The 2017 vote that brought him to power also marked the first time the Liberian government ran its own election without U.N. support.
The election had problems. The third-place candidate, Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party, alleged that the first round of voting on Oct. 10 was marred by widespread election fraud. Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC) and Supreme Court heard the case and ruled that the results were fair. Even during this period, despite fears of election violence, nothing major broke out — unlike during the 2011 election, when police killed at least one opposition party supporter. The Liberian National Police worked at preventing violence this time around, and the Liberty Party accepted the court rulings. In the Dec. 26 runoff, Weah won 61.5 percent of the vote.
Now that he’s been sworn into office, here are three points to watch during his first 100 days.
1. Will Weah keep his campaign pledge to fight corruption?
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration was marred by corruption allegations toward the end of her presidency. She rejected charges of nepotism and complaints that her government made lucrative land deals with private investors without compensating communities that had claims to that land. But by the end of her term, she was so unpopular that her vice president distanced himself in his run for president, and she was expelled from her party.
Not surprisingly, Weah ran on an anti-corruption platform. In his inauguration speech, he announced: “The overwhelming mandate I received from the Liberian people is a mandate to end corruption in public service. I promise to deliver on this mandate.”
But will he be able to deliver? During the first 100 days, keep an eye on whether Weah makes it a priority to set up and properly finance institutions that can tackle the problem. Further, watch whom he names to his cabinet and other appointed positions.
Sirleaf appointed three of her sons, one of whom was implicated in a bribery scandal. So far Weah has avoided controversy by keeping some of Sirleaf’s appointees, who will help with the transition. But he has many other cabinet positions to fill.
2. Will Weah’s vice president carry on Charles Taylor’s legacy?
Charles Taylor, Liberia’s president from 1997 to 2003, was a war criminal — quite literally. In 2012, the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone sentenced him to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity by supporting the rebels who tore apart Sierra Leone during its civil war.
But Taylor tore apart his country before backing the Sierra Leone fighters. As a rebel leader for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, he helped oust President Samuel K. Doe in 1989. Taylor ruled as a warlord; his brutal tactics included using child soldiers. After he gained control of the entire country, he was formally elected president in the 1997 election. However, two groups rebelled against him: Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia. This insurgency eventually ousted him in 2003, by which time he had presided over the deaths of thousands of people. Taylor has never been held accountable for these crimes, as there has been no special court for Liberia like the one for Sierra Leone.
Taylor’s ex-wife Jewel Cianeh Howard Taylor is now vice president. The two met in the early 1980s, when Jewel was a first-year student at the University of Liberia, and had a son. They divorced in 2006 after he married another woman. Charles Taylor has been accused of meddling with the 2017 election from his prison. Some Liberians wonder whether he will be pulling the strings with Jewel in power. It remains to be seen whether these claims prove to be no more than misogynistic assumptions. Weah maintains that he has no contact with Charles Taylor via the vice president, but not everyone is comfortable with another Taylor in a position of power.
During the first 100 days, watch out for how many of Taylor’s old supporters are appointed to positions of power. Also watch for whether any movement for a special court for Liberia will be put on further hold.
3. How will Weah boost the economy?
Finally, Liberia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with nearly 54 percent of its population living below the poverty line. Liberia’s growth slowed dramatically after the Ebola epidemic, leading to a negative growth rate in 2016. Inflation is on the rise, and the currency is depreciating against the dollar. Young people account for about 65 percent of Liberia’s population of 4.1 million, and youth unemployment is estimated to be as high as 85 percent.
Many of Weah’s supporters were from among the young and unemployed — and they will be closely watching his plans and actions on boosting the economy. It is a good sign that he mentioned these priorities in his inauguration address, stressing the importance of infrastructure and seeking foreign direct investments. He has 93 days left to turn those words into some action.
Sabrina Karim is an assistant professor in the government department of Cornell University and has been conducting research in Liberia since 2012.