Joseph Boakai sworn in as Liberian president


Joseph Boakai (C), leader of the main opposition party, the Unity Party (UP), registers to vote in Monrovia on November 14, 2023. Liberians began voting on November 14, 2023 to decide whether to hand former football star George Weah a second term as president despite a controversial record, or to elect political veteran Joseph Boakai despite his age. (Photo by RAMI BALAGHI / AFP)

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(AFP) – Joseph Boakai was sworn in Monday as Liberia‘s president after his election victory over former football star George Weah, with the challenge of tackling poverty and corruption.

The 79-year-old narrowly beat former Ballon d’Or winner Weah in November’s run-off poll with 50.64 percent of the votes to 49.36 percent.

The investiture ceremony in parliament was attended by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Boakai, who will be steering Africa’s oldest republic for six years, has 40 years of political experience behind him.

He was vice-president from 2006 to 2018 under Africa’s first elected female head of state Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, before being soundly beaten by Weah in the 2017 election.

November’s poll in the West African country was peaceful in a region that has seen a succession of military coups in recent years in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger.

But the small nation of five million has been plagued with corruption, high levels of poverty and a weak justice system, after years of back-to-back civil wars and an Ebola outbreak.

Impunity related to crimes committed during those civil wars is another unresolved issue.

– Backed by ex-warlord –

Boakai aligned himself with local barons during his election campaign, including former warlord Prince Johnson.

Johnson, who enjoys strong support in northeastern Nimba County, backed Weah in 2017.

Johnson was also famously seen drinking a beer in a video while his men tortured to death former president Samuel Doe.

He has nominated one of his associates, Jeremiah Koung, as Boakai‘s vice-president. Johnson himself is under US sanctions.

Liberians expect Boakai to create jobs, improve the economy, strengthen institutions and fight corruption — which was one of his key campaign pledges.

“Expectations of Boakai‘s presidency are high,” Larry Nyanquoi, a former local official in Nimba County, told AFP.

Boakai is “seen as somebody who has not engaged in corruption and one who has tried to live the simplest possible life.”

Liberians also expect Boakai to ensure a stable supply of electricity and water, and to improve the road infrastructure to attract investment, Nyanquoi said.

– Challenge of corruption –

The outgoing government did not live up to its commitment to ensure the rule of law was upheld, to establish a war and economic crimes court, and to end impunity in the country.

The mysterious deaths of four government auditors also raised suspicions.

“Every leader has promised to crack down on corruption and they have failed, so he has to say something different,” Abdulla Kiatamba, an analyst at Geo Baraka Group of Strategists, said of Boakai.

“They have promised improved economic conditions and they have also failed so he has to say and do something that will be different.”

Boakai now faces the tricky challenge of accommodating all those who supported his election campaign when he starts distributing jobs, analysts say.

He is also believed to have several people in his inner circle with presidential ambitions of their own.

John Kollie, the executive director of Liberia Media for Democratic Initiatives, told AFP that Boakai was expected to drop the prices of basic commodities such as gasoline and rice.

© Agence France-Presse





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