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George Weah: A footballer’s leap to presidential palace

Chux Ohai

Retired football star, George Weah, won the run-off presidential election in Liberia on Thursday to emerge the 25th President of that country.

The star, who was born on October 1, 1966, and who was the candidate of the Congress for Democratic Change, the same party that he founded in 2003, won 13 out of the 15 counties in the country, beating Vice-President Joseph Boakai. Reports said he won with 61.5 per cent of the total votes cast to Boakai’s 38.5 per cent.

Although voting in the 2017 presidential election in Liberia was reportedly delayed by a spell of legal wrangling and fewer than the expected two million eligible voters turned up to cast their ballots, most Liberians’ expectations of a smooth transfer of power, from one elected leader to another, were nonetheless fulfilled for the first time in 73 years.

For Weah, winning the election is indeed a dream come true. The first time the football star took a shot at the presidency was in 2005. He had contested in that election as a clear favourite of the people, most of who did not hide their displeasure with the older generation of Liberian politicians and who urgently desired a change. They did not only persuade him to run for president, but they also gave him a hero’s welcome to Monrovia and campaigned vigorously for him.

But Weah lost in the run-off of the election to Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who went on to become the first elected female President of the country.

However, Weah’s victory in the latest race for Liberia’s top job may not have come as a surprise to many of his compatriots and other Africans who have closely followed his rise from the ghettoes of Monrovia to a glorious football career in Europe and finally to the corridors of power in his home country.

Fondly called ‘the King’ by his numerous supporters, Weah had always been regarded by his people as a rare ‘son of the soil’ who, despite his shining success in Europe and obvious wealth, had always had the interest of his country at heart.

Apart from doing Liberians proud by becoming the first and only African (till date) to win the Ballon D’Or, FIFA’s most prestigious award, in 1995, he had endeared himself to the people by, on some occasions, single-handedly sponsoring the Liberian national football team to play matches outside the country.

When the deadly Ebola Virus ravaged Liberia in 2014, Weah threw himself in the forefront of the struggle to rid the entire country of the disease. The ex-football star had also been linked with several acts of philanthropy, particularly on the home-front. His countrymen certainly did not forget such acts of patriotism. Earlier on Wednesday, the President-elect had tweeted some messages clearly intended to affirm his commitment to shaping a new Liberia.

Other sport stars and entertainers who won elections

Although athletes and entertainers thrive by making other people happy, only a few have ever ventured beyond the track and field or film and music studio into politics. However, by emerging the President-elect of Liberia, George Weah has followed the examples of former American President Ronald Reagan, Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and popular Philippino boxer Manny Pacquiao, to name but a few.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan initially chose a career in entertainment, appearing in more than 50 films. While in Hollywood, he worked as president of the Screen Actors Guild

He later served two terms as governor of California. Originally a liberal Democrat, Reagan ran for the U.S. presidency as a Republican and won two terms, beginning in 1980, ultimately becoming a conservative icon over the ensuing decades.

Just like Weah, Reagan seemed to have been cut out for a lifetime of excellence from youth. He had enrolled in college on an athletic scholarship. He played football and was a sprinter, champion swimmer and acted in many theatre productions.

In 1966, he defeated Democratic incumbent Edmund Brown Sr. by almost one million votes to emerge governor of California. He was re-elected to a second term in 1970.

Ten years later, as the candidate of the Republican Party, he defeated Democrat incumbent President Jimmy Carter, winning the electoral college by 489 to 49 votes and clinching 51 per cent of the popular vote.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger rose to fame first as a world-class bodybuilder before becoming a Hollywood star. After years of acting in the movies, Schwarzenegger went into politics and contested in the governorship election in California in 2003. He won in the election. In a state that was mired in severe budget woes, the newly elected Republican governor promised to bring economic stability to his adopted state.

As expected, Schwarzenegger brought his own unique brand of confidence to his new job. “If they don’t have the guts, I call them ‘girlie-men,'” he said of Democrats, early in his first term. “They should go back to the table and fix the budget.”

Schwarzenegger worked to improve the state’s financial situation, promote new businesses, and protect the environment. In 2006, he easily won his bid for re-election. Throughout his career, Schwarzenegger has credited former U.S. President Ronald Reagan as a personal inspiration.

Manny Pacquiao

Philipino boxing champion, Manny Pacquiao, was officially proclaimed congressman of the lone district of Sarangani in May 2010. He scored a landslide victory over the wealthy and politically well-entrenched Chiongbian clan that had been in power in the province for more than 30 years. Pacquiao got 120,052 votes while his opponent for the seat, Roy Chiongbian, got 60,899 votes.

Leopold Senghor

After becoming an accomplished poet, Leopold Sedar Senghor became Senegal’s first president upon independence in 1960. Interestingly, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada, who seized power in 1971 in a coup, was a former heavyweight boxing champion from 1951 to 1960.

10 things you didn’t know about George Weah

After starting his career in his home country of Liberia, Arsene Wenger brought him to Europe where he signed for Monaco in 1988.

  • Weah moved to Paris Saint German in 1992 where he won Ligue 1 in 1994 and became the top scorer of the 1994-95 UEFA Champions League.
  • He signed for AC Milan in 1995 where he spent four successful seasons, and won the Italian Serie A, twice. His most notable goal in Italy saw him run the length of the field against Verona.
  • He moved to the English Premier League towards the end of his career and had spells at Chelsea and Manchester City, before returning to France to play for Marseille in 2001, and subsequently ending his career with Al-Jazira in 2003.
  • At international level, he represented Liberia at the African Cup of Nations on two occasions.
  • An idol in Africa, Weah has been heavily involved in politics in his homeland Liberia and ran unsuccessfully for president in the 2005 elections, losing to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the second round of voting.
  • In the 2011 election, he ran for vice president on Winston Tubman’s ticket. Running as a Congress for Democratic Change candidate, Weah was elected to the senate in 2014.
  • As successful as he was at club level, Weah was not able to bring over that success to the Liberia National Team. In total, Weah played 60 games for Liberia over 20 years, scoring 22 goals.
  • Along with all-time greats in the sport such as Alfredo Di Stefano and George Best, Weah is regarded as being among the best football players who never got the chance to play at a World Cup.
  • Upon official announcement, George Weah will be the only retired professional footballer to emerge as the President of a countr


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Posted by on Dec 31 2017. Filed under Africa & World Politics, Headlines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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