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Liberian leader George Weah hailed for his sportsmanship after accepting defeat

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Culled from the BBC – Liberian President George Weah has been hailed for his sportsmanship for conceding to his rival in the presidential race – from across the political divide and the region.

“This is a time for graciousness in defeat, a time to place our country above party, and patriotism above personal interest,” the former football star, who has served as Liberia’s president since 2018, said.

The 57-year-old’s phone call to congratulate Joseph Boakai on Friday night has saved the country, which has a history of brutal civil conflict, from a weekend of tension.

“These are great times in Liberia and in Africa because such action on the part of a sitting president is very, very, very rare,” Liberian human rights advocate Hassan Bility told the BBC.

He is the director of the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), which has been documenting evidence of war crimes committed during two civil wars, in which an estimated 250,000 died.

For him, Mr Weah’s concession in the second round – three days before the official results are due to be announced – was not only the action of a great sportsman but “a high mark of statesmanship and peace”.

The former Fifa World Player of the Year has 49.11% of the vote so far from the results of 99.58% of polling stations.

Mr Weah’s special aide, Sekou Kalasco Jomanday, said his move did not come as a surprise.

“That is the kind of person he is, he’s a man of peace – he’s a man who believes the will of the people should always be respected and he will continue to do that,” he told the BBC.

“The president doesn’t believe that one person should lose their life because of any political struggle or one man’s quest to be president by all costs.”

Liberian political analyst Abdullah Kiatamba said Mr Weah had looked at the figures and realised his pathway to victory was “almost impossible”.

“I think this is a victory for Liberian democracy… for an incumbent to concede is a testament to the maturity of our democracy,” he told the BBC.

The elections are the first since the exit of UN peacekeepers who were deployed after the official end of the civil wars in 2003.

Samora Wolokollie, the country’s deputy finance minister, told the BBC the president had been determined to ensure the polls were conducted with the “utmost integrity”.

“He will forever be remembered for this patriotic move,” he said.

The regional bloc Ecowas has also come out with a gushing statement of thanks to Mr Weah.

“Your gracious acceptance of the results of the elections is indicative of your statesmanship and commitment to the consolidation of peace and security in Liberia,” said Omar Alieu Touray, president of the Ecowas Commission, who also commended the free, fair and autonomously organised poll.

Ecowas has been at the forefront of efforts to bring stability to Liberia – at one stage sending up to 12,000 soldiers to the country in the 1990s, with Nigeria troops forming the backbone of a peacekeeping force known as Ecomog.

George Weah’s name has been trending on social media across much of Africa, including in Nigeria where people have been saying that, while his concession is a positive move, it is not unique.

“People are saying that the ‘Jonathan effect’ is catching on – former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, wanted to get another term in 2015, was defeated and he called up then-opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari to congratulate him,” Mannir Dan Ali, former editor-in-chief of Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper, told the BBC.

“It was unprecedented because usually presidents sitting tight will never concede – that is why George Weah has also shown a lot of grace by accepting the will of Liberians and congratulating his opponent.”

Dan Ali says he has noted a certain amount of pride in Nigeria that Liberia is following its example.

“Nigerians are like big brothers to Liberia – remember Nigerians shed their own blood to keep Liberia together, to help them get them out of the civil war. More than $4bn [£3.2bn] of Nigeria’s money was spent on Ecomog. Nigerians, who always like to claim to be the giants of Africa, will be happy to say that in this particular case they showed the way.”

Most analysts agree Mr Weah has shown a red card to those flouting democracy in West Africa, where there has been a recent upsurge in military coups and disputed elections.

“George Weah has set the stage for other countries to follow,” Loretta Pope Kai, chair of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, told the BBC, adding that it showed “the power of the people mattered”.

Mr Bility agreed: “Liberia represents, in my opinion, a beacon of hope for Africa.”

Looking back at Mr Weah’s presidency, he said that the footballer-turned-politician should also be remembered for tolerance and some infrastructural development – his supporters nicknamed him “Bad Road Medicine” after he once said he was the medicine needed to treat bad roads.

“It’s amazing to see that there aren’t any political prisoners in jail, there aren’t journalists in jail, free speech was at its highest,” Mr Bility said.

Supporters of opposition Unity party (UP), of president-elect, Joseph Boakai, celebrate victory in Monrovia, Liberia - 18 November 2023

Officials results will be announced on Monday afternoon but, after President Weah’s concession, Joseph Boakai’s supporters are celebrating

Both Mr Weah and Mr Boakai attended crowded church services in the capital, Monrovia, on Sunday, where they addressed their supporters.

“We would not have been in church today if I had done what others wanted me to do,” said the president, who will step down in January.

“We cannot also blame ourselves for not getting victory, it is a learning curve.”

During his concession speech, he warned his successor that “the closeness of the results reveals a deep division within our country”.

“As we transition to a new administration, we must be vigilant to the dangers of division, and must work together to find common ground.”

Social media has been full of comments reflecting this split, with Liberians documenting his successes (like increasing doctors’ salaries and improving education) and his failures (corruption scandals and poor funding for football).

Indeed the fact that the national team has failed to reach any continental finals over the last five years prompted Cyrus Yeanay, an executive committee member of the Liberia Football Association, to post on Facebook: “George Weah, you were voted [out] for failing football too.”

Meanwhile, at a packed Baptist service, the 78-year-old president-elect told the congregation he was taking his endorsement seriously: “I know what the Liberian people need and deserve.”

His focus on the campaign trial has been on fighting corruption and boosting agricultural production.

But with such high expectations in a divided nation, Mr Bility has two pieces of advice for him: “One, maintain the peace; two, pursue justice.

“Because no matter what, no specific president is going to be able to satisfy the desires and needs of a 176-year-old under-developed country.”

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Could South Africa be the first-ever country to provide a no-strings-attached universal basic income?

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South Africa suffers from severe income inequality — one of the worst anywhere in the world. Its unemployment rate, meanwhile, is over 30%.

But its government thinks it has a solution: a universal basic income .

The idea has broad political support and the country’s largest political party, the African National Congress, said recently it is committed to implementing a universal basic income within two years.

Once the figment of ideological dreamers, a universal basic income — regular direct cash payments to a population with no strings attached — has grown in legitimacy, especially after the success of COVID-era stimulus checks. Tech visionaries racing to develop ever-more advanced artificial intelligence have also suggested implementing a universal basic income. They say it would help mitigate the job losses from AI .

Several other countries have experimented with versions of a universal basic income. Kenya, for instance, offers unconditional payments to about 20,000 people in 200 different towns.

In the United States, numerous cities and some states are experimenting on a small scale with guaranteed basic incomes , which offer no-strings-attached payments but only to select groups of people in need. While studies have shown these American programs to be successful, they have also run up against significant political opposition .

But in South Africa, most political parties are all for it. They just need to work out the details.

“The ANC is committed to finalizing a comprehensive policy on the basic income support grant within two years of the new ANC administration, ensuring broad consultation and expedited action,” South Africa’s ruling party said in a statement .

That statement came a week before hotly contested general elections on May 29, which saw the ANC lose its majority in parliament. The ANC is now working to form a unity government and a commitment to implementing a universal basic income will almost certainly come up in negotiations.

According to the party, a study at the University of Johannesburg showed that a majority of South African citizens “fully support the introduction of a basic income support grant.”

While South Africa provides payments to certain groups living below the poverty line through its Social Relief Distress grant program, the ANC plan would open eligibility to all South African adults, the Guardian reported .

The ANC said it is “exploring” options, like new tax measures and a new social-security tax, to fund the program. The party also says its goal for the program is not to replace existing social-security programs, but to complement them.

If it follows through, the ANC plan would make South Africa the first country to provide a universal basic income.

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In a historic election, South Africa’s ANC loses majority for the first time

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party has lost its outright majority for the first time in a devastating blow for the party once led by Nelson Mandela. The ANC has dominated South African politics since winning in the first post-apartheid elections 30 years ago.

The ANC was braced for a disappointing outcome, predicted by polls before Wednesday’s elections, but the final results are even more sobering. It won 40 percent of the vote, falling from 57% in 2019.

Tessa Dooms, a director at Rivonia Circle, a think tank in South Africa, said it was a historic result that diminished the ANC’s three decades hold on power. “The election in South Africa is an important watershed moment that fundamentally changes politics,” she said.

According to the constitution, the party with the largest vote has two weeks from the result confirmation to form a new government. The ANC will now have to form a coalition government with one or more opposition parties for the first time, to remain in power.

Driving the party’s waning support is an all too bleak reality for millions of people.

South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with 32% unemployed, along with soaring levels of crime. Immense frustrations with water and electricity shortages as well as corruption have led to growing criticism of the ANC government.

For many, the initial progress that followed liberation from white-minority rule has not been sustained. Despite significant achievements in Africa’s most industrialized nation, inequalities inherited from the apartheid regime have remained, and over the last decade, even worsened. The party’s vote share has fallen by a few percent in every election since 2004 — exacerbated by a generation divide, with younger voters born after apartheid, the so-called “born frees”, less likely to vote for the ANC.

“On the one hand, we overcame apartheid as a structural force,” Dooms said, “On the other hand, we have not actually changed many of the dynamics. We inherited inequality of one form, and we have doubled down on inequality in South Africa and another form going forward and it has hurt us.”

But in this election, the gradual decline in ANC support over the last 20 years grew more dramatic, Dooms said. “The ANC has in some ways imploded in the form of its former president, Jacob Zuma. The rise of the MK is certainly the biggest story of this election.”

The fall and rise of Zuma

The controversial, convicted former ANC leader’s new party, the uMkhonto weSizwe party, or MK, was the story of the election. MK was named after the disbanded military wing of the ANC, and registered just six months ago. But in a short space of time the party has soared above expectations. The party was bolstered by many former ANC supporters and a base of largely poor and ethnically Zulu South Africans who followed Zuma’s lead and left the ANC. It is now the third-largest party in South Africa, with almost 15%.

It caps a dramatic fall and rise of the 82-year-old leader. While a conviction bars him from being elected into parliament, as leader of the MK, he could now be a significant player in the negotiations to form a new coalition government, and could use his power to attempt to avoid a further conviction.

Zuma was forced to resign from the presidency in 2018, and was convicted in 2021 of failing to present himself at a corruption trial against him. He is also due to be tried again next year for corruption in an alleged arms deal in 1999.

The populist leader has accused his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, of being behind his legal troubles. Now Zuma has inflicted a major defeat on his rival, who is likely to face pressure from some in his party to resign.

Zuma’s daughter and MK member, Duduzile Sambudla, told NPR, “The MK is not willing to go into a coalition with the ANC of Ramaphosa,” she said, implying that a coalition would be possible without Ramaphosa.

The MK’s success against the ANC is most significant in South Africa’s second-most populous province, KwaZulu Natal (KZN). The party won almost 46% of the vote, against nearly 18% for the ANC in a landslide result.

Liberation icon Nelson Mandela first voted at the Ohlange High Schoolin Durban, KZN, in 1994, when he became president. Thirty years later, many voters at the same polling unit echoed a similar sentiment: frustration with the state of the country, and a desire for change.

Nqobile Khumalo, 24, arrived at the polling station shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and was voting for the first time. “We just really hope that there will be change,” she said. Tracy Bongiwe Zondo, 39, went further. “Before now I was voting for the ANC but now I’m voting for MK because I need a change in our community,” she said.

President Ramaphosa’s future is now an open question. He is the first ANC president to lose the party’s majority, has overseen the steepest fall in share of the vote (17%), and turnout has reduced to 58 percent. The ANC’s head of elections, Nomvula Mokonyane told NPR Ramaphosa would not step down. “Nobody’s going to resign,” she said. But Ramaphosa faces a major challenge to survive the duration of his second term, if he manages to form a government that based on the results, will likely be divisive.

Culled from NPR

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Congressional Black Caucus condemns Speaker Johnson’s treatment of Kenya’s president

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The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) shared a post online Wednesday condemning Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) for refusing to host Kenyan President William Ruto for a joint meeting of Congress, which is typically extended to other international leaders.

“While @SpeakerJohnson might not have given the President of Kenya the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress, the CBC was proud to welcome President Ruto to the United States Capitol today,” the CBC posted on the social platform X . “We were honored to present President Ruto honorary membership in the CBC.”

Ruto is in town for a state dinner Thursday, President Biden’s sixth state dinner since taking office.

He posted on X highlighting CBC’s role in “advancing social justice, human rights and economic development across the globe.”

“We implore the Congress to take lead in reconfiguring the global financial architecture where power is not in the hands of the few. A bold, robust and targeted approach will free Africa of the debt burden and transform the world,” Ruto said on X .

The Hill has reached out to Johnson’s office for comment; it released statement to USA Today that Johnson offered the Kenyan Embassy “over 90 minutes of engagement including a one-on-one visit with Speaker Johnson, bipartisan leadership meeting with Speaker Johnson, Leader Jeffries, and Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members, and a bicameral meeting.”

Ruto said he was honored to be recognized as an honorary member of the CBC and shared photos of his visit.

The dinner will honor the 60th anniversary of the United States’s partnership with Kenya, and Biden plans to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally , the first in sub-Saharan Africa.

The post from the CBC was meant as a dig against Johnson, who is planning to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. Johnson’s invitation has been met with pushback from some Democrats as the war between Israel and Hamas continues in Gaza.

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