Jan. 22 (UPI) — George Weah, international soccer star turned politician, took the oath of office as Liberia’s new president on Monday.
The inauguration of Weah, 51, in a Monrovia stadium was the first peaceful transfer of power in the West African country since 1944. He won a runoff election in December with 61.5 percent of the vote, defeating outgoing vice president Joseph Boakai, who had 38.5 percent.
Weah promised to eliminate government corruption and improve Liberia’s economy. The poverty-stricken country of four million people has seen a decline in global prices in iron ore and rubber, its two major exports, and is overcoming the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015, in which over 4,000 people died. The country’s health care system was debilitated by a civil war that ended in 2003.
After his election, Weah said in a Facebook message, “My fellow Liberians, I deeply feel the emotion of all the nation. I measure the importance and the responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on.”
He had an encouraging Twitter message on Sunday.
“I have many plans for Liberia. Be ready for visible and positive changes,” Weah wrote.
The new president grew up in a Monrovia slum and played soccer. He played professional soccer for the Paris Saint-Germain club. He was FIFA’s World Player of the Year, and retired at 40 in 2002.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela encouraged him to go into politics, and after
graduating from DeVry University in Florida with business and public administration degrees, he ran for the Liberian presidency, losing to Harvard-educated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He lost again in 2011 as a vice presidential candidate but won a senate seat in 2015.