EDITORIAL: Telling the George Weah Story with a Loud ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’

IT MIGHT SEEM STRANGE or weird to others but we find it patriotic and positive to join millions of other Liberians to say hats off to President George Manneh Weah on the occasion of his 56th birthday. After 12 months of critical reporting on the President and his administration, enjoying our freedom of press and speech, we see it a nationalistic duty to come to terms with others by honoring someone to whom honor is due—at least on this special day.

PRESIDENT GEORGE MANNEH Weah, as everyone will agree, is an extraordinary national icon of our generation—who struggled from a difficult background and weird past to be the pride of the nation and a noble citizen of Africa—a positive image of our motherland to the global community. It is this Liberian that on Saturday, October 1, 2022 for whom many rolled out drums and sang their hearts out for his 56th birthday. As such, the entire nation needed to be united in celebration for a valued citizen and a somewhat worthy leader, whose illustrious career, ideas, battles, patriotism and service to the nation continue to offer an inspiration to the rest of the people, especially the younger generation.

WHAT MAKES THE George Weah story and his 56th birthday worth celebrating is the fact that when he was born on October 1, 1966, he bumped into a union of a poor family, though his father was not as poor as others may think. He was a middle class person, but paternal complications robbed young George the niceties of comfort in puberty; but this true son of the soil struggled with little or no serious direct guidance, and all by himself, he rose to the apex of world fame after a long and tortuous night in life.

HE IS NOT a politician without a second address. He has had an admirable tributary of his huge stream of life. He had a rich and outstanding career from where he was unanimously decorated as the World, European and African Best in 1995. This, undoubtedly, is an unprecedented feat he had had before venturing into politics, an arena in which he also excelled so rapidly, dominating most of the opponents he had met in the field and eventually became President of the Republic of Liberia.

LOOKING BACK CANDIDLY and unbiasedly, one can safely say George Manneh Weah represents a rarity of the human species who can be paired with legends like Biblical Joseph and Moses. He was long destined by providence to be a man of the future. Undeterred by his troubled childhood and other obstacles on the way of a struggling youth, he confronted life’s difficulties with uncommon courage, converting the vicissitudes into an opportunity to struggle, work hard and excel in football, the uncommon natural gift that would later on open the doors for opportunities.

AS THE ALMIGHTY God did using the manger on the river to engineer the story of servitude-born Moses, or of Joseph who was sold by his brothers into slavery, God also did for Liberia’s slum-born George Weah to plot and inspirational story, using with football which was widely disparaged by many Liberian parents as a path of waywardness. And certainly initially, wayward he was, as he ran the streets involved in unsightly ventures and selling empty bottles and other wires as a source of survival.   

BUT, INTERESTINGLY, HE saw his amazing talents in football as an avenue to gatecrash from his state of poverty and want, as he started attracting sport scholarships to attend schools thereby escaping the challenges of finding money to support his education.

THE SERIES OF opportunities in football took him to GW Gibson, Ellen Scarborough, Muslim Congress and then the Wells Hairston High School where he remained before departing the country. In between, his budding talents and skills brought forth channels to explode on the national scene when he featured for Young Survivors, Mighty Barrolle and then the Invincible Eleven (IE).

PERHAPS BEING COGNIZANT of the adage that opportunity comes but once, the Celebrant seized the golden chance to sign on to Tonnerre Klara Club of Cameroon where he held the entire country spellbound with artistry, and sooner than later, he was playing for AS Monaco in the French top league. he carried on his head the bow of fate and destiny while in Europe playing professional soccer and shone like a star crossing over from the principality of Monaco and the French Capital in Paris to play for Paris St. Germain and then leaving France to Italy to join AC Milan where the greatest honors he ever had, were bestowed on him.

ON AND OFF the field, Weah was a leader and probably the only positive image the country could boast of during the entire period of our brutal history. He was able to use the international goodwill he enjoyed at the time to mobilize support for peace and then using his personal funds to support the national team, the Lone Star in all its international competition, qualifying the country to feature at the African Nations Cup for the first time in 1996 in South Africa and then in 2002 in Mali for the second time. 

IT STILL REMAINS a wonder why he quitted his outstanding career as a professional footballer, when at the time of his resignation he had over US$5 million contract to sign with a Middle-Eastern football team. Had he forgotten that football was the platform that liberated him from the scourge of poverty to a successful career? But he nonetheless came down to work for peace in his Motherland, leading the disarmament and demobilization of child soldiers that provided them opportunities to begin a new life? No. It put Liberia’s interest over his personal interest. That was when he accepted the pro bono job to serve as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, an assignment he used passionately working towards restoring peace and tranquility in Liberia, including going into the forest to disarm militia fighters.

WEAH’S ENTRY IN national politics, a seemingly unfamiliar territory to him, might have taken the world by surprise, but it is only after years that many seem to appreciate the detour as Providence’s own making. To date it is yet to emerge a study on how an unknown political actor has led a revolution for liberation of the downtrodden masses. He founded and inspired unarguably Liberia’s foremost grass root movement, the Congress for Democratic Change, which transitioned from providing a robust challenge to the “establishment fraternity”, to a governing institution, unprecedentedly delivering the dividends of popular democracy our people have long struggled for.

AND SO AS the 2005 electoral process took off, there was never a trace of history of the country where a large segment of the population, mostly the downtrodden masses, would be so energized to participate in the political enterprise and seize ownership of it. Weah became the rallying point, and “against all odds defeated all opponents in the first round of the elections. It took the combination of circumstances to get him defeated in the second round amid protest from his supporters that the election was rigged in favor of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf”.

GEORGE MANNEH WEAH was a fast learner and keen listener. In no time, he was able to work on some of the major odds that had stacked against him during the 2005 elections, among which were the lack of a solid education and experience in working in government. He was able to return to school earning a Bachelor’s degree in the process and fielding himself as a running mate to former Liberian diplomat Winston Tubman so as to learn from the process during the 2011 general election.

WHEN HIS SECOND attempt for leadership failed in 2011, he accepted to go in the senate during the 2014 senatorial race which he won. There he remained a leader of the opposition camp until in 2017 at which time he had already garnered much experience and exposure and was able to mount a sustained campaign. With the foresight to forge a formidable collaboration with two other grassroots Liberian political parties, he was elected on the ticket of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). It is also worthy to note that he became the first politician to keep an opposition coalition together and contest to win against a ruling party. Hitherto, no coalition or collaboration in Liberia had ever succeeded to hold together as a single group in an election. He broke the jinx that is yet to be accomplished by any other party.

FOLLOWING HIS INAUGURATION on January 22, 2018, Weah now sits in the saddle of affairs of the country, delivering the dividends of democracy. With little or no external resources and the many challenges staring in the face of the government, the President has been focused on delivering impactful projects and initiatives that are changing the lives of the citizens, restoring hope and dignity and ensuring a prosperous future.

TO HIS CREDIT, for the first time, there is something called free tuition initiative at tertiary institutions and road connectivity—all representing first-time-ever government policies, something that remains unmatched in history. He has recorded an appreciable achievement on gender equality, enacted legislation to combat corruption, stabilized the macro economy especially with price stability and the exchange rate, harmonized the salary structure and significantly cut down the cost of governance and promoted rule of law, etc.

ON THE IMPORTANT occasion of the President’s celebration of his 56th Birth Anniversary last Saturday, we join the citizenry to give him his deserved salute, and pray to the Almighty God to bless him bountifully as he steers the affairs of the state.

INDEED, THE WEAH story, which motivates Liberians including us, to honor him by celebrating with him on this date is that it is not an ordinary story. For those of us who hail from unprivileged backgrounds, with the zeal to see young people of this country including our own children succeed, the Weah story is fantastic real life testimony to be used to inspire and to treasure. 

THAT’S WHY DESPITE all the independent analyses and critical look at his government during the 12 months, we have to pause on this day, taking pleasure in joining other Liberians to say, “Happy birthday, Mr. President”!

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