Becoming the first female head-of-state to be elected on the continent of Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf claimed, ‘Corruption, under my administration, will be the major public enemy. We will confront and we will fight it.’
She’ll have her hands full, considering that she is inheriting a nation considered the poorest in the world, and just emerging from 14 years of civil war that killed thousands.
Liberia is by no means a stable country yet, but it took a large step toward civility with Sirleaf’s inauguration on Jan. 17.
The streets of the capital, Monrovia, were closed to public traffic on the day of the inauguration for security purposes, and two U.S. warships circled off the coast as a ‘sign of support.’
Nicknamed the ‘Iron Lady,’ Sirleaf brings ambition and determination, not to mention experience, to the realm of brutal African politics.
After studying economics at Harvard, she became the Liberian finance minister in the 1970s, and was one of the few members of the country’s cabinet who escaped execution in 1980.
Sirleaf also served a short stint in a Liberian prison for first supporting and then condemning the authority of then-president Charles Taylor, the man primarily responsible for the country’s current condition and the deployment of more than 15,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops.
Taylor was exiled to Nigeria after stealing an estimated sum of more then $100 million.
The situation is promising: a woman elected president in a region notorious for extreme political violence and corruption, as well as backward economic development.
It seems the slate may very well be wiped clean.
But the facts of the matter are more depressing: Sirleaf failed to secure even 50 percent of the vote, and won only after a run-off election against former ‘Footballer of the World’ George Weah, who was widely regarded as the favorite for the position, and who lacks even a complete high school education.
Almost the entire country of Liberia lacks electricity or running water, or an existent economy, for that matter.
In a country with a history of violent governmental ousts, and sometimes several rebel movements in action at once, Sirleaf faces an almost insurmountable problem.
The last large revolutionary force of the country, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, ended its campaign with the removal of Taylor, but the tendency is toward a short-lived loyalty, of which Sirleaf herself is guilty.
Ninety-five percent of Liberia’s population is of 16 different varieties of indigenous African tribal descent.
Forty percent of the country still harbors their indigenous religious beliefs and 80 percent speak some 20 separate ethnic languages, of which only a few can even be written.
The United States is publicly content with this development, as a smiling Laura Bush and Condoleezza Rice attended the inauguration ceremony, no doubt pleased with their new American-educated counterpart in a previously alienated and shaky nation.
Liberia and the United States have an involved history together, as the country being founded by newly freed slaves from the United States.
The nation’s flag is also very similar to our own, and surely Rice thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of one of the only black women to ever be elected head-of-state in the history of the world, much less as a possible American ally.
Also in attendance was Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo has refused to release former president Taylor to the United Nations for alleged war crimes, but has considered complying with a direct extradition to Liberia, highlighting the delicacy of the situation and the conflicting loyalties of the region.
Liberia has shown that it can be one of the most progressive states on the planet.
This affords our country an incredible opportunity for ‘nation-assisting.’
The new Liberia has less than great odds of survival without help from the United States and the rest of the world.
How the rest of the world handles the problems in Liberia will ultimately determine the fate of the nation.
But it is the very existence of this experiment in democracy that matters most.
Let’s just see if it lasts, and hope that it does.
Ross Johnson is a third-year literary journalism and history major.
Filed Under: Opinion