By Daniel Bergner| OCT. 22, 2010|
“Tell them to stop leaning on the fence!” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and the first woman ever elected head of state on the continent of Africa, ordered the leader of her security team. We were driving along one of the scarce paved avenues in her nation’s capital, Monrovia.
With her convoy rode United Nations gunmen, part of a peacekeeping force of 10,000 charged with preventing a conflagration in the aftermath of 14 years of horrific civil war. The fighting ended in 2003, but outside the windows of Sirleaf’s S.U.V., the skeletons of abandoned buildings and the cries, at once thrilled and desperate, of the onlookers along the president’s route were signs of the country’s position near last on any list of how well the world’s nations are functioning.
Yet Sirleaf’s attention narrowed on a bit of black iron railing and a cluster of leaning teenage boys. The simple, wilting fence — a rare adornment on the avenue’s median and a hint of order in a city still reeling from war’s anarchy — looked close to collapse. The 71-year-old president’s focus, always exacting, grew fierce. “Tell them to stop,” she repeated in her scratchy voice. She meant for her security man to radio back to someone else in the convoy to scold and scatter the boys. It seemed she would have rather done the scolding herself. Below her purple, geometrically patterned head wrap of African cloth, severe grandmotherly disapproval seized her face. “They will break that fence!”
Sirleaf, who beat a Liberian soccer star, George Weah, to win the presidency in 2005, and who has announced that she will run for a second term next year, is a figure of profound hope for Africa by many in the West and as a savior by some Liberians, partly because she is so stern, her resolve palpable and her standards high, and partly because she is a woman. Her rivals in the next election are likely to include Weah again, as well as an ex-rebel commander named Prince Yormie Johnson, who slaughtered one of the country’s recent presidents.
Source: Globe Afrique Media