Liberia's Weah under pressure to deliver

MONROVIA (Liberia) • Now that Mr George Weah has emphatically won Liberia's presidency, an even more daunting task awaits - delivering tangible benefits to expectant supporters in the face of a gutted economy and waning donor support.

Those supporters - who have been waiting for him to come to power since his failed bid for the presidency in 2005 - have high expectations that the former soccer star may have to carefully temper if he is to hold onto his widespread support, particularly among the West African country's disaffected youth.

"People are expecting too much of him, but we know he will do us proud," said Ms Diane Fbarh, a 24-year-old accounting student as she waited for Mr Weah to appear at his party headquarters on Friday. "I don't think he will let us down."

Mr Weah, who grew up kicking a raggedy soccer ball on the dusty streets of the capital Monrovia's Clara Town slum and later played for top European clubs, successfully tapped into dissatisfaction with Ms Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's 12-year presidency.

Ms Johnson Sirleaf won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for helping cement peace after civil wars from 1989 to 2003, but has been criticised over persistent poverty and corruption scandals.

The challenge of lending substance to vague campaign promises is steep in a country that ranks 177th out of 188 on the United Nations Human Development Index.

Chronic problems with electricity delivery leave most of the country without power. Much of rural Liberia is effectively cut off from the capital when summer rains flood the pitted dirt roads.

Hit hard by an Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016 that killed thousands, low prices for chief exports iron ore and rubber, and declining foreign aid, Liberia's economy has sputtered and relies on overseas remittances for more than a quarter of its gross domestic product.

The economy contracted last year and the International Monetary Fund last month revised down its GDP growth forecasts for this year and next due to sluggish commodity prices and the drawdown of the country's UN peacekeeping mission.

Mr Weah, 51, has vowed to form a "government of inclusion" in a country still riven by divisions based on ethnicity, class and political affiliation, but opponents have criticised his lack of political experience and education.

"It boils down to the team he puts together. He needs people with integrity and skill to implement change," said political analyst Robtel Neajai Pailey.

"He needs to focus on two or three things. He can't do it all - that would be impossible."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'Liberia's Weah under pressure to deliver'. Print Edition | Subscribe