Monrovia, Liberia: George Weah, the former Ballon D’Or winner and FIFA World Player of the Year, who also played for AC Milan, Manchester City and Chelsea, was sworn into office as President of Liberia on Monday at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Stadium in the capital Monrovia.
Thousands of exuberant supporters and regional presidents and dignitaries crammed into a stadium in the capital, Monrovia, to watch as Weah, who rose from the city’s slums to become one of Africa’s greatest footballers, took the oath of office.
As a former AC Milan and Paris St Germain striker and 1995 world player of the year, “King George,” as his fans call him, was no stranger to having crowds cheer him on in packed stadiums.
But he noted the huge hurdles ahead as he succeeded Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
“It will be my task to lead this nation from division to unity. I will not let you down,” Weah told the crowd.
Weah, 51, rode to a landslide run-off victory last month on the back of heavy support from young people and the poor.
Making his speech in flowing white African robes, he promised to deliver on his key campaign promises, especially tackling the malfeasance that his predecessor is widely seen as having failed to address during her 12 years in office.
“It is my belief that the most effective way to directly impact the poor, and to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor is to make sure that public resources do not end up in the pockets of government officials,” he said.
The 51 year-old moved to Moving to Europe in 1988 and spent 14 remarkable years with Monaco under his acknowledged ‘father figure’ Arsene Wenger, Paris Saint-Germain and Milan before short stints at Chelsea and Manchester City, finishing his European career in Marseille.
It was during his five years at the Rossoneri from 1995 to 2000 that he confirmed his reputation as one of the world’s most fearsome strikers, winning the Ballon d’Or in 1995 and FIFA World Player of the Year in 1996.
Weah joined Chelsea in 2000 on loan and had an immediate impact, scoring a header on his debut in a derby game against Tottenham.
He scored five goals in 14 matches for the club, starting the 2000 FA Cup final against Aston Villa as they beat the Midlanders 1-0.
Weah was voted African Footballer of the Year three times, won Italy’s Serie A twice, the French league once and various domestic cups in both countries.
Liberia’s most famous son, footballer-turned-senator George Weah, attracted huge crowds everywhere he campaigned and had a faithful youth following in a country where a fifth of the electorate is aged 18 to 22, but was blamed for issuing vague promises and for his long absences from the country.
Some also questioned Weah’s pick for vice president – Bong County Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex-wife of Liberian warlord and former president Charles Taylor, even though she has served meritoriously as a Senator in her own right.
Charles Taylor is currently serving time in Britain for war crimes committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone, and rumours swirl he is issuing orders by phone from his jail cell. Weah denies contact with him.
Johnson Sirleaf, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner stepped down after 12 years at the helm of Africa’s first republic, whose back-to-back civil wars (1989-2003) and Ebola crisis (2014-16) have stunted growth and left Liberia among the world’s poorest nations.
It is the first time since 1944 that a democratically elected leader has handed over power to another elected leader in Liberia.