On late Friday evening, the country of Liberia was alerted to the news that their former president and soccer star, George Weah, conceded the country’s recent presidential election to his opponent, Joseph Boakai, in the country’s first completely independent elections since 2003, when the country emerged from its second civil war in twenty years.
These actions came as a result of the country’s recent presidential election, which ended in a razor-thin victory for Boakai. With 99.58% of the ballots counted, election ended with Weah’s party, the Coalition for Democratic Change, gaining 49.11% of the overall vote, and Boakai’s party, the Unity Party, winning the majority share of 50.89%. While Boakai’s victory is seen as a win against the country’s stalling progress under the incumbent, Weah’s decision to concede the election to Boakai in the wake of such a thin margin is also a monumental moment for the country of Liberia, and for West Africa as a whole.
Throughout its modern history, Liberia, as well as the continent of its entirety, has been marred with coups and leaders reluctant to give up power easily, all of which has stunted the continent’s potential for economic growth and progress. It is in this context where Weah’s conceding of the election results and not contesting, or worse, denying them and retaining power, is a grand sign of progress for Liberia and West Africa, and will hopefully set a precedent for more future African leaders to take defeat with graciousness and humility, rather than the alternate route of further instability.
Liberia is a country that has had an extremely volatile recent history. The country has experienced two brutal civil wars within the past forty years, followed by periods of instability, all with the backdrop of persistent poverty and stalling, or even declining, economic growth. It is also within this context that the previous president, George Weah, was elected into office in 2017, with hopes to drag the country out of its third-world status. Weah, who had a long and illustrious career as a soccer star playing in Europe’s top flight teams, which included playing for France’s A.S. Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, Italy’s A.C. Milan, and England’s Chelsea, was also someone who put Liberia into the media spotlight in a positive light during the country’s hardest times by becoming the first African player to win the Ballon d’Or, one of soccer’s most important individual awards.
He came into the political scene with an intention to run for President in 2005 as a complete outsider, with many of his opponents citing his lack of political experience and a college degree. After this first failed endeavor, he would then go to the United States to obtain a business degree from DeVry University. In the meantime, his recent opponent, Boakai, became entrenched in Liberia’s political scene and financial elite, where he would work as the Minister of Agriculture under the overthrown president Samuel Doe.
After this first venture into Liberian politics, Boakai would then work at various agricultural and banking positions in the private sector, making a return to Liberian politics to take on Weah in the country’s 2017 Presidential Election, which, much like this recent election, ended in a run-off, after both candidates could not secure a majority victory, only this time it was Boakai who was able to secure the presidential role.
In the wake of his loss, Weah is quoted as saying “This is a time for graciousness in defeat, a time to place our country above party, and patriotism above personal interest. Let us heal the divisions caused by the campaign and come together as one nation and one united people”. After a tumultuous time for the country, and a peaceful transition of power, Liberians can now focus on the future of their country, rather than preoccupying themselves with the potential for more instability. It still has to be seen if Weah’s actions will set a precedent for the region, or be an unfortunate outlier.