Liberia’s new President Joseph Boakai, 79, showed signs of great fatigue attributed by those around him to the high heat during his inauguration ceremony on Monday January 22 in Monrovia, where he succeeded the former football star George Weah at the head of this small West African state. Mr. Boakai, whose advanced age and state of health are sources of debate in Liberia, had to take a break and finished his speech seated during a ceremony in front of Parliament in the presence of foreign delegations and local notables which was held in intense heat, according to an AFP correspondent.

“Heat exhaustion contributed to the few minutes of interruption in his speech, but it ended successfully and his doctors advised the president to return home,” Amos told AFP Tweh, general secretary of Mr. Boakai’s party. “The president was not taken to the hospital. Everything went well, the president is normal and doing well. He has returned to his usual duties,” he added.

In his speech, President Boakai emphasized the need to rebuild failing infrastructure, improve basic services for all and provide equal opportunities for success to all Liberians. “We see tough times, we see dysfunction. (…) We see corruption in high places and low places. And it is under these conditions that we came to the rescue,” declared the president, promising to tackle impunity and fight for respect for the rule of law.

Corruption and high levels of poverty

The veteran of Liberian politics, vice president from 2006 to 2018 under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and a servant of the state for more than forty years, won the presidential runoff in November with 50.64% of the vote , compared to 49.36% for his opponent George Weah.

The vote was peaceful, in West Africa where democracy has been undermined in recent years by a succession of military coups (Mali, Burkina, Guinea, Niger). Mr. Weah, who defeated Mr. Boakai in 2017 in the second round, admitted his defeat before his opponent’s victory was made official, attracting international praise. Mr. Boakai takes office as the country of five million inhabitants, seeking stability after years of civil wars and an Ebola epidemic, is faced in particular with corruption and a high level of poverty.

During the elections, Mr. Boakai allied himself with local barons, such as former warlord Prince Johnson, who supported George Weah in 2017 and who still enjoys strong support in his northern province of Nimba. East). Mr. Johnson, who was videotaped sipping beer while his men tortured President Samuel Doe to death in 1990 and who is under U.S. sanctions for corruption, placed one of his men, Jeremiah Koung, in position of vice-president of Mr. Boakai.

“Rebuild our country”

“Expectations for Mr. Boakai’s presidency are high because of his experience of state, his reputation for probity and as someone who tried to live in the simplest way,” he told the AFP a former local elected official in Nimba county, Larry Nyanquoi. “All [Liberian] leaders promised to crack down on corruption and improve economic conditions [of the people] but failed to do so. He [Mr. Boakai] must make the difference,” said analyst Abdulla Kiatamba of the Geo Baraka Group of Strategists, a consulting organization.

A drop in prices of products such as gasoline and rice is expected, according to John Kollie, head of the NGO Liberia Media for Democratic Initiatives.

The president-elect called on Liberians to unite “as one people to rebuild our country,” in a rare public statement in late November after his election. He had promised “to extend development throughout the country”, in particular by building roads in the South-East region, “neglected for years”. He also said he would carry out a “radical” reform of security and justice and enforce the rule of law.

For his part, outgoing President Weah announced that he was drawing a definitive line on the presidency. Aged 57, he cited his age in 2029, the date of the next presidential election, in a recording of his remarks to which AFP had access.