Joseph Boakai has been sworn in as Liberia’s president on Monday following his election victory over former football star George Weah, with the challenge of tackling poverty and corruption.
The 79-year-old narrowly beat former Ballon d’Or winner Weah in November’s run-off poll with 50.64 percent of the votes to 49.36 percent.
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He was sworn in for a six-year term during a ceremony in parliament in the capital Monrovia at 10 am (10:00 GMT) in the presence of several foreign leaders and diplomatic delegations.
Boakai has 40 years of political experience already behind him.
He was vice president from 2006 to 2018 under Liberia’s first female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, before being beaten by Weah in the 2017 election.
But his age has also been questioned by his critics who call him “Sleepy Joe”. During his inauguration, he was unable to complete his speech after pausing twice while delivering it. His aides helped him off the podium and afterward, the presidency said Boakai suffered heat exhaustion during what was an outdoor ceremony. but that doctors had since declared him “perfectly fine.”
“He has resumed his normal activities. He is expected to meet with the Ghanaian President and other dignitaries today,” the statement added.
Hopes and promises
November’s poll in the West African country was peaceful in a region that has seen a succession of military coups in recent years in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger.
But the small nation of 5 million people has been plagued with corruption, high levels of poverty, and a weak justice system, after years of civil war.
Impunity related to crimes committed during those civil wars is another unresolved issue.
Boakai aligned himself with local barons during his election campaign, including former warlord Prince Johnson.
Johnson, who enjoys strong support in the northeastern Nimba County, backed Weah in 2017.
The former warlord was also famously seen drinking a beer in a video while his men tortured to death former President Samuel Doe, in September 1990.
Johnson, who is under US sanctions, nominated one of his associates, Jeremiah Koung, as Boakai’s vice president.
Given his long career in politics, Liberians expect Boakai to create jobs, improve the economy, strengthen institutions, and fight corruption – which was one of his key campaign pledges.
“Expectations of Boakai’s presidency are high,” Larry Nyanquoi, a former local official in Nimba County, told the AFP news agency.
Boakai is “seen as somebody who has not engaged in corruption and one who has tried to live the simplest possible life.”
Liberians also expect Boakai to ensure a stable supply of electricity and water, and to improve the road infrastructure to attract investment, Nyanquoi said.
The outgoing government did not live up to its commitment to establish a war and economic crimes court and to end impunity in the country.
The mysterious deaths of four government auditors also raised suspicions.
“Every leader has promised to crack down on corruption and they have failed, so he has to say something different,” Abdulla Kiatamba, an analyst at Geo Baraka Group of Strategists, said of Boakai.
“They have promised improved economic conditions and they have also failed so he has to say and do something that will be different.”