Charles Taylor should have played soccer like George Weah
I read with great interest the arrest of Charles Taylor, the Idi Amin of West Africa. Taylor was caught trying to flee to Cameroon from Nigeria, where he was living in exile. Taylor is the Liberian despot who is responsible for bringing Liberia to its present economic woes and instigated the horrific civil war in Sierra Leone that killed hundreds of thousands of people. All in his pursuit to enrich himself with shiny baubles. Taylor actively supported a rebel group in neighboring Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), in exchange for diamonds.
He provided the RUF with weapons and related materiel, training, logistical support, a staging ground for attacks, and a safe haven for retreat. Known for its unusual brutality, this notorious rebel group terrorized Sierra Leone by killing civilians and amputating the limbs of tens of thousands of innocent persons, including children. Taylor also sold timber from Liberia's forests to pay for arms for the RUF and to enrich his personal coffers. Since the end of Liberia's civil war in 1997, the export of forest timber became the government's key source of revenue. Forests that once fed and protected rural communities withered, and with the current rate of logging the vast majority of the pristine forests that remain in Liberia will be gone within the next 10 years.
Contrast this with fellow Liberian, George Weah, one of the best known and well liked personalities. Weah was a soccer phenom and the first and only African so far to be named European and FIFA player of the year in 1995. He attained extraordinary success as a club player for Marseilles, Paris St. Germain, and AC MIlan. Unfortunately, Liberia never qualified for the World Cup and he never got a chance to show of his soccer prowess to a wider audience. But during his day he was considered to be the best African player of all times.
After retirement, Weah used football as a way to bring happiness and promote education for children in Liberia. In 1998, Weah launched a CD called Lively Up Africa featuring the singer Frisbie Omo Isibor and eight other African football stars. The proceeds from this CD went to children's programmes in the countries of origin of the athletes involved.
Weah is President of the Junior Professionals, a football team he founded in Monrovia in 1994. As a way to encourage young people to remain in school, the club's only requirement for membership is school attendance. Many of the young people, recruited from all over Liberia, have gone on to play for the Liberian national team.
He recently stood for the October 2005 elections against Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, after a popular petition installed him in the ballot. Weah was favored to win but could not get a majority in the primary. He was beaten narrowly in the run-off. He gracefully acceded not disputing the election results and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first African female head of state. Weah could have resorted to violence upsetting Liberia's fragile peace but he chose not to do so.
George Weah, soccer phenom and humanitarian extra-ordinaire.