Liberia: The Need to Remove President Weah (Democratically)

Oct 4, 2023 | 2023 Elections | 0 comments

Dissatisfied Liberians should hope the October 10 election produces change.

If a blind man threatens to stone you, assume he has the first pebble.

When Liberia’s “blind man”, George Weah, was elected president six years ago amid a tide of anti-intellectualism, this local saying infiltrated national politics. Since then, the football star-turned-politician has offered my country and people poor leadership. The country will be ruined if he wins a second term in Liberia’s fourth post-war general and presidential elections on October 10. It will hollow out.

President Weah pledged to improve “the lives of all Liberians” in his January 2018 inaugural speech, but his cumbersome campaign slogan, Change for Hope, failed to materialise. Liberia’s dissatisfied population are justified in seeking democratic regime change.

An opposition member pushed voters to give Weah a red card for his many mistakes. After taking office, the president refused to declare his assets and resisted calls for his political appointees to do so. He appointed sycophants with little track record in important government departments, particularly finance and economic planning, international and marine affairs, port management, trade and industry, public works, and energy, out of allegiance rather than skill. Despite false promises, President Weah failed to establish a war and economic crimes court to address Liberia’s decades of “negative peace”.

His incompetence forced Liberia to embrace IMF-backed “harmonisation” austerity measures that cut state sector salaries. The country’s rising debt and currency depreciation left most Liberians in the lurch before COVID-19 and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Our cash-based national budget expanded from $570 million in 2018 to $783 million in 2023. Still, most of it went to government salaries and operations, with most growth estimates predicated on resource exploitation without value addition. Weah’s administration violated environmental, social, and governance (ESG) objectives by pursuing secretive carbon credit deals with the UAE that will pawn 10% of the country’s territory.

He promised to “weed out the threat of corruption,” yet his presidency has been marked by avarice and graft. Weah’s Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) runs two national legislator candidates sanctioned by the US Treasury for “ongoing public corruption” as government agency directors. Weah’s auditors unexpectedly died, and he conspired with legislators and judges to unceremoniously impeach a dissident Supreme Court justice, holding the highest court captive.

Weah has used the Supreme Court and NEC against Liberians. That’s why the top four opposition presidential contenders I interviewed in July doubted these two electoral arbiters’ neutrality and legitimacy.

The Supreme Court acquitted the NEC for initiating voter registration without demarcating electoral seats as required by a 2022 national population census. The NEC has become a presidential mouthpiece.

After the NEC upheld manual voting in October, biometric voter registration (BVR) remains questionable due to delays and technological issues. Their disclosure about financial deficits for a possible run-off between Weah and former vice-president Joseph Boakai was also worrying. Public confidence in the NEC had plummeted before it was criticised for delaying the distribution of a final voter registration roll before elections, a statutory requirement.

The electoral referee’s shenanigans may suggest Weah’s attempt to manipulate election results with presidential power and money.

The latest coups in West and Central Africa show a rot from the top of leaders who cling to power illegitimately when they should step down. Military coups rarely end well, but political coups in Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone have shown that an embattled head of state in Liberia might be equally destabilising.

Weah’s diehard admirers anticipated him to turn his deft footwork on the football pitch into a fulfilling presidency amid explosive enthusiasm. He was supposed to turn Liberia’s first “feminist-in-chief” rhetoric into gender equality. After crushing midterm senatorial defeats and a bungled referendum, they expected him to admit his mistakes and change course.

President Weah wasted almost every opportunity to achieve socio-economic reform, the country’s top aim. He added to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s difficult legacy and deepened Liberia’s poverty and inequality.

Weah warns against populist politicians worldwide and Africa’s governance problems. Liberia’s opposition agrees the president is undeserving of a second term, even though they couldn’t unite to defeat him. Several contenders have called Weah an existential threat by promising to “rescue”, “repair”, “sweep”, and “renew” Liberia.

A presidential referendum is likely on October 10. He touts his “pro-poor plan for prosperity and development” on the campaign trail, citing his abolition of high school and public university fees, road paving, and hospital construction. Weah has avoided public disputes over his record in office, perhaps because he would fail.

Liberian song “Dumyanea” (meaning “that’s my area”) praises people’s skills in everyday and important areas of life. Weah excels at sports and music but not politics.

Liberians should remind him on October 10. A blind man will likely stone you if he threatens.

Liberian educator, activist, and author Robtel Neajai Pailey wrote Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

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