Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: Younger Generation of Liberians Will Earn Claims to Political Leadership in Liberia

By Winsley S. Nanka, CPA

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 27, 2005


Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the nominee of the Unity Party for the 2005 presidential election in Liberia says that “younger generation of Liberians will earn their claims to political leadership in Liberia by participating in the political process, and it will not be given to them on a silver platter.” Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf was speaking at the fundraising dinner organized by the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania based group, Liberians for Ellen (LIFE) on Saturday, April 23, 2005 in Philadelphia.

The Unity Party presidential nominee said that the older generation of Liberian politicians is often referred to by the younger generation as “re-cycled politicians.” “When your car (vehicle) has flat tires, it is sometimes good to replace your car’s flat tires with used tires rather than new ones,” she said to the applause of her faithfuls at the dinner. Continuing she asked, when Liberia really had true politicians? President William V. S. Tubman was a benevolent dictator and President William R Tolbert ruled for ten years, the 1990s witnessed individuals that were street-smart rising to power.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf called on professional Liberians to return home and contribute to the socio-economic development process in Liberia. However, she was quick to caution that anyone who thinks that an Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration will allow the pervasive culture of corruption in Liberia to continue will be mistaken. If you want to return to Liberia to make money, join the private sector. But “if you think you will join the government to chop you would be lying to yourself,” she said.

Earlier during the day at the town hall meeting organized by Mrs. Sirleaf’s supporters, she articulated her vision for Liberia which includes the reformation of the Liberian economy to respond to the needs of the Liberian people, balanced socio-economic development, the development of a vibrant private sector in which Liberians will play a leading role, unity and reconciliation, decentralization of political and economic power in Liberia, and zero tolerance for corruption.

Meanwhile, the Unity Party standard bearer has apologized to the Liberian people for the “level Monrovia down we will rebuild it” statement that has come to haunt her political career since the statement was attributed to her some 15 years ago. She said she made the statement during a radio interview with the BBC’s Robin White in response to the refusal of Samuel Doe to leave the Executive Mansion. “It was a stupid statement to make, I apologize for making it”, she said to the applause of her faithfuls. Continuing, Mrs. Sirleaf stated that she is often accused of being arrogant. She explained that her arrogance is “born out of success and hard work”, however, she is not “too big to apologize when she is wrong.”

During the question and answer period, Mrs. Sirleaf, gave her version of several burning issues that Liberians have often associated with her political career over the years. When asked about her support for the deposed human rights abusing Liberian kleptocratic ruler’, Charles Taylor, she said her support for Taylor was done at an organizational level, through the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL). She explained that “ Mr. Taylor’s insurrection was a movement that was popularly supported by many Liberians at the time in response to the situation in Nimba County” and Liberia in general. Once we recognized the character of Taylor, we withdrew our support for him”, she added.

In response to a question about the many concession agreements being signed by the current interim government, Mrs. Sirleaf said, “all the contracts will be reviewed and the bogus contracts will be cancelled”. However, “we will respect the sanctity of contracts to encourage private investment in Liberia”, she declared.

When asked if the Unity Party will accept the result of the 2005 presidential election, if she does not win, Mrs. Sirleaf said “we will respect the result of the 2005 national elections; all we ask is for the process to be free and fair so that the people’s choice may prevail.”

Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is a lightning rod in Liberian politics. Her critics see her as a beneficiary of the True Whig Party oligarchy, who rose through the ranks of the party to become Liberia’s first female finance minister during the administration of William Richard Tolbert. Her critics say that she is now distancing herself from the system that contributed to the current crises in Liberia because of political expediency. Her critics also claim that she did not implement the reform agenda she is now advocating during her many years in successive Liberian governments, and she is reinventing herself simply to be elected.

Mrs. Sirleaf’s supporters however, see her differently. They say the criticisms of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf are unwarranted. First, they claim that the criticisms come mainly from male chauvinists that despise a successful and powerful woman in male-dominated Liberia. Second, they claim that she is being held to a different standard than almost all the male politicians of her generation who rose through the ranks of True Whig Party oligarchy during the Tubman and Tolbert administrations. Her supporters also argue that some of these politicians held various positions in government during the despotic regimes of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor. Mrs. Sirleaf’s supporters also see her as a principled person who has consistently fought for democracy and the rule of law in Liberia. They assert that she has been forced to live in exile numerous times because of her commitment to democratic governance in Liberia.

Mrs. Sirleaf seems to have a deep understanding of financial and economic matters. Her contribution may be needed in the reconstruction of Liberia regardless of who wins the 2005 presidential election.