Liberia’s New President Boakai Pledges to Revise Economy in Speech Cut Short Due to Heat

(Bloomberg) -- Liberia’s new leader Joseph Boakai pledged to revive the country’s economy and reduce hardships in his inauguration speech that was cut short because of extreme heat.

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The swearing-in ceremony in the capital, Monrovia, for the 79-year-old former vice president to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf abruptly ended on Monday after Boakai had to take two breaks during his speech due to heat exhaustion. He has resumed his duties after his doctors declared him “perfectly” fine, the presidency said in a statement later on Monday.

In his abbreviated speech, the 26th president of the West African state and the third to be democratically elected since the end of the civil war in 2003, said his administration would act in its first 100 days to address the immediate hardships of people in one of the world’s poorest countries and bring long-term solutions to structural constraints.

“The agenda our government is poised to set, will not only address the immediate challenges we face as a country but also tackle head-on, the foundational problems,” Boakai said. “It will prepare us to make bold decisions for economic development and sustained growth, including increased productivity.”

Over the past six years Liberia’s economy, which has large gold and iron-ore reserves, grew an average of 1.7%. Per-capita income remains about a third of the level prior to the civil wars between 1989 and 2003, only 7% of roads are paved and just over a fourth of the population have access to electricity, according to the International Monetary Fund. It also estimates debt to gross domestic product increased to 57.1% in 2023 from 31.8%.

Living costs have surged and graft remains endemic. Inflation averaged 10% last year, its worst level since the coronavirus pandemic struck in 2020, and the currency depreciated by almost a fifth against the dollar, the most in two years.

In 2022, Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index ranked the country 142nd out of 180 nations.

Boakai, who succeeds former football star George Weah, used those issues to beat the former AC Milan star and FIFA World Player of the Year in run-off elections on Nov. 14. Weah in 2017 comfortably defeated Boakai also in runoff elections to win his first six-year term.

“We see hard times, we see dysfunction, we see culture of impunity, we see corruption in high and low places,” Boakai said in a copy of his full speech sent from his office. “It is these and similar conditions that we have come to rescue.”

(Updates with statement from presidency in second paragraph.)

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