President Weah promises pro-poor governance, calls on Liberians to play their part
For the first time since 1944, Liberians were able to witness a historic democratic transfer of power as Liberia and Africa’s first elected female President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, turned over the mantle of authority to President George Manneh Weah.
Observers say Weah’s ascendancy to the pinnacle of political power has been a long time coming as many Liberians, especially the youth, have since 2005 looked up to him as the “savior” the country needs to move forward, though many of them do not proffer how this would be done.
The 35,000 capacity Samuel Kanyon Doe (SKD) Sports Complex, where the ceremony was held, was overflowing as Liberians, as early as 4:00 a.m. yesterday, began gathering in their numbers to witness the inauguration of their President, some for the first time.
By 8:30 a.m., the stadium was already overcrowded, though the ceremony was officially slated to commence at 11 a.m. This was also the first inaugural ceremony to take place outside of the nation’s capital, Monrovia.
The occasion, graced by several high profile dignitaries including current and former heads of state from Africa as well as other international dignitaries and some former renowned African footballers.
President Weah, who many believe is a true reflection of the unprivileged and the downtrodden masses and continues to enjoy unwavering popularity among youthful Liberians, eventually landed himself the Liberian presidency on December 26 after the runoff presidential elections. Many, especially the youth, see him as a venerated man whose life is worthy of emulation.
The rise of the nation’s new leader from poverty, deprivation, marginalization and hopelessness to the pinnacle of success in the soccer arena and now the presidency of Liberia is an inspiring story to the many underprivileged young Liberians who themselves continue to feel the pinch of poverty, illiteracy and deprivation – they see themselves through him.
President Weah, in his inaugural speech, promised to lead Liberia from a country of entrenched divisions to a unified country with a future of hope and prosperity. “It is my task, duty and my honor to lead this nation from division to national unity, and toward a future of hope and prosperity. I have here taken an oath before you, and before the Almighty God, to uphold our constitution and to preside over this government and country to the best of my abilities,” he said.
He reiterated that his greatest contribution to Liberia as President “may not lie in the eloquence of my speeches, but will definitely lie in the quality of the decisions that I will make over the next six years to advance the lives of poor Liberians.”
Weah acknowledged that his ascendancy to the presidency would not have been possible if the young people and the market women had not supported him massively. In this regard he said, “This victory could not have been possible without the support of the youth of this country, the women of this country, especially those who make their living by selling in the markets. To all of you, I want to say a heartfelt thank you. This is your government.”
It is for these people that the President intends to construct the greatest machinery of pro-poor governance in the history of this country. “I will do more than my fair share to meet your expectations. I ask you to meet mine, for I cannot do it alone,” he said.
Weah noted that during his administration, Liberians will discover a new sense of fairness and integrity; a new love for country and for each other—this love, he said, will turn public servants and government officials into national champions for change, adding: “A love that will bring back home Liberians scattered far and wide across the globe – many of them highly skilled, talented, and experienced – to join us in building a new Liberia.”
The sooner Liberians put their energies towards cementing these new norms and values, the sooner the country will be transformed for the better. “In doing so, we must also learn the virtue of patience, and learn to lower our expectations, for I do not promise you quick fixes or miracles,” he noted.
Weah’s ascent to the presidency after a short period as a Senator and a long, illustrious career as one of world soccer’s most decorated stars have been well chronicled. But beyond them, after finally winning the presidency after his third attempt, Weah is faced with his toughest challenge yet—forming an acceptable and unblemished cabinet, managing the expectations of the people and resuscitating a broken economy.
Although his campaign was scanty on details on how to revive the economy, he faces sky-high expectations from his support base of young Liberians who are counting on him for jobs to help alleviate rampant unemployment and poverty.
He said the SKD, newly refurbished by the Chinese government and where he gained his exposure to the football world, stands as not only a monument of Chinese friendship toward Liberians, but also as a symbol of peace and reconciliation for the Liberian people.
“During our civil conflict, this was a venue that brought opposing factions together during national matches, effectively reconciling them to a single national purpose: Liberia.
“Once again, today, we stand at this same venue united for one purpose: Liberia. It is time that we put away our political differences to work together in forging a new Liberia, where the affordability of all goods and services will no longer be a luxury to the privileged, but rather a right for all Liberians,” he said.
He paid tribute to ECOWAS, AU, EU and other bilateral and multilateral parties who have stood with Liberia over the years.
He called on Liberians to rise up and take control and responsibility for their destiny, “that you will look away from the things that divide us, and draw strength and energy from the things that unite us. Mine is an expectation that you will push yourselves to achieve the possibilities that are within your reach.”
He added: “Now, in my turn, I will go further to encourage and reinforce not only freedom of speech, but also freedom of political assembly.”
Weah called on Liberians not to allow political loyalties to prevent them from collaborating in the nation’s interest. “We must respect each other and act as neighbors, regardless of religious, social and economic differences,” he said.
This inaugural gathering, he noted, celebrates an important precedent, “that we Liberians can, and will rely on established institutions and the rule of law to resolve our political disagreements. This demonstrates the maturity of our institutions and that we as a people have learned valuable lessons from our brutal history.”
The masses have delivered their part of the bargain, and it is now incumbent upon Weah to live up to his by changing their impoverished conditions.
The inauguration was witnessed by a number of high level dignitaries, including: Presidents Faure Gnassingbe, Togo; Alpha Conde, Guinea; Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana; Ernest Bai Koroma, Sierra Leone; Ali Bongo Ondimba, Gabon; Alassane Dramane Ouattara, Ivory Coast; Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, Burkina-Faso; Macky Sall, Senegal; Denis Sassou Nguesso, The Republic of Congo; and Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of Mali.
Former African heads of state who were also in attendance included Nigeria’s Abdulsalam Abubakar and Olusengun Obasenjo; Ghana’s John Jerry Rawlings and John Dramani Mahama and others. Samuel Eto’o Fils of Cameroon, J. J. Okocha of Nigeria and El-Hadji Diouf of Senegal were the high profile former African players who graced the occasion.
Also present was the man who recommended Weah to Arsene Wenger, then Monaco football club Coach -1988, Claude Le Roy.