22 February 2018

Liberia: President George Weah Seeks Paris Aid to Jumpstart Government

Photo: Boakai Fofana/allAfrica
Traders in Monrovia's largest market district of Waterside

Monrovia — It was in the French capital that George Manneh Weah shone and went on to conquer the world of football, but his return to Paris on Tuesday, February 20, as President of Liberia is a diplomatic move that looks to deepen Liberia's ties with the European economic powerhouse.

"We realize that we will not be able to deliver on the promise of change for the betterment of our country and people without urgent and significant assistance from friendly governments such as yours - Mr. President (Emmanuel Macron) - and friendly institutions.

"We are therefore making this personal appeal to you and the government of France to support us in any way that you can in our efforts to jump-start our economy." - President George Manneh Weah, Republic of Liberia

It's the Liberian leader's first trip outside of Africa and its outcome would set the pace for a renewed diplomatic relations between Monrovia and Paris and boost support to the West African nation.

Mr. Weah is no stranger to France and the French love him as he claims to be a "product of France."

But threading his path, as a politician off the playing pitch is a challenge he must fathom in other to salvage Liberia's broken systems.

Unlike his trip to Senegal - a former French colony - where he received critical reviews back home for ditching Liberia's official language for French, President Weah opted to speak English in Paris.

"29 years ago, I entered this great country from Africa in search of opportunities."

"I remember that I arrived in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Airport on a very cold morning on my way to Monaco," recalled President Weah mounting the podium alongside French President Emmanuel Macron.

He recounted his challenges and trends of adapting to a new home almost three decades ago in France.

At that time, Liberia was embroiled in turmoil created by a civil war that would go on to ravage the entire country.

That was a career adventure that earned Weah the success and fame that helped propel him to the highest office of one of the poorest countries in the world.

As President Weah catalogued his success in world football on Wednesday February 21, a smiling Macron, who shared the stage with him looked on.

But Macron is pretty aware that all of Weah's exploits were in football, and not in politics and that Weah task is massive.

He has to transcend his footballing feats to politics-cum-diplomacy.

He later assured Mr. Macron that Monrovia is looking forward to the "strengthening of the already strong bond of friendship" with Paris.

The former Paris Saint-Germain striker's return to Paris this time around is for a bigger cause: to garner support for Liberia's socio-economic development.

Said Weah: "Today, I return to France in my new capacity as President of Liberia, seeking for the people of Liberia the same opportunities and the same chances and success that France afforded me."

Earlier, President Weah met with a French business network consists of over 750,000 members and firms. He held talks with them about job-creation and sustainable growth, according to a dispatch.

'Awesome Responsibility'

President Weah is cognizant of the "awesome responsibility" resting on his shoulders "to lead the Liberian people out of poverty and onward to peace and prosperity", as he told the French President.

"But peace without prosperity is an unfinished agenda; this is going to be the greatest challenge of my administration," he added.

He further told Mr. Macron about the 'stagnated economy' he inherited. The one still struggling from the aftermath of the devastating Ebola outbreak and shrinking prices of major exports, which has crippled investments, development and economic growth.

"This has undermined our budgeted revenue and has worsen long-standing weaknesses in the financial sector," he said, stressing the severity of Liberia's poverty level despite the country's endowing 'abundant resources'.

Pitching His 'Pro-poor Agenda'

President Weah lectured his French counterpart about the paradox of Liberia's 'rich land, poor country' scenario, saying decades of mismanagement of the country's resources has benefitted only a few.

And he sees his 'Pro-poor policy' as an antidote to the age-old menace that stalls national growth. He says the policy is an approach to solving the problem.

But he was also quick to admit the threat of inheriting a 'broke government' evident by a free-falling currency compounded by rising uncontrollable inflation and an "all time low foreign reserve".

The Aid Plead

The high expectations lingering over Weah's ability to fix the country is even more intense as he admits it is a daunting task created by existing challenges.

And without foreign aid he would fail.

Said Weah: "We realize that we will not be able to deliver on the promise of change for the betterment of our country and people without urgent and significant assistance from friendly governments such as yours - Mr. President (Mr. Macron) and friendly institutions."

The Liberian leader had already emphasized that he would rely on foreign aid to get his government on its right footing, though criticisms of aid-dependency syndrome and its toll on good governance have stirred debates.

President Weah's trip to Paris was about appealing for aid as mentioned in his official statement to President Macron.

Although on the sideline, an Executive Mansion release claims the Liberian leader held several meetings with French businessmen and told them that his country is "open for business."

Aware that investments don't happened overnight, perhaps Weah is using one stone to kill two birds. So, he seized the moment at the Palace de Elysee to ask France for its helping hand.

"We are therefore making this personal appeal to you and the government of France to support us in any way that you can in our efforts to jumpstart our economy."

The Liberia leader argues that urgent help will give his government the right balance and allow him "concentrate on the structural adjustments and institutional and policy work" for the medium and long term.

Seeking Funds For Roads

Again, Weah placed road network at the top of his government's priority list while asking for funding to initiate 1,500 kilometers paved roads in order to connect the country.

He has frequently mentioned roads as his first plan to execute within 90 days leaving some analysts to question the possibility of the President achieving his target.

However, in Paris he also stressed the need to gather assistance to support health, youth empowerment and large-scale agriculture, which he said, provides food security, alleviates poverty, provides employment, contributes to the GDP growth and strengthens trade balances.

Meanwhile, President Macron agreed to revive ties with Liberia, pledged to provide development aid to the country, and said his country's new financing platform for sport will notably involve the African Development Bank.

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