In Liberia, President George Weah seeking a second term

By whole truckloads, on motorbikes or on foot, braving downpours and flooded roads in Monrovia, hundreds of Liberians descended on the headquarters of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), the party of George Weah, seeking a second term

In Liberia, President George Weah seeking a second term

By whole truckloads, on motorbikes or on foot, braving downpours and flooded roads in Monrovia, hundreds of Liberians descended on the headquarters of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), the party of George Weah, seeking a second term. “In George we trust! » (we believe in George), chants an activist draped in a fabric bearing the image of the outgoing president. Songs, dances and vuvuzelas gave the gathering – the last before the vote scheduled for Tuesday October 10 – the feel of a football match. But the mobilization does not hide the disenchantment of Liberians after almost six years in power of the former football star.

For many voters, the euphoria of the night of December 26, 2017, which saw the kid from a Monrovia slum take the highest step of power, gave way to bitterness tinged with anger. “How could our child betray us like this? “, asks Nestor, a mason in his fifties, standing on the main artery of the capital, where feverish pro-Weah activists parade. In 2017, he was one of those who believed in George Weah’s slogan, “change for hope.” “He was our first president,” confides the worker with an emaciated face. He was like us. » Understand: from a poor family and of indigenous ancestry.

At the time, his election sounded like revenge on history, that of the continuous domination, for more than one hundred and fifty years, of the American-Liberian elite, descendants of slaves. Sent in 1820 to the Liberian coast with the dual aim of evangelizing the African populations and living free, these African-Americans established a colonial system, doing everything to stay away from the “natives”.

In 1980, their power was overthrown by a sergeant turned dictator, Samuel Doe, the country's first indigenous president. After his assassination in 1990, the country plunged into a long civil war which left at least 250,000 dead and a million displaced. The peace signed in 2003 allowed the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf two years later. The election of George Weah in 2017, after two unsuccessful attempts, marks the first peaceful transition in the country's history. The former Ballon d'Or who became a senator then promises to repair this country that has been broken a thousand times and to stem poverty. A colossal challenge. But did he try to raise it?

An economy under perfusion

“Weah focused his 2017 campaign on equal opportunity, an idea that makes sense given our history. But he is far from delivering on his commitments,” says Eddie Jarwolo, executive director of Naymote, an organization that promotes good governance. In its latest report, the NGO scrutinized the campaign promises. The verdict is final. “Out of 292 proposals, only 8% were implemented. They mainly focus on infrastructure,” notes Eddie Jarwolo.

The Liberian economy, hit by successive shocks from health crises (Ebola and Covid-19) then inflation linked to the war in Ukraine, remains dependent on humanitarian aid, particularly from the United States. Since the end of the Second Civil War, the US Congress has allocated more than $2.4 billion in aid to support stabilization and good governance. Nearly 35 percent of Liberians still survive on less than $2.15 a day.

The head of state has also failed to improve the education system. The country still has one of the highest out-of-school rates in the world. And teachers, often poorly qualified, suffered from the reduction of their salaries during the Weah era, the repercussion of an austerity policy. “The Liberian school does not guarantee a future for our children and that has not changed with Weah,” laments Rob, who runs an electronics store in Monrovia. Like other middle-class Liberians, he sent his daughter to an East African school. His vote on Tuesday will go to the opposition. “Our young people still can’t find work. Some families even struggle to eat one meal a day,” he explains. A disillusionment that is not new.

From the first weeks of his mandate, “Mister Weah” had divided part of the electorate by having a housing estate built in the capital. “The first thing he did was make himself happy. This was the first twist in the contract that linked him to the Liberians,” reports a former collaborator who requested anonymity. More recently, during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022, the president was absent from the country for more than a month and a half to, among other things, follow the matches of his son Timothy, the team's starter. national of the United States.

For his detractors, the former Paris-Saint-Germain star has never succeeded in donning the mantle of president. “He doesn't take his job as head of state seriously but prefers to go dancing at the Jamaica club with his group of friends. He is sometimes more of a rapper than president,” whispers a former friend, referring to the few songs released by George Weah during his mandate. This former comrade, however, remembers a man determined to change his country. “Becoming president, he surrounded himself with courtiers and dismissed those who pointed out his mistakes,” he continues.

“Impunity” and “corruption”

“For this country which needs to develop so much, it is not competent,” says a West African businessman who made his fortune in the midst of Liberian chaos. “The war is over but Liberia remains a Wild West, the country of impunity and massive corruption,” believes the entrepreneur, who has lived in the country for twenty-three years. Not only has George Weah's mandate been marred by several corruption scandals involving members of his administration, but two senior officials from his party - including his former minister Nathaniel McGill -, sanctioned by the United States, are running in the senatorial elections Sunday. The Liberian state has not taken any legal action against them.

Denouncing acts of corruption also seems risky in George Weah's Liberia. Since October 2020, four public accounts auditors have been found dead. Some were preparing to publish a report on the questionable management of Covid funds. Even if no link has been established between their investigations and their disappearances, accidental according to official conclusions, human rights activists point out the pressures they are under.

At the headquarters of the Unity Party (UP, opposition), anger took precedence over disappointment. A group of young activists dressed in party colors chant war songs to call for mobilization against the ruling party. “Amanda! » (strength), intones the group, in reference to the rallying cry of the African National Congress (ANC) during apartheid in South Africa. “Weah has to go! We are tired of his politics. Look at Monrovia, nothing is built. We have no work, no school,” thunders Abraham, 29, military beret screwed on his head.

For him, the future looks like a 78-year-old man, Joseph Boakai. Former vice-president of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf can count on a broad coalition which includes Prince Johnson, former warlord and former supporter of George Weah in the 2017 election. An alliance which does not seem to raise eyebrows in the generation people under 30, who have experienced little or no civil wars. Joseph Boakai hopes to do better than in 2017, when he only won 38.5% of the votes in the second round against George Weah.

The latter claims this time to be able to win in the first round. The ballot, during which 2.5 million voters will have to decide between 20 presidential candidates, but also elect 73 deputies and 15 senators, promises in any case to take place in a tense context. Violence between supporters of the government and the opposition left two dead on Sunday during George Weah's closing campaign parade.