Joy and hope in Liberia as Weah is sworn in

Liberia’s former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the new President elect George Weah speak during his swearing-in ceremony at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Liberia, January 22, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 22 January 2018
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Joy and hope in Liberia as Weah is sworn in

MONROVIA: To the cheers of a crowd fired by his promise to bring them jobs and prosperity, former football star George Weah was sworn in as president of Liberia on Monday, completing the country’s first transition between democratically-elected leaders since 1944.
Weah, 51, took over from Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who over 12 years steered the country away from the trauma of a civil war, although prosperity eluded her.
Weah was sworn in as president by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Francis Korkpor, at a packed sports stadium near the capital, Monrovia.
The presidents of Gabon, Ghana and Sierra Leone, along with friends and fellow African football stars, including Cameroonian legend Samuel Eto’o, watched as he took the historic oath of office.
“I have spent many years of my life in stadiums, but today is a feeling like no other,” Weah said, as he thanked Sirleaf for “laying the foundations on which we can now stand in peace.”

His first priorities, he said, would be to root out corruption and pay civil servants “a living wage,” and encourage the private sector.
But he urged the public to show solidarity for the tasks that lay ahead.
“United, we are certain to succeed as a nation, divided we are certain to fall,” he declared.
Crowds queued for kilometers (miles), singing, dancing and waving the Liberian flag as they waited for their hero, who rose from the slums of Monrovia to the nation’s highest office.
“Today is one of the most exciting days of my life,” said Benjamin Bee, a 21-year-old student at the University of Liberia as he waited in line with thousands of others.
“The man I’m supporting now, President Weah, is an icon, he is my role model. Today is not just an inaugural program for us Liberians, but signifies that Liberia has found itself.”
Weah played for a string of top-flight European teams in the 1990s and was crowned the world’s best player by FIFA and won the coveted Ballon d’Or prize, the only African to have achieved this.
After losing his first run at the presidency to Sirleaf in 2005, he spent the next dozen years attempting to gain political credibility to match his popularity, becoming a senator in 2014.
Sirleaf will be remembered for maintaining peace after the harrowing 1989-2003 civil war left an estimated 250,000 dead.
But extreme poverty remains entrenched. Liberia ranks 177th on the 188 countries in the Human Development Index compiled by the UN Development Programme, which assesses health, education and economic progress.
At a church service attended by Sirleaf and Weah on Sunday, the pair presented a united front following a bruising election campaign in which Sirleaf’s longtime vice president Joseph Boakai failed to convince as her successor while alleging fraud had marred the ballot.
Legal proceedings lodged by Boakai delayed a run-off vote to December 26, when Weah won a massive 61.5 percent of the vote.
The transition period also shrank, giving Weah less than a month to prepare for government rather than the three months initially scheduled.
Analysts hailed Liberia’s achievement in having two successive transitions of power by democratically-elected leaders.
But they were also mindful of the rocky road ahead, especially the challenges posed by sky-high public expectations and likely opposition to his reforms by the Liberia’s establishment.
Liberia’s depressed export economy is highly reliant on rubber and iron ore. More than 60 percent of its 4.6-million citizens are under 25, and many voted for Weah in the belief he would quickly boost employment.
“He will need to manage expectations carefully: this window of optimism will be short,” Elizabeth Donnelly, a research fellow at the London think tank, Chatham House, told AFP.
“Weah has already stated that he will seek more investment into the private sector — he understands that Liberia has a large youth population, whose expectations and needs he must satisfy.
“This means tangible change in terms of visible civil infrastructure, and it means more jobs and opportunity,” she said.
“But the reality is there is also a political establishment whose expectations he will also try to meet.”


Ex-Central Africa militia leader arrives at ICC detention center: spokesman

In this file photo taken on October 29, 2018 members of the armed forces arrest Central African MP Alfred Yekatom aka "Rambo" (C), who represents the southern M'baiki district former militia leader, after he fired the gun at the parliament in Bangui. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Ex-Central Africa militia leader arrives at ICC detention center: spokesman

  • The ICC said Yekatom would be tried for “alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity” carried out by so-called anti-balaka militias

THE HAGUE: A former Central African Republic militia leader nicknamed “Col. Rambo” arrived on Saturday in The Hague, where he will stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
Currently a lawmaker, Alfred Yekatom’s extradition was the first of its kind from the CAR.
“The suspect arrived in the detention center,” said ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah of the former army officer, who was the target of US sanctions in 2015 for suspected attacks against Muslims, civilian deaths, and for using child fighters.
After being elected to parliament in 2016, Yekatom, 43, was arrested in October for opening fire inside the legislature while its new president was being elected.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda welcomed the extradition, saying it “advances the cause of justice in the Central African Republic” and promising that she would continue to pursue her “quest for truth and justice.”
Pierre Brunisso from the International Federation of Human Rights watchdog added that it sent “a strong message to the leaders of armed groups.”
“Those who think they can claim an amnesty at the negotiating table are mistaken,” he said.
The ICC said Yekatom would be tried for “alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity” carried out by so-called anti-balaka militias.
The court launched an investigation in September 2014 into crimes committed in the country since 2012.
A three-judge bench of The Hague-based court’s pre-trial chamber issued an arrest warrant against Yekatom last Sunday.
“The Chamber is satisfied that the overall supporting evidence is sufficient to establish reasonable grounds that Yekatom bears criminal responsibility,” the judges said in the warrant, made public by the ICC late on Saturday.
This included acts of murder, torture, deportation and using child soldiers younger than 15 years in the anti-balaka group between December 5, 2013 and August 2014.
In continuing violence the CAR, however, a Tanzanian peacekeeper died late Friday after an attack on a United Nations base and a priest was found burned to death, the UN and the Catholic Church said after sectarian clashes that claimed nearly 40 lives.
The soldier died of injuries sustained in the raid on the base in Gbambia in the country’s west, the UN mission MINUSCA said.

An armed group called Siriri, created this year by Fulani cattle herders, operates in the area. Led by a man named Ardo Abba, its purported aim is to thwart attacks by cattle rustlers.
The UN said the group had attacked Gbambia in mid-June. A Tanzanian UN peacekeeper died that month after Siriri staged an ambush in the region.
Meanwhile, the priest’s charred body was recovered in the central town of Alindao, Father Mathieu Bondobo, vicar-general of the main cathedral in Bangui, told AFP.
On Friday, the UN said 37 deaths were confirmed in Alindao — including that of another priest — while 20,000 people were affected by the violence. “Thousands” were forced to flee.
The bloodletting began Thursday when Christian militiamen killed Muslims, prompting revenge attacks during which a church was set ablaze.
Alindao is a stronghold of the Union for Peace in CAR (UPC), a Muslim militia. It has witnessed chronic fighting in recent months that has also killed other UN soldiers and a humanitarian aid worker.

One of the world’s poorest nations despite a rich supply of diamonds and uranium, the CAR has struggled to recover from a 2013 civil war that erupted when President Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.
In response, Christians, who account for about 80 percent of the population, organized vigilante units dubbed “anti-balaka” in reference to a type of machete.
In September, the UN warned of a “disastrous” humanitarian situation in the region, which it said was under the control of armed groups.
The government controls only a small part of the country.
The UN has about 12,500 personnel deployed in the CAR as part of its MINUSCA mission, one of the world body’s largest peacekeeping forces.