Liberia: Unseating Weah Faces Key Obstacle: His Supporters


— A solid and devoted corps of supporters appears ready to follow the Liberian leader no matter the situation, despite the fact that his administration is challenged by issues of rising unemployment and poverty.

President George Weah has entered the 2023  presidential contest as clear front-runner after being renominated by the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change to contest for a second term.

Weah, whose administration is riddled with rising poverty, poor human capital development, and unemployment, was renominated at a rally which was not expected to have some of his support discussing  hard-nosed analysis of his performance in office.

But some of the president's ardent supporters who trooped in their numbers to fill the  Antoinette Tubman Stadium  to its maximum capacity of 15,000  were blunt that Weah had not done much in addressing rising unemployment, and other economic issues.

“President Weah misunderstood the severity of the  country’s challenges when he took office, so much attention was not placed on consolidating the gains made by his predecessor to improve the living standard of the people, while creating employment opportunities and investing in human capital investment,”  they  said.

But in the next breath, these same supporters followed up with a caveat that their disappointment does not mean they would not support the President's re-election bid. 

Weah's supporters strongly believe that the President's stewardship of the economy, which of late has churned out steady growth, with inflation dropping at a moderate level, would lead to some drop in poverty, saying he deserves another term for his “development  transformations,” which they claimed LP are on course.”

They also believe the President claims that he inherited a broken country from his predecessor Ellen Johson Sirleaf but has worked over the course of nearly six years to turn things around, which has made “naysayers and the prophets of doom” perplexed.

Weah  in his acceptance speech said he needs additional six years to complete what he has started as President, urging his supporters not to listen to members of the opposition whose aims he said are to blackmail him despite the achievements he has recorded over the past six years.

“As they say, Rome was not built in one day,” Weah reminded his thousands of  supporters at his nomination program, who then cheered him on.  “The challenges of leadership have been enormous, but in each and every one of these challenges, I have seen opportunities to make things better, and to bring permanent improvements to the lives of all Liberians.”

“And now, as we come to the end of the term to which we were elected, it is my intention to seek a second mandate from the Liberian people to continue the good works of our hand, and to complete our unfinished but imperative agenda,” the President added. 

That unwavering support for Weah is the most significant reason he believe is entering the presidential contest as  clearly a front-runner and have what its takes to win another term, considering the facts that his supporters are aware of his administration's shortcoming but are willing to giving him another term to corrects past mistakes.

Their support for the President is often rooted in gratitude. They say Weah has stood up for them and, as a result, has been criticized unfairly considering that Liberian economic and development issues are age old problems he inherited even though he overlooked. 

“The President is trying, and so giving him another term will solve a lot of problems. There are gains being made. Look for years some of us communities were never connected to the national grids, now that is no longer the case. This shows his government is working to remove one of the country's binding issues, which is access to electricity. We are voting for him,”  a group of women supporting Weah's second-term bid said.

It is this  narrative the President lays out at his nomination rally at ATS which was simultaneously held in other countries at the same time  when he claimed that “challenges of leadership have been enormous, but in each and every one of these challenges,” he  brings permanent improvements to the lives of all Liberians.”

The President, while admitting that the transformation as captured in his development plan, the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), is on course,  noted that it will however take some time before it is fully realized, saying, “Don’t listen to them”.

They say because you are following me you don’t know anything, even though some of you who are behind me went to school and got degrees, some of you are lawyers, some you get Master’s degrees, but they still say because you are following me you don’t know anything,” he said.

“They like it, they don’t like it, it’s 12 years. Let me ask you this question, since they say you don’t know anything because you follow me, 6+6 is how much,” Weah asked the crowd, who then responded, 12 while cheering him.

Weah's hope of another six year term is something that his supporters strongly believe  and appears ready to follow him no matter what it takes. That is the painful reality for the many opposition politicians  hoping to unseat Weah as they will need to try hard to find answers to these inevitable questions: How can they persuade not all but some of Weah's die-hard supporters out there to withdraw their support from the president?

If no, Weah might win for the facts his supporters appear less concerned about economic performance metrics, with the country’s current poverty rate standing at  51% under Weah as he wipe out nearly half of the postconflict gains made by his predecessor Ellen Johnson Sileaf, whose tenure  saw the rate of poverty decline from 64 percent to 42 percent between 2007 and 2014.

Weah who took office in 2018  the country’s first peaceful change of power in seven decades who most importantly was seeking re-election at a time when his administration was yet to implement nearly two-thirds of the promises made to the Liberian people — with a total of 292 promises made, only 24 had been fulfilled.

This assessment by Naymote, one of the country’s most respectable CSO shows  that Weah's first five years record  is overwhelmed by many unfulfilled political promises, notably in the battle against  poverty.  

Weah, in his development manifesto after winning the 2017 election, had promised to provide greater income security to one million Liberians and reduce absolute poverty by 23 percent across 5 out of 6 regions, but much has not been done to reel the country from high unemployment and extreme poverty.

But extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, is high as well and 2.3 million Liberians are unable to meet their basic food and non-food needs — with poverty being higher in rural areas — home to 71.7 percent of the poor, compared to 68 percent of the total population. 

Then there the issues of the country’s low Human Capital Index (HCI) score with performance as low 0.32, only better than only three countries in the world — namely, the Central African Republic (0.29), Chad (0.30), and South Sudan (0.31) — out of 174 countries. 

The country’s HCI has dropped significantly since Weah took power in 2018, and was driven mainly by poor education (contributing 50 percent), poor health (12 percent), and survival (7 percent), according to the World Bank 2022 Liberia Economic Update report.

The country’s loss of human capital due to poor education has been growing and, since 2020, it has increased 9 percentage points. Also, school enrollment rates have broadly declined during the period under review, yielding a lower number of years of schooling that a child born today can expect to have received by the time she reaches age 18.

The 56-year-old Liberian leader also promised to end endemic corruption, which his predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize winner Sirleaf, was widely accused of failing to address. But corruption remains endemic in the country, with the watchdog Transparency International ranking Liberia ranks 142 out of 180  countries in its 2022 corruption perceptions index.

The United States last year imposed sanctions on three Liberian government officials, including Weah’s chief of staff, for what it said was their ongoing involvement in public corruption. 

Meanwhile, Weah's renomination rally came as the political leader of the Liberian People Democratic Party (LPDP), Alex J. Tyler, claims that his party is yet to renew or sign the agreement that brought the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change to Power.

In 2016, the Congress for Democratic Change , National Patriotic Party and the Liberian People Democratic Party signed a framework that brought the three parties together to contest the 2017 elections as Coalition for Democratic Change.

They won the elections but there have been some internally. The Chairman for the ruling Party,  Mulbah K. Refuted allegations that the Coalition was on the brink of collapse when he presented a renomination document to President Weah to seek a second term on behalf of the Coalition.

Taylor's party was however represented by its Chairman Moses Y. Kollie, who raised the motion for the president to be renominated, and it was seconded by the Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor of the National Patriotic Party.

Taylor is claiming that Kollie's decision was made unknown to him.