It is a thing of joy that elections are holding in Liberia and by implication the well-laid out plan of peace reconstruction that was high pointed by the forced departure of Charles Taylor several months ago is playing out so very well. This, no doubt, is one more feather in the diplomatic cap of the Nigerian government. Perhaps not so Cote d'Ivoire, where the election billed to follow the four year old conflict could not hold and the tenure of the elected government of President Laurent Gbagbo has had to be extended amid much protest and anger.
Liberia is also a further testimony to the patriotism of the interim of that country who, no mater how difficult it may have seemed, could have insisted on wanting to succeed himself. This rather inexplicable mental bondage has led to the shooting down of many otherwise beautiful transition plans in the years gone by all across the African continent. When you see how much agony came the way of countries like Cote d'Ivoire where the late General Robert Guei who came in on the platform of wanting to hold elections suddenly found himself a candidate, or in Nigeria where General Sani Abacha that supposedly came to clean up the dirt splashed on the nation by those who thought little of the good of the country and annulled the June 12 election, ended up being appointed presidential candidate by all his five political parties, you begin to appreciate little contributions like that of the Liberian interim president to a renascent Africa. So he surely deserves all the accolades that we can find for him.
The pattern of division that emerged in the just concluded election was a bit scary at the initial stage. It was going to become one more example of the irritating dimensions of democracy as a near illiterate but hugely popular man like George Weah was actually going to be president. Some kudos must go in the way of the Liberian political elites who appreciated clearly the dangers inherent in having a near-illiterate football star become president in a country that is actually crying to have a leader that possessed all the experience that he/she could get, to consolidate the emergent programme of peace reconstruction. The elites made the good decision that there was not so much choice between Weah and a Harvard-trained internationally-acclaimed economist and political war horse whose disposition, I understand, is very appropriate for the present times.
It would have been a blur on democracy and a basis for further global derision of Africa if at the end of the second round of elections, George Weah had trounced Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. It would also have set the stage for a scary electoral pattern in the continent in which people who could never had imagined they could be local government officials will suddenly begin to parade presidential ambitions. It would also have undermined the fate of many people in democracy and make some form of authoritarianism suddenly alluring.
That the Liberian people at a critical juncture in their history were able to correctly discern and vote appropriately in spite of the compelling ethno-national cleavages in the country, some of them overlapping, is one gift they have unwittingly given to Africa.
I would however be very surprised if Johnson-Sirleaf does not recognize the need to give the younger Weah the type of recognition and respect he deserves. Granted that he is a man of limited education, that a young man whose contemporaries would have been lost in the hedonistic lifestyle that is the hallmark of sudden stars like him, would set his gaze so high, is commendable. This is especially the case in the African society, at home and in the diaspora, where so many young women and men with some sporting prowess had been virtually destroyed by the sudden material means that the logic of modern capitalism had suddenly brought into their obviously strongly built hands but unfortunately made to be managed by their obviously limited brain.
The path to thread for Weah actually is for him to spend the next four years during which time Johnson-Sirleaf would be president to get himself the best education money can buy and return to the political fray thereafter, by which time he would be carrying a more profound mind and the stigma of limited education which actually was his nemesis in this election would have vanished. George Weah would also by so doing be building himself into an appropriate role model for the horde of uneducated children of Africa who would be compelled to see in the Weah magic a new motivation to excel, not just in football and in sports generally, but also in the other great things of life, of which a well educated mind is undoubtedly the first.
On a final note, it is apposite to commend the UN Security Council which only last Friday passed a resolution empowering the UN forces in Liberia to arrest Charles Taylor if he ever steps his feet on the soil of that much-abused country at these crucial but delicate times. That the man still has a safe haven in Nigeria is actually still a black spot on the Nigerian initiative on Liberia. Whosoever needs to be persuaded on the atrocious reign of Taylor needs only to visit the photo gallery of the UN headquarters in New York and see life-size photos of victims of the war he sponsored and sustained for so long in Sierra Leone. He has got to be punished to serve as a deterrence to irresponsible behaviour on the part of present and future leaders on the continent.