LAGOS, NIGERIA: At the last count, there were nine successful or attempted military coups in West and Central Africa within a span of just three years.
This trend rattles the foundation of faith in democracy as a viable political culture in the region.
But President George Manneh Weah of Liberia is one shiny ray in a storm-wracked cloudy sky.
He gives fresh hope that democracy is not terminally-diseased in these climes, and that there are yet statesmen who set national interest above their own personal interest by earnestly conceding defeat when they lose elections.
Weah, on Friday, 17th November, proactively conceded defeat in Liberia’s presidential run-off poll held three days earlier and congratulated his opponent even ahead of official declaration of the final result by the National Election Commission (NEC) of Liberia.
His challenger and now president-elect, Joseph Boakai, beat him by just over a percentage point, with election officials saying after 99.58 percent of the ballots were counted, Boakai was in the lead with 50.89 percent to Weah’s 49.11 percent.
Fifty-seven-year-old Weah of Liberia’s Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), had tightly outpaced 78-year-old Boakai of the Unity Party (UP) in the poll’s first round held 10th October.
He polled 43.83 percent of the votes while Boakai got 43.44 percent to both move on to the runoff.
Under Liberia’s electoral law, a candidate must get at least 50 percent of votes cast to avoid a runoff.
Following the dead heat first round, Boakai secured endorsements from candidates who finished third, fourth and fifth in that round for his runoff match with Weah.
Before the runoff was formally called by the NEC, Weah went on air to concede defeat.
He is a sitting president and the election was extremely close, not to mention that he had the edge – even if slight – in the first round.
He could have pulled the roof down to manipulate the final outcome or abort an irremediably unfavorable outcome outright.
But he rather threw in the towel before the final whistle.
In a national broadcast on 17th November, the president said “the results announced tonight, though not final, indicate that…Boakai is in a lead that we cannot surpass” and he had thus, a few minutes earlier, spoken with the opposition candidate, who he referred to as “president-elect,” to congratulate him on his victory.
The true winners, according to him, are the Liberian people who “through your peaceful and orderly exercise of your constitutional right to vote…have once again demonstrated your commitment to democratic principles that bind us together as a nation.”
Weah noted that it was time for graciousness in defeat and admonished his supporters: “I urge you to follow my example and accept the results of the elections… We are a young movement and our time will come again. Tomorrow, resume your daily activities in a normal way and come and join me at our party headquarters to reflect on our journey and plan for our return to political leadership in 2029.”
He added that his party, CDC, lost the election but Liberia won. Notice: there was no recourse to protracted litigation to contest the poll outcome, and neither was there incitement of follower to resist that outcome.
Weah noted, though, that the closeness of the results revealed a deep division within the Liberian polity and urged: “As we transition to a new administration, we must be vigilant to the dangers of division and must work together to find common ground.”
A political leader in these climes with credible credential to speak on Weah’s comportment is Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan, who himself in 2015 conceded defeat to then opposition candidate and later president, Muhammadu Buhari, before the poll was called by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Jonathan was full of praise for Weah, saying he had “exhibited an exemplary display of statesmanship and commitment to the peace and progress of his country.”
Read Also: Liberia’s George Weah concedes defeat to Boakai, says I respect democracy
In a post on his X handle, the ex-Nigerian president said the peaceful election process in Liberia was a plus for democracy and the West African regional bloc – the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“I am delighted that at the end of the exercise, Liberia wins, democracy gains and our sub-region, ECOWAS, is better for it,” he stated.
Jonathan is right. Democracy has become endangered in the West and Central Africa region because of frequent military incursion in power.
In many of the cases, the jackboots were emboldened by lousy elections; and even, where they have kept out of the fray, political gladiators have perennially undermined the democracy they claim to be apostles of with endless litigations over poll outcomes, or instigation of followers to street actions as would make affected jurisdictions ungovernable for declared election winners.
Weah took a moral high road away from this trend. He presided over elections in his country that were globally applauded as transparent, credible and keenly contested.
And when he lost in the polls, he was swift to own up. His concession paves the way for Liberia’s second democratic transfer of power in over seven decades – the first being when Weah swept to power six years ago by defeating same Boakai, who was vice-president during former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s two terms and had contested election to succeed her as president.
Weah’s statesmanship is of no little help to Liberia struggling to recover from two civil wars between 1989 and 2003 that killed more than 250,000 people, besides Ebola epidemic that raged 2013-2016 and left thousands of people dead.
But Weah has been an achiever even before going into politics. He is the first African footballer to win FIFA’s World Player of the Year trophy and only African to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or.
He played as a forward for Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea and Manchester City during an 18-year club career; and his 23-year-old son, Tim, now plays for Serie A club Juventus and the U.S. national team. Outside of political power, he yet has the world at his feet. Culled From The NATION, Nigeria.