The Hurdles Of State Power: Advice to George Oppong Weah


By James Thomas-Queh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 20, 2004

Whenever I walk through the luxurious hallways of the Paris Charles DeGaulle Airport, I see this huge portrait of George Oppong Weah by Asoune Bâ hanging there majestically to mark FIFA’s 100 Anniversary. And this has been my principal source of reference, hope, and national pride. Many a time I just want to shout and let everyone know that the portrait of that great star watching over them like Jesus Christ was my compatriot - a Liberian - and he made me proud to be a Liberian.

Now I am very sadden since George Oppong Weah has officially announced his intention to run for the presidency. First, I am afraid that his huge and magnificent portrait hanging in the World’s most famous airport would soon be brought down; if not by FIFA, certainly by the Paris Airport Administration because that publicity space is surely not intended to publicise politicians. In that case, I would have lost my point of reference, hope and national pride. And secondly, now when I tell people that I am from Liberia, it is no more the usual: “Ah! The country of George Weah,” but “Ah! George Weah for president; can he make it?” Then the conversation would turn not anymore on the enormous talent of the international football super-star, but instead on the pathetic history of our country in the last more two decades or more.

So I have found myself now being haunted by this persistent interrogation: “Can he make it?” True, we have already heard many other views, and the controversy continues; but for me this is a question that has a double connotation. Can he make it should he win, and or can he make it should he lose?

First, can he make it should he win? To answer this question, here is how I define the hurdles of state power or today’s politics with respect to our legendary international football super-star – this patriotic, simple, honest and generous man that I sincerely admire.

- If one is not a politician, you cannot get into politics by starting off from the presidency of a nation. It is like some one who dreams of being a footballer, and his first act is to apply for the captainship of the Lone Star Football team to start playing international matches. Imagine our foolish!

- Politics is one of the most contamination professions. It is easy to get in, but harder to get out. As a result it is a perpetual combat to survive or rather to stay in it and keep your head above water. And as our national tragedy has shown only the seasoned and fittest among our politicians have survived – those we now refer to passionately as “same old politicians.” I do not think George Oppong Weah intends to be a part of that club.

- Politics is an extreme dirty game and not one of Angels’ worshipping. George Weah is not the type who adheres to dirty games; he is much closer to the Angels; very simple, honest, generous, sincere, sentimental, caring, convivial, etc. etc.

- Immunity – Professional politicians have or do develop an immune system that minimises or neutralises the effects of criticisms or public scrutiny. Like most world stars and icons, George Weah is much too sensitive to criticisms and public scrutiny.

- Team player and straight forwardness – George Oppong Weah is a team player and straight forward, and there is no team playing and straight forwardness in politics. Politics is a calculative, manipulative, deceitful, corruptive, interwoven international mafia/state interests and heartless business, especially in poor and failed states.

- Ah, corruption – In a statement attributed to Mr. Weah, the football super-star emphasised that to lead Liberia he “will buy best brains” (see - Nov. 23, 2004). In pure political term that means “rampant corruption” since civil servants are not out for sale or be “put in anyone’s pocket.” There are precise and definite salary structures in government, and the corresponding civil service regulations for employment and qualifications. Since Mr. Weah is a man of very high integrity and corruption free, I should think it was probably a slip of the tongue intended probably to mean, “persuade or encourage the best and patriotic to join his government.”

- Freedom and imprisonment – George Oppong Weah is a free and down-to-earth man. There is no freedom in politics; the entrapments of power makes one a virtual prisoner or may simply turn him or her into a vulgar buffoon and paranoiac (especially when obsess with the insecurity of survival as a political novice or an inexperience politician).

- Spontaneity and instinctiveness – Among the many qualities that made George Weah a football genius are his spontaneity and instinctiveness. But spontaneity and instinctiveness in politics may be fatal to a national leader.

- Impatient and emotional – Most football stars are impatient and emotional, and George Oppong Weah is no exception; but politics is patience and controlled emotions. A politician who is impatient and emotional is pre-disposed to becoming a tyrant or abuses the human rights of his citizens.

- All that said, in general one is a hero or great figure once in his or her lifetime. Thus there is no guarantee that George Oppong Weah would make a great president. And if he does not make a great president, then we would have lost both a great role model and probably few more years of concrete nation building.

Let’s now examine the second aspect: can he make it should he lose? To this one, here are my fears:

- He would forever be remembered as a failure. And the only way to overcome such a handicap would be to continue in politics thus at the end becoming like the “same old politicians.” Of course, the great difference is that he would be falling from glory, and in which case hitting the bottom can be much more painful.

- His popularity would dwindle because he would no more represent a role model or a neutral national figure free from the contamination of our body polity.

- He would definitely be looked upon with circumspect not only from his fellow politicians, but also and most particularly from their constituencies. There would now be camps for Weah and camps against Weah, unfortunately.

- Politicking leaves many open wounds that may be very difficult to overcome or heal especially when one comes from a glorious sphere. As politicians are overly scrutinised, their weaknesses in failure are mostly retained. None of us were ever interested before in Mr. Weah’s intellectual or managerial inaptitude, but now even his most ardent international admirers are in doubt.

I know, but beg for forgiveness if my naïve view of politics has in anyway offended the politicians whose noble profession has built great nations, kingdoms and empires. Like I have every respect and confident in my own profession, I do have the same regards for theirs. And now that my conscience is clear, I would like to conclude on this positive note: Has the candidacy of George Oppong Weah made any contribution thus far to our political landscape or vision?

First, I must admit that Weah’s candidacy has brought a lot of international attention to our general elections and fresh impetus to the process. Secondly, from the barrage of criticisms for and against the candidacy gives me the impression that Liberians can no more be under-estimated. We certainly know what we want and how to get it, if only we were left to be the champions of our own destiny.

Lastly and most important, the candidacy of Weah has something of an analogue in France. Due to political uncertainties during the French presidential elections in 1981 (after more than thirty years of right wing governments and the likely possibility that a combined socialist and communist coalition may get to power and upset the French political Establishment) a popular humorist, Michel Coluche, also declared his candidacy for the presidency. At first his declaration was taken as one of his humorist jokes; then suddenly the polls put his rating as high as 16% thus leaving the political candidates bewildered. The man had just occupied the entire political space; he had stolen the show so to speak. But it was not too long the politicians got their act together; they brought the political debate from the simplistic humorous perspective to serious national and international issues, the best political agenda to tackle them and who represented that agenda. Soon the pressure was on Michel Coluche; it was not too long he withdrew from the race, but he had already made the point: people regained interest in real national issues, in real solutions and in real politicians capable of carrying out the national agenda. Coluche – a school dropout at age 13 - and a man from a very modest social background, simple, honest and generous like George Oppong Weah, maintained his popularity intact to a point that he even founded the now famous “Restos du Coeur” (Restaurants of the Heart), a local NGO that today feeds thousands of homeless and poor during the winter season. Unfortunately though, almost at the eve of the next presidential elections (after general deception and political apathy from six years of socialist communist coalition experiment in power), Michel Coluche died tragically in June 1986 (as the story went, a truck ran into him on his motor bike or he ran into the truck).

It is at this juncture I have chosen to make this very personal appeal to George Oppong Weah (much so that we are both French Made) to withdraw his candidacy from the presidential race. The example of Michel Coluche proves that being useful to one’s country is not necessarily serving at the helm of power, but serving it in what best one has the expertise, experience and competence. With your enormous international recognition and personal wealth, you can establish yourself in the area of sports (creating and managing all-sports training centres/institutions throughout the country) to perpetuate your brilliant legacy. It is definitely clear also, Oppong, that you have made the point that while it is true that Liberia needs its very best for the national leadership, forty or so candidates for the presidency is a perfect recipe for confusion and chaos. In the process, your candidacy has brought enormous awareness as to the importance and implications of the presidential elections; and that people are certainly beginning to see that among the forty or so candidates there are charlatans; there are pure opportunists; there are politicians; and there are seasoned and very experienced politicians who are capable of effectively shouldering the responsibilities of our nation. Bow out then while time is still on your side.

Now the ball is squarely in the camp of our political leaders to get their act together and unit around a common national agenda to propel our country into a positive future. We are all stakeholders in the affairs of our nation; and we should never again allow simplistic populist view (empty of substance, but raises enormous false expectations) to hi-jack its destiny and the future of our children. We must bring back politics to its nobility - that nobility which laid the very foundation of our nation.