Liberia’s president was officially sworn in on Monday, in the first peaceful transfer of power the African nation has seen in more than 70 years after being ruled by a succession of warlords.
Just as remarkable, however, was who took up the country’s highest office: former Premier League soccer star George Weah.
Weah, 51, succeeded Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took over in the wake of a civil war in 2006. He had campaigned for office twice before, but is best-known internationally for his soccer career in the 1990s, where he played for clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea FC and Paris Saint-Germain.
Scroll down to learn more about George Weah, also known as “King George” – who said Nelson Mandela encouraged him to become a politician, and whose life Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger said “can make a fantastic film.”
George Weah grew up in Clara Town, a slum in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. It was this impoverished upbringing that attracted many of his followers.
He started playing soccer as a teenager — and became so good that he dropped out of his final year of school to go professional.
He told The Guardian in December: “When I started playing football, I never thought I would ever win the Ballon d’Or and emerge as the best player in the world. I just had a passion for the game and I worked hard. Every day. I would rather train than eat or sleep.”
In 1988, while playing for the Cameroonian club Tonnerre Yaoundé, he was spotted and taken to Europe by then-AS Monaco manager Arsène Wenger, who now runs Arsenal FC. Weah said of Wenger: “This was a man, when racism was at its peak, who showed me love.”
Weah even invited Wenger to attend his inauguration, but the Arsenal manager was busy.
Wenger told the BBC: “I wish he has a happy presidency and I would like to say this guy is an example for everybody who plays football today.”
He added: “The life of this guy is a real film. It is unbelievable. It can make a fantastic film.”
Weah’s football career skyrocketed in Europe. After leaving Monaco, he went on to play for Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Manchester City, and Marseille. While at AC Milan, he also played for Chelsea FC on loan.
In 1995, he was named FIFA World Player of the Year, and also won the prestigious Ballon d’Or. He was the first non-European to win the Ballon d’Or and is still the only African to have won both awards.
During this time, Liberia was engaged in a bloody civil war, which saw 250,000 people killed between 1989 and 2003. During this time, Weah used his own money to pay for the national team’s kit, to give the players spending money, and he also chartered a flight for the squad so they could travel to matches.
Thomas Kojo, who played with Weah on the Liberia national team, told Reuters in October:
“The heart George has for Liberia is unbelievable. He made sure the national team was always trying to bring (home) some pride.
“The football team was the only good image to come from Liberia when all people saw was the killing.”
Weah eventually retired from football in 2002, and started his first bid for the Liberian presidency three years later. He lost to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist who became Africa’s first elected female head of state.
Nelson Mandela was the reason Weah went into politics, he said. The ex-footballer told The Guardian: “When I had a conversation with Nelson Mandela many years ago, he told me that if I was called on to serve my country I must do the right thing. I am acting on that advice.”
Source: The Guardian
After retiring from football, Weah also went back to school, and obtained his high school diploma in 2006 — at the age 40. He went on to study at DeVry University in Florida, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s in public administration.
Source: The Guardian
In 2011, Weah tried again to run for office in Liberia, as vice-presidential candidate alongside Winston Tubman — but lost again to Sirleaf and her deputy, Joseph Boakai.
In 2015 Weah ran for a seat in Liberia’s senate instead, which he won. Weah beat President Sirleaf’s son Robert to represent Montserrado County, which includes the capital Monrovia.
When Liberia was gripped with Ebola from 2014 to 2015, Weah recorded a song calling on people to help fight the disease. You can watch a video of it below.
In December 2017, Weah ran for president again — and won. He beat his opponent, Sirleaf’s vice-president Joseph Bokai, with 61.5% of the vote.
Source: The New York Times
One of Weah’s opponents earlier in the election campaign was his ex-girlfriend, former model and philanthropist MacDella Cooper.
His choice of running mate, Jewel Howard Taylor, however, has raised eyebrows. Taylor is the ex-wife of former President Charles Taylor, whose presidency launched Liberia into civil war and is now in prison.
Source: The New York Times
Weah was inaugurated as president on Monday. He tweeted on Sunday: “I have many plans for Liberia. Be ready for visible and major positive changes.”
Source: George Weah/Twitter
As of last October, he still played football in Monrovia every Sunday.
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