October 18, 2004
What may sound like a joke to many could well pass to become reality. A few weeks ago, when the news of a possible George Weah quest for the Liberian presidency hit the Liberian news organs, a young compatriot said with a straight face that she would have been proud and happy to work for Oppong's campaign if she were in Liberia, because, as she put it, "the man has been the only good thing coming out of Liberia for the past 14 years." She is 24 and through her adult life, she had known only Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor as presidents and a myriad of failed transitional political leaderships. "I am not proud of any of the politicians I know." Not Taylor, not the many mini-warlords nor the political schemers whom she accused of plundering national resources to buy homes in America while other people's children die of malnutrition, lack of basic care or by bullets. "Many of us had to sell our body and soul to get here while some of these politicians had their children on government scholarship in America…" It was somehow a naïve approach to politics but it was not the first time I heard such remarks. "I am totally disgusted with the politicians I know and I would do anything to get someone like George Weah elected," she added.
However, it was not her comments that prompted me to write this piece. I sympathized with her and told her that I somehow could relate to what she was saying. She said she had found out that a political leader, who she trusted and admired just a couple of years ago, had all his children and nephews and nieces benefiting from the Liberian Maritime Scholarship Fund and attending the best schools in America. When I asked to give me names, she said, "you guys at The Perspective can find out anything you want to, if you dare to print it…"
Jeune Afrique is perhaps the oldest French speaking pan-African newsmagazine, published in Paris. It is the Time Magazine of Africa when it comes to African politics and has been the must-read for African political leaders as well as Africanists the world over for the last 45 years. When I received my last weekly issue online (Jeune Afrique – 10 October, 2004, Issue 2283), I went through the headlines, looking for any story on Liberia. And there it was, under the pen of one of the star reporters and editorialists of the magazine, Elimane Fall, an article on Liberia under the title: George Oppong Weah President?
As I read through the piece, I became aware that unlike many Liberian political pundits and commentators, Jeune Afrique, a magazine that sells more 1 million printed copies a week on African issue, deemed the issue of the presidency of George Weah worthy of an article, and a long one at that. Elimane Fall, the writer, says that in a country of failed and corrupt politicians, the name Oppong Weah seems to bring an air of freshness. He writes that a movement called "Redeem Liberia" with offices on 14th Street in Sinkor, Monrovia, was starting a political campaign. The article also said that another youth group, called The Weah Movement was mobilizing young people in the city of Monrovia, where close to 2/3 of the national population has sought refuge.
Elimane Fall went on to say that in a country where the great majority of voters are very young, Oppong could create a big surprise if he were to run. He added that according to the Italian catholic news agency MISNA, Oppong was working to put together a political party called the Liberia National Congress. And when asked about his ambitions and a possible run for the presidency, Oppong said: "As Liberians, we have the right to do what we want." Not only does he have the right, but he also has the name and the money.
The possibility of Liberians waking up in October 2005 and finding out that they have elected King George as Elimane Fall calls him is not as remote as it may sound. For a quarter of a century, Liberians have showed themselves as a bizarre set of people in their conduct of national politics. From Samuel Doe's execution of government officials on a beach and to his own on-camera torture and to Charles Taylor and the many warlords in between, the only good news and only good name that came out of Liberia was George Weah. A few months ago, when I told my Guatemalan building manager that I was from Liberia, his face lit up and the first word that came out of his mouth was "Weah." And then on, whenever we met, he would ask about George Weah and I couldn't resist telling him that I knew Weah – first met him when IGNU President made him Ambassador - and had spoken to him on a few occasions. Now, whenever I have a problem in my unit, it is taken care of on an emergency basis.
Can Weah win the presidency in the midst of all the great academics, lawyers and other political figures that fill the Liberian political landscape? Imagine an election where all the adults would divide their votes amongst the forty odd politicians on the one hand and all the young people from every village and town would turn out to vote for George Weah on the other? A vote is a vote. The primary rule of democracy is that a Ph.D. ballot has no more value than one from Waterside market.
Oppong ignites passions in Liberia and in many parts of Africa. He is that hero who grew out of the people but have never left them and never looked down on them. Elimane Fall writes that Weah always likes to say that whatever he owns, he owes it to Liberia and Liberians. And he acts accordingly. He speaks the language of the people. His trade is soccer. And nothing has captured the imagination of Liberians more than soccer in the past two decades. It was the only thing that brought all Liberians under the Lone Star. For many years, the national team survived because of his generous support and donations.
In his article, Elimane fall likens Weah possible bid for the presidency with that of legendary Pele in Brazil in the 1980s. Pele's quest for the presidency was symbolical, it was meant to have a Black person running for president in a country where politics was dominated by "whites" and "mulattoes". In Liberia, George Weah's run could be termed as a real test.
Oppong brought more honor and prestige to Liberia in the last 24 years than any other person and according to Elimane Fall, Mandela called him a "great son of Africa." He invested money in his country while others took the few meager national dollars to foreign banks. He provided humanitarian services and helped the national team when government officials pocketed ticket money. He wrote checks for many causes when others stole at every chance they got. He never asked for anything in return, not even to be recognized as a "humanitarian." Oppong may be the dark horse of Liberian politics. Money, charisma and political innocence, he has the making of an ideal political candidate.
While the political class is navigating in total disarray, throwing stones here and there and undermining each other, we might just wake up one day with George Oppong President.
Of course, there are many other questions one could ask about Weah ability to run a modern republic but that is a job for those running for president. And there are about forty of them. "Weah For President" is a wake-up call for all those who have the country at heart. It may be time for politicians to re-caliber. And there would be no Charles Taylor to blame for stealing the elections.