The inauguration of former football star George Weah as the President of Liberia got underway on Monday to scenes of joy and giddy optimism on Monday, a moment marking the troubled country’s first peaceful democratic transition since 1944.
Weah, 51, takes over from Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who spent 12 years at the helm steering the West African nation away from the trauma of a civil war.
Expectations are sky-high among Liberians that Weah will deliver on his promises of jobs and better schools.
The inauguration began in Samuel Kanyon Doe stadium near the capital, Monrovia, with several African heads of state in attendance, along with friends and former colleagues from his football years.
Crowds queued for kilometres (miles) to reach the stadium, singing, dancing and waving the Liberian flag as they waited.
Inside the stadium, the cheers were deafening as well-known figures from Liberian public life filed in before the stands.
“Today is one of the most exciting days of my life,” said Benjamin Bee, a 21-year-old student at the University of Liberia as he waited in line with thousands of others.
“The man I’m supporting now, President Weah, is an icon, he is my role model. Today is not just an inuagural programme for us Liberians, but signifies that Liberia has found itself.”
Weah played for a string of top-flight European teams in the 1990s and was crowned the world’s best player by FIFA and won the coveted Ballon d’Or prize, the only African to have achieved this.
After losing his first run at the presidency to Sirleaf in 2005, he has spent the last 13 years attempting to gain the political credibility to match his wild popularity at home, becoming a senator in 2014.