Today, the whole world watched on as history was made in Liberia – an embodiment of inspiration and a never-say-die attitude, George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah, was sworn in as the new Liberian President.
George Weah made history as he was voted the new President of Liberia after trouncing his opponent in a second round of voting.
The story of George Weah’s rise from poverty and hopelessness to soccer stardom and up to becoming president of Liberia is well documented throughout the world as an inspiration for those at the lower rungs of the ladder to ponder the popular expression that “Wonders shall never end.” Weah’s search for the Liberian leadership commenced in 2005 when he lost to the proverbial ‘iron lady’ Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The former World Footballer of the Year becomes the first famous player in the world to clinch the highest office of a country after retiring from the round leather game.
The 1995 Fifa World Player of the Year, three-time African Footballer of the Year and the first African player to win the Ballon d’Or, defeated the incumbent vice president, Joseph Boakai and will now succeed the first elected female president in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Weah, who topped the first round of voting but did not secure the 50 percent needed to win outright, won the runoff after soundly beating Boakai.
How the road to presidency started
In 2005, shortly after the end of the Second Liberian Civil War, the 1995 Ballon D’or winner, George Weah announced his intentions to run for presidency in Liberia. But popular as he was in his native homeland, the opposition cited him as an inexperienced politician with no education and labeled him “babe in the woods”. Weah lost to the Harvard-educated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but in 2014 he beat her son Robert to the Senate of Congress for Democratic Change.
George Oppong Weah, was among 20 candidates who contested for Liberia’s presidency, on 10 October 2017, as some 2.1 million people went to the polls on to elect a new leader of the West African nation after 12 years under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female president.
Weah, now 51, is not new to politics and the presidential race.
After hanging up his boots in 2003, he founded the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party under which he ran for the 2005 presidential elections, emerging as winner of the first round but losing the runoff to Sirleaf.
It was a heartbreaking experience for the former AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain striker, who was counting on his pitch popularity to plough through a political terrain rendered vulnerable by 15 years of armed conflicts. While Weah maintained the 2005 presidential runoff was rigged in favour of his female opponent (after initially winning 28.3% of the vote in the first round, Weah lost the runoff 40.6% against 59.4% for Sirleaf), his critics believed the former Liberia captain, who singlehandedly sponsored the team during the country’s civil war, was not given the mandate because of his poor educational background.
Weah did not progress beyond high school by then while Sirleaf in contrast, was educated at Harvard in the United States and formerly worked at the World Bank and the United Nations and also served as Liberia’s minister of finance in the 1970s.
Weah took to social media to give a disguised victory message telling his supporters he is on ‘the verge of making history for our people’ and thanked the people for their votes.
The finals results are expected four days but efficiency of the electoral body has resulted in votes being counted faster.
Nearly 2.2 million people were eligible to vote in the runoff in the West African country.
Initially scheduled for November 7, the vote was delayed after the party of a third candidate filed a legal complaint alleging voter fraud and irregularities.
Both Weah, the candidate for the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), and Boakai, of the Unity Party, had promised to revive Liberia’s struggling economy and kick start infrastructure projects but it is clear the former footballer will now bear that responsibility.
Liberians have effectively choosen a successor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, whose 12-year rule helped cement peace in Liberia after two bloody civil wars, which spanned 14 years before ending in 2003.
Weah boasts of 193 goals from 411 club matches and 22 goals for the Lone Stars, but failed to score in the November 8, 2005 runoff against Sirleaf.
He backed out of the political scene and enrolled to study business administration at DeVry University in Miami, graduating and returning to Liberia in 2009 ahead of the 2011 presidential elections.
Contrary to wide expectations, Weah declined to be on top of the CDC ticket for the vote, standing as a running mate to Winston Tubman, a former justice minister and diplomat. Both men were defeated by Sirleaf, who clinched, in a landslide, a second six-year term following a boycott by CDC in the runoff to protest against an alleged rigging in the first round.
Three years later, Weah decided to play from the back and organise his defence and midfield properly, which he deemed as sine qua non for future success.
Playing from the back meant running for a lower political post such as the Senate. And on December 20, 2014, Weah defeated Robert Sirleaf, son of president Sirleaf, 78% to 11 % to represent Montserrado County, becoming the first Liberian athlete to be elected in the Legislature.
Three years more, time is ripe to attempt the ultimate again – the Presidency.
Celebrating his victory, Weah took to Twitter to thank all his supporters, and Liberians for the victory saying that he plans to liberate the country.
“It is with deep emotion that I want to thank you, the Liberian people, for honoring me with your vote today. It is a great hope”, he said.
Born 1 October 1966) George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah is a former footballer and Liberian politician, elected president on Tuesday, December 26 and retired professional footballer who played as a striker. Regarded as one of the greatest African players of all-time and as one of the best forwards of his generation, in 1995 he was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or, becoming the first African player to win these awards. In 1989, 1994 and 1995, he was named the African Footballer of the Year, and in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century.
Known for his acceleration, speed, and dribbling ability, in addition to his goalscoring and finishing, Weah was described by FIFA as “the precursor of the multi-functional strikers of today”. In 2004, he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players.
After starting his career in his home country of Liberia, Weah spent 14 years of his professional football career playing for clubs in France, Italy and England. Arsène Wenger, Arsenal manager, brought him to Europe when he signed for Monaco in 1988. Weah moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 1992 where he won Ligue 1 in 1994 and became the top scorer of the 1994–95 UEFA Champions League. He signed for Milan in 1995 where he spent four successful seasons, and won the Italian Serie A twice. His most notable goal in Italy saw him run the length of the field against Verona. He moved to the English Premier League towards the end of his career and had spells at Chelsea and Manchester City, before returning to France to play for Marseille in 2001, and subsequently ending his career with Al-Jazira in 2003. At international level, he represented Liberia at the African Cup of Nations on two occasions.
An idol in Africa, Weah has been heavily involved in politics in his homeland Liberia. He ran unsuccessfully for president in the 2005 election, losing to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the second round of voting.