Liberia's most popular opposition politician George Manneh Oppong Weah, founding leader of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) has taken on another ambassadorial title after he accepted to become the country's peace ambassador.
The world's soccer legend was UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for several years, but resigned from both the position and his soccer career in 2005 to seek the presidency of Liberia after he had been robbed of ascending to the leadership of the Liberia Football Association--where many still argue he would have done better.
A high school dropout, Weah was defeated as presidential candidate at the polls in 2005 (though he claimed he won the votes) by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the ruling Unity Party. Before last year's elections he had completed both high school and college education, but seconded himself as Vice Presidential Standard-bearer to Harvard-trained lawyer and former UN ambassador Winston Tubman.
Again, the party was defeated by the UP. Tubman resigned afterwards, and Weah remains the political leader of the CDC, which many believe is destine to win the country's next presidential election in five years if it puts its house in order and defeat detractive internal wrangling.
Weah has already been petitioned to run for the pending mid-tern (2014) senatorial election for Montserrado, the CDC's strongest hold, though he has yet to accept or deny the request.
Meeting with political leaders of the country Tuesday, President Sirleaf announced that Weah has accepted to become ambassador of the country's reconciliatory initiative, news many Liberians have so far received with gladness, especially based on his strong connection with young people and the opposition camp.
A statement from the Executive Mansion issued Tuesday night said "...President Sirleaf informed the political leaders that with the National Conference Committee launching the Reconciliation Roadmap, Ambassador George Weah has consented to work with the government as "Peace Ambassador," and will assist with the reconciliation efforts."
Weah, the statement noted, will put together his own Plan of Action as to how he will proceed.
The President said that, over several months, the National Steering Committee, with technical assistance from the United Nations system and others, has put together the Reconciliation Roadmap with much more specifics as to how it will be achieved.
Reconciling Liberians has remained one of the toughest challenges of the Sirleaf administration. Many Liberians argue that less was done during her first term to reconcile the people of Liberia after 14 years of destructive and divisive war, and that the road to reconciliation is getting even dimmer in her second term, with reports of nepotism and corruption in reportedly comfortable seats.
The opposition including the CDC and Liberty Party has alleged that President Sirleaf has not sufficiently involved opposition in reconciling the country and its people, and that her administration's failure to implement recommendations of the defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the greatest backlash to uniting Liberians.
The erstwhile commission, two years ago, submitted a controversial recommendation calling for barring of president Sirleaf and 40 others from holding public office for 30 years for allegedly financing the Liberian civil war; It recommended the prosecution of another group for economic crimes and another for war crimes. Most of those the TRC accused are either officials of the Legislature or holding top government positions, while others are "money people" with big influence on society.
The chairman of the defunct TRC, Jerome Verdier, has gone bitter with President Sirleaf and the national legislature for kicking the commission's recommendation into the dustbin. But President Sirleaf has argued that the TRC recommendation has some good aspects--the palaver hut discussions--and those ones would be applied to reconcile the Liberian people.
After her reelection last November, President Sirleaf established a reconciliation commission, appointing her co-Nobel laureate winner Leymah Gbowee as chair. The commission was to lead Liberia into total reconciliation, first after the blistering election. Few months ago Gbowee fell off with President Sirleaf on ground of nepotism and corruption and resigned, casting a greater doubt on the country's reconciliation efforts.
Meanwhile, many Liberians are expressing delight for the decisions of both President Sirleaf (appointing) and Weah (accepting) which they say is a genuine way of leading the country's reconciliatory efforts.
"I think this is one of the best decisions and a way of involving the opposition in the government," a lady said on Truth FM Wednesday morning. "I am calling on all Liberians to put their differences behind and work with George Weah to reconcile this country."
Many Liberians are of the conviction that a Weah-led reconciliatory drive could help bring the people together since he is regarded as one of those who had a clean hand in the war that tore the country apart.
Weah has yet to make any official statement on his appointment, and it remains unknown what mechanism he would put into place to carry on his new ambassadorial assignment.
It is also unclear whether the government will release to Weah the controversial US$5million injected into the current fiscal budget for reconciliation. Many have argued that it is a waste of resources and that the money should be directed to health and education rather than to a purpose it will not achieve.
Whatever the case may be, observers believe that Weah has a great challenge in implementing his new portfolio and there is a need for the cooperation of the government and the Liberian public to support his reconciliatory programs.Author contact: