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African 'Iron Lady' makes way for former footballer

After 12 years of bringing stability and some prosperity to Liberia, it is now over and done with for African 'Iron Lady' Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. As the first African woman she managed to come to power in 2006, after the country was ravaged by two bloody civil wars. During her presidency, however, Sirleaf managed to keep the peace in Liberia and received the Nobel Peace Prize along with three others. Sirleaf also brought about significant economic and social developments. But now she is succeeded by former footballer George Weah.

Although Sirleaf's mandate expired after two terms, much of Liberia's population was not happy about this. Corruption and nepotism were still rife. Liberians therefore opted for someone from outside the Unity Party (UP), as they chose Weah in December 2017. The question now is, will the country continue to develop peacefully under his mandate? And can he encourage peace and development?

From professional footballer to head of state
On 22 January, the time had come for the new president of Liberia and Sirleaf resigned her post. A week earlier, however, she was still out her party, the UP, put, because she had insisted that people should not vote for Joseph Boakai, the UP candidate. Whether this had any impact is not certain, but in the end Bokai did lose the election.

In 2005, it still seemed unlikely that Weah would ever become president of Liberia, due to the fact that he had not even finished high school. Opponents argued that he was incompetent because of his lack of experience and training. His answer: he went on to study law and business administration at a US university. His degrees, determination and militancy helped him secure a seat in the Liberian Senate in 2014. In the end, the lost elections of 2005 and 2011 proved to be a learning moment and he still secured the presidency after 12 years.

Peace and prosperity or an unstable future?
During his inauguration speech he said: ''Today we all wear the jersey of Liberia and the victory belongs to the people, to the peace and to our democracy''. However, securing peace and democracy will be quite a challenge for him. Liberia faces many problems, including a dysfunctional education system, corruption, high unemployment and an ailing economy.

The international community is therefore nervous about Weah's political choices. The next step for him is to create a 'clean' - free of corruption - and robust cabinet, without controversial warlords influencing the new government. The pressure to succeed is high, otherwise international donors threaten to withdraw their support. So far, therefore, little is known about Weah's direction for the country and it remains uncertain whether the peace once founded by Sirleaf will remain intact under her successor's mandate. However, many Liberians believe in the former footballer and for many young people, he is a role model!

Photo: Flickr