04 April 2005

Is George Weah the answer for Liberia?

BerlinBear avatar This article on BBC News looks at former professional footballer George Weah's attempt to become president of Liberia, and cites examples of other sportsmen and sportswomen who have gone into politics.

In his time as a footballer, George Weah was a superstar, not just in his native Liberia but all over Africa, Europe and the world. In 1995 he won the World's best player award, and in 1998 he was voted African player of the century. But now that his football career is over, Weah has decided to try his hand at politics. And he wants to go straight to the top.

George Weah plays football with youngsters in LiberiaGeorge Weah is welcomed by crowds in Liberia

George Weah plays football with youngsters, above, and receives a
hero's welcome, below, in Liberia. [Source: Unicef]
The elections in Liberia will be held on 11th October 2005. Despite his limited education, it seems that George Weah will have a good chance of being elected president. He still holds cult-like hero status in Liberia, due to his successes on the pitch. He is popular with the young, which is important as they make up a disproptionately large part of the election (Liberia's median age is just 18.1 years). Furthermore, Weah is already known in Liberia for his efforts off the pitch. As the BBC article puts it:

"Yet Weah's impact on his country was not just sporting. Mister George, as he is known in France, is also a hero to many Liberians for his off the field work, being named a Unicef ambassador for his efforts to improve the lives of children throughout the continent. "It is almost impossible to explain how much George has done for Liberia," the country's sports minister, Wheatonia Dixon-Barnes, told BBC World Service's Focus On Africa magazine. ...

Above all, Weah is perceived as an honest and good man. Liberia has seen few such wholesome characters among its political leaders in the last two decades. For that alone, the footballer turned politician has a good chance of winning the most important job in his homeland."

It is difficult to say from this distance and before Weah's campaign gets into full swing what exactly his politics are like and whether or not he would make a good president. One thing is certain though: having George Weah as president would definitely raise the profile of Liberia in Europe, which presumably could only be a good thing.

Doubtless there have been a great many people who were "perceived as an honest and good man" when they entered politics, but who have then gone on to become corrupted by their power and influence, and have failed to deliver what the electorate had hoped for. Let us hope that, if elected, George Weah will not turn out to be one of those. Because Liberia, after 14 years of civil war, and with 80% of its population living below the poverty line, could certainly use a strong and trustworthy leader.

And now you know.

[Note: Don't know anything about Liberia? Shame on you: it's Africa's oldest republic and it was founded by freed American slaves. Check out the BBC's country profile, or the CIA factbook entry for Liberia]