Liberia: George Weah’s spectacle of disaster

Posted by News Express | 15 June 2019 | 1,180 times

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There is this phenomenal novel by a Ghanaian writer that redefined story-telling. It is of a political satirical genre. It is written around a railway freight clerk in Ghana who attempts to hold out against the pressures that impel him towards corruption, in both his family and his country. 

This universally acclaimed novel – known as The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born - catapulted Ayi Kwei Armah into the limelight. A check of reviews online shows that the novel is a satirical attack on the Ghanaian society during Kwame Nkrumah’s regime and the period immediately after independence, in the 1960s. 

The novel is often claimed to rank with Things Fall Apart as one of the high points of post-colonial African literature: so records an entry this writer encountered on the World Wide Web while reflecting on the emerging story of one of Africa’s most beloved sporting talents who – as soon as he gained prominence in the political firmament of his homeland Liberia – is beginning to witness a dwindling fortune and a slide into infamy.  

The book aforementioned book can be understood from a reading of just the Chapter 6, which sums up the unfolding spectacle of a fall from foot-balling grace to political grass of George Oppong Weah of Liberia.

Here is a quote from Chapter 6 of the novel this writer first encountered about two and a half decades ago:

 “And where is my solid ground these days? Let us say just that the cycle from birth to decay has been short. Short, brief, but otherwise not at all unusual. And even in the decline into the end, there are things that remind the longing mind of old beginnings and hold out the promise of new ones, things even like your despair itself. I have heard this pain before, only then it was multiplied many, many times; but that may only be because at that time I was not so alone, so far apart. Maybe, there are other lonely voices despairing now. I will not be entranced by the voice, even if it should swell as it did in the days of hope. I will not be entranced, since I have seen the destruction of the promises it made.

“…But I shall not resist it either. I will be like a cock. It is so surprising, is it not, how even the worst happenings of the past acquire a sweetness in the memory. Old harsh distresses are now merely pictures and tastes which hurt no more, like itching scars which can only give pleasure now. Strange, because when I can think soberly about it all, without pushing any later joys into the deeper past, I can remember that things were terrible then. 

“When the war was over, the soldiers came back to homes broken in their absence and they themselves brought murder in their hearts and gave it to those nearest them. I saw it, not very clearly, because I had no way of understanding it, but it frightened me.”

Reflecting further on the central character, he asserted: “He had gone on marches of victory, and I do not think there was anyone means enough in spirit to ask whether we knew what we were celebrating. Whose victory? Ours? It did not matter. We marched, and only a dishonest fool will look back on his boyhood and say he knew even then that there was no meaning in any of it. It is so funny now, to remember that we all thought we were welcoming victory. Or, perhaps, there is nothing funny here at all; and it is only that victory itself happens to be the identical twin of defeat.”

Those were narratives from that award-winning novel, which typifies the episodes of a misadventure: which is how to describe the unfolding political drama in Liberia.  He was such a fantastic footballer. He epitomised excellence and skills to an unfathomable dimension.

His dexterity in the round leather game fascinated and entertained millions of viewers all around the world, even as he held humanity spellbound in such a way that he became the only black African alive to have approached the zenith of soccer acclaim in the midst of an avalanche of other players of other races, including soccer players from nations that dominated the international politics of football. He was crowned the world’s best footballer of the year: precisely 1995. As I write, he remains the only black African to have been so awarded and recognised by the Federation of International Football (FIFA). He is George Weah, current President of Liberia.

He floored such international football talents like Dennis Bergkamp and Jurgen Klinsman to emerge global best soccer player of the year 1995.

He also won numerous other accolades in his professional football career. He began his colourful and illustrious foot-balling career in Liberia, but spent 14 years playing for different European top-rated teams in Italy, England and France.

The Encyclopedia Britannica said of Weah: “(born October 1, 1966, Mamona, Liberia). He was named African, European and world player of the year in 1995. These combined honours are, indeed, unprecedented. 

However, George Weah, the man in whose shoulders the people of Liberia reposed so much faith that he could overturn the climate of despair and the clouds of disillusionment which characterised the government of Mrs Ellen Johnson, which was thoroughly corrupt and despotic. But his administration has become terribly overstretched to the limits by the growing climate of corruption and widening spectre of poverty. His people who gave him tumultuous welcome as new President are now on the streets shouting Crucify himcrucify him.”

But instead of being responsive, George Weah has become like any of the notorious African big-man politician by opting to deploy dictatorial tendencies to suppress the opinions of the people. 

Cable News Network (CNN) reports that thousands of Liberians gathered in the capital, Monrovia, on Friday to protest “corruption and creeping dictatorship” in the country. Social media sites were later blocked to quell the protests, according to the internet-monitoring platform, NetBlocks.

WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Google's Gmail service and the website of The Associated Press were among the sites affected, NetBlocks noted.

Bai Sama G Best, Managing Director of Liberia's Daily Observer newspaper, told CNN most journalists and some citizens are using virtual private networks (VPN) to bypass the restrictions.

Liberia’s Minister of Information Eugene Nagbe confirmed that social media platforms were shut down temporarily, because of “security concerns.”

“We have restored some of them,” he said. “We are not saying that the protesters were carrying out things detrimental to the nation, but the national security apparatus said there were threats to the country and the services were temporarily disrupted and have been restored.”

The protests were organised by a group called the Council of Patriots (COP), which said it is a conglomeration of citizens, civil society activists, youth workers and major political parties.

Protesters presented a petition to delegates from the government of President George Weah, who has been in office for just over one year.

The document stated that Liberians are suffering “harsh economic conditions being caused ... and encouraged by bad governance, deliberate and wanton collapse of integrity systems...”

“We have come to say no to bad governance, abuse of power, corruption and creeping dictatorship,” said Henry Costa, one of the leaders of the protesters, via a WhatsApp message to CNN.

Nagbe told CNN that Weah inherited a “dire economic situation,” and accused the country's opposition of driving the protests.

“Mr President is working to restore some of the issues that he inherited. The opposition is now using the streets to get what they didn't get at the ballot box.”

Weah took over in 2018 from Africa's first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in Liberia’s first democratic transfer of power since 1944.

The West African nation of 4.8 million people has been ravaged by civil war, the Ebola virus and corruption.

The dissatisfied voters of Liberia are undaunted and have continued to gather on the streets in protest under the auspices of the Council of Patriots – a group of dissatisfied citizens who organised the “Save the State” protests that made the headlines last Friday – have given President Weah a one-month ultimatum to meet their needs.

The media observed that thousands took to the streets of Monrovia in what was dubbed “the largest gathering of protesters since the end of Liberia’s brutal civil war”, and the organisers seem to have no interest in slowing down.

In a press conference on Sunday, the COP said it expected Weah or Jewel Taylor, his vice-president and ex-wife of former warlord, Charles Taylor, to receive their petition. It also said that some of its members are being detained.

“Currently, about 20 peaceful and law-abiding youth and students are being held at the Central Prison, in detention. We call on the government of Liberia to release those peaceful citizens that have been abducted by the state. We also noticed the use of foreign security forces on the day of protest wearing state security uniforms.”

Why these outright rejection and denunciations? The media said inflation is up, growth forecasts slashed, and the IMF noted that government wages are crowding everything else out.

Protestors also want Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and Central Bank governor, Nathaniel dismissed. 

The youth, a big part of the coalition of voters that put Weah into power, feel betrayed. In addition, corruption and legacy issues relating to the tenure of his predecessor, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, still linger. There has been controversy surrounding a $25 million cash injection into the economy, after the president revealed that $8 million was missing. Shipping containers laden with about $104 million freshly-minted Liberian bank notes - about 5 per cent of the country’s GDP – went missing last year. There is also an outcry for the establishment of a war crimes court to try those involved in Liberia’s civil war, which lasted from 1989-1997.

The former World Player of the Year responded by borrowing a leaf from the playbook of fellow West African states like Togo and Benin: internet was cut, suppressing access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, in a bid to undermine the convening power of the organisers.

He bellowed from the high horse of totalitarianism:

“Those that are constantly insulting the president, I want to be clear”, he warned in a June 6 address while commissioning a market. “After this, there will be no citizens in this country… that will ever insult the president and think you will walk on the streets freely.”

 Here are a concise list of charter of demands by the Liberians: the granting of contractual rights for handling services at the Roberts International Airport; awarding of Container Tracking Number (CTN) contract to GTMS without consideration for the PPCC Act, in clear violation of the Budget and PFM Law and the attendant security implications. Other grievances are the witch-hunt of critics and members of the opposition through wrongful dismissals from the civil service, and denial of opportunities in the private sector. Also the suppression of press freedom and freedom of speech and, importantly, the construction and acquisition of scores of luxury private buildings by the president in the wake of his refusal to declare his assets within six months after assuming office.

Threats are unlikely to work, and protesters won’t be satisfied with the electioneering-style grand promises that Weah used to get into power”, so remarked an editor profoundly at home with the political developments in Liberia.

I think George Weah should learn the hard lessons from Charles Taylor who misgoverned Liberia and chopped off the limbs of opponents, but who is now cooling his feet in one of Europe’s most protected prisons, after he was convicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, over crimes against humanity. 

My simple message to George Weah who is visiting Nigeria, as his country is tensed up, is that he should climb down from his high horse and listen to the cries of his people and tackle poverty and corruption. I know that you are rich, but don't mess up with the extremely lean resources of your people; make a mark and positive impacts in the life of your people. Without your people's happiness, then you will end up as a spectacle of political disaster.  

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). 


Source: News Express

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