Liberia’s Presidential Seat Contest: The Debates Over Sen. George Weah’s Diction

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By Samuel G. Dweh

Disclaimer: I do not intend, through this article, to join the bandwagon of persons ‘demonizing’ George Manneh Weah (aka Oppong)—my kinsman of Grand Kru County—on his ‘challenge’ in the world of spoken English. This article is divided into four phases—A BACKGROUND OF THE DEBATE, A ‘SAMPLE SOURCE’ OF THE DEBATES, CAUSES OF THE ‘PROBLEM’, AND THE SOLUTION METHOD.

A BACKGROUND OF THE DEBATE

From the day George Manneh Weah—a footballer-turned politician—entered the murky water called ‘politics,’ his way of pronouncing (English) words has been attracting most people’s attention and generating debates among the Liberian public. This was a ‘thing’ that was always overlooked—by the majority—when he was in the athletic profession called football.

A ‘SAMPLE SOURCE’ OF THE DEBATES

Days ago I listened to a recorded voice (a speech) by the standard bearer of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Ambassador (Senator, Montserrado County) George Manneh Weah, on social media. The recording was posted on Monday, August 7. The speech is transcribed—written words rolling with spoken words by Senator Weah. In part of the speech—which appears delivered at a CDC rally, I guess—Senator Weah said, “Under the…CDC-lead…government…” The ‘lead’ (verb in the present tense) should have been ‘led’ (verb in the past tense).

During presidential election in 2011, one radio station was continuously playing a recording of Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Vice Presidential candidate, George Manneh Weah, using the singular verb (is) with plural noun (people) when introducing CDCians to the party’s Standard Bearer, Mr. Winston Tubman. He said, in the recording, “Mr. Ambassador, here is your people.” The person who had this ‘Mr. Ambassador, here is your people’ played over a national radio station in 2011 was a member of the anti-George Weah/CDC bloc. The same with the person who posted the ‘CDC-lead’ stuff on his social media in 2017.

There are several other examples of wrong pronunciations by Mr. Weah between the periods stated above. The Football profession, where George Manneh Weah became an idol to the global community, isn’t a place where standard pronunciation is a priority. What is given preference is goal-scoring—where Manneh became a legend. Manneh’s ‘chappin’ story is similar to that of Awudu Issaka, a member of Ghana’s U-21 football team that won the trophy of the FIFA Under-20 held in Ecuador few years ago. This guy was a ‘wizard dribbler’—as George Manneh Weah always was on the field in France, England and Italy—a star-player in each match Ghana played, and he won the MVP (Most Valuable Player) Award of the tournament. But his pronunciation was a shapeless as a battered car from an accident. In each after-match interview by foreign sports journalists covering the tournament, Awudu Issaka shredded the English language so much that people watching the interview (including me in Nigeria at that time) taught he was speaking his Ghanaian vernacular. And this got us, viewers, laughing at everything he said. Some of the journalists interviewing Awudu asked one of his colleagues standing beside him to translate what he had said—in the lingua franca.

But shouldn’t football idols learn how to speak correct English? One day they will stand for a position for national service—away from the football field—where the public won’t ignore the ‘battered English’ you were used to speaking when you were a football star.

Some people in the anti-George Weah presidency camp have built a gambit (strategy) against the pro-George Weah presidency bloc on Manneh’s “linguistic deficiency”. Some are asking: “Wasn’t he learning standard English in Europe where he was living and playing football? But this problem isn’t limited to George alone: It’s a Liberian trademark. Even teachers in our various universities have this ‘stain’—picked up by their protégés (specifically graduates in Mass Communications) reading news or speaking about an issue on radio.

CAUSES OF THE ‘PROBLEM’

The pronunciation problem with George Manneh Weah can be traced to dozens of factors, including: Poor foundation in learning of phonics in nursery or elementary school; lack of interest in oral English in high school (I remember his being a 9th grade student at the Wells-Hairston High School on Mechlin Street, Monrovia, before Liberia’s civil war, when I used to play at the Coconut Plantation Football behind the Barclay Training Center, where the Ministry of National Defense is today); poor personal effort to learn to speak flawless English; and little interest in his political party’s big shots—examples: Wilson Tarpeh (university professor), Rep. Acarous Gray (classroom teacher) and Mulbah Morlu—to help him on pronouncing English words correctly at public functions.

RECOMMENDATION

Here is the solution: Listen to good English speakers. They are everywhere around you: In your political party, in your fraternal association, in your religious organization. AND BE SUBMISSIVE TO LEARN. Another solution I’d proffered in my past article is READING. When you read, strange words become known to you. Split a difficult word into a syllable. Books of phonics will help greatly. I had proffered this solution in each of my ‘education’ articles—many of them published in local papers and posted on my social media platform (Facebook).

Correct pronunciation is an important component of leadership. This is why the President-in-waiting is expected to have deeper knowledge of oral English and public-speaking—or to begin learning—faster—before election day. Liberians are imagining—with a great trepidation—their nation’s leader turning English up-side-down at a gathering of African leaders or at a meeting of heads of governments at the United Nations General Assembly. If that’s happening, we will bury our heads in shame among other Africans. Who said President-in-waiting George Manneh Weah can’t overcome this challenge before voting begins on the 10th day of October 2017?  Only WILLPOWER can propel him to cross this other bridge.

About the Author:
Samuel G. Dweh, a freelance journalist, fiction writer and author, is an indigene of the Wedabo tribe of Grand Kru County of Liberia. He is a member of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW). He can be reached via: (+231) 886-618-906/776-583-266; [email protected])

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Hate crime under the disguise of English proficiency….the very ideology that denied indeginous people the right to their own land when the Liberian settler’s government seized indeginous lands and required them to be civilized enough to have back their own land.

  2. Here we go again, the almighty English language, is becoming the yard-stick to mention who becomes, or the the criteria, to becoming president of a nation in which English is a second. I am not down-playing the all important reason for this article, but my questions and concern is, why must it start with Senator Weah? It is because he is seeking the presidency? Is he the first person in our nation’s history who turns spoken English up-side-down? Or is this the first time? I must respectfully say, NO to these question, because the fact remains, if we must go down historical memory lane: this goes beyond 1822! Majority of the settlers could neither speak nor write English; generally, this part of the Liberian historical problem. This is part of our educational problem, it’s by the grace of the Almighty that some of us can even speak and write better English, but Senator Weah must not be the sin, or he must not pay for the sin of the nation by crucifying him for ‘chappin’. We say in Liberia, ‘you can not dressed the devil in the bush and undressed it in the public!’ From all indication, it seems Senator Weah is in the eye of the presidential storm because he just might be the president, so it becomes necessary to pull all and everything from the sky to demonize him. If we are ashamed of people chappin, then we should start with our school system. It amazes me to have a “deplorable” school system in place for well over hundred and seven years, and yet we have the audacity to decry it’s products. One more thing, George Weah went to Europe to “play” foot ball, he did not go there to learn English. Indeed, he is what Liberia in actuality is, with the exception of a few, so we can either live with a chappin president, or stop stealing our own resources and make our school system better so we will stop producing chappin children, chappin wives, chappin husbands, chappin preachers, chappin driving drivers, yannah boys, market women, legislators, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.

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