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In defence of George Weah:The struggle against prejudices

26 December 2017 at 17:06 | 942 views

Commentary

By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, Monrovia, Liberia.

Senator George Manneh Weah, a former soccer icon, has done a lot for Liberia. He did not recently start doing good for Liberia. During the civil war, he encouraged peacekeepers to come to Liberia, he used his personal money to disarm child soldiers, helped displaced Liberians in neighboring countries, contributed millions to Liberia for the Lone Star national team, and became UN peace ambassador promoting peace. He promoted Liberia internationally. He gave to the poor. He did all these things when he was not a politician, when he was not thinking about the presidency or wanting to become Liberian president.

He did not sponsor war when he did not win. He went back to school. Two times he did not win and two times he earned academic degrees. He did not go in the bush for war. He was not a member of a defense force. He gives more than any other politician in Liberia. He does not curse back to those who criticize him. He reached out to his enemies and to those who unfairly criticize him for everything he does. His only crime, if any, is the fact that he was born poor, abandoned by his parents and raised by his grandmother in the slums. Like the majority Liberians, he is of the soil and was not born rich. Against historical odds, he is determined to be the next Liberian president of true native heritage.

Some people blame him and criticize him, while they admire and adore those who curse with their big wide mouths, corrupt and have no credibility and integrity. They sell their souls at night, sleep with the devil and claim purity in the day. They sponsored and brought war, which killed thousands of people and destroyed infrastructure. Some got rich by the war and after the war.

Did Weah commit a crime to select Jewel Howard Taylor as his vice running mate? Yes she married ex-president and warlord Charles Taylor. Should children whose fathers or grandfathers committed atrocities be blamed and unjustly treated for the evil of their family? Should a woman who married a man or had relations with a man be blamed for the man’s or his family past evil deals?

People say that Weah is uneducated, that he is dull and dumb. They also say that he is not presidential material. But Weah has more academic credentials than his opponent. Weah has a Master’s degree and Boakai does not. Weah has met and spoken to more world leaders than Boakai. Weah represented Liberia at international meetings and speaks several languages. Weah heads the largest opposition party in Liberian history and his party continues to grow and is united, while others are breaking apart. Is this not an example of leadership?

Some Liberians believe that a person with higher education who speaks eloquently is better qualified to become president. Liberia has had such leaders, including Dr. Amos Sawyer and President Ellen Sirleaf. Dr. Sawyer has a PhD in Political Science and President Sirleaf obtained a Master’s degree from Harvard University, which is considered the best university in the world. Both leaders like those before them are good public speakers. The Liberian constitution does not say that in order to be president, you must be well educated and eloquent. Since 1847 Liberia remains under-developed. Liberia is one of the poorest nations in the world. Have you wondered why? I have.

I realize that we continue to do the same thing over and over and getting no good result. Albert Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That is true. We need to change; we need to change from the belief that having certain people all the time as leaders will bring development. The super educated elites never brought development since our independence 170 years ago. Let us take the late President Samuel K. Doe for instance. Doe was considered uneducated, yet he did far better than Dr. Sawyer and President Sirleaf, including others. President Lula da Silva of Brazil “had little formal education and was [a] shoe shiner and street vendor”. However, he was a development president and one of Brazil best presidents.

Vice President Boakai has worked in government for over 40 years. How many people has he helped and how many schools and clinics did he help build in Liberia or in his village? Being VP for about 12 years should mean something. He does not even have a house available for him when he visits his own town. His existing house has been rented out to an agency. He has no existing national scholarship that I know of. Please tell me if he has.

What I am saying is that perhaps we need to think out of the box. We need to bury our personal prejudices. We need to change our mindset. We need to change our view that the presidency is for certain people. No, the presidency is for you. You are a Liberian and if you are honest, fair, straight, consistent, and have integrity, love, care for Liberia and have common sense with some education, you can become president regardless of your birth. That is what I think and believe.

Recently it was propagated that Weah said in a speech that education is not important. A particular radio talk show host spread the news and played a selected part of the remark. I listened to the whole speech. Weah did not say that. The speech was misconstrued for political gain. Weah believes in education and that was why he went back to school after he lost the election in 2005. His belief in education is manifested in his offering of scholarships to many students and payment of WAEC and WASSCE fees for students unable to pay. Why would a person give money to what he does not believe in? Would it make sense? I do not think so.

Weah said in the speech that education without application is useless. He pointed out that if just education were the only thing we needed, we would have been one of the most developed nations in the world, because we have many well educated people. In essence, an educated person must apply his/her education to solving national problems and must contribute to and not steal from society. Having education just to talk book and make fancy speeches does not develop and put food on the table. Our education must enable us to reconcile and unite us to be a strong and developed nation. While our education should better our personal condition, it should also help the unfortunates, the least of us. That is true.

Have most of our educated and eloquent speakers created jobs for the unemployed? Some educated and powerful speakers with PhD do not have their own homes. Some rent and others live in their parents’ homes. Most depend on the government for employment and some take money from the government by corrupt means. In America, most people with doctoral degrees do not work in the government. They work in the private sector or teach. But in Liberia, the government is the main employer. Is that production and development or dependency? Why are people in Liberia saying that educated people have fooled us? They say that because of some of the reasons discussed above.

Weah is Kru and Bassa by birth and has historical ties in Grand Gedeh and Nimba. Nevertheless, he is not a tribalist, talking about his ethnicity and preaching tribal politics. He embraces all Liberians and works with them. He tries to make peace in situation. His vice standard bearer, Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, a native, acts the same. This is a mark of nationalism and of true patriotism. The ticket is gender based.
One recent incident of his forgiveness and belief in peace is that after the 2017 first round election, which he won, he called one of his most vociferous critics and spoke to the person extending an olive branch and inviting the critic to work with him in the runoff. The man told Weah that he would call back. Unfortunately, the critic recorded the conversation without Weah’s knowledge and played the tape on the radio boasting that Weah begged him. He allegedly took money from Weah’s opponent and endorsed the rivalry campaign which the critic had once called a wicked ticket. In the runoff election the critic spoke negatively of Weah at every opportunity, faking events to blame Weah party. Was Weah wrong to try to make peace with an antagonist? I say no. Making peace is honorable. A leader or would be leader must be peaceful and a unifier. Weah is a peacemaker. Liberia needs a peacemaker to reconcile and unite us.

Some of the elites and Weah detractors say that people admire Weah because of his soccer stardom. Yes, to some extent. But he is liked mostly because of who he was and is: As a boy, he washed dishes for a Fulani for food. He walked barefooted. He was sent out of school because he could not pay the school fee. As a wealthy man and famous, he did not forget Liberia in her darkest days. With income from his profession he was able to continue his love and care for his people and country. This is where many of Liberian educated people come short. People, the masses, love him. He is like a magnet. We saw that mostly in the campaign in the 2017 first round election.

Most recently, he paid the WASSCE fees of the senior class of the school where I volunteer as a visiting instructor. The class had approached other presidential candidates for help but they did not help except Weah. Weah gave them US$4,420 for the fees. He made this gesture knowing that the students were young to vote and the first round election had already been held. This is another indication of his concern and care for educational development of Liberia.

But Weah is not a saint and is not without faults. He does not speak out openly on issues; he does not often tell of his agenda. He does not respond to criticism. He is not aggressive and seems to forgive easily particularly his enemies. People rightfully criticize him on this front. However, as it goes, to err is human, but to forgive is divine.
I remember in 2004 the late Counselor Ishmael Campbell told me of a vision he had while he was resting in his living room in New Krutown. In the vision, he saw a man in white telling him of a man named George Weah, who will lift Liberia up to her greatness. Campbell woke up and asked his son if he knew the name. Yes, the son said. “He is a Liberian and a great soccer star”. Campbell later learned that Weah is related to Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, who was then the political leader of the party, Liberian People Party, LPP. When Campbell told Tipoteh of the vision and suggested that the party recruit Weah and politically sensitize him, Campbell told me that Tipoteh dismissed the suggestion simple because Weah was just a soccer player. The counselor felt disappointed, because he saw Weah a great opportunity for the party and for Liberia in general.

My meeting with Campbell was to carry out an assignment given me in the US to meet with LPP key members in Monrovia regarding problems the party was having. I met with many members, including Tipoteh, Ezekiel Pajibo, Nathaniel Jebboe and a group of comrades in Campbell law office on Ashmun Street. Weah and others however founded CDC, Congress for Democratic Change and the party made him standard bearer in the 2005 election. Weah lost that election. Counselor Campbell was a justice of the Liberian Supreme Court then.

I returned to Liberia after the election and asked Campbell about the vision. He replied. “Nyanfore perhaps it was not the right time. Perhaps it will happen later. But the vision I had was real. I heard the voice”. I asked Campbell had CDC brought the case of alleged election frauds to the Supreme Court what would have been the outcome. He answered negatively. Madam Sirleaf, Weah’s opponent, had the education and national and international experience and recognition. Liberians and the international community believed that she was better prepared and would make condition better. She has been president for almost 12 years. Now, let me ask you; was the expectation met?

I am a Christian and sometimes dreamed about things. But some dreams can be true and others are not. Certainly many have dreamed about who will become Liberian president in an election, and the dreams did not materialize.

Weah has a special story, an inspirational one, which tells of our common life, our humble beginning; the poverty, hunger, hardship, and prejudices we confront and our dream. From the hamlet, from the village, from the town and from the city, we struggle but dream for change for hope for a better life. He represents us. To me, he is Liberia’s hope.

I hope all Liberians registered to vote will go to the polls on December 26 and vote for the next president. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May God bless you and Liberia.

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