• I’ll fight corruption, says new president
Senate president, Bukola Saraki and legion of African leaders yesterday, witness the inuguration of former international soccer star, George Weah, as Liberia’s new president, completing the country’s first transition between democratically elected leaders in three generations.
The 51-year-old, who was FIFA’s 1995 player of the year, took the oath dressed in all white at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex to cheers from tens of thousands Liberians. After Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., swore in Weah, Liberia’s flag was lowered and folded to signify the end of the presidency for outgoing first African female president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who stood with Weah on a raised platform. A new flag was unfolded and hoisted to signify the start of Weah’s new administration.
“I fully believe that the overwhelming mandate that I received from the Liberian people is a mandate to end corruption in public service; I promise to deliver on this mandate,” he said. “As officials of government it is time to put the interest of our people above our own selfish interests. It is time to be honest with our people.”
Weah, who has been a senator and run for the presidency before but is relatively new to national politics, inherits a weak economy along with poor health and educational sectors. “I do not promise you quick fixes or miracles. Instead my pledge to you today is that my administration, with your help, will make steady and deliver progress toward achieving the hopes and aspirations that you cherish in your heart for Mama Liberia,” he said.
“I have spent many years of my life in stadiums, but today is a feeling like no other,” Weah said as he thanked his predecessor, Sirleaf for “laying the foundation on which we can now stand in peace.”
Weah then switched seats with Sirleaf, who was president for 12 years, lifting Liberia from the destruction of back-to-back civil wars and facing the challenge of the Ebola crisis that killed thousands here.
His first priorities, he said, would be to launch a national debate on the fair sharing of resources and root out graft in public institutions. “Together we owe our citizens clarity on fundamental issues such as the land beneath their feet, freedom of speech and how national resources and responsibilities are going to be saved,” he said.
“It is time to be honest with our people. Though corruption is habit among our people, we must end it,” Weah said, declaring he had an “overwhelming mandate” to do so. But he urged the public to pull together for the tasks that lay ahead, with the wounds of the past only beginning to heal
Dignitaries who attended the ceremony include Nigeria’s Senate President Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Ghanaian former President Jerry Rawlings, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, Ghanaian former President John Dramani Mahama, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe, Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Gambia’s Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang, Outgoing Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai who lost the presidential election to Weah, Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Ahmad Ahmad and Cameroon’s former international football player Samuel Eto.
Many of Weah’s critics are still skeptical about his ability to deliver in a country that is faced with youth unemployment and other challenges. His running mate, Vice President-Elect Jewel Howard-Taylor, has political experience that surpasses his. She was married to the nation’s former leader Charles Taylor during his time in power. After they divorced, she was elected senator in 2005, building a political career in her own right.
Thousands of people stormed the sports stadium early yesterday to see the new president sworn in. Weah’s new government should launch a “self-sufficiency in food program” to boost agriculture and tackle the problem of unemployment, said James Mulbah, an agricultural extension expert.