Thousands of people gathered in Liberia’s capital Monrovia on Sunday as opposition leader Joseph Boakai started his campaign ahead of October elections that would put ex-football star President George Weah’s popularity to the test after a turbulent first term.
Supporters of the soft-spoken Boakia, 78, who finished second to Weah in the 2017 elections and has been called “Sleepy Joe” by enemies for reportedly dozing at public engagements, braved the rain to dance, wave flags, and demand change at a stadium.
Some erstwhile Weah supporters were present, disillusioned by his failure to improve living conditions or wipe out corruption in the poor West African country, which has been battered this century by a civil war, a horrific Ebola outbreak, and economic downturns.
“We thought he (Weah) was going to bring the change he promised, but nothing,” said businesswoman Martha Gould. “I need change for the better.”
Weah came to power on a wave of hope that the hugely popular former world soccer player of the year could improve things, despite his lack of political experience.
But a series of scandals have set him back.
Last year, the United States imposed sanctions on three officials, including Weah’s chief of staff Nathaniel McGill, for corruption, including allegedly misappropriating state assets. Weah fired the officials, who deny wrongdoing.
In 2018, a Liberian court issued arrest warrants for more than 30 former central bank officials in connection with $104 million that went missing.
An error in the accounting of fuel supplies in state-run tanks left Liberia short on gasoline in 2020, causing panic at the pumps.
Still, it remains to be seen if Boakai and his Unity Party can turn the tide. Weah remains popular across much of the country, and the economy grew nearly 5% last year, driven by gains in agriculture and mining, the World Bank says.