When the history of the Liberian presidency is written, President George Manneh Oppong Weah’s tenure would surely go down as an “accident”. Mr. Weah is Liberia’s 25th president, but he’s the least political leader in terms of performance the country has produced in recent records.
He doesn’t understand political governance even though he has been President of Liberia for more than three years now. In January of this year, his administration exceeded the halfway mark of its six-year term. He was inaugurated Liberia’s 25th President on January 22, 2018. His ascendency followed a peaceful transfer of power by the administration of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Liberia’s next Presidential and Legislative elections are scheduled for 2023.
Mr. Weah won the Liberian presidency in 2017 to the astonishment of most Liberians after he convincingly defeated former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai of the then ruling Unity Party (UP) when they faced off in the second round of the presidential election. According to the National Elections Commission (NEC), the 54 years old retired soccer icon won with 732,185 votes, representing more than 61 %, while the former Vice President, a career public servant, lost with 457,579 votes accounting for more than 38 %. Reportedly 2.1 million registered Liberian electorates participated in the 2017 legislative and presidential elections.
Former Vice President Boakai is an accomplished public servant with an impeccable record of more than 40 years of service in government. However, he caved in and publicly conceded defeat to Mr. Weah, the man many considered a political neophyte after the presidential election results were announced. In a statement, Mr. Boakai grudgingly declared, “I congratulate the winner, Ambassador George Manneh Weah, and pray that God will guide him as he takes upon the onerous responsibility of steering the affairs of our nation”.
President Weah’s supporters and admirers at home and abroad hailed his victory and labeled it as a triumphant ascendency for someone who they believed had demonstrated love for the country over the course of his professional soccer career. They portrayed it as a significant achievement for him and the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). The CDC is the product of a 2017 collaboration by a group of grassroots Liberian political parties including the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and the National Patriotic Party (NPP) of former President Charles Ghankay Taylor.
His first attempt at the Liberian presidency was in 2005 when he challenged former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf but lost. In 2011, he again went against the former President. In that election, the CDC combined forces with supporters of Cllr. Winston Tubman. He contested as a vice presidential candidate to Cllr. Tubman. Despite the merger, Oppong, the former UNICEF goodwill ambassador, and Cllr. Tubman failed to reach the promised land; they lost.
Tyranny of Democracy
In Liberia and abroad, critics of the CDC administration consider Mr. Weah an epitome of the tyranny of democracy because of his gross leadership inadequacies. They believe he is the wrong man for the job given his blatant underperformance in every aspect of his political leadership. He won the presidential election with more than 61 % of the votes cast, but he has absolutely no clue about what the Liberian presidency entails, even though he holds a graduate degree from DeVry University, a US-based online institution of higher learning.
Since January 22, 2018, when he took over Liberia as the country’s 25th President, Mr. Weah has for more than three years of his political stewardship proven his many detractors right -- that he lacks the pedigree for the presidency. For any President to succeed, he must have a basic understanding of how the systems of government work.
Mr. Weah has consistently demonstrated that he has no such understanding. For example, on August 16, 2021, he again fumbled publicly in Kakata, Margibi County when he responded to a question from a reporter of the Executive Mansion press corps during a guided tour of the charred buildings of the C.H. Rennie Hospital. The hospital was gutted by fire on August 15, 2021.
At the hospital, the reporter asked, “Mr. President, we have a fire service that is complaining of low budgetary allotment. What are your plans in terms of support to the fire service and the centralization of its services?” Responding, President Weah preposterously stated, “First of all, I hope that those that are responsible to act on the budgetary measures will be able to meet their needs. You see, I am from the executive. I don’t create the budget, but again, we will encourage them…”
The Liberia National Fire Services (LNFS) is an agency of government that operates under the umbrella of the Ministry of Justice, a department that forms part of the executive branch of government that Mr. Weah heads as President. Moreover, it is the executive branch of government that generates Liberia’s national draft budgets annually; and submits same to the legislature for scrutiny and subsequent passage, but regrettably, Mr. Weah doesn’t know that.
The Liberia National Fire Service was established to safeguard life and property from the scourge of destructive fire, across the length and breadth of the country, as well as to promote efficient fire prevention services. Besides being clueless about the functions of most government agencies in Liberia, the President is a terrible public speaker. As a result, he most often avoids public speaking engagements.
Since becoming president, Mr. Weah has had no formal news conference with local and international journalists in Monrovia for briefings on contemporary national issues affecting the lives of Liberians. No President in recent memory has under-utilized the Presidential bully pulpit as much as Mr. Weah; much to his own disadvantage. Moreover, he is not an effective manager.
He doesn’t monitor and supervise his subordinates. He comes across publicly as aloof; disengaged and out of touch with political developments in today’s Liberia. For example, Liberia like most nations the world over is currently confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected and decimated millions of human lives.
The global death toll of COVID-related cases as of August 15, 2021, was 4.36 million people, while the number of reported cases for the same period the previous year was 207 million. Liberia’s COVID-related death toll for the same period was 148, and the number of affected cases was 5,459. Despite the cited gruesome health reports, Mr. Weah’s political support to the campaign against the Coronavirus in Liberia remains distant and lukewarm, or nonexistent. Furthermore, he has reportedly refused to take the COVID vaccine for unexplained reasons.
A month ago, his Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, compounded the Country’s fight against the Coronavirus when she unbelievably declared that it is the President’s “prerogative to take the vaccine or not”. The health minister ridiculously failed to know that good leaders lead by example.
Presidential Authority Outsourced
In furtherance of his aloofness and insensitivity to matters of national importance in Liberia, the retired soccer icon turned politician has surreptitiously outsourced his presidential authority to two of his supervisees, mainly the Ministers of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill, and Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, Jr. Although the Ministers themselves need routine hands-on supervision in the execution of their respective job duties, they are Mr. Weah’s go-to persons, or foremost pillars in government.
He relies heavily on them for the execution of his daily presidential duties. For example, a brawl recently erupted between Minister McGill and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, D. Maxwell Kemayah, at the President’s office located at the Foreign Ministry. The President temporarily has an office at the Foreign Ministry due to the ongoing renovation work at the Executive Mansion, which was gutted by fire a few years ago.
As per the media report, the Foreign Minister went to the President’s office for a briefing regarding his participation in the UN General Assembly for world leaders, slated for September of this year in the United States of America (USA). According to FrontPageAfrica (FPA), a Monrovia-based media institution, the confusion started when Minister McGill demanded that the Foreign Minister report directly to his office instead of the President, but Minister Kemayah reportedly declined the order.
The Foreign Minister reportedly told Minister McGill that such directive was outside the confines of the law. He also wondered how could a Minister who works at the will and pleasure of the President, report to another Minister? Minister McGill's reported directive to the Foreign Minister was emboldened by the fact that he and Minister Tweah literally run the affairs of Liberia while the President uses the Liberian taxpayers’ time for leisure, making music, or playing football.
On July 29, 2021, he released his latest musical project titled Mama Rita. Before his election in 2017 as President, Mr. Weah served Montserrado, Liberia’s most populated county, as a senator, but his presence in the Senate was rarely felt. He was just a face of Montserrado; he made no impact legislatively. He neither contributed to legislative debates nor spoke on national issues that affected the lives of Liberians, mainly his constituents.
As a result of the President’s blatant leadership lapses, Liberia is now faced with a leadership deficit. Mr. Weah’s presidential authority is rarely felt by the people; and he seems not be in control of happenings in the country. For now, there appears to be no cohesive central authority in the country; and anarchy has become the modus operandi.
Most Liberians in the country now seek justice or redress to pressing educational, economic, social, political, and medical matters through street protests or mob actions. In the country, street protests are staged routinely; and they most often interrupt normal activities. Sometimes people are unnecessarily wounded while private and public properties are destroyed.
For instance, on June 7, 2019, more than 5,000 people under the leadership of the Council of Patriots (CoP) gathered in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, to protest the Weah Administration’s failure to tackle issues of corruption, economic mismanagement, and injustice in the country. The protest was one of Monrovia’s biggest protests in living memory, according to witnesses. At the time of the protest, Mr. Weah’s presidency was less than 18 months old.
On August 3, 2021, officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) also, allegedly fired teargas and rubber bullets on students of the Monrovia based University of Liberia’s Vanguard Students Unification Party (SUP) during a protest. According to FrontPageAfrica, the students protested for the cancellation of the e-learning program introduced at the state-run University. More than ten persons reportedly sustained injuries.
As reported by FrontPageAfrica, two of the persons injured, had gunshot wounds to their heads. They were among a crowd of students that tried breaking through barriers set by the police to continue the second day of the students’ protest against the UL Administration’s defiance to revert to normal academic activities at the university.
President Weah is not a thoughtful leader. He acts on his whims or in the moment most of the time. He doesn’t factor in the consequences of his political statements or decisions before making them publicly. Simply put, he is an impulsive leader. For instance, on October 6, 2018, he woke up that morning; looked at the sky; and declared to Liberians and the world, “Today, I am excited to announce that I have declared the University of Liberia and all other public universities in Liberia tuition-free for all undergraduates”. The President’s unplanned pronouncement was applauded by many Liberians including his supporters.
The CDC-dominated legislature also sanctioned the declaration and passed it into law early this year, the Special Education Fund bill. The law seeks to support and sustain the tuition-free scheme for the University of Liberia, and all public universities and colleges in Liberia. Also, the law offers free fees for 9th and 12th-grade students sitting the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in Liberia.
However, few months following the passage of the law, the realities of the poorly conceived pronouncement begun to settle-in. College education at the University of Liberia, Tubman University in Harper, Maryland, and community colleges in Liberia became nightmares. Financial and budgetary constraints, logistical challenges, and leadership deficits at those institutions became unbearable.
On August 6, 2021, a US-based Liberian educator and research assistant at Virginia Tech, Johnny C. Woods, Jr. in an article on the state of the Liberian educational system wrote, “Shortfalls in higher education finance have been observed in many forms; and can be traced to the regime of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, but President Weah’s government added fuel to the fire. He exacerbated the problem when he declared free tuition at all public universities in the country”.
Two years ago, Bush Chicken, a Liberian-owned online media institution, quoted the President of Tubman University, Professor Elliot Wreh-Wilson, as saying that the lack of government’s financial support to the University contributed to the decrease in professors at the University.
Then the Professor reported that after taking over the University in 2019 as president, the Liberian government made available US$5,250 to the University administration for operational purposes. As a result, the Professor said the University lacks the funding to hire and maintain qualified professors, a situation that continues to impede the operations of the University. In 2019, the University lost several qualified professors after they resigned in droves due to the institution’s inability to compensate and provide the other needed benefits.
In August of 2020, the leadership of the Vanguard Student Unification Party (SUP) of the University of Liberia, in a petition presented to the House of Representatives Committee on Claims and Petitions of the Liberia National Legislature, also decried the appalling learning conditions at the University.
The students complained that the reduction in the University’s budgetary allocation for the fiscal year 2020/2021 by the Liberian government was a “Systematic attempt by the Weah-led Government to further deteriorate the quality of education the university has been providing, and undermine its credibility and integrity,” The students further alleged that “since the inception of the Weah-led government, there have been persistent reductions in the university’s annual budgets”.
Besides being a terrible leader, President Weah has integrity problems. His administration is profoundly corrupt. For example, in 2018, he set the precedent for malfeasance in his administration when he, under dubious circumstances, erected for himself 41 luxurious condominiums immediately following his ascendency to the presidency. He, without declaring his assets publicly, constructed the buildings in the Baptist Seminary community located along the Robert International Airport (RIA) Highway in Margibi County.
Additionally, he quickly demolished his US$150,000 residence located on 9th Street in Sinkor, Monrovia; and replaced it with a mini-mansion. Also, within the period of six months of his presidency, Mr. Weah commenced renovation work on his once dilapidated Jamaica Resort situated along the RIA Highway.
Although supporters of the CDC claimed that Mr. Weah earned 83 million dollars from his soccer career; and he was a wealthy man before becoming president, most Liberians believe the story is an illusion. In March of this year, US Congressman Chris Smith of the State of New Jersey at a bi-partisan human rights panel discussion on Liberia branded the Weah administration as a “Kleptocracy”.
The Congressman pontificated, “In Africa, we have a special relationship with Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves. Unfortunately, President George Weah leads a kleptocratic Government that has engaged in political corruption from the day he assumed office by depleting the Government coffers for personal use while the people of Liberia suffer…”
Since becoming President, Mr. Weah and his supporters have demonstrated to Liberians and the world that they are not committed to the rule of law and the fight against graft in the public sector. The CDC administration is known for cherry-picking when enforcing the rule of law, or prosecuting cases of alleged corruption. For example, while the President and his cronies are fixated on lining their pockets with ill-gotten wealth, they are now engaged in a reported corruption fight against Liberia’s former Minister of National Defense, J. Brownie Samukai, Jr.
However, many Liberians at home and abroad believe the legal battle against the former Minister Samukai is a publicity stunt or witch hunt. The former Defense Minister is Lofa County Senator-elect. He was elected on December 8, 2020, but he is yet to take his seat in the Liberian senate because of the ongoing corruption legal tussle initiated by the Liberian government against him and two other former officials of the Ministry of National Defense.
They are being prosecuted for allegedly misappropriating US $1.3 million belonging to soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) as pension funds. The Supreme Court of Liberia on August 20, 2021, granted the government’s petition that requested the Court to order the National Elections Commission (NEC) not to certificate Senator-elect Samukai because he is a judicially disenfranchised citizen and a convicted felon.
On March 24, 2020, Criminal Court “C’’ at the Temple of Justice convicted Mr. Samukai and his co-defendants, former Deputy Defense Minister for Administration, Joseph F. Johnson, and the former Comptroller of the Ministry of Defense, J. Nyumah Dorkor, for misappropriating the soldiers’ money. However, the former Defense Minister argues that he and his co-defendants committed no crime because their action was within the purview of the constitution and the laws of Liberia. He maintained that they acted on orders from former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
The Lofa County Senator-elect reported that they used the US 1.3 million dollars to prepare and dispatch AFL soldiers to the West African country of Mali for a regional peacekeeping mission based on a directive from former President Johnson-Sirleaf. Also, Mr. Samukai and his co-defendants argued that during the transitional period the former President along with Mr. Samukai met with President Weah in 2017 for a briefing regarding the money.
Then Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf reportedly informed the incoming President that she ordered the former Defense Minister to use some of the money for the AFL peace keeping mission in Mali; and Mr. Weah reportedly agreed that his administration would restitute the money.
In keeping with the arrangement, the CDC administration in 2020 made a partial payment towards the AFL soldiers’ money. According to a FrontPageAfrica (FPA) news report published in 2020, Deputy Finance Minister for Fiscal Affairs Samora P.Z. Wolokollie confirmed that the Weah-led administration paid US$460,000.00 into the Armed Forces of Liberia’s (AFL) Pension Account as reimbursement funds toward the US$1.3 million used from the AFL Pension Account.
Deputy Minister Wolokollie’s report was confirmed by the current Minister of National Defense Daniel D. Ziankahn. According to an FPA news report, the Minister last year acknowledged the payment of the money by the government through the Ministry of Finance into the AFL’s pension account. Hypocritically, while the Lofa County Senator-elect and his co-defendants are being denigrated by President Weah and his cronies, the Liberian government is yet to institute probes into other high profile reported corruption cases involving Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, Jr., former Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh, and other senior officials of the CDC administration that played critical roles in the implementation of the US$25 million dollars’ mop-up exercise in 2018.
The fiasco mop-up exercise was executed by the Technical Economic Management Team (TEAM) chaired by Minister Tweah. The TEMT reportedly withdrew from Liberia’s reserve US$25 million for the execution of a fraudulent mop exercise. According to the TEMT, the so-called exercise was meant to halt the rapid depreciation of the Liberian dollar, reverse the depreciation, and stabilize the Liberian dollar exchange rate against the United States dollar, but three audit reports including one conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) showed that the money was mismanaged with accusing fingers mainly pointed at Minister Tweah and others for dishonesty.
In 2020, President Weah in response to addressing the Coronavirus pandemic, announced a food relief program, to assist poor and vulnerable citizens in Liberia to keep safe, contain the virus, and work to return the country to normalcy. The programme was presented to the Liberian Senate in October 2020. The World Food Program (WFP) and the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services-LISGIS were chosen to coordinate the food distribution. The CDC administration allocated US$25 million to underwrite the cost of the program.
As planned, 2.5 million Liberians classified as poor or vulnerable were to benefit from the so-called COVID-19 food relief effort, but again the government and those charged with the responsibility of executing the program failed miserably to deliver. Most of the targeted beneficiaries did not benefit from the program due to brazen acts of malfeasance and yet no one in the CDC administration or the World Food Programme that oversaw the relief distribution has been questioned or charged for dishonesty.
Country’s Peace and Stability
President Weah’s blatant leadership lapses, and exposed acts of greed and dishonesty in the public sector are literally undermining Liberia’s peace and stability. Also, his administration’s selective justice approach in fighting graft in the public sector; and the government’s non-adherence to the rule of law are polarizing Liberians at home and abroad.
Such actions are not favorable for peaceful co-existence after many years of civil wars. What the President and his CDC supporters are doing now is reminiscent of yesteryears actions and conditions that gave rise to the outbreak of the December 24, 1989, civil war in Liberia. If Liberia is to enjoy the continuity of peace and stability, then the need for the President to make amendments in his style of political leadership, adherence to the rule of law, the equitable treatment of Liberians, and the prosecution of public officials in the country, cannot be overstated.
About the author
Moses D. Sandy, is a retired broadcast Liberian journalist, master’s level social worker, eminent community leader, and social advocate. He is also, National President Emeritus of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA). He resides in the United States of America (USA).