Can Ellen Johnson Sirleaf save Liberia?

Liberia’s leader: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on her farm in Julejuah. Photograph: Monique Jaques for the Observer

Africa’s first elected female president has made giant steps in ridding her country of warlords, rape and child soldiers, but much remains to be done

It’s not every day a president invites you into their bedroom. But then Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, is not your typical president. A woman for one thing, the first ever elected to lead an African nation, she’s also had several previous lives: freedom fighter, banker, UN bureaucrat, rebel, farmer, grandmother-in-chief. Would I like to go inside her room? Hell, yes!

We are in the poetically named village of Julejuah (pronounced Jool-ay-joo-ah), where Johnson Sirleaf’s family – the descendants of a local Gola chief – still live, and where she has built a small farmhouse as a weekend retreat. An uncooperative key gives way and we are suddenly inside her “quarters”, a supremely modest room, with its small double bed, plain wooden dressers – one with a neat stack of baseball caps on top – and a light alcove that serves as a wardrobe, a dozen regal African cloth outfits queuing up on a single rail. “This is where I grew up,” she gestures towards the view of the impossibly lush farm from a large window opposite her bed.

As we continue our tour of her house she points towards a gash in the distance, where the luminous green bush makes way for a rush of wild, fresh water. “I learned to swim in that river,” she says. “We went to school in the city, and spent the vacations here in my father’s village. We grew up in a way where we crossed two different worlds.” She laughs as if I’ve underestimated her and she’s relishing putting me right.

Johnson Sirleaf’s life story is remarkable. Her father was the first African legislator in a republic founded by “Americo-Liberians” – the descendants of freed American blacks – who established Liberia in principle as an act of emancipation, but in reality consolidated power for themselves at the expense of the indigenous population.

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Source: News Now/The Guardian/The Observer

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About Cholo Brooks 12610 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.