George Weah, the prodigal son of Liberia, returns to bid for presidency

He was the first African to become a truly international football legend - and the people of Liberia are hoping he will bring his golden touch to their troubled country.

After almost 20 years of global celebrity, the football star and all-round African hero, George Weah, has returned to his home country to launch a bid for the presidency.

"As you know, my people have petitioned me some time ago, so I have come to answer their petition," the former Fifa World Player of the Year and Chelsea striker told the thousands of devoted fans who turned out to welcome him on Wednesday. Mr Weah, who is one of 35 contenders standing in next autumn's elections, asked his countrymen to "pray so that God will bring peace, and stability and bring about unification" in their country.

Mr Weah told the crowds thronging around his motorcade that he was delighted to be home. He vowed to work for unity in his war-ravaged country and appealed to the people to ensure next year's vote is carried out democratically.

"During the electoral process, there will be different ideologies and beliefs," he explained on national radio yesterday. "But we must embrace each other and be harmonious in unifying Liberia through our love and tolerance."

What Mr Weah's speech lacked in solid policies it made up with rousing appeals. The 38-year-old sportsman is largely a political neophyte and received only a basic education - but he certainly knows how to carry the crowds.

"With your support, we can make it," he told the people, confidently. They, in turn, seem equally confident he will be the man to usher their struggling nation into a brighter future.

Weah, who along with being named the Fifa Player of the Year in 1995 and coaching the Liberian national side in the mid-1990s, also became a Unicef goodwill ambassador in 1997. Harnessing his global popularity to help causes such as the fight against Aids in Africa and the promotion of vocational training programmes to rehabilitate child soldiers, he has built up a reputation as a star with a deep social conscience, even earning the accolade of "The African Pride" from the former South African president, Nelson Mandela.

Unsurprisingly, many Liberians have come to regard him as the man who could lead the country to long-desired times of peace. Many of the supporters who turned out to meet him on Wednesday were wearing T-shirts proclaiming Weah "The People's Choice".

"I think he could become a good president because he's rich so he's not going to steal the country's money. And he has the country at heart," one fan told the Associated Press.

The quick-footed striker left the capital, Monrovia, at the age of 20 and went on to terrorise defences throughout Europe, playing for Paris St Germain, AC Milan, AS Monaco, Chelsea and Manchester City, before devoting his full attention to the Liberian national squad, which he coached and subsidised during the first years of his retirement.

But on his frequent trips to Liberia, he bore witness to his country's desperate slide into war and poverty.

The current interim government was formed when a deal with rebel fighters was made in 2003 and the warlord, Charles Taylor, was ousted.

Headed by popular entrepreneur Gyude Bryant, the temporary administration presides over a fragile peace still struggling to recover from 14 years of bloodshed. Fifteen thousand UN peacekeeping troops play a crucial role in a country still reeling from the deaths and forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of its people.

Liberians are in no doubt of the importance of next October's vote; 35 people have already announced they will stand for president, with 15 parties registered to take part.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recuitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn