Around the world, many leaders have had to persevere before they could climb to the political, traditional, or corporate seat of their dreams. The story is told of Abraham Lincoln; who was born into poverty, faced defeats throughout his life; and lost eight elections. Little did we know that he would later become one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States of America.
Here in Ghana, the same can be said of the sitting president, Nana Addo-Danquah Akuffo Addo, and Late Prof. Mills; both became presidents on their third attempts, after suffering two election defeats. Before their ascension to the seat of government, their political lives had been a true definition of perseverance.
Though all the above have persevered, what do we say about George Weah; someone who had no certificate but rose to become a president? His journey to the presidency is a story of grit:
When I was growing up in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, I sold doughnuts, popcorn and Kool Aid every day after school so that my family had some money and I could pay my school fees. It was a tough life.– George Weah
On October 1, 1966, in a slum in Monrovia, a king was born. A King born in a slum with many ghettos, George Oppong Weah had to first fight and win the battle against negative influences that could lead to destruction. Born to the lineage of Liberia’s Grand Kru County, one of the poorest areas of the country, Weah reportedly dropped out of school in his final year of studies.
With football being a new dream, on the dusty streets of Monrovia, he perfected his only asset and weapon that could open doors of opportunities for him- football skills. He played for many lower division clubs, most notably, Young Survivors of Claretown; where without a coach, he led the team into the first division.
Rise as Football Star
He would later join Invincible Eleven of Liberia, where he would prove his prowess in a match against Cameroonian club Tonnerre of Yaoundé. It was at club Tonnerre that the national team coach of Cameroon, Claude Le Roy, would discover Weah’s abilities. Claude Le Roy’s recommendation to Arsène Wenger led to Weah signing for AS Monaco in 1987. This was just the beginning of greatness! Weah would later play for PSG, AC Millan, Chelsea, Manchester City amongst others.
Widely regarded as the best-ever African footballer, Weah is the only African player to win the Ballon-Dor and FIFA world best player (1995); Weah as well won the UEFA champions league with AC Milan in 1994-95 season. On three occasions (1989, 1994, and 1995), he won the African player of the year award as well. From the poor streets of Monrovia, George became king of world football. This, he could do only through perseverance!
But the perseverance did not end after he made it through football, the real task began when he ventured into the political territory.
The whole thing about elections in Liberia – it’s not about the way you take care of people it’s not about the heart, it’s about education, according to the perception of some people– George Weah
Major Challenges and Massive Failure
Liberia, then a war-torn zone, saw a lot of humanitarian services from Weah. He was at some point a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations, and for his efforts, won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. On his own, and in partnership with others, football academies were established to help push the youth in developing countries. This had earned him a lot of love from the street and his people. Therefore, following the upheaval of former President Charles Taylor in 2003, Weah formed Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party just four months into the 2005 elections. With Congress for Democratic Change to back his candidacy, George Weah contested and lost the 2005 Liberian Presidential Election.
Back then, a major campaign message used against him was his lack of formal education as a handicap to his ability to lead the country, in contrast with his Harvard-educated opponent, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Aside from the education, Weah was also called “babe-in-the-woods”, due to his lack of political experience. Sirleaf, on the other hand, had served as minister of finance in the Tolbert administration in the 1970s and had held positions at Citibank, the World Bank, and the United Nations. Regardless of his popularity, the help and exposure he had given his country during the tough times, the lack of formal education and experience were major tools used by his opponents during the run-off. Though he was leading in the first round, he eventually lost in the second round to Johnson Sirleaf.
Perseverance: George Weah, A Change in Approach
No matter how sad it was, that was the reality. Notwithstanding who or how it was said, It was indeed true that King George lacked formal education. In 2005, though King George could speak English, French, and Italian; he didn’t have even a High School Certificate. Weah knew the people loved him but he couldn’t ascend the throne due to his background. As a result, instead of giving up, he worked on himself! Many would give up but he didn’t! On the contrary, he analyzed his opponent’s message, looked at how his weakness cost him the election and worked on how to make himself a better candidate. He focused on the message, not the messenger. He then persevered and corrected what brought him down.
Education is a continual process, it’s like a bicycle… if you don’t pedal you don’t go forward.-George Weah
Following the defeat, at age 40, Weah received a high school diploma in 2007. He further went to DeVry University (Miami-USA) to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business management and criminal justice in 2011. To make him more marketable, George Weah went further for a Master of Public Administration Degree (MPA) from the same University in 2013.
After addressing the issue of education, Weah made steps to address the subject of political inexperience.
On the ticket of CDC, Weah contested again but this time, as the vice-presidential candidate to Winston Tubman in 2011; an election they boycotted during the second round, citing irregularities in the first round. In 2014, still, on the ticket of CDC, he contested for the position of senator of Montserrado county. With 78% of the votes, He was overwhelmingly elected to the Liberian Senate on 20th December 2014, ahead of Robert Sirleaf, a son of the then-president. The political experience, combined with his academic qualifications, gave him a better chance of winning any presidential election in his country.
In 2017, Weah contested presidential elections again as flagbearer, after merging with two other strong opposition parties two years earlier. Unlike his first election, against vice president Joseph Boakai, he won more than 60 percent of the votes in the second round of the said election. After winning 12 of the 15 counties, Weah became president of Liberia at age 51. He could only get here after correcting all those things that prevented him from winning the seat in 2005. Weah got here not only by faith or hope but by hard work as well. He put aside pride, fame, wealth…. and started all over again.
Nobody should be afraid of change, look at my life: I went from footballer to politician.– George Weah
Just like Weah, many of us have a lot of ambitions. Unfortunately, we are not able to achieve them, all because we are not ready to add value to ourselves and learn from our mistakes. Instead of ourselves, we blame others for our failures. We are quick to point accusing fingers and apportion blame without first assessing ourselves. Even in instances, we have identified lapses and ideal solutions, we often think it may take too long to implement. We lazily give up because starting all over or learning a new thing is too difficult a task, so only a few people can do the same.
Life cannot be pleasant always; It is worth noting however that until you are willing to pay the full price, you can never reach the height you sought to reach. Many people have had to change courses, sacrifice hobbies, end relationships, etc just to achieve an objective. Some have fallen seven times and risen on all occasions, whilst others gave up after failing once. Some became complacent and relaxed after their first success, whilst like Weah, others sacrificed and fought to achieve more.
Most often, success is seen as a straight path, with one thing sequentially following the other. Unfortunately, in the real world, it does not work that way; simply because success does not have a defined route. Though we may all have similar targets in our lives, the duration and difficulties involved in achieving this may differ. The most important thing however is that in the face of all the trials and discouragement, you don’t have to give up. After all, the tougher the challenge, the sweeter the success!
No matter how smart one is, in order to be up to the task, he/she still needs to go through all the developmental stages in life. So when the tough times come, don’t be in a haste to skip certain steps; because you will need everything you go through to make you complete someday… Many of those we choose as role models have had their share of the struggles in life. The only thing that made them different and outstanding is that whilst others gave up, they didn’t relent, rather, they persevered until they wrote their names in the history books. Beneath the success, there were so many trials, failures, betrayals, and sacrifices people never saw; but most importantly, there was determination and focus
Work on Yourself
What are your dreams? What have you done to facilitate your dreams? What are your identified weaknesses and how are you working to correct them? What new thing will you do in the remaining days you have in life? How do you take criticisms? Think through these and let’s make this year a better one.