Nobel Peace Laureate and first female President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf historically hands over power to former soccer icon George Weah, now Liberia’s 24th elected President, in the first democratic transition here since 1944.
The Transition led by Madam Sirleaf is not just historic, but significant in many ways, having led the post-war country in the past twelve years with relative peace and stability, attracting much needed attention from the international community.
During her 12-year rule, she internationally restores the image of the nation, once dubbed a “failed state” and perhaps, raised the bar high enough that her successor President Weah would have no choice, but to fit in or be constrained to adjust in order to conform as Liberia sails within the comity of nations.
The last time Liberians and the rest of the world witnessed such democratic transition in the West African nation of 43,000 square miles with a population 4.6 million people was under the late 18th President Edwin James Barclay, who democratically handed over to William V. S. Tubman, a populist, reminiscent of President Weah, who represents the hopes and aspirations of ordinary Liberians.
Both democratic transitions seem to have similarities that are worth noting. For instance, while former President Barclay led Liberia thru World War II, and succeeded in winning strategic partnership with the United States under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Madam Sirleaf as a first woman President inherited a country totally broken down by nearly two decades of bloody civil conflict with hardly any public infrastructure and took it to the attention of the world, which yielded visits by high profile global leaders, including former U.S. George W. Bush, Jr.
Like late President Barclay, who opted for a youthful leadership as his successor, President Sirleaf last year while addressing the UN General Assembly in New York stressed that it was time that younger generation of Liberians take up leadership, so it came as no surprise when 51-year-old Coalition for Democratic Change Standard Bearer George Weah emerged victorious in the December 26, 2017 runoff presidential poll, against 73-year-old former Vice President Joseph Nyumah of Madam Sirleaf’s former ruling Unity Party.
On the other hand, President Weah, like late President Tubman faced similar social identity crisis, they both are not from the social elite.
While the latter entered politics with barely an eighth grade education, the former publicly conceded in 2005 that he threw his hat into the race for the Presidency without completing high school, an honest confession that turned the tide against him then, in favor of Harvard-educated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf though he had the popular vote, and even won the first round of polling, but stopped short of the constitutionally required 50 percent plus one of the total votes cast.
Determined to lead his people, he mustered enough courage and pursued academic studies in the United States, attaining a Master’s degree in Business Administration from DeVry University based in Downers Grove, Illinois and returned to Liberia for active politics.
He subsequently got elected to the senate where he strategically sat and watched the craft of political governance and social economic delivery to the people.
President Sirleaf took Liberia from zero growth rate to as high as 7.5 percent in her 12 years of administration, but the Ebola Virus Disease struck in 2014, dealing a heavy blow on the economy besides taking about 8,000 lives.
Her 12 years administration also witnessed development in key infrastructure, and Liberia’s debt waiver among others. The restoration of electricity from prewar 85 megawatts to 100 megawatts as connectivity continues. Several roads were paved as for the first time in 170 years, there are service centers throughout the country in each and every county-she has brought governance closer to the people thru the decentralization of services.
However, despite these gains, global economic slump characterized by falling commodities prices, which hit the country’s rubber, ore and timber sector has further increased hardship here.
Weah understands the needs of the people because he came from among Monrovia’s slum dwellers and roused to international prominence, as a career footballer, an achievement that opened many doors before him.
He would have to use these world acclaimed recognitions to his advantage in seeking badly needed support for his country.
By Jonathan Browne-Edited by Othello B. Garblah