In his soccer days, George Weah basked in the cheering roar of fans and supporters, but after taking the reins of power last year as Liberia’s president, the former soccer star is hearing a different model of roar, and it is not a cheerful one.
About 10,000 people attended an anti-government protest in Monrovia earlier this month. Most were angry about Liberia’s struggling economy. Many feel that Weah is not doing enough to tackle rising inflation.
Some accuse senior officials of stealing the country’s money, including $25 million intended to be infused into the economy to mop up an excess of local currency.
Precillia Dehme, 33, runs a dry goods stall. She voted for Weah in 2017 but regrets her decision.
“I sell for my children to survive. … I’m finding life difficult for my children” as the cost of living rises, Dehme said. “We don’t know what’s going on in the country.” She said Weah was doing “nothing for me” and that she would not vote for him again.
But not all people have turned their backs on Weah. Money changer Munya Sherif, 35, doesn’t blame him for the country’s economic difficulties.
“All the problems in this country were caused by the past government. We need to give the government a chance to do their work,” Sherif said. “Other people think that George Weah is not able to run this country. But I believe that if they give George Weah a chance, he would do better.”
The protest organizers are a group of opposition and civil society activists who call themselves the Council of Patriots. Radio talk show host Henry Costa, one of the leading figures, said, “We want the president to publish his assets. We think it’s very important. We want to know what he had before becoming president, how he is able to build all of these properties and acquire new ones in a relatively short period of time when he didn’t do that before coming to power.”
The protest group has issued a long list of other demands, including extensive reform programs and the firings of several officials, including the finance minister. The group is threatening more protests if the government fails to act on its petition within a month.
Weah has called for a national round-table discussion to hear people’s views on how best to revive the economy.
“As Liberians, they have a right to make their views clear,” said Eugene Nagbe, minister for information. “As a government, our response is a nationalistic one, a general one, and this is why Mr. President recognized that there are alternative views. Because of the alternative views, he said, ‘Come to the table so that we can have a discussion.’ ”
Talks have started with the International Monetary Fund about a program to address poverty and inflation. But until the effects of this trickle down to the masses, the protests against Weah are likely to continue.