Elections 2005: The Wild Card

By George Yuoh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 25, 2004

A few days ago, a colleague called me up from the east coast (Philadelphia), and we started our usual reflections on issues of concern affecting Liberia, and specifically on recent developments that are probably going to reshape the political landscape of Liberia in the coming months. He recently returned from Monrovia, about a week ago, and so for the past few days we had been comparing notes on the good, the bad, and the ugly on Liberia. When I picked up the phone, he took a longer than usual pause, and then finally said: "You are the freelance commentator, you tell me what is going on back home in Liberia relative to the unfolding political trend".

I decided that he would have to be direct before I attempt any answer. And so I asked him to be definite and reveal what was on his mind. He continued: "You heard about George Weah’s expected bid for the presidency, what does this mean for Liberian politics?"

Avoiding a direct answer and to pick his mouth, I told him that it would be just one more candidate added to the list. But then I asked him why did he pose the question to me, because he didn’t do so about any of the other candidates.

Without letting me on, my colleague said: "He’s going to win you know, and that’s what I want us to talk about. He is the only aspirant that has lifted me from my political slumber…" I figured we were in for a very long night of talking and so I told him to call me back after 8:00 PM CST because I did not want to use up all my daytime minutes.

The X Factor
My friend did call back at exactly 8:01 PM CST, and as expected, we had a very lengthy discussion; and among other things, he was very analytical, persuasive and he concluded, for the nth time that night that, Mr. Weah was poised to be the next President of Liberia, come elections in October 2005. I promised my friend that the justifications for his conviction would remain private as far as my reference to him would be concerned. I will stick to that.

There are several views out there about who should be president of Liberia, and there are those who would want to smash my friend’s head in for his conviction. One thing I can borrow from my friend’s persuasion is that, the only occurrence that can prevent a George Weah presidency now is if he (George Weah) refuses to join the challenge for the presidency. He has now become the candidate that none of the so-called "political heavyweights" want in the race, especially if he is going to be against them. I bet they all have their fingers crossed, hoping that Amb. Weah would decline the petition to join the race. We will see how that unfolds…

There is an old adage that says, "how you make up the bed is how you will lie down on it", and this is coming to fruition, especially for those who have conferred on themselves the accolades of political astuteness and academic impeccability. But somehow in their perceived political and academic immaculateness, they failed to see the need for developing viable and unbreakable political institutions. Instead, what they have done over the years is to define politics as the act of deceiving the masses for self-glorification, no matter the cost. Well, it seems that the masses are intending to reverse that cost and pass it on to those who created the expenditure in the first place.

Most of these self-anointed political messiahs and their bag carriers are quick to scream and draw their swords as soon as the failures of the so-called "progressives" are mentioned. For them, the progressive struggle in Liberia is their exclusive domain, and anyone who ventures on that turf must be condemned, defaced, and lynched. But in cleaving to the progressive connotation, they have deceived themselves by thinking that politics, and particularly the seeking of a political office, is anything than a popularity contest. Here, they have been caught with their pants all the way down to their ankles, and someone is about to beat them to the punch.

Politics or the race for a political office is nothing but a popularity contest, because in the end, it is the one with the most votes, the most popular person, who wins. This is the X factor, and it is the exclusiveness of George Weah right now, as far as all the other candidates and the race for the presidency in Liberia are concerned. And they understand this very well, that is why most of our so-called "political heavyweights" have continued to flirt with George Weah. They have come to realize that he has the capacity to influence and decide the results of the elections. What they did not see coming is that Mr. Weah has been on to them all along and has come to understand their motivations and intentions. The boy has grown into a man. Few months from now, it will be interesting in Liberian politics!

Education, Qualification And Competence
I have spoken to a lot of people on the issue of George Weah presidency for Liberia, and for those who oppose it, they come up with the same retorts that: "the man is not qualified to govern Liberia"; "he does not have the requisite education", and that "he does not have the international contacts…"

Here in America, we call all of that blah, blah, blah… I am sure when Amb. Weah decides to seek the presidency, his campaign team will have answers for those comments in his defense.

But for those who claim that the man does not have international contacts, they must have been living on another planet. For I know that George Weah is the only Liberian among all of those in the race who can meet the Italian Prime Minister, Silva Berlusconi at a few hours’ notice. He has almost open access to the Prime Minister of France, Jacques Chirac; the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anann; Crown Princes in Qatar and the UAE, and other notable world leaders. He is a very close associate of the legendary African statesman and freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela. In fact, Nelson Mandela occasionally refers to George Weah as a true son of Africa. He is well known and respected by West African leaders. He is a colleague of multimillionaire entertainment and sports superstars. For one to argue that he has no international contact is laughable.

On the issue of education, The American Heritage Dictionary – Third Edition (1996) defines education as "the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process; an instructive or enlightening experience…" The same dictionary defines an educated person as, "having an education, especially one above average; showing evidence of schooling, training, or experience; having or exhibiting cultivation; to be cultured". That is all the defense George Weah needs. The dictionary does not say to be educated is to have two masters degrees and two PhDs; rather, it says to be educated is to have above average schooling, training or experience. What is the average education level in Liberia? What level is considered above average? Can those oppose to Mr. Weah still argue that he is not educated? Time will tell…

The issues of competence and qualification are also relative, and the best way to determine the competency and or qualification of an individual for a position is to use a pre-defined yardstick. Again, The American Heritage Dictionary (1996) defines competence as "the state or quality of being adequately or well qualified". It defines qualification as "a condition or circumstance that must be met in order to perform a task".

In a pre-defined situation, an applicant is told what level of education and experience is required for a job. In politics, as is the case of Liberia, it is the electorates that decide. If those who oppose a George Weah presidency disregard this simple fact, then their own competence can well be called into question.

What are the conditions that must be met in order to be a president of Liberia? To paraphrase the constitutional requirements, one must be a natural born citizen, must be at least 35 years old, and must own property of not less than $25,000 (LD?). That is what qualifies one to be a president of Liberia, and nothing else. Do you see how faulty the argument of qualification is going to be?

Since no other conditions for competency is spelt out in our constitution, one could only argue the issue of competence based on historical trend, or what would be considered the norm. Even this would be faulty. However the required competency level arguably could be set, using the competence of past presidents as the yardstick. I do not have the biographical data of all of our past presidents, but when you take the average of the competence levels of the last four elected presidents, from Tubman to Taylor, using their productivity as the barometer, George Weah stands far above that average.

We could also use past performances and productivity of the other aspirants including our traditional political leaders to set the yardstick for competence, but that would be disastrous for our traditional politicians. When you include the performances of past interim leaders, including the current leadership, to set the competency level, George Weah again would come out as a shining knight. When you add other factors like selflessness, patriotism, contributions to national development, and the vises of corruption and thievery so prevalent in our society, almost all of the other candidates would be hard to sell. George Weah has established himself as the symbol of unbending love for country, the yardstick for human kindness, and the example of greatness through perseverance. The traditional politicians, who I will refuse to refer to as progressives, have their hands full. Their work is well cut out for them this time.

Getting The Votes
A few months ago, when students of the University of Liberia took to the streets of Monrovia to vent out their anger over the frustrating situation on campus, no traditional politician, including the leaders of the transitional government, showed up to calm the students down. Our so-called leaders all went into hiding. It was George Weah, who drove to the center of the violence. When the students recognized who was coming towards them, they started jubilating. He got out of his car, and motioned to them to follow him on to the campus of the University. They obeyed instantly and followed him like Moses leading the Children of Israel to the Promised Land. On the campus, he addressed them, admonishing them to confine their demonstration to campus, and to seek other peaceful avenues for redress. They agreed and left the streets. That is the mark of a leader and a true statesman in whom the people place a lot of confidence.

Our traditional politicians are good at making faulty generalization, since they believe they have monopoly over rationalization. For instance, they believe that the youths of today are the same as the youths of yesterday. Wrong! Back then, we would clamor all over the place to listen to their rhetoric, and clapped every time we heard a big and flowery word. Today, the youths of Liberia who make up more than 70% of expected voters have seen enough of the falsehood. Most of these young people have been out of the classrooms for the past 14 years, and for that, they blame the traditional politicians, who they see as chameleons: changing political colors here and there, and hopping from one political administration to the other seeking to fulfill their personal gratifications.

For many of the over one million young people in Liberia today, they see George Weah as a breadth of fresh air. They see him as being far removed from the traditional politicians, and believe he understands their struggles and can deliver their needs. They see him as someone who will not compromise the good of the country for personal wealth accumulation, since he has already made himself a wealthy man through his sweat. They understand that his humility is his strength, and believe that he will invest in their future. They are the ones who have the votes, and they are the ones who will decide who becomes our next president, whether we (the balance 30%) like it or not.

If George Weah accepts to join the race for the presidency of Liberia, the political landscape and dynamics will surely change and shift. He is the wild card now, and traditional politicians will have to burn all the candles they can to tilt the scale in their favor. It will be a tougher than usual race to fight.

Those who believe that an election can be won based on past political participation alone must really be living in political self-denial. It doesn’t mean because you were student president in high school and university, and leader of a failed political party, you are guaranteed to win an election. One of the greatest American Presidents, Ronald Reagan, was a movie actor, from where he became Governor of California and then President of the United States of America. The current Governor of California, Arnold Swarzzeneger was himself a movie actor when he was elected to lead the affairs of one of the biggest states in the USA, a state whose annual budget is more than a thousand times that of the Liberia. He did not study politics, and his only traditional schooling was in theater. Election is about having the electorates on your side and having a constituency base that can give you the votes. Our traditional politicians have never established any solid political base and that’s why they have won nothing of consequence as far as national politics is concerned.

I expect the hounds to pounce, but except they are blind to reality and continue to live in a fairytale land, they will understand and accept that the dice will be cast once George Weah joins the race. Instead of fighting a loosing battle, they should do what they know best: switching alliances for political appointments. "What you have sowed so shall you reap". Our traditional politicians have placed individuals over institutions. They will come to understand fully the significance of individual popularity. George Weah could be set to make history, and we pray that it will be in the best interest of Liberia.

In its October 16th edition, the well respected and widely read business magazine, The Economist, concluded in its article entitled, Presidential Striker: "None of the warlords and schemers who have run the country since Master sergeant Samuel Doe seized power in 1980 can be described as good. Yet Liberia’s intellectuals fear that the same politicians who are hated by most Liberians, especially the young, might run rings round the big-hearted footballer." It cannot be said any better, about the character of our so-called traditional politicians. But the stakes have changed, and we are sure Liberia is about to step out of its dark past.

About the Author: Mr. George Yuoh, is a Liberian residing in Minnesota, USA. He can be reached at georgeyuoh@yahoo.com