It was a day for history: Liberia’s first transition of power from one democratically elected government to another in generations. President George Weah was sworn in as the President of Liberia. Whether you voted for Weah or his opponent, this is cause for celebration.
During his inauguration speech, President Weah spoke to us all. He acknowledged what has long been on our minds, offering potential solutions, and most importantly, his commitment to solving these problems.
As expected, his speech was similar to other presidential speeches. They all tend to follow a basic topical template. For example, we expected Weah to:
- Thank his predecessor
- Give praise for the peaceful transition of power
- Discuss some of the challenges the country faces
- Highlight his commitment and ability to solve those challenges
- Express a desire to work together for Liberia’s success
- Appeal to a higher power
And he did all of the above.
He thanked former President Sirleaf, saying, “Your Excellency, I thank you for laying the foundation upon which we can now stand, in peace and to advance progress for our country.” Later, he noted her work in protecting the right of freedom of speech, saying “We could not have arrived at this day without our voices been heard loudly, and all our views, no matter how critical, being freely expressed in an atmosphere void of intimidation and arrest.” This, he said was only made possible by Sirleaf’s tolerance.
With Sirleaf having laid the foundation, Weah pledged to go further to include encouraging and reinforcing freedom of political assembly as well as freedom of speech.
President Weah acknowledged the historic nature of the day, saying that “Blood should never be the price tag for democracy” and noting that the day’s peaceful transition of power was “achieved by the free and democratic will of the Liberian people, guaranteed by the rule of law.”
With the recent presidential run-off election court challenge and delay, President Weah noted that Liberians had another cause to celebrate: the ability to resolve political disagreements through established institutions and the rule of law. He said that “we as a people have learned valuable lessons from our brutal history.”
Speaking of our brutal history, President Weah and the tens of thousands of attendees stopped and observed a moment of silence for “those who died on our soil, in our conflicts, or by our hands.”
The people of Liberia recognize that even years after the wars, the country still faces its fair share of challenges. Weah discussed several of them, acknowledged that “we,” as in the president, vice president, and legislative branch, “can do better, together.”
Among the challenges and potential solutions he specifically discussed were:
- Corruption — Weah said that his election came with a mandate to end corruption in public service. Paying civil servants a living wage, he suggested, would eliminate “corruption as an excuse for taking what is not theirs.” He also spoke directly to those who would continue their corrupt ways: You will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
- Private sector — Weah’s administration wants to be known as business-friendly, he said, stressing that “Liberia is open for business.” To that end, he promised to open the doors to foreign direct investment without marginalizing Liberian-owned businesses; to remove unnecessary regulatory restraints; to prioritize and help Liberian-owned businesses; and provide an environment conducive to conduct honest, transparent businesses.
- Infrastructure and human capital investments — Noting that transforming the economy would require huge investments in infrastructure, agriculture, technology and human capital, Weah acknowledged the past contributions of international development partners such as ECOWAS, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and China.
- National unity — From freedom and equality to celebrating diversity without drawing lines of division, Weah said that the “loudest battle cry” during his tenure as president must be one of national unity. He urged everyone to “respect each other and act as neighbors” despite differences. To illustrate his Liberia first approach, he quoted the National Anthem “In union strong, success is sure. We cannot fail.”
About midway through his speech, Weah thanked both the youth and women of Liberia, specifically those working in markets selling goods. His victory, he said, could not have been possible without their support.
Weah pledged that his administration would make “steady and deliberate progress towards achieving the hopes and aspirations that you cherish in your heart for Mama Liberia.” He also said he planned on constructing “the greatest machinery of pro-poor governance in the history of this country” and that “the affordability of all goods and services will no longer be a luxury to the privileged, but rather a right for all Liberians.”
But, he said he can’t do it alone. In fact, he deliberately asked the people of Liberia to help him, listing several of his own expectations, and appealed to a higher power, God Almighty, to “bless the works of our hands and save the State.”
Interwoven between all the expected topics was an overarching theme: We’re building a New Liberia, and we’re doing it together with a new sense of fairness, integrity, and love.
When he said to the people of Liberia that he would do more than his fair share to meet their expectations, he added: “I ask you to meet mine, for I cannot do it alone.” He gave the people his own mandate with his list of expectations:
- Rise up and take control and responsibility for your destiny
- Look away from the things that divide us, and draw strength and energy from the things that unite us
- Push yourselves to achieve the possibilities that are within your reach
- Do more for yourselves
- Expect others to do less
- Discover a new sense of fairness and integrity
- Discover a new love for country and for each other
Not only could this love transform officials into national champions for change, he addressed the diaspora directly, saying that love could bring us back home to “join us in building a New Liberia.”
From public servants and government officials to the people of Liberia including youth, women, and even those of us living in the diaspora, President George Weah spoke to us all.
We hear you Mr. President, and we support you.
Featured photo by Lloyd Massah