Retired international soccer star George Weah won the Liberian presidential election on December 26, 2017, succeeding Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The election marked the first peaceful transfer of power in Liberia since 1944.

President-elect Weah defeated Vice President Joseph Boakai, 73. Weah, internationally known for earning the African, European and World Player of the Year in 1995, has served as a senator since 2015. Weah, 51, received the most votes in the first round of the presidential election in October 2017.

Liberty Party nominee Charles Brumskine, who received less than 10 percent of the vote, delayed the final round of voting by accusing election fraud in a case that went to the Liberian Supreme Court. Multiple bodies, including the National Election Commission, found the election was fair. The U.N. Security Council and the White House delivered public statements commending the peaceful transfer of power in Liberia and praising the Liberian people and government.

Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves, has experienced decades of civil war, and the 2014 Ebola epidemic killed more people in Liberia than anywhere else in the world. The West African nation is currently facing extreme poverty and issues stemming from it.

Liberia has the seventh highest maternal mortality rate, female genital cutting affects more than two-thirds of women and girls and less than 50 percent of the population older than 15 can read and write. Moreover, 60 percent of the population is under 25. Nevertheless, the U.N. reduced its troop presence in Liberia in July 2016, and the country has the highest annual reduction rate in infant and child mortality in Africa.

In his victory speech, Weah applauded the Liberian people and said, “[T]he best way to celebrate Liberians is to improve their lives…through public governance.” He encouraged investors to come to Liberia and stressed the importance of private investment in rebuilding the economy.

Weah also thanked his predecessor, Johnson Sirleaf, who became the first elected female African head of state in 2005. “We promise to follow your footsteps in protecting the rights of Liberians and providing even greater freedoms,” Weah said.

Weah’s Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor sat next to him during his victory speech. Howard- Taylor’s ex-husband is serving a 50-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity. However, she proved to have vastly different policy ideas than her previous partner during her tenure as a senator.

While Weah certainly will face obstacles during his administration, the global community is hopeful that progress will continue in Liberia. Democratic leaders have a renewed sense of optimism for the country after this peaceful transfer of power in Liberia.

– Sean Newhouse

Photo: Flickr