Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Happy Anniversary Madam President

All eyes in this region are on Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of our neighbour, Liberia, and more than that, Africa's first female President. This week marked the anniversary of her first year in office, and accolades flooded in from world leaders. Everyone is hoping against all rational hope that she might be 'the one'. Sirleaf was a World Bank economist, friend of the US administration, and Liberian parliamentarian for many years. There's a school of thought that says the US had hoped she would take power after the peace accords in Liberia were signed in 1999 (the first peace deal, in which Charles Taylor came to power). The story goes that the US had hoped to sideline the thuggish Mr Taylor. History shows that Taylor was not the sort to go quietly, and not quite the thicko the US had miscalculated he was.

But you can't keep a good woman down perhaps, because Ellen came back to take the Presidency in the first post-war elections. She beat footballer George Weah, a popular candidate, if not a very serious contender, and made a ground-breaking inauguration speech in which she cited rape as a critical problem for Liberia. It was the first time someone in power had said the word out loud.

Sirleaf has announced zero-tolerance on corruption, and in her first months sacked all 300 employees of the Ministry of Finance for being a disgrace to the people of Liberia. She has just handed back US$19,000 of unused expenses with detailed receipts for the rest.

As you can tell, she's a bit of a heroine of mine. In a sea of corruption she might be an island of hope - though I have many sceptical friends. I hope with all my finger’s crossed, that all of the above is truly true and not just spin from her advisors. And that she is the beginning of a new era for Africa. Or at least for Liberia. A man on the street the other day said we needed a woman in charge here. Sadly, I don’t think for one minute he was serious.

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