FORMER international football star George Weah has been sworn into office as Liberia’s new president.

He took over the leadership of the post-war, impoverished West African nation from Africa’s first female president.

The 51-year-old, who was Fifa’s 1995 Player of the Year, won the run-off vote on December 26 against the outgoing vice-president.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf served for 12 years, lifting Liberia from the destruction of back-to-back civil wars that ended before her tenure and facing the challenge of the Ebola crisis that killed thousands in the country.

Weah, dressed in all white, stood at the podium amid tens of thousands of cheering Liberians, taking the oath of office around midday yesterday.

Thousands of people had stormed the field early in the day to get a chance to see the new president sworn in.

Weah, who has run for the presidency before but is relatively new to national politics, inherits a weak economy along with poor health and educational sectors.

Liberians held prayer services for 48 hours leading up to the inauguration of Weah, who served three years in the senate more than a decade after retiring from a glittering international football career in which he played in France, Italy, the UK and elsewhere.

His running mate, vice-president-elect Jewel Howard-Taylor, has political experience that surpasses his.

She was married to the nation’s former leader Charles Taylor during his time in power. After they divorced, she was elected senator in 2005, building a political career in her own right.

Many of Weah’s critics are still sceptical about his ability to deliver in a country that is faced with youth unemployment and other challenges.

Weah’s new government should launch a “self-sufficiency in food programme” to boost agriculture and tackle the problem of unemployment, said James Mulbah, an agricultural extension expert. “Any country that does not feed itself, you are at the mercy of those that will feed you, that has been the problem in this country and it has continued to exist,” he said.