Magazine article New African

Liberia: A Lesson for Africa's Big Men

Magazine article New African

Liberia: A Lesson for Africa's Big Men

Article excerpt

After 158 years of independence, Liberia is about to have a woman president, the first in all of Africa. At the time of going to press, the National Elections Commission was investigating allegations of electoral fraud filed by George Weah's party, but in the end Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who won the presidential run-off by a good mile, is likely to be officially endorsed as the new president. Stuart Price and Jarlawah Tonpo report.

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It is a first for Africa. After decades of male domination of politics on the continent. Africans are about to have their first democratically elected female president. With all the votes counted, following the presidential run-off in early November, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had won 59%, while her contender, George Weah, the former Fifa world footballer of the year, garnered a respectable 41%.

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However, the run-off, which had been declared free and fair by the regional grouping Ecowas, the African Union and international observers, was tarnished by allegations of fraud from the Weah camp.

At the time of going to press, Weah's party--the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC)--had filed a formal complaint of vote rigging. As a result, the National Elections Commission had said that until the claims had been fully investigated, the official endorsement of Johnson-Sirleaf as the new president would be delayed.

Weah's supporters, many of whom are young former combatants who fought in the country's 14-year civil war, were urged to remain calm while the allegations were examined. Despite losing the presidential vote, Weah's CDC won more parliamentary seats (15) than any of the other parties that contested. To support his claim of vote rigging, Weah showed ballot papers to journalists in Monrovia which, he said, had been pre-marked for Johnson-Sirleaf and given to election officials to cast. "The world is saying this election is free and fair, which is not true," Weah said, dejectedly. That his iconic status was a draw for many people is without question. But consistent reservations expressed by his opponents on his lack of political experience appear to have struck a chord with voters.

Johnson-Sirleaf's credentials on the other hand, appear to have given her the nod. A former World Bank economist and employee of the US-owned Citibank (she lost the presidential vote in 1997 to former President Charles Taylor), she has held a string of international and local positions, including finance minister under President Samuel Doe, and Africa director at the UNDP.

With such a resume, many Liberians have asked "who better to rebuild the country's shattered economy?" Johnson-Sirleaf answers herself: "We know expectations are going to be high. The Liberian people have voted for their confidence in my ability to deliver very quickly. We know we have to go to work right away."

Her victory, she said, would "raise the participation of women in politics, not just in Liberia but also in Africa." A large section of the population blames Liberia's men for wrecking the country. "People are looking to a woman now to put things in order," said a waitress in the capital, Monrovia. But that is not wholly true as Johnson-Sirleaf's own history shows that she has been actively involved with the political activities of the men, including Charles Taylor, who are now being blamed for destroying the country. …

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