Monrovia — Very few books nowadays keep my attention to every sentence, paragraph, page, and chapter. Rodney Dean Sieh's unofficial biography of Africa's football star-turned President is an exception. Rodney is an award-winning journalist, editor and publisher of Liberia's largest independent print and online daily, FrontPage Africa.
BY RODNEY DEAN SIEH, FrontPage Africa, 2023, 424 pp.
Like the man he writes about in George Weah: The Story of Africa's Footballer President, Rodney has an impressive story (except not on the soccer pitch but in the journalistic arena). He rose from humble beginnings in Liberia to becoming a correspondent for the BBC. As part of his post-war contribution to his country, he founded and managed FrontPage Africa (first online, & then print), which is now widely known for its ground-breaking publication on political corruption in Liberia. It has not been all rosy for Rodney: he was jailed twice for publishing dissenting articles about the Supreme Court and a government minister, the latter led to his astounding 5,000-year prison sentence (but domestic & international pressure led to his release in November 2013, having served four out of 60,000 months!).
The book "is one of the best accomplishments of my life," writes Rodney in the acknowledgments. The author should correctly be proud of this work, as the book is aesthetically pleasing, well-written, and reveals the destiny man who would go on to conquer the world of professional soccer and, against all odds but with perseverance, rise to the presidency of his native country. Over the long sweep of human history, such persons as Monsieur George are few, just few in numbers! They are the outliers and, for better or worse, they will live on in history.
Rodney's book is a product of four years of research and writing, traveling across Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean. Although he did not get "Mr. Weah's blessings" to write a book about him, because the latter "felt it wasn't the right time to tell his story," Rodney wrote this unofficial biography "based on interviews with former teammates, peers, political allies and nemeses," according to the author's note. Rodney's skill as a journalist lies in getting his subjects to talk frankly and in fascinating details about the man in George Weah.
The book, George Weah: The Story of Africa's Footballer President, is structured around twenty-seven (27) chapters, from "Prophecy" [of the destiny man] in chapter one to "'Forgive Me"' [because the sports pitch is when I came from to this honorable office] in chapter 27. Individually each chapter with its telling title brings to light a key period or episode or decision point in the life of George Weah. Collectively the chapters tell a fuller story of the boy from slum community of Gibraltar in Monrovia to Cameroon, to Monaco, to FIFA World Best, to the Liberian Senate, and, ultimately, to the Presidency.
The great, good, and bad are all weaved in this timely and extraordinary story of rags-to-riches, prestige-to-power.
This book has something for everyone: supporters and critics alike. Rodney has delivered an incisive analysis of President Weah's complexity and character. But what really matters, in the end, is that readers should judge the book on its merits.
For those academic readers more interested in political economy, this book will reveal the challenges - economic development, good governance, rule of law, etc. - face by anyone following in the footstep of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first woman president.
Rodney has written a very fine book that brings us closer, and President Weah needs to take us home in understanding him and his governance, by writing his own book. The world, Africa, Liberia awaits that, but for now Rodney Dean Sieh's book is the to-go-to book on George Weah.
Readers of George Weah: The Story of Africa's Footballer President should certainly appreciate Rodney's effort at understanding the man George Weah and the processes and paths that led him to the Presidency. Lots to digest and the work is cut out for those interested in some legacy questions. "In football," Rodney concludes his book, "the icon will always be revered as one of the game's greatest, in politics, the jury is still out with Weah holding his destiny in his own hands."
The author--Robert O. Davis--tweets on Liberian Affairs @realRODavis.