Liberia: How and Why President Weah’s Failures in Leadership Ended His 2nd Term Bid

By S. Karweaye

Judging by the high spate of insecurity, shrank economy, and endemic corruption in public affairs, among several other vices pervading the country at the time President George Weah is fighting for re-election, Liberia can be rightly said to have drifted inexorably into a failed state. 

The point being made here is that nowhere and no one is safe under the Weah government, except probably the heavily guarded so-called public officials. Six years of his leadership had not improved the national economy either; rather, it collapsed. The national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), representing the total value of all economic activities in the country, had nosed-dived and remained down, pushing the country into almost a state of permanent recession throughout his regime. Depletion of our foreign reserve and humongous debts with no productivity combined to send the value of the Liberian dollar plummeting to an exchange rate of LD 188 to US$1 at the time Weah was seeking re-election, and the resulting inflation sent many Liberians below the poverty line into a state of deprivation and destitution. In 2023, Liberia was listed as the tenth poorest country in the world.

The same failure was also evident in the fight against corruption. With the appointment of Ndubusi Nwabudike as the head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), the key anti-corruption agency, in contravention of the law, the fight against corruption started on a wrong footing under Weah. On account of reports accusing Nwabudike of obtaining his Liberian citizenship illegally, thus denting his moral standing to prosecute the war, the Senate declined to confirm his nomination as required by law. 

Still, President Weah kept him in office for months, thus calling to question the sincerity of the administration’s commitment to fight corruption. Not surprisingly, Nwabudike himself ended up being further accused by Senator Darius DIllion which led to the Senate investigation on his citizenship which resulted in his resignation as the LACC head. In effect, the twin evils of bribery and corruption continued having a field day under the Weah-led CDC regime. Hence, all over the country, persons on corruption charges were roaming about free. Many had even bribed themselves back into public offices either in elective or appointive capacities.

There were also widespread outrageous open displays of stupendous wealth by several serving public officers, hitherto living from hand to mouth, suggesting corrupt enrichments in the Weah government. Under Weah Liberia is ranked amongst the top most corrupt countries on earth. As it is, Nwabudike ’s deputy at the LACC Kanio Gbala was allegedly embroiled in a corruption scandal at the National Port Authority. Aside from these core issues, many other aspects of our national life similarly deteriorated under the Weah administration, the principal of which is ethical decay. What was morally wrong, had become politically right. But one needs not list instances, for they were endless! Right under our noses, we helplessly watched Liberia drift into a failed state. This is the stark reality that must be admitted by the Weah regime.

Weah ran for office and was elected president on a set of principles of trust and hope. In 2017, the overriding factor in Weah’s campaign was “Change For Hope”, on his assumed integrity, incorruptibility, forthrightness, and the magic wand to deliver! The presidential campaign was mainly about Weah the person – not his policies, nor his programs, nor even his political party, but Weah the man and his promises – that had received the drumming endorsement of the Liberian people, particularly north and southeasterners. 

To virtually everyone in the southeastern region, Weah was the only man, and therefore the only hope, for the people. That was why a sagacious political strategist would draw up a sophisticated strategic blueprint after his 2-failed attempts without asking for something in return. That was why young and old people would sit out in the scorching sun at the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) headquarters for a whole day just to see and listen to the man Weah without expecting anything back from him. That was why poor wheelbarrow pushers, nail cutters, shoe shiners, motorcyclists, taxi drivers, hewers of woods, and fetchers of water, literally the wretched of Liberia, would starve themselves to buy their shirts and print Weah’s photo without any hope of ever meeting him. And that was why someone would trek from New Kru Town, Logan Town, Clara Town, and West Point to Sinkor in a joyous celebration of Weah’s electoral victory without a price tag.

So, when Weah won the contest and was sworn in as president, it was expected he would solve the numerous problems of the country. Other than solving problems of individuals’ survival, there were also daunting challenges threatening the very survival of the nation itself that President Weah was equally expected to resolve. In his inaugural speech, Weah summed these concerns up into three – corruption, economy, and development partners. In other words, the resolution of these three would resolve both the individual’ and collective developmental challenges of the nation; to create a sense of belonging and forge functional unity in a desperate and despairing nation torn apart by cries of marginalization and agitations tendencies.

Given that Presiden Weah came to office with the confidence and goodwill of Liberians behind him, it was sad that, as seen above, he woefully failed in his leadership and lost the people’s confidence and goodwill in the last six years. So how and why did he fail as president? To me, the simple and truthful answer to this twin question is that President Weah just lacked leadership acumen, which he displayed in seven discernible ways.

First, as president, Weah was deficient in the effective acquisition, control, and utilization of state authority to deliver valuable leadership. After being sworn into office he failed to immediately appoint officials who would take control and charge in the utilization of state power timely, resulting in a period of lull in the polity and creating doubts in people’s minds to his leadership ability. It was after petulant whispers started becoming loud reproaches that a handful of Advisers, Ministers to Government, and a couple of personal aides were appointed. Consequently, when at last he constituted his cabinet, he ended up with a kakistocratic team that further plummeted the situation. Thus, from the beginning, Weah had sown the first seed of leadership failure by neglecting this critical aspect in the exercise of state power as an important element of governance. Since then, he lost the momentum and never regained it.

Second, there was an incapacity to provide strong and decisive leadership by President Weah. Even though the regime’s apologists always blamed his failings on the enormity of the misdeeds of past regimes, COVID-19, or the dislocated structures of our society, the real reason was the lack of leadership’s firmness, confidence, and direction from the president himself. Almost any problem can be successfully resolved if there is effective leadership at the top. All that is required is the force of personal leadership, and this was manifestly lacking in President Weah. He is a passive leader – one who allowed problems to be solved themselves, refusing to intervene even when it was necessary! Given that the resolution of the country’s problems is the responsibility of the government, it therefore ultimately required direction and prodding of the leadership at the Executive Mansion. That entailed the president taking full charge and responsibility for all acts and outcomes of whatever events the government set in motion. Where this is lacking, then there is a problem. And this is simply absent in President Weah’s leadership.

Third, even in organizing collective decisions, President Weah exhibited other serious deficits. Throughout the six years, there was a lack of harmony and coordination among the various segments and agencies of the executive organ he headed. There were conflicts and acrimony among members of the government that affected the regime’s general output. In all these, the president abandoned his appointees to thrash out issues and settle differences and disagreements themselves, with minimum or no intervention from him. This was a wrong approach to leadership, as harmony and cooperation are benchmarks for successful government, and the role of the leader in ensuring these conditions is essential.

Fourth, throughout his reign, President Weah had little value for ideas and innovations. The essence of collective decision-making in a government is to aggregate various ideas from cabinet members to evolve the best policy option for the problem at hand. As we all know, there are plenty of good ideas out there if only they were listened to and harnessed into use by the leadership. But the president is a non-listening leader. This explains his rebuffing of all genuine and well-meaning calls on him to amend his ways on certain national issues. He even alienated the ideas of his key appointees through his misconceived directive to his Cabinet Ministers to pass through his Chief of Staff (at the time Nathaniel Mcgill) in dealing, communicating, and meeting with him. This was a bureaucratic process that delivered, but mediocrity. A serious leader must evaluate and guide first-hand the initiatives of his appointees. 

However, in Weah’s disorderly style, an appointee became responsible for evaluating and deciding on policy initiatives of other appointees. This was not only an unnecessary bureaucratic bottleneck created but the process also indeed diminished the zeal, confidence, and energy of the appointees concerned, ultimately hindering the general policy outputs of his government. Naturally, this lack of direct evaluation and guidance of the president on the initiatives of his appointees rendered the government slow, weak, and bankrupt in ideas, and in policy formulation and implementation. 

Consequently, nothing was properly or usefully designed and decided, as all initiatives and energy were paralyzed. Not surprisingly, under such a situation nothing much was achieved.

Fifth, whatever efforts put forth by other members of the government were mired in confusion from the outset owing chiefly to a lack of good understanding of the real issues at play, thereby resulting in poor policy options and choices. The reason was that most of the personnel he appointed did not fit the offices they occupied. Sourcing the right personnel to occupy key offices of government is no doubt important, but the refinement of the personnel to fit the offices assigned to them is even more important. To this end, sufficient thought was not given by the president to match the character of the individual with the demands of the office assigned to them. In this, President Weah also failed miserably. A purposeful leadership must always have its policymakers strive to conceive and implement new initiatives to create and maintain positive momentum for the government. And this can only happen if the right persons hold the right offices.

The sixth failure in President Weah’s leadership style was temporization. The president hardly took decisions on virtually any issue. It looked as if the president hated making decisions at all until compelled to do so. We saw that in him time and again on even the most serious issues. These included the formation of his cabinet, acting on corruption allegations against his appointees, resignation of his chief of staff and key officials on US sanction listing, injecting capable hands into government, etc. Not that a long period of procrastination necessarily gives cause to making the right decisions, or decisiveness leads to making bad decisions, but temporization is hardly a virtue in the books of leadership. As the saying goes, the easier it is for a leader to do nothing, the harder it is for him to achieve anything. A good leader must be decisive; he must abhor procrastination, temporization, and equivocation. We saw this virtue in President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; for whatever may be said of his leadership faults, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was undoubtedly a decisive leader.

Seventh, Weah as a person had serious moral and ethical burdens weighing down his personality, and therefore affected his leadership output. On coming to power, President Weah grassed up those who were pivotal to his victory; those who stood by him and sacrificed everything – their intellect, their wealth, and putting their lives on the line for him at a time when crass opportunists were all running away from him. By this act of betrayal, he purposelessly made enemies out of his friends; those who believed in him persevered through hardships, threats, and persecution, and never wavered against all odds at a time when he was being stigmatized, abused, and dreaded. But when he got to power, those who had maligned him, with whose invectives his opponents campaigned against him; those who ran away from him in his hour of need, swarmed back on him like flies on rotten carcass, unfortunately making him turn his back on those who made it possible for him to gain power in the first place.

 No one would commit such a misdemeanor against those who made the real difference in his electoral victory after two unsuccessful attempts and still succeed in leadership. No one; no way! The reason is simple – it is against natural laws of power! In other words, his leadership failed to imbibe the necessary essence of the Divine Doctrine of Reward and Punishment, which is God’s command. President Weah refused to reward meritorious deeds and punish acts of transgressions throughout, a central policy thrust that not only brings out the best in citizens and serves as a deterrent in national service, but in the light of the serious problems then faced would have also manifestly helped restore his ebbing political standing, the success and popularity of the administration and the wellbeing and stability of the country.

These manifest deficiencies of Weah weakened his regime and rendered it highly vulnerable to internal manipulation and external sabotage. It created a situation that was both unsuited to the active requirements of a country in dire need of peace, economic growth, and political stability, and uninspiring, discouraging, and disappointing to zealous and devoted politicians, intellectuals, bureaucrats, patriotic citizens, etc. who were eager to see Liberia leap forward into the developed world of the 21st century. 

Holding onto this poor leadership style to the end, his presidency became for Liberia nd just another six years of squandered time and resources that offered no solutions for salvaging the country, redeeming and securing her future. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, admonished leaders to spare no effort in protecting the polity and the ‘kingship’ institution. But President Weah failed to heed Aristotle’s admonition; and with this failure, he failed in leadership and collapsed the nation under him. His regime was, as Aristotle would say, “like a cloud that passed on without dropping rain.” Those that have ears, let them hear.