While intellectuals and cynics in Monrovia are debating, and some repudiating, the nearly two week visit of President George Manneh Weah and entourage to Liberia’s countryside, the rural masses hosting them were found doing something else, afire with ululations and smiles all over the place, and bathing the President with copious gifts and commendations. Officially, the expressed key objective of the trip was to allow the President say “Thank You!” to and appreciate the rural people who overwhelmingly voted him into power, entrusting in his care their individual and collective sovereignties by their franchise. But as the presidential entourage made its way through the woods of the country—from Bong to Grand Kru through Nimba, Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Maryland—the tour turned out to be more scintillating and enthralling: National Peace and Victory Celebratory Parties replete with exchange of pleasantries, and goodies, and heart-to-heart development discussions. From the rather marathon trip, The Analyst takes a cursory reflection.
It must have been a matter of bewilderment for President George Manneh Weah. Since he was elected in 2017 to take over the leadership mantle, winning four of Liberia’s 15 counties with over 65 percent of the national suffrage, he had not gone back to the people to say “hey”, let alone “thank you.” And for not visiting the people for three years after they had voted him to power, it would be expected that the people would be angry and shrug his visit. But that was not the case. The numbers and sizes of crowds of rural people coming out to greet the president were astonishingly massive and there was so much the President offered the rural masses to sustain their joy and excitement.
Competition over Turnouts
Bong County, apparently, may not have had the spirit of turnout competition in mind, since the county was the first stop of the President’s first nationwide tour and there was nothing or no one to learn from. Nevertheless, the fourth populous province put up a spontaneous show, with villages before and after the capital Gbarnga awash with scores of locals from its border with Margibi to the border with Nimba.
Students, marketers, local chiefs and youth lined the streets and village squares to greet the President and his entourage.
Adding the Bong County engagement and excitement during the trip was the holding of a colorful and well-parked Agriculture Fair that drew throngs of farmers from towns and villages as well as national and international agriculture stakeholders from Monrovia and other cities.
Though the Agriculture Fair attracted so many people to CARI, and it was attractive, the President and entourage did not get swallowed up in the exciting ceremonies. The President made rounds in several communities, deep into the woods of Bong County, held town hall meetings and heard out the citizens.
And the people of the county came out in their numbers not only to see the President, whom they elected three years ago firsthand, but also to share their stories and their gifts with him.
While the President was in Bong for two and half days engaging the Kpelles and other tribesmen in the county, Nimba, the second most populated county which was next to visit, was planning how to steal the show from Bong.
Due to Nimba’s overpopulation, reporters and other independent observers are still wondering whether the swarms of human assemblies they saw was due to the county’s vast population or massive mobilization techniques. What is clear however is that the Gios and Manos and other Liberians residing in Nimba villages, towns and cities pulled crowds everywhere the President and entourage threaded.
Whether it was the most populous city of Ganta, or the capital Sanniquillie, or other important towns and villages such as Saclepea, Bahn and others, Nimbaians came out massively to celebrate the visit to their locales by the President and the Government.
Where Nimba stands out most uniquely in the welcome competition, as per observers’ perspective, was in what can best be described as “tarry welcome mode”; that was when throngs of villages remained awake lining the main highway running through the county only to see and wave the President and his entourage ‘welcome’. At around 9 to 10pm, villages were still riotously jumping up here and there, waving banners and posters at odd hours.
The Nimba celebration was underpinned, amongst other things, by fast-spreading report that the President has some natal connection to the county, and that he’s cultivating over 1500 acres of farmland given him by the people of Nimba, specifically Gbi and Doru where his maternal grandparents hailed.
There also was the Senator Prince Johnson factor—the “Godfather” of the county who largely planted the seed of political covenant between Nimba and the President back in 2005 when he first contested the presidency.
Additionally, almost all legislators, who apparently had mobilized their constituents to welcome the President, were in sight and walking side by side of the President as the convoy moved from town to town.
Grand Gedeh County
Journalists and observers are still wondering whether Grand Gedeh’s welcome show is the most tumultuous in terms of numbers and colorfulness. Those who think this way take cue from one fact: it was the only place where human tsunami overwhelmed and inundated the president’s nearly 200-car convoy. A snail could move faster than the convoy at this point, and for nearly two hours it was just difficult for the Presidential entourage to pierce through the crowds on a two-mile distance.
The turnouts in Zleh Town, and other villages before Zwedru, the capital, after a poor start in Toe Town, was not a surprise. The Krahns are historically known for carrying the biggest appetite for George Weah in the country. No county votes more massively for Weah and his CDC and against Weah’s opponents since 2005 than Grand Gedeh.
Grand Gedeh believes President Weah is their son because their ‘hero’ and ‘Godfather’, former President Samuel Kanyon Doe, inspired Weah to greatness in football. They therefore, by and large, regard the President as a replacement of Samuel Doe.
It would appear, as one observer put it, that “even the dead awoke to greet the President and entourage on this instant day”.
“If we did not arrive in Grand Gedeh in the night, all the debate about which county rose up so massively would be cut off in its favor,” said the observed. “Not only did you see the numbers, you also could see excitement, genuine expression of joy and love in the faces of the bees of humans that spread all over Zwedru.”
That observer could be right. The numbers were very large, and the yelling and even weeping were deafening. Had it not been for security concerns, since the arrival was in the night, the President would have had no alternative but to disembark from his van and walk with the crowd like he did two days later in Maryland. And walking would have been faster and better amongst the crowds that swallowed him and his convoy up.
River Gee County
River Gee was another place to behold. Despite its infrastructure deficit which seared the entourage and attracted the president’s venom and condemnation at some point, the numbers were highly impressive, and there were genuine excitements expressed.
The size of crowds that came out to greet the visitors in Karwearken, Webbo and other places, before the capital Fish Town, was overwhelming.
It would appear that the mobilizers for the county emptied outlying villages into these big towns, prepared students, marketers and youth to put the relatively large show in the county.
Another special feature taken away from River Gee is the well-organized ceremonies put together. Some observers say they had the best and most colorful, something enriched by their chief spokesman who mesmerized the visitors and residents in attendance with intriguing history about the Southeast struggle for economic equity and political inclusion.
Though also noted for being sparsely populated, Maryland County put up a huge surprise, bringing out its people from every nook and corner to bigger towns, mainly in Plebo and Harper, to greet the President and entourage. There are some observers who are comparing the crowd sizes of and welcome show put up by this home of President William V.S. Tubman with those of Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties.
Unable to withstand emotions displayed and the excitement of the unrestrained celebrations of the populations in Plebo in particular that came out to greet him, President Weah breached protocols for the first time on the trip by disembarking from his car, walking at snail pace with the crowds and endlessly exchanging waves with mountains of bystanders.
Students and young people on the one hand and local and national law enforcement officers on the other were embroiled in a running battle as the state security endeavored almost fruitlessly to manage the crowds.
Grand Kru County
Grand Kru County, also a sparsely populated province, terribly shocked visitors when nearly all its villages and towns on the route from the Maryland border to the capital Barclayville over-spilled with citizens holding banners and placards, chasing the convoy and waving lappas. In fact, there were some women who spread their lappas on the bare ground for the convoy to roll on.
“Welcome home, our son and father George Weah,” a poster read. Another one stated: “Nowhere is like home. Wecome, Dr. Weah”. One also asserted: “Welcome to Fatherland. Feel Safe!”
Berwehn, the first stop in Grand Kru from Maryland was similarly jostling with swarms of locals. Whether it was according to protocol or not, it was seemingly difficult for the President to pass through without stepping out. Thus, a town hall meeting was held, however briefly, but the locals had the opportunity to face off with their son and lay out their challenges.
In Grand Cess, it was enormously overwhelming, not to mention the glamorous arrival of the President and entourage in Barclayville, the provincial capital city. Flock of residents, both within and from without the capital, came out in their numbers despite arriving in the night and despite the heavy downpour of rain.
It was something to watch arriving in the President’s hometown of Sasstown. Immediately incurring natural excitement of being home for first time in decades, suffering the sting of nostalgia for long, President George Manneh Weah jumped out of his car, disregarding security protocols, joining the throngs of kinsmen in their traditional “war dance”.
What followed the day of arrival, for the President personally, was largely nursing and curing the nostalgia of decades which he had endured after leaving those shores in the late 1970s, growing up in Monrovia and going abroad as a professional footballer.
He pleaded with his entourage to bear with him have a cooling off, restful time in his hometown. He would wake up in the morning dressed very casually, walking between and amongst houses, greeting locals and figuring out older but familiar landmarks and landscapes he had known when he was there as a child.
While there, he participated in a quasi-tournament (four team tournament) involving journalists (PUL & MICAT), Grand Kru All Stars, and his Weah All Stars (WAS) on the very grassy pitch on which he played football in the 1970s.
One bystander, apparently member of the entourage, remarked comically: “The way I see the President relax in this town, it may require a bulldozer to hook him out of here for Monrovia.”
Though it sounds like a hyperbole, the simple fact is the President actually appears to be more relax, feel more secured and excited being in Sasstown nearly forty hears after and seeing folks, sceneries and portography he long missed and talked about while away.
Gifts Exchange Parties
Anyone who formed part of the six-county presidential convoy from Bong to Grand Kru would request a yearly repeat of the tour. As throngs of locals came forward to put before the President their challenges and expectations in terms of developments in their locales, there were gifts of appreciation to offer the President for what they consider his sweeping, passionate development programs across the country.
Market women, chiefs and youth came out with various shades of gifts for the President and some members of the entourage.
Whether it was in Bong, or Nimba, or Grand Gedeh, or River Gee or Maryland or Grand Kru, rural Liberians were unanimous in their view that President Weah is ably leading this country, keeping the peace, demonstrating unusual passion for development without discrimination.
That is apparently consistent with Liberian tradition of providing presents, including goats, cows, sheep, country gowns amongst others, to important guests who impact their lives one way or the other.
Again, it appeared as a competition. Every community and county wanted to show their best hospitability.
The President was also on top of the Liberian hospitability tradition, which is wrapped in the Kru maxim, “show me what you kept for me as a gift first and I will show you what I brought for you from abroad.”
And it seems the President was prepared for this. Not only did he dedicate countless projects in countless communities and cities, he also officially broke ground for countless new projects to be undertaken by his administration and its partners. Every community or county got equal share of the pie, and this triggered more celebration and appreciation for the President.
Besides public and private projects dedicated and broken ground for, the President has on hand personal donations and promises of goodies to improve the lot of the people.
Nearly every community and town and city got a promise for pro-poor housing units, electrification of homes, building and/or refurbishment of schools, hospitals, city halls, clinics amongst many others.
Of course, a huge van carrying an assortment of things, including footballs, lappas, biscuits, and many others, was at the tail of the convoy, making stoppages everywhere kids, women and the elderly gathered on the roadside waving, and it discharged gifts to the delight and outburst of yells and celebration of the locals.
Powerful Engagement Strategy
Whatever the minuses and criticisms President Weah’s trip to the six counties has generated amongst critics, there is one thing they cannot beat: the relationship harnessed with the masses is unbeatable, and the delight of the people for seeing and directly interacting with him will remain unquenched for a long time to come.
Though it was hectic but it was worth doing. Arriving in a community, particularly where a night or two was spent, the protocol drew many locals to the president face to face. There were schedules that allowed him meet and discuss with the lawmakers, the women and youth leadership, the clergy and at times the elderly people of the host community.
All those close-door meetings were in addition to the Town Hall format introduced as party of the president-masses engagement effort.
At the town hall meeting, where the president and entourage come into a face to face either in open fields or spacious town halls or city halls with the locals, the opportunity for frank and serious discussions over development concerns are discussed.
Each segment of the population, youth, elders, local authority, etc, voiced out their challenges and what they expected from the Government to address their concerns.
And the President not only used the town hall meetings to give his perspective from his vintage point as President of the county, he also used the occasions to preach peace, unity and harmony, because according to him, development is impossible in the absence of peace.
In nearly all other communities visited, and in an apparent bid to get to locals who did not directly participate closely, the President took to local community radio stations and spoke to a wider audience, often thanking the populace for voting him into power and urging them to remain law abiding, peaceful and patient as his government addresses the many development challenges they and by extension the entire citizenry face.