MONROVIA – According to sources within the presidential circle, President George Manneh Weah did not want to make this year’s celebration a big deal. It seems the President had wanted to ward off misgivings and murmurings from some Liberians given the prevailing conditions of the day. Some advisors could understand. Liberians, mainly detractors, would say “there goes our president celebrating birthday lavishly when reports about the scarcity of the country’s staple mounts and panic buying have increased the price of the commodity”.
Spontaneous Celebratory Blitz
But before the President awoke early morning on Saturday, October 1, 2022, he could hardly withstand the stampede of intruders within and without the gates of his official residence. The swarms of Liberians trooping to his Rehab home nearly jammed vehicular traffic from S.K.D Sports Pitch to Rehab Junction.
At that point of the morning, the stampeders were predominantly ordinary Liberians—students, market women, yana boys, bike riders, youth and women groups.
As if the whole surprise was planned along with the AFL and LNP bands, “Happy Birthday” lyrics were already being sung as early as 6am.
Meanwhile, another huge stream of the President’s well-wishers did not take the detour towards the President’s Rehab home. Drunk with militant slogans and pro-Weah chants, crowds of young people walked their way straight to the President’s Jamaica Resort further down the road.
What the President might have loved to keep low-keyed was now on early Saturday morning burst into the full brown celebration on two fronts—at both the Jamaica Resort and Rehab home.
By midday, the two venues were flooded. The crowds became a mix of ordinary people—most of whom took along their singing groups and musical sets, women with gifts of vegetables, tubers, fruits, portraits and while private and public dignitaries, including traditional chiefs, were presenting country-clothe gowns and other gifts.
Towards the afternoon time, the crowds at the Rehab home melted themselves into the Jamaica Resorts, not leaving behind their jubilant ecstasies, bands, drums, sassies, amongst other things.
The President had few words, but the guests, most of them if not all uninvited, had so much to say mainly on why they were so happy to identify with the President on his 56th birthday, defying the gloomy, torturing weather of the day to find him even uninvited.
A CDC youth militant, when confronted with the concern of why they were so spirited and festive about President Weah’s 56th birthday when Liberians were facing acute shortage or artificial shortage of the country’s staple, rice, and many were not happy in their homes, he said: “Let me borrow from Jesus Christ, the very upright and humble man who gave his own life for our freedom and salvation when he was confronted with a similar question: ‘The poor will always be with you’. Paraphrased, Jesus’ response amounts to this in our context: Liberia’s woes are not just born. They have come a long way. Even leaders of this country since Independence who did little or nothing to remedy our woes are celebrated, honored with holidays so that, no matter what, all Liberians stay out of work on those days. What about someone who, just five years in office, has done and achieved more that all others combined did for the country and its people; someone who is on record to help Liberia and Liberians even long before he became president.”
Speakers after speakers at the Jamaica Resort in an informal forum hastily arranged to make remarks amid the huge sounds of musical bands and chanting well-wishers reflected on various aspects of their President’s life journey they believed touched them over the years. Some reflected on his days at home battling poverty and playing soccer; some evoked memories of his professional soccer exploits abroad; some about his early political struggles.
Those were all familiar and overly repeated stories about a man who has touched many lives either as a sensation to watch on the football field or a highly respected humanitarian who created opportunities for others, pulling them out of poverty and want.
Fight Against Poverty
George Weah was born in a not so wealthy family; father William Weah was a middle class citizen gainfully employed. But fate did not allow young George to share in and enjoy the father’s middle-class life. Mother and father separating when he was at a tender age, Oppong, who is also popularly known to ordinary Liberians, was dashed by his grandmother, Old Lady Forkey Klohn to raise.
Already, grandmothers in ordinary Liberian families are spoilers of children. They are never rigid in disciplining grandchildren. Grandchildren often feel gravitated towards grandmothers for this, and George was not of any exemption. But George’s grandmother, a prayer warrior, resorted to God to find wonder for her grandchild.
In an urban slum, like Gibraltar and Clara Town, misery and indigence came into stark encounter during the teenage life of Manneh, as George is also popularly known to his peers. Hunger and want were daily side pains; opportunity to wear better clothes among peers even during major holidays like Christmas, Independence Day, and others were a luxury.
This left Manneh to become an ace hustler, doing whatever any street child unsupervised would do. At some point, as he once pointed out, he took “ten-ten”- a sort of illicit drug popular amongst young people these days. He went fishing in the Jarkehs, as the swamps of Clara Town and Logan Town are called.
Oppong also sold empty, discarded bottles, foraged dumpsites to feast on copper wires and other discarded cans which he sold to find something to eat.
During all of his teenage years, poverty embraced and dragged him to the full, but he fought back fiercely and prevailed.
Breaking Out of Poverty’s Prison
While speaking to an audience of young people and dignitaries, during the launch of a fund drive for At-Risk Youth, President George Manneh Weah briefly spoke on how he pulled out of wayward life and poverty. It was out of his own mind and willingness, his personal decision that was guided and influenced by one, that he was able to flee the ghettos of Clara Town and all the illicit attitudes associated with them.
“We can take this whole country and place it in the bag, drugs will still enter and there is nothing we can do to save you young people from drugs and the misery that comes with it,” he said at the occasion. “It takes your own willingness, your personal decision to change, your own mindset, to get you out of ghettos and out of ghetto life.”
From Abyss of Poverty to Prosperity
The one who was laying his head before the bed of friends; who was moving from one distant relatives, including uncles or aunts or cousins in order to make ends meet, and to remain in school, just almost spontaneously climbed out the furnace of deprivation and want and was soon seen on the solid shore of affluence and success.
And it was spontaneous because George who was seated by financial and material deficiency up to age 20 became a millionaire by 21. Quite a mystery, isn’t it? But how did it all happen?
Many would say the ladder that Manneh used to climb that hill of prosperity from the valley of poverty was football. Yes, obviously it is. But that won’t be without incredible hard work, discipline and diligence.
In his teens, while eking out a living, Manneh was a football icon. Particularly in the early and mid- 1980s, he was already a national sensation. From Young Survivors and other first division teams to Mighty Barrolle and Invincible Eleven, the name Opong was a household name across Liberia and many parents were naming their children after him.
But it was not until during a major West Africa tournament that he was spotted by a Cameroonian sports promoter and taken to that Central African nation that his story to greatness began in earnest.
There and then, the Liberian soccer prodigy was yet again spotted by Arsene Wenger, then Manager of Arsenal in Europe. He made his European debut with A.S. Monaco in France.
What followed was a rapid succession of high class soccer exploits, which came to mouthwatering fortunes, between 1988 and 2003 when he officially resigned. But before he resigned from football, George Manneh Weah has bagged the world’s most coveted accolades: Africa’s Best, Europe’s Best, World’s Best.
In 1989, 1994 and 1995, Weah was named the African Footballer of the Year, and in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century. In 2004, he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 list of the world's greatest living players.
To date, he is the only African Ballon d’Or.
Patriot–Man of the People
Those unparalleled achievements and decorations by a Liberian—the only Liberian for that matter—including entering the revered World Hall of Fame, came with appreciable fortune and global popularity from which Liberians lavishly benefited.
In the prime of his professional soccer career, Liberia was at war with itself, and George Manneh Weah was the best thing the world knew about the country since the rest were hiding in displaced and refugee camps or killing each other.
Those who had the opportunity to travel out of the country wore his name as the batch of introduction as to who they were and which country they came from.
As a sports ambassador, he encouraged and ushered many other Liberian footballers into their professional careers, offering his own home and facilities as the beginning of those he took from Liberia to play in Europe.
With no substantial budget for sports during the war days, it was Manneh who stood in the gap. He single handedly funded the travels and purchase of outfits for the Lone Star to play international matches, most of which were done out of Liberia.
His charity appetite was not only for sports. It also cut across to everyone and segment and sector. Whether it was in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Ivory Coast or elsewhere where Liberians congregated as refugees, Manneh flew in and assisted with cash, food, scholarship and the like—putting a level of smiles on the faces of his beleaguered people.
At home in Liberia, whenever a semblance of peace prevailed due to some ceasefire amongst warring factions, Oppong was here to share with his people. He established a girls’ vocational school, provided buses and scholarship to university of Liberia students and gave random aids to women, girls, physically challenged and hungry people.
Then another big one came when the United Nations hired him, as a peaceful man and iconic athlete, to help in the disarmament of warring factions. At the risk of personal life, George left his Monte Carlo comfort, and forewent his millions of dollars professional contract abroad, joined national and international partners to disarm ragtag militia.
He personally went to bushes and woods, including Goodridge Plantation in Bomi County, and other places to cajole fighting forces to voluntarily turn over their weapons of war to him and the United Nations.
Conquering Liberia’s Political Dominion
After Manneh had subdued the wild world with his unmatched soccer talents, using proceeds to help a dying country and people, he retired from athleticism and turned to the home front to see if something was left unconquered.
Already, he had set the record no Liberian had set—not only in the world of football but also in the history of wartime charity.
With torturing pressure and petitions from Liberians at home and abroad that Manneh was the most suited owing to all his good-naturedness and love for country, he found the urgings irresistible, and by 2005, he accepted.
As toxic and complicated as Liberian politics is, George Manneh Weah found the landscape not too unfamiliar and less complicated as someone who navigated his way through the complex world of politics and snatching enviable prizes in rapid succession.
And based on the record set, particularly his demonstrated love for charity and leadership, which was a void after the 14 years of internecine conflict, Liberians in their droves almost immediately began to gravitate to him and his fledgling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC).
Under a year’s existence, Manneh’s CDC effectively dwarfed the popularity of all other political parties then considered as veteran and iconic.
Without his opponents’ irking censures, considering him as “uneducated”, a political neophyte, and “a mere footballer”, the mass of Liberia’s so-called experienced and conventional politicians unleashed upon the slum-bred but towering Political Leader the most vociferous attacks for elimination, using noxious propaganda.
Despite the lethal onslaughts, Manneh survived it all, making his party while in opposition as the largest and most relevant, and himself the savviest Political Leader who had the party together, disintegrated, for over a decade, before snatching national leadership finally in 2017.
Not too many Liberian political leaders and their parties had been as savvy and more enduring and audacious as the CDC and its Strong Man in upholding their existence for over a decade unharmed under serial deliberate deadly attacks.
Many other political parties, if not all, has fallen by the wayside, going through unfortunate metamorphosis that left them weak if not extinct to the gimmicks of previous ruling parties.
Many national and international pundits are common in the view that, had it not been for the collusion hatched between some Liberian and external forces, the CDC and its Standard Bearer would have taken the mantle of power at the very first elections they participated in in 2005.
Nevertheless, for two presidential and legislative elections, and for several bi-elections, the so-called “political neophyte” and his “Johnny-just-come” party, became the most pertinent opposition bloc, coming up in runner elections twice (2005 and 2011), while winning and maintaining majority of legislative seats while in opposition. It was under Manneh’s leadership and control.
And finally, in 2017, he towered over the rest of Liberian’s politicians, including those who claimed to be “educated” and “experienced”, taking the Liberian presidency by winning all counties of Liberia save Lofa.
Weah: “The Development Radical”
Many political pundits have described President George Manneh Weah as a nonconventional politician. Perhaps true to that appellation, he has also come to be a nonconventional president, leaving him with the epithet, “the Development Radical” President.
Since the last five years of his incumbency, President Weah has conceived, unveiled and demonstrated a development paradigm that portrays and presents the inverted pyramid mode which places the focus of development programs from the elites and their interests towards the downtrodden masses.
After all, he hails from and represents the downtrodden masses; long neglected people of Liberia. And he seems not to forget this fact, something he has so far demonstrated in the pro-masses ordering of development priorities.
In fact the 24 th President of the Republic of Liberia has not hidden this radicalized method of leadership, so much that he has coined his National Development Program as Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development.
Chopping Out Benefits from Elites to the Poor
To demonstrate genuine will to this endeavor and lead by example, President Weah’s first major move was to claw out fabulous salaries and benefits which government officials earned over the years, disemboweled the bloated national wage bill and to make the public service not a lottery for self-aggrandizement that it has been for long.
In his inaugural speech in January 2018, he announced a 25 percent waiver of his own salary and called on other branches of government to follow suit.
It was not long when his young administration fully introduced its Salary Harmonization Policy intended not only to bring equity and fairness to government employment schemes but also save millions for development use that the bulk of the citizenry not in government employment would benefit from.
The extra cuts on salaries of officials have made tens of millions of United States Dollars and which the President has diverted to the construction of roads and delivery of other social services, including solar fights, essential medical drugs, amongst others,around the country.
It was the first time ever that Liberian public servants cut their own pay for the sake of national development.
Having been able to restore sanity to the bloated government wage bill, amidst competing demands for development, President Weah now has become positioned to introduce his radical development policy—taking development from the elites and their comfort zones to the most neglected communities and people of Liberia.
By this inverted pyramid mode of development, the largess of public resources began to go the ordinary masses away from the top government officials and their likings.
Tuition-free Public Universities, Colleges, Free WASSCE
Amongst these radical development interventions was the declaration of public universities and colleges around the world free of tuition payment. Many less privileged Liberians, mainly young people, including himself then, dropped out of schools because of the lack of money to pursue higher education.
Despite the emphasis and rhetoric of the past regarding the importance of education and the need for the youth to be educated, no political administration before President Weah ever thought about let alone make it an enforceable policy for youth to go to public universities and colleges without paying tuition.
While in school and also having been elected Senator of Montserrado County, the Chief Executive faced the difficulties of Liberian students taking international exams, all because of the lack of money by self-supported students and parents of students.
When he was elected President, he scrapped that responsibility from the students and parents, making it a responsibility for the national government. Tales of students’ drop from taking WASSCE or formerly WAEC has since vanished.
Another rather radical move in the education sector pursued by President Weah in the first year in office was the introduction of digital registration at the biggest public university in the country. For decades the University of Liberia had been rocked by protests and agitations of students who contended that the registration process was cruel, unmodern and laborious—something that kept away many potential students who could not contend with the rather taekwondo powers needed to go through.
President Weah introduced the first digital registration platform to students at UL for the first time during the 20 th and 21 st Century epochs of Liberia. All the distractions, agitations and protests associated with registration have since become things of the past.
Diverting Tarmac Roads, Lights Projects to Long Neglected People
Slum communities and distant rural towns and villages were on the bare periphery of social services before the advent of President Weah on the presidential throne. But he broke with the tradition and has since deliberately begun to target the poorest of the poor for social services projects.
Communities, counties and regions long ignored became the priority of Government interventions in terms of building tarmac roads and placing street lights.
Today, communities such as Logan Town, Clara Town, Duahn Town, Tusa Field,Churgbor, Fair Ground; county capitals such as Zwedru, Fish Town, Greenville, Buchanan, Gbarnga, Saclepea, Tubmanburg, Zorzor, and many others have enjoyed street lights, improving security, and allowing their long-dark environments to be navigated at night and for street peddlers and yaya boys to sell at night and for students to study under the lights at night.
Countless other Social Services projects
Under the leadership of Dr. Weah, Liberia has seen the rapid building and expansion of various social services projects, including refurbishment of the biggest hospital in the country, the John F. Kennedy Hospital, equipping it with dialysis and high-tech eye clinic amongst others; building the first ever military hospital of Liberia, bringing to end humiliations and even death men in arms face due to the lack of this facility.
Pundits also contend that since 2018, President Weah has built and renovated more market buildings across the country than any one of his predecessors.
What is needless to mention is the President’s road projects, something that both his supporters and opponents are very unanimous on—that he’s unmatched in his achievement in this area.
Social service that also cannot be forgotten is the pro-poor housing units being built around the country. His predecessors must have built a couple of housing estates in a few urban cities, but George Weah changed the entire paradigm altogether—he has been building them not only completely free of charge to occupants, but across the country, including the remotest villages unimagined in the past.
Good Governance under Weah
As a man of peace, President Weah has amply demonstrated that he came to national leadership with a rare tolerance of a Liberian leader. He has adjusted well in this strange governance environment to navigate Liberia over the stinging new realities underpinned by the Internet along with its accessories of social media and heightened national debates and proliferation of the media and civil society organizations.
Under his watchful eyes, political dissents are expressed in the cruelest of manners, including direct insult on his person. He has watched fierce public protests and last of which saw his security forces providing water and foot to hostile young people who were at the same raining invective on his person.
Despite the ferocity of opposition dissent, the President unbelievably widened the Pandorabox by further liberalizing the political and human rights playing field.
That was when the President just a year in office advocated for and torpedoed the enactment of the famous Kamara Abdullah Kamara (KAK) Act of Press Freedom. The passage of the Act had defied what many convention politicians who had prided themselves for icons of human rights and free speech could not do.
The essence of the endeavor is that it amended Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence—all of which were on the books rather nightmarishly impeding free speech and free press and searing many political actors and human rights activists.
In the face of the toxic environment created, and the temptation to people in high offices, the President’s good governance records has got expression in something strange—no political prisoner and no media house closed or threatened.
He presided also over the passages of other landmark good governance laws, including the new Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Act, the Whistleblower Act, amongst many others.
It was against this iconic odyssey characterizing President George Manneh Weah’s struggle “from nowhere to somewhere” that tens of thousands of Liberians defied both the bad weather and badmouth of others over supposed scarcity of rice in the country, that they congregated themselves on October 1, 2022, at both his official residence and his Jamaica Resort, praising and adoring him as their hero and leader.
As one guest spoke of the president’s goodness as a human being and as president, they mentioned one or two of his exploits in professional soccer and in national leadership. They recalled one of the following, and many more unrecorded:
- The cancellation of tuition fees at the University of Liberia and other public institutions of higher learning for the first time in the history of Liberia;
- The consistent yearly payment of all WAEC and WASCE fees for Senior and Junior High School students in Liberia;
- The rapid construction of the 14 Military Hospital, first military referral hospital in Liberia, dedicated to the health and welfare of poor Liberian servicemen. The hospital now serves as a beacon of hope in the fight against Covid-19;
- The Passage of Law Decriminalizing Free Speech so that for the first time in Liberia’s history journalists can no longer be held criminally liable and jailed for criticizing the governance process;
- The commencement of the pavement of 47km road from Sanniquellie to Logatuo in Nimba County;
- Commencement of the pave of Robert Field Superhighway
- The pavement of the 67km road from Ganta to Yekepa, which is complete;
- The pavement of the 6km from Coca Cola Factory to ELWA Junction
- The pavement of the 20km from Fish Town to Karweaken, River Gee County;
- The commencement of the total pavement of the capital cities of Sinoe, Grand Kru and Gbarpolu Counties;
- Feeder roads in Tusu Field, Duan Town, Churgbor, Johnsonville, Pipe Line, Patient Shop, Doe community, and many other communities
- The passage and signing of the Local Government Law, which takes power from the Presidency straight to the people, and allows a more participatory governance system;
- The protection of Ocean residents in New Kru Town from the raging ocean; which made thousands homeless every year;
- The construction of modern homes for rural dwellers (Grand Kru, Grand Gedeh, Margibi, Popo Beach, etc.) replacing almost two centuries of mud hut- for the first time in our history
- The construction and completion of Liberia’s first regional agro business-hub in South Eastern Liberia – thanks to the World Bank
- A new Redemption Hospital costing $14 Million Dollars is about to be completed in Cardwell;
- The Digitization of the registration process at the State-run University of Liberia, which has eased the burdens of long que by students to register courses;
- Training of special medical doctors most of which are returning from studies to beef and support our health care delivery;
- Increasing health care workers, Military, police and other service personnel salary by at least 18 – 20 percent through the wage harmonization process.
- First President to reduce his own salary by 25 percent
- Reduced public servants’ huge salaries and benefits, saving more money for pro-poor projects
- Appointed more females in government (high positions) than any other before him
- First President to have no political prisoners in jail be it civil society actors, journalists, politicians, etc.
- First President to have more young people in high public offices, most of them children of Market Women from Duala, West Point, Clara Town, Logan Town, Slip Way, New Kru Town, etc.
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