A Case For Electing George Oppong Weah President Of Liberia


By Bushuben M. Keita

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 5, 2004

I have followed recent development in Liberia regarding communal violence with dismay. Liberia appears to be moving around in a circle of violence and the violence seems incoherent at most times. I have contemplated this desolately, and have sometimes thought that we may be condemned to live like this for a long time to come. Today, a thought came to mind regarding Liberia’s history and I began to reflect on recent news report that Liberian soccer star George Weah was thinking of running for president of Liberia in the elections next year.

Before I present my thoughts on that, I want to make the historical connection I just alluded to. I believe that the source of discontent in Liberia is rooted in its history as well as the culture of the ethnic groups of which the country is composed. During the early years of Liberian history, the settlers appeared to be a homogenous group of former slaves who were all strangers to Liberia, and shared a common plight as well as a common language, English. As the nation extended in land area, it began to incorporate territories on which the indigenous population formed the majority of the inhabitants. There was natural resistance by the indigenous to subjecting themselves to centralized rule by people who were strangers and did not share their culture and values. In those times, various Liberian ethnic groups rose up in arms against the central government. These rebellions were put down by government forces usually with superior weaponry. Such rebellions continue to be a part of Liberian life up to the ascendancy of President William Tubman. People alive today can still remember the Sasstown war. As part of my college thesis while on Cuttington during the eighties, I came across elderly people in the little town of Singea who told me stories of how Madam Suacoco lent her military support to the Liberian government in establishing control over central Liberia. Her forces consisting mainly of Kpellehs were fighting against the Man and Dan further to her north. They were her enemies at the time and their defeat was also a part of her strategy. I say all of this to say that the Liberia civil war, which commenced at the end of 1989, was not the beginning of civil strife among Liberian tribes. Prior to the Tubman presidency, the tribes fought each other regularly, and they fought the government’s own effort to establish control in the hinterland.

But most of these ethnic and communal strifes ceased during the reign of President Tubman. Liberians began to see each other as fellow citizens with shared common purpose. This is in part due to the Unification and Integration policy put in place at the time. Tubman served as a unifying figure that reached out to all populations of the country and spent considerable amount of time resolving local disputes amongst tribes over authority and land. He spent time visiting the hinterland and showering respect on the traditional leadership in different parts of the country.
He invited these traditional leaders to Monrovia and treated them with the respect they deserved. In exchange they showed him respect. They put aside their ethnic and other differences and learned to live together.

President Tubman’s Integration policy included moving people around the country so that the cultures would clash and in turn help people learn to live together. People from Cape Mount went to live in Bassa and people from the Kru coast came to Monrovia. Similar examples could be found all around the country. People learned that they could be different and live together since they had the same interests to protect. I do not say this to categorically support the policies of the late President Tubman, but rather to illustrate the point that he was a figure that the country that was disjointed actually rallied behind and put their differences aside.

Today, Liberia is once again divided along ethnic and cultural lines. Some people do not think so. Some believe that the divisions we see are politically motivated and that people who do not know better are being manipulated. That may be true to some extend. But how do you explain the fact the certain ethnic groups form the bulk of warring factions over and over again. Are they the easiest to manipulate, or is it possible that they are easily manipulated because they have an underlying cause which they believe is not being addressed. Take Mandingoes for example. They formed a substantial portion of the fighting forces of President Doe during his last days, came back as a majority of ULIMO, and then again as the majority of LURD. Prior to the war they were basically traders and petit craftsmen. Why do they keep coming back to fight? What motivates them? Is it because their right to citizenship in Liberia has been continually challenged by their compatriots or is it purely because of the prospect of illicit gains? What do their recruiters tell them? But more importantly, who can prevail on them to abandon this enterprise? Or take the Man and Dan of Nimba County. Who can argue that they felt singled out from the rest of the population by the Doe government? Is anyone surprised that they saw a need to resist that government and seek its overthrow? And also more importantly, has anyone ever sought to find out if their original grievances have been adequately addressed? These are but the surface of some of the problems in Liberia today for which we need true reconciliation as a nation.

A prior attempt to bring peace to Liberia and end the civil war failed. President Charles Taylor proved to have neither the moral authority nor the willingness to confront true issues of national reconciliation. The underlying issues, which the war brought to the fore, were never adequately addressed and a significant portion of the population remained dissatisfied. Because those issues remained unresolved, we had to repeat another circle of violence. Today we are precisely where we were in 1996 after the crisis of April the 6th. We are running headlong into elections for which we are inadequately prepared. We may be able to put the mechanics of electioneering in place on time for a successful vote at the end of 2005, but this may prove as cosmetic a solution as the vote of 1997 if in our effort we elect someone who will again fail to reconcile and unify the population. This will continue the circle of violence at another future date. And each time we do this we lose people, infrastructure and time.

I have said all of this to say that Liberia needs a true healer and a unifying force like President Tubman. The country needs someone with whom the entire population can identify. Liberia needs someone who actually transcends the cultural and ethnic divide and therefore stands a better chance of healing the rifts which we suffer today. I believe that such a person could be George Oppong Weah. He is genuinely popular, albeit for a different reason, and throughout our civil crisis has proven to be the one person on whom everyone agreed at whom and abroad could be trusted on Liberian issues.

Of course I have heard all the negatives about Oppong. The first among these is his lack of ‘education’ as some have asserted. Mr. Weah, according to most accounts, is only a high school graduate. Actually, there is some evidence that he may have done some post high school work during his professional soccer career while in Europe. From the discussions I have listened to, his detractors feel he may not be sophisticated enough to appreciate the complexities of the presidency and his apparent ignorance may lead us down the wrong road. Others who claim to know him have insisted that he is not a temperate person and is prune to emotional outbursts. Some just do not believe his weak command of the English language represents Liberia to the international community in a respectable way.

I am not persuaded by any of these arguments, and I think that if Oppong wants the job he should go for it. He has my support anyhow. Here is why I think so.

1. Oppong genuinely loves Liberia. He loves Liberia to the extent that he is willing to stake his fortune on it. He has been back there time and again during the fighting to identify with the people. He supports charitable causes, shows genuine concern for the poor and the afflicted and wants the nation to progress. I am convinced that Oppong will not deliberately approve any action that will be against the interest of Liberia.

2. Liberians genuine love Oppong. There is no other Liberian better known than Oppong and no one comes close. He generates an outpouring of love amongst the masses which can easily be translated into political goodwill. The people will trust him because of that, and they will lend him their cooperation and support.

3. Oppong can reconcile the people and end the war. Barring some ignominiously offensive policy, which I cannot conceive of right now, I do not see how anyone can find support to invade Liberia to overthrow Oppong. This may sound naïve to some of the more politically complicated readers of this article, but the fact of the matter is that the fighters in these factions all love Oppong and people will have a hard time convincing them that he is evil. If his policy is to bring people together, and he expends some of his political capital on such a cause, I am convinced that he will succeed and our days of strife could be over.

4. There is just no one else among the current crop of political contender who can command the attention of the people the way Oppong would. Liberia needs a new president that the people will respect and listen to. And this time it has to be all of the people.

Now you ask what makes him qualify to read a budget or approve legislation or make sound decisions affecting the economy. I say he already knows a lot more than you think. He is well traveled, has managed his own millions which very few Liberians can claim to have done, and he has followed Liberian political affairs very closely. He may not know all. But then no one will really know all. He is going to appoint a cabinet as well as surround himself with people who specialize in various aspect of government just like any president would. And he will learn. He will take speech lessons to improve his diction and vocabulary, and training in government finances to know where the money comes from and how it should be spent. As to broad policies of state and a stand on reconciliation, he already knows what he wants to do