President George Weah met with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron this week to jointly launch a fund that would support sports projects on the African continent. Former international soccer star and first African winner of the Ballon d'Or for footballer of the year, Weah had lunch with Macron and sports stars at the Elysee Palace to hail the launch of this new project which will be created in cooperation with the African Develoment Bank. Weah reportedly spoke to Macron on funding some 1500 kilometers of paved roads, one of his campaign pledges before winning the presidency. In a brief interview with RFI, President Weah spoke on issues that affect Liberians.
Liberians were proud that you went to Senegal to meet with your counterpart Macky Sall. But they were reportedly upset when they saw you on television, speaking French. Not English, nor any of the local languages Liberians speak. Could you address those who were upset?
I want you to be aware that we still have critics. We will forever have critics. The war with our criticism is not a complete war. So I don't have a problem. To see President Emmanuel Macron express himself in English, through all of our meetings then I don't even need to question when I speak French or not. Because it's a point of pride for Macron to speak English when he's with English-speaking people, and I should be happy to speak French because I lived in France, and I learned French. There was a time when I couldn't speak French, it was detrimental to me, detrimental to my career. Because if I couldn't speak French, I couldn't communicate with the other players. So I was forced to learn French.
Then, if I come out of Liberia, Liberians should be proud that a French journalist asked me a question in French. And I respond in French. But my official deliberation was read in English. So I don't have a problem. So those who have a problem with that, they need to learn a different language, so that they will know the importance of languages. Because yesterday, I was proud of Macron. Throughout our meeting, he spoke English to those who wanted to listen to English, and he spoke French to those who knew French. There's nothing wrong with that. So for me, criticism-- I've been criticized throughout my life. When I came to this politics, a lot of people say 'il peut pas', he cannot. C'est impossible. Aujourd'hui [Today] you see the President of Liberia... [in French] There are those who criticize because I speak French. For me, I'm happy. Plus I can say I'm very intelligent (laughs) because I can speak French, Italian and English. There's no need to be angry. You have to say, 'Our president, he speaks all the languages. That's a bonus.'
You've just picked your Education Minister, who has the slogan, "We're going to go from the mess, to the desk", referring to boosting education in Liberia. Only 32% of all adult Liberian women can read. Will they be included in your 'desk'?
I respect women's rights I want you to know that. Everything I've done in my life, women participated. In the campaign, my second in command [ed: Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor], she's a woman. I lived with my poor grandmother. I grew up with my grandmother. I know what women are capable of doing, so anything that will help women gain whatever growth they want to gain, I'm there to support the cause. We will not alienate women when it comes to education. It's equal opportunity, for women and men. In our society, we have nothing against women. We want women to participate just as men are participating. We hope that women will come forward. Going to school is a desire. You must have the desire to do so. You cannot be forced. So what we're doing is providing the facility for people to be enthused. To be ready to go to school to prepare themselves.
I left school in 12th grade, to go to Cameroon for greener pastures. I got into Cameroon. I was a 12th grade student and had one year to finish my high school. And I saw another opportunity to play the game, and the reason I was going to school was to help my family. But now I had a career. So I tabled my school. After my career, I went back to school. I went back to school, I obtained my business degree, then I went for my master's in public administration. So it's not late. When I was in school, I saw on the news an 85-year-old woman just finished high school. She was happy. They asked her why she did not [go to school earlier]... "because my sister had problems," so she could not go to school... it's not too late to go to school. So anybody can do that. I went to school and I want people to be encouraged. Most of my friends that played [football], I encouraged them to go to school, and get a degree and be specialized in what they want to do.
I wanted to be in government, so I went to school to be in government. There's nothing wrong with that. So women in Liberia, we promote them, we encourage them to go to school, and they are going to school. We've got a lot of intelligent women in Liberia, even in politics. You see some young women in my party, there are a lot of them in parliament. Because we promote the women's cause. And I am a 'He for She'. For me, women are important for our society and we must encourage them to work as hard as men, so we can encourage them to be competitive.
And will the First Lady be involved with this?
My wife is involved in promoting women's causes, and charity. She wants to do that. She's a certified nurse and she has her Master's in Health Promotion. She wants to go to the pediatric ward to take care of kids, she wants to open a foundation to help people, and to join the women to be a good citizen, so she's working very hard, and I know the qualities she has. She will make a difference. And I'm glad for the 24 years we've been married, and I think she is bringing her intellect on board. She's not just coming as a dumb First Lady. She has her own career. I think she will bring that experience on board to help the Liberian women.