5 November 2012

Liberia: Ellen Remains Defiant

Photo: Liberia Government
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf addresses the U.S. council on foreign affairs.

Johnson Sirleaf, in London for the UN high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda acknowledged that corruption had become "systemic and endemic" in Liberia after decades of conflict, but challenged anyone to find fault with her or her family.

While acknowledging that corruption is a problem in Liberia, Johnson Sirleaf said defiantly: "I challenge anyone who says it's with me or my family. We have a very vibrant society, a society that's full of rumours and innuendoes. Now I have to put [people] in certain places where I get the best results based upon talent, based upon competence and based upon integrity, and that's what I do. I stand the test and I challenge anyone who says there are other motives. I stand by my record and stand by the record of my family very firmly."

Johnson Sirleaf, who was re-elected in a landslide last November after an opposition boycott, has won praise for restoring stability to a country ravaged by war. Since coming to power, Africa's first elected female leader has stabilized the economy. Foreign debt has been virtually wiped out and Liberia has enjoyed annual growth rates of 6.5% for the past six years. Johnson Sirleaf hopes Liberia will be free from aid dependence in 10 years' time and achieve middle-income status by 2030.

Notwithstanding her achievements, Johnson Sirleaf has recently come under fire for nepotism, having appointed three of her sons to top government posts.

This month, Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian activist and joint winner with Johnson Sirleaf of last year's Nobel peace prize, resigned from the country's peace and reconciliation commission, criticizing the president's decision to appoint her three sons to senior positions. Gbowee also criticized Johnson Sirleaf for not doing enough to address poverty.

On Gbowee's resignation, Johnson Sirleaf, who spoke as a guest of the Royal African Society, said her fellow Nobel laureate was too young to know what Liberia had been through to achieve peace. "We respect her decision," said Johnson Sirleaf. "We suspect she will change her mind ... we'll need all our talent."

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