15 January 2006

Africa's First Lady

BerlinBear avatarWay back in April of last year - on my old blog, but now moved to my archives here for convenience - I wondered: Is George Weah the answer for Liberia? At that stage, the Liberian presidential elections were still six months away, and the election campaign was not yet in full swing. In the event, when the elections finally did come around in October, it was not George Weah who won, but Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a 67 year old mother and grandmother with vast international financial and economic experience and over 30 years' involvement in Liberian politics under her belt.

Initially, Weah protested over what he claimed were irregularities in the election and even went as far as filing a legal challenge. He subsequently dropped that challenge in December after violent clashes between his supporters and police, in the interests of helping "
the Liberian people achieve durable and genuine peace." That decision cleared the way for Johnson-Sirleaf to be inaugurated just over a week ago now, on January 6th.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is not just Liberia's first woman president. She is also the first elected head of state in the entire African continent. Ever. She joins a select club of just eleven current political leaders worldwide who are women. (The tenth preceded her into office by just a month or two: Germany's Angela Merkel.) It is one of Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf's stated aims
"to bring motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency" as a way of healing the wounds of war. Good luck to her.

On the day of Johnson-Sirleaf's inauguration last week, Cameron Doudu published a comment and opinion piece in the Guardian entitled Africa's First Lady, in which he gave details of her background in Liberian politics, outlined the tasks at hand and the challenges she will face, and assessed her prospects for success in hauling Liberia out of the mire of abject poverty and the after-effects of a crippling civil war. Doudu reaches an optimistic conclusion:

Can she do it? I believe so. She is 67 and has six grandchildren whom she adores and whose presence will always be a reminder that her country can't be plunged into another political debacle that could threaten their young lives.

Wouldn't it be great if he were right?