A head-butt during a soccer match on November 20, 1996, nearly 26 years ago in reaction to racist taunts on a 29 year old George Manneh Weah of AC Milan by Porto defender Jorge Costa is being used as an evidence of the Liberian president’s penchant for violence according to Alexander Benedict Cummings. Mr. Cummings’ latest outrageous statement, written in an open letter is a cause for concern. It shows a desperate obsession and blind ambition in his drive to pursue the Liberian presidency.
What President Weah accomplished on the soccer pitch is not only a source of pride for Liberians and Africans but for Black people around the globe. His instinctive reaction to racist taunts, fueled by the adrenaline on a football pitch while not condonable but is clearly understandable by Black people everywhere who saw this act as defending the honor and dignity of our race.
Weah was expressing the anger and frustration of every Black player in European soccer who had been called names such as monkey and bamboo. Racism in European football has been a cause of concern by soccer governing authorities. For Mr. Cummings to harp on this unfortunate incident in President Weah’s outstanding football career is political desperation. To mention a headbutt as a result of racist taunts in a political context decades later is a clear manifestation of not understanding the history of Black people in this complex world and also in the history of European soccer.
A visceral act on a football pitch should not be used to score political points, especially when that act was precipitated by conscious and venomous racism. Weah should be applauded for justly standing up for the Black race, although his actions were questionable and he paid a hefty fine of suspension from 6 games. He paid his fine and returned to his spectacular football career making us all very proud.
Zinedine Zidane, France’s ace player who won that country the World Cup in 1998 headbutted Marco Materazzi at the cup final in 2006. Zidane remained in the game and began a very successful manager with a stint at Real Madrid.
It would be useless to remind Mr. Cummings and his elitist party that soccer is a game of the masses, where a young man from Gibralta can rise to the pinnacle of that sport. It would be useful to understand and recognize that the achievements of President Weah as winner of Africa’s Best, European Best and World’s Best in 1995 were unique in the history of the sport. No other African has achieved all three awards in one year. Apparently, Mr. Cummings does not understand what Weah’s success meant to us Liberians during our dark days.
Clearly the first open letter written to President Weah by Mr. Cummings on or around August 31, reminding him of three matters; sanctions, Solomon George remarks and the makeup of election magistrates was meant to score political points and not to propel an engagement model that would effectively deal with these issues. This was political posturing at the primeval level. But Alexander Benedict Cummings did not think he would get a swift and effective response from the President. He was taken by surprise. President Weah responded by reminding Cummings and other elites that the economic and social circumstances in Liberia today are the making of governments they supported and governance styles they want to bring back to Liberia. President Weah asked the following questions: Quote “Where was your voice Mister Cummings, when sixty-plus concessions awarded by the government in which you served were found to be bogus, illegal, and inimical to the interest of the Liberian people?
Where was your voice Mr. Cummings, when the National Oil Company of Liberia was rendered bankrupt?
Where was your voice when cries for the pavement of a short stretch of road from Ganta to Yekepa could not be carried out because your administration – for pecuniary gains – then asked the concessionaire to default on their commitment enshrined in their agreement? Unquote
These questions clearly put Mr. Cummings on the defensive and riled up his anger, precipitating a nasty response from the Political Leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) a party mainly of elites that received around 7 percent in the last presidential election in Liberia. To counter the President’s robust response, Cummings decided to go into the gutter, below the belt falsely dredging up the headbutt and consciously lying or repeating uncorroborated reports that the President supported rebel groups including LURD and MODEL. Questioning the President’s peaceful nature based upon a headbutt in a match on a soccer pitch where winning is everything demonstrates the disingenuousness of Mr. Cummings in his desperate drive to tarnish a man of peace in a quest for the presidency, a quest characterized by acts manifesting blind ambition and disregard for the difficult political circumstances Liberia faces due to 145 years of neglect from the power elites and their allies. Mr. Cummings’ charge that President Weah supported LURD and MODEL is horrific and could be based upon manufactured evidence and or a convoluted sense of reasoning. Why would a man, whose pockets were being depleted by effects of the war by his generosity to Liberian refugees around the World support rebel factions to prolong the pain and suffering of the Liberian people? I was a peace negotiator at the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We delegates never heard any such intelligence report or anything remotely resembling support to any warring faction by Mr. Weah.
Must Mr. Cummings be reminded also that even after the headbutt, in 1997 George Manneh Weah was appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, a recognition that a headbutt during a football match is not disqualifying to holding public office nationally or becoming a global force for international peace and security?
Despite the challenges being faced by the Weah Administration, including anti-Liberia lobbying by the political elites in Washington to impose sanctions, Liberia’s economy grew by a brisk 3.7 percent in 2021 according to the IMF, with growth projected to more than 5 percent over the next several years. Nominal GDP is expected to surpass 5 billion dollars in 2024, propelled by increasing outputs in fisheries, logging and services. The logging and fishery industries are expected to return to prewar outputs and GDP per capita will rebound similarly.
The politician in Mr. Cummings sees the office of the president as an entitlement or reward after what inarguably was a stellar corporate career in the United States of America. Recent spate of actions by Mr. Cummings demonstrate that he will go to any length to achieve his blind ambition. The headbutt dredging and scurrilous charge of President Weah supporting rebel groups are politically motivated . We must all be reminded by Shakespeare that ambition is made of sterner stuff. And therefore Liberian voters will punish Mr. Cummings and the ANC in 2023 for these transgressions against the son of the soil who brought such pride, dignity and glory to the homeland during its darkest hour.
And so it goes.
Samuel P. Jackson is an Urban Economist and Political Commentator residing in Liberia