Former Liberian Head of State, Ruth Sando Perry Is Dead

The Late Ruth Sando Perry
The Late Ruth Sando Perry

Madam Ruth Sando Fahnbulleh Perry who led Liberia’s Council of State during the long-running civil war is dead at 77 at the residence of her son, Ralph Perry in Columbus, Ohio, the United States.

According to report, the former Liberian Head of State died early hours of Sunday morning after a long period of illness.

She was the Chairwoman of the Interim Government which consisted of a civilian Chair, as well as members of warring factions including Charles Taylor who headed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), now is prison in the UK, Alhaji Kroman of the disbanded United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy, the Liberia Peace Council (LPC) of Dr. George Boley and two other civilians.

Her  leadership went on from September 3, 1996 to August 2, 1997, and handed over the presidential [powers to President Charles Taylor from the 1997 presidential elections that ended more than a decade of civil war.

Ruth Sando Fahnbulleh Perry (July 16, 1939 – January 8, 2017) was interim Chairwoman of the Council of State of Liberia from 3 September 1996 until 2 August 1997, following the First Liberian Civil War.

After eleven international peace attempts between 1990 and 1995 to end the civil war in Liberia, the attempts appeared to succeed. The interim Council of State consisted of a civilian chair, as well as members of warring factions: Charles Taylor, United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy-K leader Alhaji Kromah, Liberia Peace Council leader George Boley, and two other civilians.

Perry was known for being the first female president of Liberia and of contemporary Africa as a whole. Liberia also has the distinction of electing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first elected female African leader in modern times.

Following elections held in July 1997, Perry handed over the presidential power to Charles Taylor on 2 August.

Perry was born July 16, 1939, in a rural area of Grand Cape Mount County, Liberia, the daughter of Marjon and AlHaji Semila Fahnbulleh. She was a Muslim of Vai ethnic ancestry. As a child, Perry participated in the Sande society, a traditional school and secret society for females, and attended regular classes. Her parents later enrolled her in a Roman Catholic school for girls in Monrovia run by missionary nun.

Perry graduated from the Teachers College of the University of Liberia. She worked as an elementary school teacher in Grand Cape Mount County.

She married McDonald Perry, a judge and legislator and they had seven children, one of whom, Georgia Jebbeh Perry, resides in the state of Rhode Island with her husband Augustus Duncan and their 5 children. Her other children, including the late Cecelia Marjon Goodridge who resided in Ohio with her husband Spencer Goodridge and their 5 children, take residence in several states across the United States and some still live in Liberia. After her children were grown, Perry worked in the Monrovia office of Chase Manhattan Bank in 1971 and taught at a Sande school as an elder.

When her husband was involved in politics, Ruth Perry engaged in the electoral campaign and tried to get women to vote for him. After her husband died, the party asked Ruth to run as senator for their home district. In 1985, Perry won a seat in the Liberian Senate as a Unity Party candidate.

In response to Samuel Doe’s presidential election after calling elections, Unity Party office-holders and other official opposition politicians boycotted the Senate in protest, asserting that the Doe government was illegitimate. Perry did not join the boycott and became the lone member of the opposition in the Assembly.

“You can’t solve the problems by staying away,” she said [5] She served until 1989. Afterwards, Perry launched a retail business and became active in civilian groups such as Women Initiative in Liberia, Women in Action for Goodwill and the Association of Social Services that sought an end to the growing Liberian Civil War.

On August 17, 1996, after 17 years of conflict and 7 years of war, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) representatives negotiated a cease-fire between Liberia’s warring factions and announced that Perry would replace Wilton Sankawulo as chair of the Council of State in an interim government.

Reportedly all four warlords in the Liberian conflict had agreed to the peace agreement with Perry as interim leader. The ECOWAS leaders noted that men long had the opportunity to make peace, but had not succeeded. Now it was time to try a woman. So Perry was asked to take over as Chairwoman of the Council of State. The warlords said to her: “As a mother. Take us as your children and we will cooperate”

 

It was a challenging task to bring peace and tranquility. There was unrest, confrontations and tension. The warlords refused to give a woman leader the authority, personnel and money to do the job. There were clashes and shooting in the council offices with blood everywhere. But Perry went fearlessly forward. She declared that she was “hard as steel” and used the moral authority of her office.

Over radio she urged people to maintain discipline and peace and travelled around the country informing people about their rights and persuading youngsters to hand in their weapons. She was a skilled organizer, got women together to help and mobilized the business community and voluntary organizations. From the US she obtained medicine and school supplies. 70 per cent of the troops were disarmed and elections were held peacefully according to the time schedule.

There were 12 presidential candidates, among others Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Charles Taylor was elected with 75 per cent of the votes. He was the only candidate with resources to conduct a real campaign, and many people thought he would continue fighting if he was not elected. Ellen Sirleaf only got 9.5 per cent. Perry could not run for election according to the peace agreement.

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