What’s it About?
The life of Liberian President George Weah, a former international football player, as told through the stories of those he’s encountered throughout his journey.
By Katie Bloomer, Contributing Writer
People want heroes to look up to. For many Liberians, George Weah represents such a hero. From the slums of Monrovia to international football stadiums to political office, Weah’s life story has inspired a nation.
Liberian newspaper editor and award-winning investigative journalist Rodney D. Sieh captures this story in his latest biography, George Weah: The Story of Africa’s Footballer President (FrontPageAfrica). The book follows the rise of Liberia’s current president, a former international football player, as told through the stories of those he’s encountered throughout his journey.
Without the blessing of President Weah to tell this story, Sieh’s “unofficial biography” relies on the accounts of numerous people alongside an abundance of research and other public sources. Sieh incorporates everything from public speeches and government documents to the real-life accounts of those who knew Weah in his youth, the ones who helped him rise to fame as an international football player, and his political allies and opponents.
Football & War
Weah’s story began as a skilled young football player with little encouragement or opportunity — “a raw, untapped talent, waiting to be polished and unleashed.”
With the help of mentors, agents, coaches and managers, Weah was able to refine his football skills and ascend to greatness on the field. Over the years, he was recruited by multiple large teams overseas and played internationally. Sieh captures how difficult it was for Weah to adjust to each new team, but in the end, he always earned his place.
Weah’s rising football career sits against the foreboding backdrop of the Liberian Civil War. Sieh describes the complex political history of Liberia that led to this years-long civil unrest, including the night Weah’s home caught fire at the hands of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
Perhaps it was this growing tension and unrest that led Weah to pursue a political path after retiring from his football career. For a long time Weah seemed to distance himself from politics, especially the corrupt and often life-threatening politics of the time. So it certainly took everyone by surprise when he ran for the presidential office.
Sieh reveals that many felt apprehensive about Weah because “he was a man lacking confidence in his new-found terrain of politics while gambling on his popularity to take him to the Presidency.” While it would be many years before Weah won the presidency, by 2018 he would have his victory.
In his inauguration speech, Weah continued to call upon his football history to inspire his followers.
“I have spent many years of my life in stadiums, but today is a feeling like no other … I guarantee you, when we finish, there will not be a winning or a losing side. Today, we all wear the jersey of Liberia, and the victory belongs to the people, to peace, and to democracy.”
The country certainly had cause to celebrate that day; Weah’s inauguration was the first peaceful transition of power Liberia had seen in decades. But that doesn’t mean Weah had an easy presidency ahead of him. He inherited a government in a tough spot; early on, his administration battled issues of human rights, poverty, corruption, discrimination and abuse.
The Good & The Bad
Today, some hail Weah as “the grassroots messiah” and applaud his impact as president along with his various humanitarian projects across Africa. Others criticize his violation of press freedoms, failure to support education/health projects, and misallocation of public funds.
As a football fan himself, Sieh understands Weah’s immeasurable contribution to the field. But as a politician, Sieh holds him to a higher standard and doesn’t yet know if Weah will live up to his expectations.
“In football, the icon will always be revered as one of the game’s greatest,” he says. “In politics, the jury is still out with Weah holding his destiny in his own hands.”
Sieh explores Weah’s presidential successes and failures; we’ll just have to wait and see what will happen in the upcoming 2023 election.
Fighting for Liberia
Given Weah’s history with disliking the press, Sieh took a big chance publishing this book. In the end, his representation of Weah is honest and fair — incorporating both the good and the bad — just as a journalist’s voice should be.
Sieh’s journalism experience shines through in the depth of research and sources used in writing this story. Readers can tell he is upholding his promise to fight for the Liberian people, and that includes holding their politicians accountable.
Whether you have a personal interest in Liberian/African history, political drama or football, you’re sure to enjoy this book.
About Rodney D. Sieh:
Rodney Dean Sieh is an award-winning journalist, editor and publisher of Liberia’s largest independent print and online daily, FrontPageAfrica, a ground-breaking publication that has brought down senior government figures and exposed political corruption.
Jailed twice for publishing dissenting articles about the powerful Liberian government and its Supreme Court, Rodney, a former Correspondent for the BBC, faced final sentencing of 5,000 years in prison in 2013. The ruling sparked an international outcry and prompted support from numerous high-profile journalist-rights organizations, inspiring Sieh’s now-infamous op-ed in The New York Times entitled “Jailed for Journalism” and leading to his eventual release.
Fearless in his quest to speak truth to power and push the bounds of investigative journalism, Rodney is the recipient of multiple journalism and press-freedom awards across the world, including Journalist of the Year. In 2014, he was named one of Reporters Without Borders top 100 “Information Heroes” and is the bestselling author of Journalist on Trial: Fighting Corruption, Media Muzzling and a 5,000-Year Prison Sentence in Liberia.