Thousands gathered in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, on Sunday as opposition leader Joseph Boakai officially launched his campaign in anticipation of the upcoming October elections.
These elections are poised to serve as a litmus test for the popularity of President George Weah, the former football superstar, who is seeking re-election following a tumultuous first term.
Supporters of the soft-spoken Boakai, aged 78, who finished as the runner-up to Weah in the 2017 elections, passionately braved the rain at a stadium. They danced, waved flags, and fervently called for change.
Among the attendees were some former Weah enthusiasts who have grown disillusioned with what they perceive as his inability to elevate living standards or eradicate corruption in Liberia, an impoverished West African nation that has endured a series of challenges this century, including a civil war, a devastating Ebola outbreak, and fluctuations in commodities prices.
"We had hoped that President Weah would deliver on his promises of change, but alas, we've seen nothing of the sort," remarked businesswoman Martha Gould. "We yearn for a better future."
Weah ascended to power on a wave of optimism, with many believing that the former world soccer player of the year could bring about positive change despite his lack of political experience. However, a string of scandals has marred his administration.
Last year, the United States imposed sanctions on three officials, including Weah's chief of staff Nathaniel McGill, for corruption allegations, including the alleged misappropriation of state assets. Weah promptly dismissed these officials, who vehemently deny any wrongdoing.
In 2018, a Liberian court issued arrest warrants for over 30 former central bank officials in connection with the disappearance of $104 million. An accounting error regarding fuel supplies in state-run tanks left Liberia facing a gasoline shortage in 2020, causing widespread panic at fuel stations.
Nonetheless, the question remains whether Joseph Boakai and his Unity Party can reverse the tide. President Weah continues to enjoy popularity across significant parts of the country, and the economy experienced nearly 5% growth last year, primarily driven by advances in agriculture and mining, as reported by the World Bank.