I Am The Voice Of The Voiceless, Says George Weah

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
Monrovia, Liberia

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 25, 2005


George Weah
Send Money From Around The World 24/7_1
It is what any politician would dream about when running for elections: thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of young voters, in the night, cheering and screaming at every word you proffer, scanting your name every time you take a breather to wipe sweat from your face, and demanding more of your words whenever you try to stop speaking. As in a rock concert, facing a crowd of groupies and super fans, George Manneh Weah felt at home, on a stage, surrounded by a reggae band and backdrop of hundreds of older partisans in the background. The rain had stopped just hours before the launching of his official campaign, at his political party’s headquarters, where everything had been designed to suit him: the stage, the yard filled with new SUVs and a sea of soccer fans turned political partisans.

CDC Launching Campaign
As we drove from downtown Monrovia towards the suburb of Sinkor, we turned on the radio and there was a live program from the Weah Campaign. Baccus Matthews, the man who managed to put thousands of unemployed youth in the streets of Monrovia in 1979 for what has now become known as the Rice Riots, an event that shook the foundation of the century old regime of the True Whig Party, leading to its ultimate fall a year later, was on the air. He said that if Weah wanted to be president, everybody knows that it was not to be more famous. He was famous enough and rich enough to focus on his job as “national healer.” As Baccus Matthews spoke about Weah, I couldn’t but be drifted back on memory lane when in October 1992, while we were having breakfast in Cotonou, he told me he never wanted to be president but rather a kingmaker. It sounded as if the kingmaker had found his subject in “King George”, who was looking for a throne. Baccus Matthews has accumulated enough political theory and knowledge to turn the soccer star into a political Turk. Where this union of an aging political populist and a young firebrand will take Liberia, in the next few months, remains to be seen. In 1979, Baccus Matthews was the most feared and most popular politician. In 2005, George Manneh Weah is the unexpected troublemaker in Liberian politics. “How could he not just stick with his soccer? Or just be minister of sports in the next government?” is the question many politicians are now asking.

Weah's Supporter Joseph Wisseh at Czech Pub
Before reaching the headquarters, we decided to stop at the Czech Pub, a few hundred yards from the “main event.” Next to us, was a group of young supporters of Weah. We started a conversation with one that was wearing a Weah T-shirt. We asked him many questions and he never flinched when responding. His sentiments for Weah were as strong as could be in a relationship between a partisan and a political idol. Agitated at times, pensive or just firing back responses to our questions, he abhorred no hesitation or no doubt in his mind. Finally, I asked him what he thought could stop Weah from winning the elections: “If he sits in Monrovia and basks in his popularity and doesn’t go out to campaign on real issues and in the countryside.”

Entering the compound was just like getting entering a stadium, with the fans supporting the home team. As we walked towards the stage where Weah harangued his troops, we heard a few rather raw comments thrown at other candidates.

“I am the voice of the voiceless! I am your voice! I am here to speak for you.” There were invisible divides in the crowd. Once my friend exhibited his camera, we were directed to a human corridor, built by young partisans wearing T-shirts with Battle Cry written on their chest in bold letters. We soon found ourselves in the first row, standing immediately below Weah who was speaking into a microphone hanging to his ear. He was surrounded by tough looking men wearing black vests over T-shirts saying “Security.”

Weah was not reading from notes and there was no speech in his hand. It all came out, naturally, in staccato prose, with simple and direct words that brought roars from the crowd. At one point Weah said that he would be president for 8 years. The constitution says 6 years. He corrected himself saying that once elected, he would go back to the constitution and go to the people and limit the tenure to 2 terms of 4. He said that he would practice democracy and the crow screamed. A girl behind me kept pushing me and when I turned, she said she wanted to see the man, not my back.

“The money that your parents spent to send me to Brazil for football camp, that $100,000 and some people say it was a waste, that money made me what I am today. That small investment has bought me respect and fame and money. And I owe you, I owe you something big and that is why I am running for president…”

The crowd was hanging at his every word. Idol, prophet, political leader, rock star, soccer star in an impoverished nation with 85 percent unemployment, George Manneh Weah had found his calling. Politics, soccer, and music, Baccus Matthews had enough material to make a king out of Manneh. Are Liberians ready for it? Can Weah run Liberia? A fan-partisan to whom I posed the question looked at me as if I said the greatest profanity in the world but calmly, the 20-year-old who walked around with his voter registration card hanging around his neck along with a picture of Weah, responded: ”If the majority of Liberians vote for him, that means he can run the country…”

After Weah ended his speech, the fans were informed that they could spend the night on the compound. They were told there would be food and music throughout the night and in the morning they could go back home. Once Weah ended his speech in the midst of crowd chanting “More! More!” the reggae band started a new version of Bob Marley’s War and the political rally turned into a reggae concert.

As we walked to the exit, my friend stopped to snap pictures of the crowd of vendors. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a young woman stood in front of him and demanded to see some identification. She said she wanted to know which media institution we were from. She said we could not leave the compound unless we told her whom we worked for. She then got on her phone and called a security guard who arrived and started arguing in the same very vocal manner. He said people come and take bad pictures and write derogatory stories about their party and their chairman. He also sent for reinforcements. We were getting surrounded by tens of youth, some demanding that they take the camera from us. I reached for my phone and dialed the number of one the leaders of the party who then spoke to them. Finally, we were let go and a security guard came and told us that he was instructed to make sure that nothing had been taken from us and that nobody harmed us. Later on, Eugene Nagbe, the Secretary General of Weah’s party called us to apologize and ensured that we had not been harmed. In the morning, Weah’s running mate, Rudolph Johnson, called to apologize and ensured that no harm had been done to any of us. It was a bad moment in an exciting evening.

The Weah steamroller is on. Where it will and where it might lead Liberia is all million dollars question that nobody can respond to. A few months ago, we wrote the first article here about the possibility of a Weah presidency. Many thought we were delusional. Even now, many political pundits say that “these are all soccer fans and many of them don’t vote.” But as the young fan at the Czech Pub said, “this is a game of numbers and we can get the numbers.”