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Liberians Elect Soccer Star George Weah As Next President


Liberia has a new president.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) George.

KING: The man who has been elected to lead the West African country is a former soccer star, George Weah. And what you heard there was his supporters celebrating last night by chanting his name. Weah beat Liberia's outgoing vice president in a runoff election. And he's going to succeed Africa's first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been monitoring events in Liberia, and she's with us now. Hi, Ofeibea.


KING: So what was the atmosphere like in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, after it became clear that Weah had won?

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely electric - people dancing and singing and chanting but especially saying, George Weah is our king. One of his nicknames is The King and the other is Mr. George. Now they say Mr. George has become Mr. President. But there's a lot now on his shoulders because many, many - especially Liberia's youth, they really identify with George Weah because of the fact that he grew up poor. He grew up in the shantytowns. They feel that they can also make good and perhaps one day become president.

KING: And tell us a little bit more about Weah. You say he grew up poor. How did he get to where he is? How did he become the president of Liberia?

QUIST-ARCTON: By playing soccer, literally. He, you know, used to kick a soccer ball out in the dusty roads of the slums of Liberia. He was seen by a tout, went to Cameroon, ended up playing for Paris Saint-Germain, for Manchester City and, of course, for AC Milan. And from there, when he was - he's the only African ever to have been made the global player of the year by FIFA, the governing body. And then when he gave up soccer - and in between times, you know, he was paying for Liberia's national soccer team, the Lone Stars. He paid for them, literally, to go out and play because Liberia was so poor and was going through war. So at the moment, he has a very good press.

KING: What are Weah's policies? What are the policies that got him elected?

QUIST-ARCTON: Now that is - he did not campaign on policies. He campaigned on promises. And that's a problem because Liberia is facing economic, social security problems from back-to-back wars and then the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2015. The country's economy and especially the infrastructure is absolutely at rock bottom. So he is promising jobs. He's saying that he is up to the task. And Liberians, of course, are going to hold his feet to the fire. I think the honeymoon - the political honeymoon period is going to be very, very short. But he says he is up to it.

KING: And what do you think he will do with Liberia's economy? This is obviously a country that is struggling but is more stable than some countries in Africa. Creating jobs - how will he go about that?

QUIST-ARCTON: A pretty tough act to follow. Liberia has natural resources. It has iron, iron ore. And, also, it has rubber. But the thing is harnessing all of that. And he follows Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is a Harvard trained economist. So he is really going to have to deliver on those promises. It's a tough call.

KING: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on the line from Dakar, Senegal. Thank you so much, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Noel.