Is Mr. George Weah Ready for National Leadership?


By: Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 9, 2004

George Weah
Much has been written in recent times about the possibility of "running" the former soccer super star, George Oppong Manneh Weah, for president in the up coming Liberian general elections. Although the majority of the write-ups are favorable to Mr. Weah, there have been a number of writers who are furiously opposed to the idea. The pros and cons have clashed in this forum. In politics, the saying is, "Publicity is good". Some go as far as saying, "It is better to get bad publicity than no publicity at all". Judging by these measurements, Mr. Weah is doing well. For someone who hasn’t officially declared his intention to contest the election, being treated as a potential front-runner is already a tremendous accomplishment.

For me personally, switching our attention away from those mainstream contestants such as Sherman, Brumskine, Johnson-Sirleaf, Tipoteh, Tubman and Tubman to focus exclusively on Mr. Oppong Weah is unfortunate. Why, because it detracts from the pluralistic nature of good politics. We definitely need diversity among the candidates – it enriches our slate of choices. (Although, on the other hand, I must admit there are just too many candidates in the race now). To narrow our choice to one super hero without giving the other contestants the benefit of the doubt is unproductive.

What makes it most unfortunate is that Mr. Weah is yet to make a major speech on the issues at hand. Besides meeting with his fans-turn-loyal-supporters, Mr. Weah has yet to meet with a cross-section of Liberians to market himself. Is Mr. Weah really running for the presidency? On that crucial point, he remains tight-lipped while his handlers go all out to convince the rest of us that their "candidate" is qualified.

It comes as no surprise to us that Mr. Weah is the most internationally well-known (popular) potential candidate in the crowd, yet beside the fact that he was once "African, European and World footballer of the year", and is serving as an honorary "ambassador" of UNICEF, we know the least about him.

There is an old line of wisdom: "The past is a great predictor of the future". Since Mr. Weah is not running for a position as a football player, but to become the "leader" of a government, it becomes a pressing responsibility of Mr. Weah’s and his handlers to tell the public exactly what qualifies him for this daunting task and responsibility, besides his huge popularity.

Let’s make one thing clear: as much as I don’t think that being "footballer of the year" and "UNICEF ambassador" should qualify Mr. Weah as a candidate, I also don’t believe that one necessarily needs to acquire a multitude of academic degrees to qualify for the race at hand. The pertinent question now boils down to leadership. Mr. Weah has enough fundamental education to qualify, but is he a leader? Has he demonstrated leadership in the past? Can his past be a demonstrative indication of the future? These are a few of the questions that I have wrestled with while the debate develops. In my view, it becomes absolutely necessary that Mr. Weah and his handlers provide answers to such provocative and necessary questions to allay the fears that some of us might have. I’m now throwing the ball onto Mr. Weah’s court.

Many of Mr. Weah’s supporters point to the present President of Brazil in dismissing the candidate’s lack of academic accolades. Mr. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva did not finish formal high school. But as a trade union leader, "…his party was a political force to be reckoned with: it was represented in almost every part of Brazil and had a huge membership of 400,000. Lula was at the forefront of the process of establishing an organizational structure for the party…"

The Brazilian President while lacking academic credentials has been a proven leader throughout his life. He wasn’t only a trade union leader; he enjoyed the respect of "other trade unionists, social movement leaders, left-wing academics, intellectuals and religious leaders", before becoming president of his country. (This information was retrieved from a document published by the Embassy of Brazil in London).

Does Mr. Weah possess a similar track record of accomplished leadership? Instead of preaching to the crowd of the converted, Mr. Weah will do himself a world of good if he decides to tell us why he deems himself qualified.

In their book, "Discovering the Leader in You: A Guide to Realizing Your Personal Leadership Potential", the authors, Robert J. Lee and Sara N. King pose some basic and fundamental questions as leaders and potential leaders find themselves in the quest for the definition of personal leadership. Here is a sample of the questions for contemplation:

· Vision. What is your own personal vision, and is leadership a part of that vision? Do you have your own leadership vision?

· Values. Are your personal and leadership qualities based on your own core values?

· Self-awareness. What personal qualities support your work as a leader and give your work its own distinctive style?

· Balance. Do you have adequate balance and focus in your life, resulting from a good integration between your leadership work and other aspects of your life?

Again, the sole purpose of this piece is to encourage a dialogue with Mr. Weah and the skeptics on the sidelines. Mr. Weah’s handlers must not make the mistake that Mr. Weah is so popular he needs no introduction. He was a great soccer player and has proven himself to be popular through his humanitarian deals. Yet, there are some of us who never saw the man play or directly benefited from his personal generosity; we are neither fans nor beneficiaries, but we are potential voters.

Too many opportunities have recently presented themselves upon which Mr. Weah could have capitalized to exert leadership. Yet his silence has been deafening. For example, the recent fatal clashes in Monrovia have been dubbed as stemming from "religious conflicts". Some say yes, some say no. At least three outstanding candidates have spoken out condemning the whole affair. Counselors Sherman and Brumskine have spoken out; and so has Dr. Tipoteh. Mr. Weah has failed to utter a word, not even in his capacity as "Ambassador". After all, according to reports, many of the rioters were youths. Shouldn’t the youth ambassador have said something?

But besides being ambassador, Mr. Weah is the only candidate (or potential candidate) who can claim to be a Christian and a Muslim. My understanding is Mr. Weah was originally a "Christian" who converted to Islam and became a "Muslim", upon the advice of his professional football handlers before becoming a "Christian", again. If those accounts are true, then Mr. Weah stands in the unique position of being a practitioner of both major religions (Islam and Christianity) seemingly in conflict over undefined issues.

Wouldn’t this have been a perfect opportunity for the potential presidential candidate to weigh in on the matter to exert some conflict resolution skills, at least as a mediator? There are those who claim that the matter was never about "religion" in the first place, and some are falsely using the issue to drive a wedge between the two main groups. For example, Cllr. Brumskine is calling for a mass deportation of foreigners out of Liberia. Where does Mr. Weah stand on the issue? Does he agree with the noted counselor or does he think otherwise? Does the issue warrant such alarming calls, as Mr. Brumskine seems to think? Please say something, George.

Although I may not be convinced that that Mr. Weah is ready for primetime, but he is still young and has time to hone his skills. Mr. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil ran for the presidency three unsuccessful times. On the fourth try, he made it. Good news: "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again". In the meantime, please do all you can to actively participate and expose yourself to leadership opportunities. You are still a young man, George, but are you a leader? Let’s hear from you.