George Opong Weah rose from bitter poverty to become both a sports and a political super star. He was raised by his grandmother in one of the most backward of slums in Liberia but that didn’t deter him from dreaming big to achieve financial freedom.
He didn’t finish high school because of the biting poverty that he was subjected to and became a switch board technician with the country’s telecommunications corporation. He played football during his spare time and dreamt of playing in Europe despite the bleak future he faced at the time with the lack of a good education.
Dreams sometimes come true and it was so with him as the gods of fortune finally heard his loud cry. Arsene Wenger who was then in charge of the French club Monaco ‘picked his call’ as we say in Nigerian parlance and brought him over to France. The year was 1988 and he shone like a shining star and banged in so many goals as a prolific striker. He won the African Footballer of the year barely a year later and was poached by Paris St. Germain for a whooping record signing fee in 1992. He greatly acclimatized in France as he became fluent in the French language. He subsequently moved to AC Milan in 1995 where he became the first African player to win the World Footballer of the year. Till date, no other African has broken this record. He later played for Chelsea, Manchester City, Marseille and Al Jazira before retiring in 2003 at the age of 37. He had a long spell with the Liberian National team and mentioned that the only regret he had was in not playing in the world cup.
Barely two years after his retirement, he got involved in Liberian politics as he sought to use his star power to make a huge mark in the polity of his beloved country who had suffered a bizarre war that greatly set her aback.
He contested for the Presidency after he formed the Congress for Democratic Change party and was up against Harvard educated Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a world renowned economist who had worked with the World Bank and the United Nations. She made a huge mockery of his educational qualifications and told him that he was unfit for public office. Weah fired back and said that what were the achievements of the highly educated Presidents in the country? He lost narrowly during the run-off. He took the defeat in good faith and went back to school to educationally improve himself. He attended the Devry University in Miami, United States where he bagged a degree in business administration. He became the vice-presidential candidate and running mate to Winston Tubman in 2011 but lost to Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson and later became a Senator in 2014. His red letter day came in 2017 when he defeated the incumbent vice-president Joseph Boakai and was sworn in as President on January 22, 2018.
Today makes it exactly two years that he is in office and so it’s necessary to do a post mortem.
Two years ago, many Liberians were overjoyed that their football hero had finally become President. There were great expectations from him as he had risen from grass to grace and so was expected to pursue policies that will bring massive economic development to the country.
Tragically, Weah has joined the league of despotic African leaders who see power as an end rather than as a means of service. He failed to use his international clout to attract investors to the country and surrounded himself with sycophants who cheer him on as he fumbles and wobbles leaving the mouths of most Liberians agape. Inflation is at an all time high and most of his countrymen grapple with living on less than $2 a day. There have been allegations of mind boggling corruption against his administration. Last year, he renovated the presidential residence with millions of dollars of tax payers’ money and some of his critics allege that he has been using his position to further the cause of his vast business interests in the former war torn country.
The resources of the erstwhile lone American colony has been failed to be harnessed for the good of all by Weah. According to a report, 64% of the children suffer from malnutrition and life expectancy hovers between 54 – 60 years with many babies dying in infancy as a result of the biting poverty of their parents. Unemployment is at an all time high and sports – the first love of the President is lying comatose.
Many pundits what must have happened to him. Has he always secretly being power drunk and being hiding under the façade of being a hero till his true colour was finally unraveled or did the sycophants he appointed to govern the country with him suddenly make him turn a new leaf?
The President and his cabinet as well as close allies fly first class, wear designer clothes and shoes while the rest of the populace are left to wallow in abject poverty. There has been growing disillusionment with his administration with his popularity at an all time low.
It is high time Weah retraced his steps so as not to end up as one more villain who abused the wonderful opportunity to transform his country and etch his name in gold. At the end of the day, everything is life is transient and what matters is the legacies one leaves behind. He should remember that he is a mere steward who holds the highly esteemed office at the pleasure of the people who can throw him out at anytime.
Weah take heed lest your heroic deeds get eroded forever because of the sweet allure of power.
Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com