"...Schwarzenegger and Major’s individual experiences and education far exceed that of Weah’s. Schwarzenegger has a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from the University of Wisconsin and has successfully managed many complex ventures valued at millions of dollars. Regarding Prime Minister John Major, I do not understand how anyone can have the nerve to compare him with Weah...."
At the publication of my first article in this series, Mr. George Weah’s presidential campaign was at its apex and many were predicting then that he would be Liberia’s next president. But the fundamental variables that I had looked at very keenly told me a different story for which I was willing to predict, against popular opinion, that Weah would have a poor chance in this race. It is barely two months since he announced his candidacy and I ask you to be the interpreter of the “handwriting that is on the wall.” But I will make yet another bold prediction based on what I have seen thus far: George Weah may withdraw from the race for president of the Republic of Liberia in the 2005 elections. It will be one of his best decisions ever and the indications are so strong I have been reluctant to write this final article of the series, except that I must keep my promise.
Though many doubt that Mr. Weah can win presidential elections in 2005, a seemingly much lager percentage of his skeptics are more concerned about what a Weah presidency will mean for Liberia. Those who think that he can not measure up to the task at hand have argued that after the pomp and pageantry of the electoral season, Weah would realize that, love for country aside, his education and experience are far too inadequate for the challenges facing Liberia. His supporters have sometime countered this argument by asserting that Weah’s experience and exposure exceed those of some Liberian and international leaders and that he can find competent professionals to help him run the government. So, let’s find out if he can be equaled to the job of the presidency.
To understand the problems that the next president of Liberia will face, it is good to take a summary look at the scope of the country’s challenges. Though one of the smallest countries in Africa - in terms of population and land mass - Liberia has been a giant in world affairs and a pride of Africa because of her historic position as the oldest black republic on the continent. This position imposed upon her the obligations to provide leadership for African liberation and unification and to project the image of the black man’s ability to govern himself successfully, an occasion to which the country ably rose despite great difficulties. But fourteen years of war now portray this once proud nation to the world as weak, barbaric, and, perhaps, incompetent to self-rule, as is evidenced by its classification as a failed state and calls for the country to be made a United Nations Protectorate.
The war has not only bruised our pride, it has busted our moral and economic foundation. From our proud status as one of the most prosperous countries in sub-Sahara Africa, we are now listed among the poorest of the poor . We are divided internally and hated regionally; our hospitals are ruined; schools are destroyed, trained teachers unavailable and students schooled in violence; we have no electricity system, water supply system, reliable telecommunications and decent roads; our government system is broken down, ineptitude is touted without shame, and corruption is eating at the foundation of our nation; immorality abound as poverty threatens the existence of the young and vulnerable so that forbidden practices such as homosexuality and teen-age prostitution are on the rise with the accompanying diseases and premature deaths. Essentially, our continued existence as a nation is threatened! When Liberia is compared with the likes of Ghana and Nigeria we could be fifty or seventy-five years behind; for countries in the developed world we could be centuries behind. This is the nation for which we are looking for a leader.
It is said that some of Weah’s supporters have argued that if Master Sergeant Samuel Doe could govern Liberia, then he certainly can do better because he has better exposure than Doe had in 1980. This is a chilling thought to imagine that anyone would want us to go down the path that Doe’s inexperience and limited education led us to. Even then, the Liberia that Doe took over in 1980 was in many, many ways better than that of today. Remember that Doe took over a functioning government. Despite the problems then, there were many trained and experienced technicians in the country’s civil service and the infrastructure was stronger.
Some still have argued that if others, such as the Austrian-born movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the grammar school-dropout John Major can run successful governments then why can’t Weah do the same? The simple answer is that Liberia is not California or England and Weah is not Schwarzenegger or Major. In a developed and functioning state/country, such as California and England, there are very strong structures that can absorb many weaknesses of the leader: there are trained people and well developed systems that run with little input from the leader. In the case of Liberia the next president will have to lead the national efforts to build and reform systems and structures; hence, his decisions will require a solid foundation as they will set the stage for the long-term progress of the country or take us back to the days of agony.
Additionally, Schwarzenegger and Major’s individual experiences and education far exceed that of Weah’s. Schwarzenegger has a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from the University of Wisconsin and has successfully managed many complex ventures valued at millions of dollars. Regarding Prime Minister John Major, I do not understand how anyone can have the nerve to compare him with Weah. Major, a very brilliant man, did not become the youngest British Prime Minister of the 20 th century at age 47 because of mere luck; he is a highly educated and hardworking man. I would describe an educated person as one who, through plenty of reading (and continuous reading), has acquired fluent understanding of complex concepts and technologies of his time and can use this knowledge to provide solutions to the needs of individuals and institutions. Some attain education by attending school for many years; but others have been able to successfully obtain education through self-study and accumulated trainings. Mr. Major is an example of the second group as his elegant profile shows, but I find no evidence that Weah fits in any of these groups. Some of Weah’s supporters have argued that soccer is a profession, but so is prostitution – believed to be the oldest profession in the world. The plain fact is this: not all professions prepare people to run countries successfully!
Concerning Weah’s ability to attract respectable and competent managers or leaders and organize them into an effective team, I do not see the evidence. Here is again another contrast between him and the likes of Schwarzenegger: he has not been able to successfully mix with and gain the respect of other accomplished Liberians of diverse professions so as to be seen as their colleague. This should not be confused with visits to world leaders, such as Mandela and Berlusconi, who host stars for entertainment and publicity purposes. We saw, in the case of Schwarzenegger, that he got his earlier boosting from endorsements from several successful Americans, including the investment maestro Warren Buffet. He was able to do this because he and these professionals had known each other and worked together for many years; so they could speak of his competency and bring their credibility and reputation to his camp. I do not see this obtaining with Weah; if any thing, the names of his supporters that I have heard, such as the likes of Dew Mason, Emmanuel Shaw and Yudu Gray, are reminders of the failed Liberian past. There are others who may be coming to his camp because they think that it offers an opportunity for easy success – they will be wise to look at the long-term fate of the closed followers of Doe and Taylor.
Finally, Weah’s temperament is another reason for concern in evaluating his chances to successfully lead Liberia. Some of those who have followed his activities over the last fifteen years claim that as he rose to fame in soccer, he became more intolerant to descent and any challenge to his dominance. Reports of him becoming a bitter enemy of another Liberian soccer star for the latter’s decision to assist the national soccer team and Weah’s alleged threats to leave a game in Ghana because of disagreement with the coach are reasons for concern. Many have said that he divided the national team, instead of uniting it. From these instances it appears that he may not have the right temperament to relate to independent and even opposition stakeholders in a government, a situation that could frustrate him and cause tension. Experience has shown that this can cause a leader to seek advice from less competent followers who he might feel more comfortable with. This could also lead to the excessive use of power to gain control; something which was prevalent in the 1980’s during the rule of Doe.
The task that lies ahead of the Liberian people has never been greater. Like companies that fall into bankruptcy, a failed nation may be more likely to relapse into failure than one that has never experienced failure before. Hence, the Liberian presidential campaign must be seen not only as a contest for the most-likely-to-win candidates, but as a beginning of the journey to lasting peace, stability and prosperity. George Weah is not ready yet to win the campaign for durable progress, which is the real race that we must run. It appears that he may find himself in a state of frustration if his leadership, were he to ever get elected, cannot move the nation forward. The consequences for such an outcome could be the squandering of our last best chance to end our national tragedy.
Note: You can read parts I & II of this series on the Perspective through these links: Part I http://www.theperspective.org/2004/dec/weahsbid.html and Part II http://www.theperspective.org/2004/dec/weahsbidpartii.html .
About the Author: Dickson M. Togba, Jr. is a Liberian who lives in Virginia, USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.