I practiced humility on the concrete sidewalks of Monrovia before I learned the formal definition on the well-moved lawns at my high school.
I was 8. My coach gave me the #14 jersey with the name “Weah” printed on it for our first game, but I refused to wear it because I thought it was a great burden. I idolized George Weah, but I knew better.
I wish Weah did the same when people told him he could be president.
In this presidential sitcom, the pilot, the president’s well delivered inaugural address, a speech long on hope, full of good-sounding political clichés, and reflective of our nation’s purpose and ideals, was its finest moment. Since then, George Weah has been a total disaster as president. He is totally incompetent to manage the state, totally insincere to admit that the state is careening towards disaster, and totally incapable of grasping the significance of his office.
But this is not a surprise because Weah was never ready to be president, although Liberia was ready for a Weah presidency.
We agree to belittle the real, structural and significant achievements of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf a lot, and I know she is no saint, but our failure to understand what she achieved made us believe that Weah could and would do better. Ellen displayed poor judgment on many occasions. She accumulated a long list of unforgettable and unforgivable sins. She mounted a fight against corruption that was slightly more intense than a pillow fight between lovers departing by mutual consent.
But to think that the antidote to Sirleaf was Weah was a deliberate misunderstanding of Liberia, and how government works in hard places. It was also a dangerous and delusional decision destined for doom. We went from having serious adults with proven public sector experiences and demonstrable leadership qualities, recognized educational achievement, and spirited commitment to their work to having clueless chest-beaters in a make-belief “revolution,” who boasted about their readiness for office by the number of battle scars they accumulated, battle cries they mastered, strength of their loyalty to Weah, their experience in the “struggle” and because it was their “time.”
We agreed that formal education was irrelevant for public affairs management, even though George Weah hurriedly went back to “school” after his first failed bid for the presidency to signal his readiness. We failed to see the irony in downplaying education when we said that the president would surround himself with educated people to help him make good decisions.
We agreed that Liberia is poor and dysfunctional because our politicians did not love it and only George Weah was capable of giving us that love. Instead of Weah’s opponents asking, “what’s love got to do with it?” they tried to show that they too love Liberia, although we could not agree on how to measure love.
We argued that George Weah’s humble beginnings in Clara Town was enough to help him understand and make big decisions on health, education, and the economy. We acted as if he was the only candidate in the race who grew up poor, as if his version of poverty equipped him with exceptional insights that could substitute policy experience and education.
While Liberia waited for George Weah, for twelve years, Weah did nothing to prepare for this moment. Sure, he became Montserrado’s senator, but he did not have any tangible, substantial legislative accomplishment, nor did he acquire any new skills for the presidency. In those twelve years, the president did not become an activist for any major policy issue, did not associate himself with the right people to help him, and did not develop the desire and discipline to lead.
On the campaign trail, he did not propose any major innovative policy ideas—structural or marginal— to fix Liberia. During his first year in office, his agenda to improve road infrastructure was an idea he criticized all campaign long because it was the Unity Party’s signature campaign issue. His development plan is little more than a hastily assembled and poorly integrated class project. Weah’s government spends money it has no business spending, and spends on vanity projects instead of pressing, critical needs. It steals everything in its sights, breaks almost every promise, lies about everything, and blames everything on everybody but his inaction and incompetence. In crises, he is silent, unaware of the price of his inaction and indifferent to the cries of the people who thought he loved them.
We know governance is hard and we expected there would be days when things did not go right. However, we did not expect that every day will be one scandal after another, one unforced error after another, one monumental lapse of judgement after another.
We already know what Weah has done to the economy, to business confidence, to civil servants’ morale, to the nation’s health, to the Supreme Court, and to how seriously people take Liberia. Before George Weah inflicts more damage on us and breaks more institutions, we need to reach a collective agreement that whoever thought a Weah presidency would be a great idea, sold us a very bad idea.
After that, our task is to make Weah a one-term president, an aberration even by Liberia’s standards, a mere footnote in our history. Because six more years of this will leave us sicker, poorer, dumber, meaner, and angrier. It will leave us less secure and less hopeful. It will break our character, undermine our faith in our institutions, reduce our standards for appropriate behavior in public office, and make us lose sight of our national purpose.
Six more years and we might never recover.
In hindsight, Weah’s presidential bid should have ended the day he did not show up for the first presidential debate. He made it clear he was unfit, unable, unready and unwilling to lead.
We laughed at the absentee debater. I hope no one is laughing at the absentee president.
Authored by Demosthenes
Featured picture by The Israel Times