As Liberia’s newly inaugurated president, Joseph Boakai, delivered his speech on January 22, 2024, concerns arose as he had to be assisted away from the podium after two pauses.
During his speech, Boakai paused, prompting aides to rush to his side and provide assistance. Despite a brief resumption, another pause resulted in the ceremony’s termination, with assistants assisting him as he left the podium, according to on-site Reuters correspondents.
Critics, particularly opponents during the election campaign, had raised concerns about Boakai’s age and energy. However, his team had previously dismissed these criticisms.
The 79-year-old, who secured victory over George Weah in a runoff election in November, took the oath of office in an outdoor ceremony amid sweltering heat in Monrovia, the capital of the West African nation.
He is fine – Spokesperson
Boakai’s spokesperson initially refrained from commenting but later stated that the president had recovered from a heat-induced faintness, leading to the abbreviated inauguration speech. Mohammed Ali, the spokesperson for Boakai’s ruling Unity Party, attributed the incident to the high temperature and suggested the need for cooling measures.
“It is the heat. The heat was high. They should have had some fan or something around there,” Ali said after the incident.
“At his age, the exhaustion happened. But it is okay now,” Ali added.
Despite concerns raised about Boakai’s age and stamina during the election campaign, his team remained steadfast in dismissing such criticisms.
In his inaugural address, Boakai, the country’s oldest sitting head of state, pledged to unite Liberia and address its economic challenges. He emphasised the importance of moving from partisanship to nationalism and outlined priorities, including improving adherence to the rule of law, combating corruption, and renewing the hope of citizens.
Boakai narrowly defeated former Ballon d’Or winner Weah in November’s runoff poll, securing 50.64 percent of the vote against Weah’s 49.36 percent. Before losing to Weah in the 2017 election, Boakai had previously served as vice president under Africa’s first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
While the November election was peaceful in a region known for military coups, Liberia, with a population of five million, struggles with issues like corruption, extreme poverty, and a weak justice system brought on by years of civil wars and an Ebola outbreak. The issue of impunity related to crimes committed during the civil wars remains unresolved.