Liberians grow wary of George Weah as economic woes deepen

When former football star George Weah won Liberia’s presidential election in 2017, he promised to make “transforming the lives of all Liberians” the “singular mission” of his presidency.

But as the 53-year-old marked two years in office on January 22, some of the poor and young voters who assured Weah’s landslide victory said their economic woes have worsened under his leadership, with critics laying blame on government incompetence and failure to tackle corruption.

“I urge the president to listen to the voices of the poor people who made him president today,” said Mark Williams, 23, who runs a store selling typewriters in the capital, Monrovia.

“People believed that if we make this man a president he will look after the poor people. He knows what it means to be struggling or to suffer in life,” he continued, referring to Weah’s birth and childhood in a Monrovia slum before he found international fame as one of the world’s top footballers in the 1990s.

“We agree that the government took over a broken economy but it has to take on its own responsibility.”

Weah inherited an economy badly hit by a slump in global prices of rubber and iron ore – Liberia’s key export commodities. The Ebola crisis of 2014-2016 exacerbated the economic stagnation in the West African nation, where some 80 percent of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. The president promised to turn the economy around by fighting corruption, increasing foreign investment and creating jobs for the poor.

But two years into his six-year term, he has little to show, according to a Liberian civil society group that tracks Weah’s performance against his pledges.

‘No tangible action’
In a January 20 report, Naymote Partners for Democratic Development said the president had fulfilled only seven of his 92 promises, of which five had been completed during his first year in office. These include revising the national school curriculum, passing a long-awaited land rights law and capping the salaries of senior government officials at $7,800.

Some progress was made on 38 pledges, Naymote said. On the economic front, these included steps to reduce tariffs on basic commodities, upgrades to key infrastructure such as roads and the introduction of loans for small businesses. However, Weah’s government had failed to begin work on 32 promises, the report said.

There were “no tangible actions on promises around accountability and anti-corruption”, the group said, explaining that those pledges included setting new rules to prevent public sector graft and pursuing legal action against companies involved in bid-rigging and other corrupt practices.

As the economy worsened with inflation hitting 30 percent and civil servants reporting months-long delays to salary payments, more than 10,000 people took to the streets in protest last June. Thousands of people rallied once again in Monrovia on January 6, before being dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannon.

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