It is often said that behind every successful man, there is a woman. The epic rise of Liberia’s soccer legend – George Weah from the football pitch to the pinnacle of victory as Liberia’s president-elect paints a classical portrait of this truism.
Considered one of Africa’s greatest ever footballers, Weah had taken a shot at the Liberian presidency in 2005 but lost to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. His second major political effort in 2011 aimed at the vice-presidency was equally unsuccessful. But Weah was not to be put down. In the characteristic stamina for which he was known in football as a world class striker, he mustered a comeback, announcing his aspiration to run for president again in 2017. But this time, Weah had his eyes clearly set on the goal. With his shot on target, he sealed an alliance with Senator Jewel Howard Taylor – former wife of ex-Liberian leader Charles Taylor, picking her as vice-presidential candidate.
A fiercely contested October 10th, 2017 presidential poll ended in a run-off scheduled for November 7th. Then came Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party (LP) challenging the validity of the elections, forcing Liberia’s Supreme Court to put the presidential run-off on hold. An entire nation held its breath as the world awaited the decision of the court. After several weeks of waiting, and another failed attempt by the governing Unity Party (UP) to halt the run-off polls, the Supreme Court whistled a go-ahead for a December 26th presidential run-off.
All eyes turned on Liberia as the country’s political odyssey was set to birth a new chapter. It was Boxing Day, December 26th. The stakes were high as the outcome would deliver a final verdict in what would be the West African country’s first transfer of power from one civilian administration to another since 1944. For Team Weah, it was injury time. This was going to be a defining moment of history.
Enter Senator Jewel Howard Taylor – the woman who has been described as “the jewel in George Weah’s crown.” Married to Charles Taylor just before his election as the 22nd President of Liberia in 1997, she parted ways with the powerful warlord in 2006, while he was living in exile in Nigeria. She went on to build a formidable political career for herself in a political climate dominated by men. Her exploits in politics arrested the Liberian nation when she was elected in 2005 as a senator in Bong County, the nation’s third most populous county.
“The first thing I’ve done is to believe that I am able to make the changes I talk about. I have made promises I have fulfilled in education, healthcare and infrastructure development, and so I hope over the past 12 years Jewel Howard has become her own person working for peace, working for prosperity and working for development,” she told AFP in a recent interview.
Although some political analysts have described Howard Taylor as a surprise pick for vice-president, as many expected her to run for the presidency herself, her political alliance with George Weah has proven to be the magic wand the former World Footballer of the Year needed to finally clinch the Liberian presidency!
In 2005 when he stood for president, Weah won just 10.7 percent of the vote in Howard Taylor’s Bong County, but in the first round of voting in 2017 his share of the vote skyrocketed to 40.6 percent. Clearly, Howard Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (NPP) coalition with Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) was a masterstroke.
Howard Taylor who holds a graduate degree in banking and two bachelors’ in banking and economics has never minced words about her great admiration for George Weah. “The George Weah I have come to know, love and respect is one who has a heart for Liberia. Because of his background, he has felt the pinches of poverty, loss and inequality. He’s a team leader, he’s a manager, he’s an inspiration to all of us. What we need at this point in time is not just a President who’s concerned about infrastructure and youth employment. We need a leader who is interested in reconciling our people and I think he’s that reconciler. He has a space at the table for everyone. Our country needs healing, our country needs unity, our country needs inclusiveness. This is someone I believe has what it takes to take us to the next level… When people say he’s just a footballer, I always say he’s not just a footballer. He’s the best footballer in the world. No one has beaten his record up till now. And I think he brings all of what he brings to the field into politics and I know he will be a great leader”, she said of George Weah in an October 2017 interview.
Weah on his part has refused to underestimate the humongous political equity picking Jewel Howard as running mate has added to his aspiration for the country’s top job. “She’s my colleague in the Senate. She’s a hardworking woman. Now, she’s a former wife of Charles Taylor. She is a Liberian, capable, qualified, and Liberian people love her. I also believe in gender and equality, so I think having a woman as my vice president is a good thing,” he told Deutsche Welle.
With the official results coming out of the Liberian presidential polls, George Weah now stands elected as Liberia’s 25th president. Alongside Howard Taylor, he would be saddled with the enormous task of delivering a future Liberia firmly rooted on the promise of change and hope.
Ohimai Godwin Amaize is a Nigerian media personality, political strategist and publisher. He served in the Nigerian government from 2011-2015. He has worked as a new media fixer to Ghana’s former President John Mahama and tweets at @MrFixNigeria