Liberia’s President-Elect Pledges to Address Economic Hardship

(Bloomberg) -- Liberian opposition leader and president-elect Joseph Boakai has pledged to reunite the country and turn around the economy to end citizens’ hardships.

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Boakai, who beat former football star and incumbent George Weah in the country’s closest elections in decades, secured 50.6% of the vote in the Nov. 14 runoff polls, final results released by the National Elections Commission showed. Weah got 49.4%, it said.

“We will move to reconcile the country and make sure that we all get on board to build our country,” Boakai told reporters Monday night. “We know the cost of living in this country. We want to improve it.”

A former AC Milan star and FIFA World Player of the Year, Weah saw his support eroded by rising living costs and endemic corruption. Boakai, 78, who lost to Weah in 2017, has campaigned on anti-Weah sentiment.

Boakai now faces the challenge of dealing with an economic crisis spawned by rising food and fuel prices that triggered riots in December.

Inflation quickened to 12.4% in June, the fastest pace in more than two years, before easing to 10% in September. The Liberian dollar has depreciated about 18% against the US currency this year.

Boakai, who previously served as deputy to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from 2006 to 2018, has said he’ll boost economic growth by improving the nation’s infrastructure and increasing farm output.

“We want to quickly review and find reasons for some of the hardship, especially in areas that are essential to their livelihood,” Boakai said. The results were the tightest since end of civil war in 2003.

The father of four was minister of agriculture from 1983 to 1985. Boakai was managing director of state-owned Liberia Produce Marketing Corp. and once headed Liberia Petroleum Refining Co.

Boakai will also need to tackle graft — Liberia ranks 142nd out of 180 nations on advocacy group Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index. Last year, Weah accepted the resignations of three close allies when the US Treasury imposed sanctions on them after they were implicated in cases involving dubious contracts and the diversion of public funds.

The country of about 5.4 million people is struggling to recover from two civil wars and its worst outbreak of Ebola that peaked in 2014. Per-capita income stood at $754.50 last year, about half the sub-Saharan African average, according to the World Bank.

(Recasts with Boakai’s comments from first paragraph.)

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