World Player of the Year in a single year, 1995, an unprecedented achievement. He shared a lot in common with the legendary Pele (Edson Arantes De Nascimento) who started playing with borrowed socks in the poorest neighbourhood of Brazil but eventually rose to global pre-eminence as a football legend of all times.
Weah once led Young Survivors, a team without a coach, into the first division, signed a three-year semi-professional contract with top Cameroonian club Tonnerre of Yaoundé, which won its league in his first season (1987). In his five seasons with the French club, Monaco (1987–92), he scored 57 goals, and the team won the French Cup in 1991. Subsequently he transferred to AC Milan (1995–2000) in Italy’s Serie A, helping the club win the 1996 and 1999 league titles. In January 2000 AC Milan loaned him to Chelsea Football Club of London, where he made an important contribution to that team’s Football Association Cup triumph. By the end of his career, Weah had scored more goals and played in more matches than other African professionals in Europe.
But Weah’s march to presidential victory has been hardly as entertaining as his exploits in soccer. He endured personal tragedy in the Liberian war, losing many family members and huge property holding, as he sought to play the peacemaker. He poured his heart into the struggle for the liberation of the Liberian people from hatred and put up much more than exceptional dribbling and shooting skills to emerge President of Africa’s oldest republic.
George Weah works hard. His passion for the people is legendary and his compassion for the poor as well as readiness to help break the yoke has been a major driving force. Hence his longstanding commitment to humanitarian activities, especially in Africa, has earned him the admiration of all. He has promoted many vocational training schools where former child soldiers and other war-affected youth could learn new skills.
The immortal Nelson Mandela once called him the ‘African Pride.’Weah first ran for president of his country as a member of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party in 2005. After winning the first round of voting, he was defeated by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of the Unity Party (UP) in the runoff election.He initially challenged the election results in court, but he later dropped the case. He also faced Johnson-Sirleaf again in the October 2011 presidential election, then on the ticket of the CDC as a vice presidential candidate to Winston Tubman. But that ticket lost to Johnson-Sirleaf who got re-elected by a wide margin. In December 2014 Weah ran for the position of senator of Montserrado county again on the platform of the CDC and defeated his opponent, Robert Sirleaf, son of his former electoral nemesis and outgoing president.
George Weah is riding to power on the crest of alliance of political forces waving a flag of national unity. And unity is one thing Liberia needs now.Suffice to say that George Weah should avoid the trappings of public office that have brought many African leaders to ignominy. As a football star, he is deemed well primed for an appreciation of team work as key to success. He is well advised therefore to pick the brightest and the best of Liberians to assist him in the enormous task of nation building. He has the ball at his feet now. May he score great goals for Liberia as President.
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