Joseph Boakai has his work clearly cut out

President George Opong Weah of Liberia has demonstrated that no one needs to teach a footballer the virtue of sportsmanship. He understands that once the referee’s final whistle goes, the game is over. You then embrace your opponent and move on. Only an irate fan fights over the outcome of a match, especially when their team has been fairly beaten. That ‘spirit’ of democratic sportsmanship is lacking in most African presidential elections. But by congratulating his victorious opponent, Joseph Boakai even before all the votes were tallied, Weah echoed what President Goodluck Jonathan demonstrated in 2015 in Nigeria. It is a commendable gesture. 

 The presidential election in Liberia was a close contest. Boakai, 78, a former vice president who lost to Weah in the 2017 election, had come narrowly second at the first ballot held three weeks ago. But he was leading with 50.9% of the vote over Weah’s 49.1%, with nearly all the votes counted, as at the time the president made a national radio broadcast last Friday. “A few moments ago, I spoke with president-elect Joseph Boakai to congratulate him on his victory,” Weah told Liberians. “I urge you to follow my example and accept the results of the elections.” 

A former Liberian international, Weah played for Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain (France), AC Milan (Italy), Chelsea and Manchester City (England) before returning to France with Marseille. Named African Footballer of the Year three times and to date the only African to be named FIFA World Player of the Year, Weah is also the only African player to win the coveted Ballon d’Or in the same season he also won the UEFA Champions League Top Scorer award. In the course of his illustrious career, Weah won Coupe de France, Ligue1, Coupe de la Ligue, Serie A title, English FA Cup among several other laurels. Unfortunately, he couldn’t bring his prowess on the football field to tackle the immense socio-economic problems in Liberia. We hope his successor will fare better. 

 Ruined by a series of civil wars unleashed by the greed of plain megalomaniacs who masqueraded as leaders and ravaged by some of the worst epidemics in human history, Liberia for 12 years relied on the steady hands of Ms Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to pick up the pieces. When she left office years ago and was succeeded by the incumbent Weah, it was the first time in Liberia that power was transferred from one democratically elected government to another. By conceding defeat, Weah is now helping the process for democratic consolidation in Liberia. But the challenges ahead are enormous. We are dealing with one of the world’s poorest countries that has borne more than its fair share of the calamities of the late 20th and early 21st century. In many respects therefore, Boakai has his job as the 26th president of Liberia well defined.  

 While we therefore congratulate Boakai and wish him the best in his new assignment, the Liberian president-elect must be guided by a determination to avoid the ugly past of his country and instead embark on a transformative leadership. “The closeness of the results reveals a deep division within our country,” Weah had told Liberian in his concession broadcast. “As we transition to the new Boakai administration, we must be vigilant to the dangers of division and work together to find common ground. Now, more than ever, unity is paramount for the love of Mama Liberia.” Boakai should accept the olive branch from the man he is succeeding in office. 

 Having been vice president to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for 12 years, Boakai comes to the job with a measure of preparation. We wish him success. 

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