Weah: From Mister George to Mister President
One day, George Weah was awarded the Ballon d’Or. Soon, he might be the new president of the Republic of Liberia. Twelve years after his first campaign, the former PSG striker came out on top of the first electoral turn last week and has never seemed closer to his presidential aspirations.
You don’t pass the obstacles to a presidency as easily as that of a backfield defence. In the US, Nixon had to try twice. It was three times in France for both François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac. Since he’s given up sweating in a football jersey, George Weah is now perspiring in a three-piece suit, anxious to reach the highest position in Liberia. It’s been twelve years now that Mister George takes jabs at his native’s country’s presidency, and back in 2005, during his big start in politics, he managed to get a little over 40% of votes. Liberia was just then leaving years under Charles Taylor, who’s been since then convicted of Crimes against Humanity and war crimes, and the political transition has to be supervised by the UN in order for the country to find sure footing again. Then only 39 and not fully retired from the fields, George Weah ran headfirst into the battle despite flocks of critiques. Too young, without sufficient experience, away during the years of civil strife and used to the comfort of the life of a professional football player, Weah was badly shaken throughout the campaign, and the victory went to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - the first female president elect of Liberia.
Stolen in 2005?
After two consecutive mandates, she cannot run for a third term this year. So, twelve years after his initial assault, George Weah came back in the fight. In an interview given to Jeune Afrique last May, he was adamant: “I’m the choice of Liberians.” He even swore that the 2005 election was shady at best: “In 2005, the electoral commission was neither free nor transparent. (...) I would have won. In fact, we did win as soon as the first run. This election was stolen from us.”
Worries about his lack of experience have since then faded and during the 2011 presidential election, Weah agreed to keep to the back lines and only run for the Vice-presidency. Three years later, in 2014, he gets his first political appointment as senator of Monrovia, the country’s capital where he was born and raised. In short, Weah has never been in a better position to win the presidential race, and plans to rely on his worldwide fame to help his country. “Who in Liberia has more credibility than I do? The face of Liberia abroad, it’s my face. When talking about Liberia, people go: ‘Hey, that’s where George Weah’s from.’”
‘I’ll always be here’
But if Weah did play the waiting game and win by being elected senators, his political opponents still find plenty to nitpick. Nelson Mandela himself one day called the former Ballon d’or the “Pride of Africa”, but Weah’s lack of political convictions are still the basis of mockery in Liberia. Indeed, his campaign speeches have a tendency to ring hollow, and sound more like a follow up of catch-all statements. He promises schools, hospitals, jobs, yet without ever explaining how exactly he is going to make it all happen. Nevertheless, voters seem to be ready to trust him, and just launched him in the lead of the race with a victory on the first turn on October 10. The date of the second turn will be settled on next Tuesday, after the definitive results of the first round have been released. As for his adversary, Liberians put their faith in Joseph Boakai, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s former VP. A tough opponent that should prove as hard to tackle as a way in the net of the 90’s best keepers. But fans of Weah the player need not despair: if elected, their hero will keep on dribbling in his native neighbourhood of Monrovia, where he kept his friends. In his own words to the AFP before the start of the campaign: “Even if I’m elected president of Liberia, people will see me play here. I’ll always be here.” And what if he loses?