AMK Says Weah Doesn’t Want to Grow Up -Likens Liberian Leader to Peter Pan, Benjamin Buttons

It appears as if even the top power brokers who worked hectically behind the scene to ensure that former iconic footballer George Manneh Weah won the Liberian presidency in 2017 are now completely fed up with his very non-presidential musical moonlighting. The country’s former Finance Minister Amara M. Konneh (AMK) who now works with the World Bank is certainly peeved that Mr. Weah is not living up to the presidential billing; and has termed Weah’s constant celebrity flirtations with the music industry as childish; reminiscent of someone who refuses to accept the wisdom that comes with age.

In a very angry but philosophical summation, Mr. Konneh characterized President Weah’s perennial fixation with spending more time in the recording studio producing inane songs than attending to the vexing crisis the country is facing, as something which can only be compared to what happened to Benjamin Button, a Hollywood fictional character that grew younger physically as he aged – or with Peter Pan, another storybook character who refused to grow up.

In a quirky Thursday afternoon social media post which he entitled “The Case of Liberia’s Emotional Buttons”, Mr. Konneh drew a parallel between the main character in the film, Mr. Benjamin Buttons, and President Weah. In the film, Buttons is born with features of an elderly person, but starts looking younger as he gets older due to a rare disorder called Warner.

“More rampant is the case of arrested emotional and psychological development brought on by centuries of poverty, illiteracy, political oppression, child neglect and other forms of abuse, sexual and gender-based violence, corruption, and decades of brutal conflicts. If untreated, effects of these traumas become increasingly apparent in adulthood.

“Could this be the case with Liberia, where 40-year-olds consider themselves ‘youth’? You tell me. If so, what percentage or demographic of the population have these traumas touched and whom has it miraculously passed over?” Amara wondered.

“For the answer, we must constantly and deeply examine ourselves – an exercise that requires integrity, humility, commitment, and a taste for the bitter pill of truth. How often do we do that, if ever? It’s much easier to ignore the mirror and stare at our phones instead, looking with laughter and disgust, at the dysfunctional behavior of high-profile figures. It’s easier to ignore the fact that they grew up in our same context; that we chose them to lead us, knowing enough about who they are; and that their characters directly reflect our own.

“But we are Liberians; we are a part of the Black World that largely ignores the soul and its craving for health and growth. We look to other places for answers. Monday through Thursday, we work to feed our bellies; Friday through Sunday, we go to feed our spirits in our mosques and churches. We do the same when we choose our leaders. When has emotional wholeness ever been a criterion for judging the people aspiring to and holding public office in Liberia? In an election cycle, as with any other time, these prevailing questions remain the same: What will this person do for my belly, and do they follow the right religion? Forget the aspirants themselves. It doesn’t matter how they feel or see themselves and the world. This is part of why we don’t bother with policy platforms. Nobody cares about what’s going on in the minds of these men and women.  Then, when they mess up, we assume it’s an isolated case of poor character, when it is so much deeper than that,” AMK philosophized.

“But there’s an explanation for some of the disturbing behaviors some of our leaders exhibit. As MIT’s Psychologist Deborah Ancona writes from the Harvard Business Review, “we’re always contending with ghosts from our past.” in her article with David N.T. Perkins, Family Ghosts in the Executive Suite, argues that household dynamics, the traumas they create and the values they instill in us, are all drivers of adult behavior that can support or undermine our leadership abilities and career goals. “Those [family] dynamics taught you about authority, mastery and identity. So when similar [dynamics] assert themselves in the workplace, it’s easy to revert to childhood patterns,” they write. They also point to the fact that the role we are socialized to play in our families seeps into our professional life, whether we’re, “the jester, the troublemaker, or the brain” in the family.

“In our challenging Liberian setting the effects such as entrenched poverty, abuse, abandonment and violence can express themselves through the thirst for a luxurious lifestyle to compensate for childhood deprivation.

“But what if, on top of that, the role you were socialized to play was that of the special, talented one who got all the attention while everyone else just stood and looked admiringly at you? Then you have no problem playing that role as an adult. The late Michael Jackson is my point of reference. He famously embraced the persona of Peter Pan, the title character of another famous film about a free-spirited, mischievous young boy who vows never to grow up, so he’d never outgrow his love for fun, adventure, and a life devoid of responsibility. Michael acted more and more childlike and childishly in his adulthood, which along with disturbing criminal allegations, undermined his public image.

“Now, what happens if your office is a whole country and you are the head of state? Then news of the troubling displays of childish behavior begin to diffuse beyond the walls of the presidential palace. A good example is the President I helped elect in 2017, whom we have found to be quite the singer and a “bluff boy” in addition to being an illustrious footballer. He has released a new song every day this week, including one about himself. He was also seen showcasing a new toy worth tens of thousands of US Dollars – an elevated “Go-Kart” parents take their children to ride on in theme parks in the United States in the summer.

“Perhaps his childhood poverty stymied his singing talent and prevented him from riding a “Go-Kart” or buying those toys the Indians and Lebanese merchants sold on Camp Johnson Road when he was a child. Perhaps all he got was attention and praise for his football talent. So he is compensating for the deprivation by living lavishly, and feeding his thirst for attention by displaying that luxury and his singing talents to the public. I wish he were instead promoting young, local musicians who are the country’s future and building a “Go-Kart” theme park in Liberia for kids, instead of keeping this enjoyment to himself and letting us all watch from the outside looking in. This would be a truly “first since 1847” initiative. But his actions are all the more distressing against the backdrop of deep poverty in which he has sunk Liberians, having accomplished nothing of value during his four years in office. If he had been productive and impactful, Liberians might be more forgiving of his excesses and occasional playfulness. But his ineffectual leadership renders his displays of pleasure insensitive to a struggling public.

“But it’s on us too.  The Liberian opposition has helped him in 2021 more than he’s helped himself. They took 24 months to bruise each other in the name of demonstrating political strengths. This is perhaps the first time an opposition group has turned a significant momentum against itself.

“The quality of our choices says much about our own “childhood ghosts.” Not all childhood ghosts are wrong, however. Many have taught us family orientation and generosity, for example. But we all know our country has suffered too much trauma to ignore it forever.  The challenge we face – leaders and followers alike – is not to let the bad “childhood ghosts” keep us stuck with our juvenile selves.

“If we continue ignoring our past and don’t heal from it – and if we keep electing and following leaders who have done nothing to heal from their own past, we will not see the last of the Peter Pan President,” Mr. Konneh warned.

Comments are closed.