Age, career, political alliances … The outgoing vice president and the former star of football do not have much in common.
This is a crucial vote for this small, poor country in West Africa. For the first time in its history, Liberia must witness a peaceful handover. Ravaged by two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, shaken by the Ebola epidemic from 2013 to 2015, he had to choose the successor of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Tuesday, December 26. After 12 years as head of the country, the first woman head of state in Africa did not run for office.
The election took place in the aftermath of Christmas, seven weeks behind the original schedule due to an appeal filed by Charles Brumskine, the third-place candidate in the first round, to which Joseph Boakai, who came second, was associated.
The outgoing vice-president, who has repeatedly denounced frauds and irregularities, tried until the last moment to obtain a new postponement of the election. In vain. His last claim was rejected by the Supreme Court.
With 28.8% of the vote in the first round, he now appears distanced by his opponent, George Weah, who had then collected 38.4% of the vote. But until the last hours of the campaign, the two candidates threw all their forces into the battle. Between “Mister George”, 51, the former star of the round ball, and “Sleepy Joe”, 73, the experienced politician, the 2.1 million voters had to choose between two men with radically different profiles.
The slum child facing the graduate.
Only one thing is certain: the next Liberian president will be a “native”. In a country still marked by the divide between “natives” and African-Americans – the descendants of freed slaves, who represent about 5% of the population but have long constituted the Liberian political and economic elite – the origin both candidates was a campaign argument.
It is, however, one of their few things in common. Because the face-to-face between George Weah and Joseph Boakai is also a battle between the slum kid and the educated man.
Often mocked for his poor command of English, the former striker of Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain has often put forward its humble origins. Born in a shantytown of Monrovia, the capital, he never studied at a young age. It was on sandy loamy terrain that he trained before being spotted and becoming one of the greatest football players of his generation.
The only African to have won the prestigious Golden Ball, he has constantly reminded his supporters of his trajectory, assuring him that he did not forget where he came from and hoping to seduce, in particular, the electorate of the neighborhoods. poor.
A native of Lofa County, in the north-west of the country, Joseph Boakai also comes from a modest family – both of his parents were illiterate – but he did exemplary schooling. He was able to gain access to the University of Liberia, where he earned a degree in Business Administration.
The novice facing the man of experience
This is the third time that George Weah has entered the presidential race. Mocked for his lack of knowledge of the political world, the former footballer tried to silence critics after his first failures. In 2007, he took courses to earn a high school diploma in the United States. Then, in 2014, he managed to be elected senator of the County of Montserrado. Even if he sits little, he gains a stronger legitimacy.
Because this duel is also a shock of the generations. Facing the 51-year-old athlete, Joseph Boakai has a prestigious curriculum vitae. At age 73, he pursued his career in both the public and private spheres. In 1983, he was called by President Samuel Doe and became Minister of Agriculture. He will then be Executive Director of the Liberian Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC), then consultant for the World Bank.
In 2005, he was co-editor of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and was elected vice-president of the country. After eleven years in this post, he was criticized for his discretion during the campaign. Because his age is not only a pledge of experience: the man has been nicknamed “Sleepy Joe” by his detractors, because of his tendency to fall asleep during the ceremonies he attends.
The opponent facing the vice-president
Reassuring, especially for the business community, the outgoing vice-president seems to embody continuity. During his campaign, however, he has consistently stood out from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, including promising the end of corruption, one of the major scourges that the country faces. For many Liberians, the record of the first woman head of state in Africa is indeed mediocre.
It has also continued to play a troubled game in recent weeks. She never actually supported her party’s Unity Party candidate, letting rumors run of support for opponents such as Charles Brumskine in the first round and George Weah in the second round.
The candidate for sulphurous alliances against the man with integrity
Joseph Boakai worked his image of a man of integrity against the polemical alliances knotted by his opponent. George Weah has chosen to co-judge Jewel Howard Taylor, the former wife of Charles Taylor, sentenced to 50 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He also did not hesitate to call the former president. “Charles Taylor is not my friend, but he is a Liberian. If you give me the phone saying, “You have to say hello,” I can not say no. He took part in the war, he is now in prison but it was the president, ” he explained to Jeune Afrique last May.
Following the first round, he received the support of another warlord: Prince Johnson. The man made himself known for being filmed by sipping a beer and ordering his men to torture President Samuel Doe in 1990. These sulphurous political acquaintances of George Weah also have an electioneering goal.
Leading in eleven of the fifteen counties of the country, following the first round, “Mr George” could indeed win the second most populous county of the country in the second round, the one of Nimba, where comes from Prince Johnson ( see map below ).