The gods of the African night seem to favour Weah

Tuesday January 2 2018

George Weah

George Weah, a former international football star, speaks in the Liberian capital Monrovia on December 30, 2017, the day after he was declared winner of the presidential election. AFP PHOTO | ZOOM DOSSO 

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As at the time of this column’s deadline Wednesday night, George Weah looked the far out favourite to become the new president of Liberia.

But that is not 100 per cent guarantee that Weah, a former AC Milan striker, 1995 Fifa World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or winner, will succeed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is stepping down at the end her second term.

His 73-year-old opponent Joseph Boakai has been the country’s vice-president for 12 years. Although Sirleaf didn’t seem to support him much, he still had the incumbent advantage. However, in the first round of the vote in November, he was defeated by Weah, who failed to get the required 50 per cent of the vote necessary for an outright victory.

But the gods of the African night tend to favour incumbents: You go to bed with the opposition challenger far ahead, and by the time you wake up in the morning they have miraculously conjured victory from non-existent votes for the president.

So, until the winner has been sworn in, it’s a prudent thing to keep the champagne on ice.

Questions have been raised about whether Weah has what it takes to be president. Also, given that he lacks Boakai’s management experience, whether as a star footballer, there are any skills he learnt on the field that might serve him well.

Role of referee

It is not a flippant question. There are many things in football, that if our leaders brought to politics, Africa would be a richer and much happier continent.

A few examples, beginning with, the role of the referee. Great referees make for great games, and their even-handedness is critical for the credibility of the sport with fans and sponsors. No football team plays with its own referee.

In political life, the referees are the equivalent of the judiciary. But we know that, with the exception of Kenya (when it comes to presidential election petitions), and South Africa, the courts belong to our presidents.

If our judiciaries enjoyed the independence of Fifa referees, our politics would be less troubled.

Football can also be painfully exacting in the way it hands out penalties for fouls, and no player — be it superstars like Lionel Messi at Barcelona or Christiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid — is immune to the red card. In other words, nepotism, tribalism, and double standards don’t go with football.

In practical terms, that would mean all corrupt politicians and officials, even if they were the president’s wife, relative, or staunch supporter, would have to be punished for corruption like everyone else. Imagine if that was the way our leaders rolled.

Then, if a player is injured, they go off the field. If their coach thinks he can play on with a bleeding nose, the referee will order them off the pitch.

Our political equivalent of that is the term limit. That beyond a certain age, or having been in power for X years, you are injured and should get off the pitch.

But, as the evidence from even just our East Africa shows, in recent years our presidents have turned that around and ordered the referees off the pitch instead.

Weah will probably fail as a politician. But if he could find the courage, he would succeed as a footballer.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of and explainer site [email protected]