While discussing electoral fraud in Africa three years ago on this page, I gave the example of the mother of all electoral frauds on the African continent as being the case of an election where the incumbent won the contest by scooping more votes than the size of the electorate.
It was the case of Liberia’s President Charles E B King who, in 1927, was re-elected with close to 250,000 votes when the registered voters were not even 15,000. All subsequent winners in that country’s elections may not pass muster as honest brokers (they count a certain Charles Taylor on their rollcall) but, generally, they have tended largely to respect the logicality of numbers.
Still, it is surprising how many people seemed surprised at the events in that same country recently, when the incumbent apparently lost an election and… conceded defeat. It should have been just info, not even news, that President George Weah had lost his bid for re-election and had conceded defeat after only one term in office.
The surprise seems to come from a certain expectation that incumbents will not lose that easily. It is almost as if we expect whoever is in power to resist removal until they are literally prised from office kicking and biting. We also almost always expect the opposition to cry fraud and reject the results, unless they have won.
It is as if people are asking, what is wrong with that George Weah fellow, why did he give it up so easily? We didn’t even hear him protest. Maybe it is this football thing; maybe he stayed too long in Europe playing football, and caught a few un-African afflictions…
Maybe the football thing is plausible, although Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Danie Moi of Kenya and Joseph Kabila of DR Congo and Zambia’s Edgar Lungu, and others are not former ball kickers of any note.
Still, it is noteworthy that when Kaunda lost his bid to Frederick Chiluba in 1991, a sitting president not far from where I am sitting said openly that it was stupid for one to lose an election one has organised.
It comes down to honour. When you commit to a process whose envisaged final result is the peaceful transfer of power, you are bound by the rules of the game — and by noblesse oblige — to play fair and to accept the verdict reached via those rules.
Otherwise, you will be inviting everyone in the fray to throw all the rules out the window and revert to the state of nature.
Kaunda and those who followed his example did the done thing and set a precedent for African rulers.
Unfortunately, KK was succeeded by a hooligan, who spent all his time persecuting Kaunda, when he was not collecting suits and shoes.
After him we had a number of more or less worthy holders of that office in Lusaka, and it looks like lessons learnt have helped move along the path of progress, our intermittent hiccups being understood.
Weah does us proud by again serving as an example. The football thing? Maybe, and it is not for nothing that Weah won almost all the accolades the best practitioners of his métier would envy.
He was the exemplar of the sportsman, on and off the field, which made him an available choice for the top office of his country, which had been dealt a rotten hand for far too many years of untold plunder, wanton slaughter and abject misery.
That said, he failed dismally in pursuing the goals he had set himself when he took over the reins of state. He had promised to curb corruption and bridge the rich-poor gap.
He failed, and at the time of departure he was as unpopular as he had been popular when he took over. Let us accept that he failed to leverage his popularity and harness it to the tasks he had set himself, and soon that popularity eroded, and he was eaten by the beast he had set out to kill.
Maybe there is an education in this story. The years of football at the highest level gave Weah the ability to translate the adage mens sana in corpore sano, a healthy mind in a healthy body. That is what sports is supposed to do for you — to educate the body and cultivate the spirit, as anybody who watched Weah do his thing will readily admit.
Still, it did not afford him the power to galvanise his government and lead it into the tough battle to stabilise, normalise and heal a very sick nation whose sickness dates from very long ago, since Charles King, Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor, all of them sinister characters.
What can be said in his partial defence is that he did try, and when the evidence was delivered to him that he had failed, he threw in the towel and handed over power to the victor.
He may have another day to mount another challenge, but for now we must wish him well, and then him for being a proper sportsman.
He can also rest in the assurance that all the governance flops in Africa, at least he enjoys bragging rights in football.
I have a feeling that we have not heard the last of George Manneh Oppong Weah.