Liberian president scores own goal

10 Jun 19

Large protests have signalled growing public discontent with the economic policies and failure to tackle corruption of Liberia’s former footballer turned president.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through the capital Monrovia on Friday in protest against George Weah’s record just 18 months into his presidency.

Riot police were out in force and the government blocked social media and messaging services, according to civil society groups.

Hopes were high when Weah, a celebrated footballer in Liberia, took over from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, who came under increasing fire after 12 years in power over allegations of nepotism.

Weah who grew up in a Monrovia slum before becoming a celebrated international footballer, won elections in 2017 raising high hopes in the country of 4.5 million people where 64% live below the poverty line.

In one of his first acts as president, he pledged to cut his own salary by 25% to fix the country’s “broken” economy. 

The Liberian economy was hit badly by an Ebola outbreak between 2014–16 that killed thousands, low commodity prices for its main exports like iron ore and rubber, and falling foreign aid.

However, under Weah inflation has soared – peaking at 28.5% in December – thereby pushing up the cost of essential everyday items.

In March, the IMF revised down Liberia’s economic growth forecast for 2019 to 0.4% from 4.7%, and it has said the government’s wage bill is too high.

Its report said: “Productive spending is being crowded out by a wage bill, including discretionary allowances, that totals about two-thirds of government-funded expenditure.

“This is not a new issue – it has been a characteristic of the Liberian economy for a number of years. However, as grants and other external assistance decline, this is no longer a tenable situation.”

Last year Weah ordered a cash injection of US$25m to remove excess Liberian dollars from the economy and control inflation, but he has admitted recently that US$8m of it had not been used and blasted the central bank for a “major lack of systems and controls”.

In February 2018, Liberia and the World Bank signed a $24.67m grant agreement to boost economic reforms and governance in the west African country with a focus on transparency and accountability.

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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