Weah’s Bid for the Liberian Presidency:Prospects and Implications (Part II)

By Dickson M. Togba, Jr.


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 6, 2004

Weah’s Prospects in the Race
In part I of this three-part series, Weah’s Bid for the Liberian Presidency: Prospects and Implications, which was published on this website, I present the background, framework and key issues for this study. I also provide a summary profile of Mr. Weah. In this second part, I explore the chances of a George Weah victory in October 2005 based on the analysis of four factors which I consider important for any candidate’s success in these elections.

A good place to start our discussion on any candidate’s chances in the 2005 presidential elections may be to establish the important characteristics or factors that will influence a successful outcome. When we know the key determinants of success in this presidential race, we can see how a candidate stands relative to each factor and combine that standing to predict his or her performance.

After speaking with a few friends I came up with the following as some of the key factors that could determine a candidate’s success: the amount of money the candidate can raise, the candidate’s level of education, the candidate’s professional experience as a leader or manager, the candidate’s popularity and reputation, the history and reputation of his political party/organization, the caliber and size of his organization’s membership, the size and reputation of the candidate’s natural or affiliated constituency (ethnic groups and associations), the quality of the candidate’s message/programs, the intensity of the competition from other candidates, and the unknown factor (which may include, among others, the will of God or luck – for the “non-believers”). This is a long list, so we need to downsize it. My friend Jusu, who loves mathematics, wanted me to put this in the form of a model or formula where we would make victory a function of these factors/variables. But I do not like math, so we will not take that road.

For the purpose of simplicity I would like to group this list into four factors: Money, candidate’s reputation (education, experience, popularity, platform, and moral foundation), constituency strength (history, reputation, caliber and membership size of the political party/organization, ethnic groups and associations), and the quality of the competition. I will leave out the unknown factor and assume that each candidate will pray to his God because I expect it to be a tough fight.

Money will be a key factor in these elections as it is in all elections of this magnitude. This factor may be Mr. Weah’s best strength because he made a fortune over the years during his professional soccer career as these rough estimates indicate: not much at Tonaire Clara, US$1.5 million at Monaco, US$3 million at PSG, US$7 million at AC Milan and US$3 million at Al-Jazira. But wealth is not simply added like that, there are deductions such as taxes, which average over 35% for income of this level in these countries.

There is also the huge cost for keeping up a star and his family over the past sixteen years – expensive cars, expensive parties, expensive gifts for his wife and friends, first class treatment (at one time he used to commute via the concord from New York to London for work), etc. You have to also reorganize assistance to others, losses from bad investment decisions, vandalism and natural causes of destruction to his properties, etc. And Mr. Weah has had his share of such losses too: the burning of his US$400,000 home in Sinkor, the vandalism of his cars, the failure of his businesses in America, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia etc, etc. For the purpose of this discussion I estimate that his current net worth is about US$ 5 million. Okay, if you think that I am too conservative make it US$7 or US$10 million. Such an amount could make some to think that Mr. Weah will be able to resist corruption and even help Liberia financially.

But this fortune may only be relevant for the purpose of helping him to raise the US$2 million that has supposedly been set as the maximum amount that any presidential candidate can spend; a provision that can be reasonably enforced if the other candidates really want to. Honestly, I doubt that Mr. Weah has more than US$1.5 million in cash and he will be willing to spend all of his much-needed savings on a risky venture such as these elections. Moreover, other candidates may raise this much or come close to it.

Regarding the other potential advantages that he could derive from the impression of the voters about his wealth, the case can be made easily by his opponents to undercut them. We know that the problems of Liberia need far more than a few millions; so what is wealth for Mr. Weah is inconsequential for the entire nation. US$5 million or US$ 10 million cannot support the population of Monrovia adequately for two weeks. We also know that honesty is not solely dependent on how wealthy or not a person is; we have seen some not-rich people who served Liberia with honesty and pride and we know of some “rich” people who have stolen more to add to their riches. For example, Cllr. Kpormakpor and Madam Perry, both not known to be rich, served as interim leaders with great record of honesty. Yet Chairman Bryant, thought to have had money, is now presiding over what is believed to be the most corrupt government in modern Liberian history. Also, Mr. Taylor, who it is believed made so much money from his privatization of the Liberian state, was always looking for more even from other countries like Sierra Leone. So Weah’s personal financial position is not sufficient evidence that he will be immune from corruption, if given the chance.

Candidate’s reputation, which includes education, experience, popularity, platform, and moral foundation, is a mixed basket for Weah. His fame as a soccer player means a lot of people, if not all Liberians, know about him. However, the image that he has created in their mind as the hero on the field of soccer may not easily translate into the image they will seek for a national hero who will help bring long-term stability, development, reconciliation, statesmen pride, etc. In fact, it will be difficult to make the case that he can be such a hero with an 11th grade education and little or no management or leadership experience. A group of paid experts can put together a platform; but voters may not see it as his own if he cannot connect with it through eloquence and the right credentials. His kindness and patriotism will certainly be of great help to his reputation. What I do not know of is his moral standing; and there will be a lot of talk about morality in this election because Liberia needs a strong moral foundation to succeed. I am already hearing of strong accusations against other candidates regarding their positions on promiscuity, teen-age sexual abuse and homosexuality; vices that now threaten the nation’s future. So it will be a tough job to match his reputation with the demands for the presidency.

Constituency strength is one area in which I would rate Mr. Weah’s strength as poor. With less than a year to elections he does not have an organized and well-known political institution. It is possible that some of his loyal followers may join his political camp; but in this business one needs a good team of managers who relate to each other well and have a common purpose; qualities that take very long to develop. His ethnic background may offer some help because of the level of political awareness of the Kru tribe, except that they are believed to be a very independent-minded people – ask Tipoteh. His Bassa maternal relations could help him; but not with a strong Bassa candidate, Charles Brumskine, and not if he has not nurtured this constituency over the years. As a former Muslim, he could get a lot of help from the Muslim community since many Muslims may want see one from their religion as president of Liberia. Some voters could also favor him to relate well with other leaders in this sub-region, since many of our neighboring countries have majority Muslim populations. How that will affect the Christian base, which could see it as a final move toward an Islamic dominance of the sub-region, is anybody’s guess.

Finally, when all is said and done the quality of the competition will play a major role in these elections. Many may make great mistakes if they look at the 2005 presidential election based on past experiences, because the future may not resemble the past in this case. This election could produce a unique race that may be very different from the True Wig Party, the 1985 or the 1997 elections. If it becomes a competitive race and Mr. Weah’s opponents can focus the issues effectively and elevate the debate from mere popularity, his ability to lead the country will be challenged and his greatest weakness, i.e. poor intellectual capital, will be exposed. When I look at the serious candidates in this race, some of whom have been campaigning for years now, I want to believe that this presidential election will be the most competitive one thus far in Liberian history. The initial euphoria that followed Mr. Weah’s entry into the race will subside and he will experience many hurdles along the way, as it is with elections of this magnitude. So, when a completive race begins to evolve and the needs of the nation are focused clearly, Mr. Weah will have to rely on substance and not soccer player fame to compete successfully from county to county and town to town.

Mr. George Weah would bring to the presidential race two key strengths: wealth and fame. Yet when his two best advantages are critically reviewed, it seems that they are not game-winner strikes because some candidates could match his financial power and his fame in soccer may not fully translate to politics. His education and experience may be his greatest weakness. I do not know much about his moral standing but any further weaknesses in this area could reduce his chances. The sporting base that has seen him as a hero may be a good start in nurturing a constituency but his Islamic background could be a double-edged sword. A competitive race is expected in these elections, so those who predict Weah’s chances based on past Liberian experiences may be in for a surprise when a county to county and town to town race unfolds and substance thrives over fame and wealth. When these factors are considered together, one cannot predict an easy victory for George Weah. In fact, it appears that Mr. Weah does not have a great chance in this election.

About the Author: Dickson Togba, Jr. is a Liberian who lives in Virginia, USA with his family. He can be reached at dcmtogba@yahoo.com or (571) 223 – 2570.