Why Africa owes debt of gratitude to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
It is a role she has taken seriously enough that, at the beginning of the campaigns, she was forced to issue a stern warning to the 20 candidates jostling to replace her: “We hold them as political leaders who seek the highest office of our land to act with dignity and responsibility that befits that office — to live up to their commitments to ensure violence-free elections,” she said.
It is of course a necessary ritual to note that Sirleaf, who is stepping down after two six-year terms in office and who has won the Nobel Peace Prize, is far from perfect.
Corruption remains a major problem — the country ranks 90 out of 176 countries in the 2016 corruption perception index by Transparency International. Even Sirleaf had to admit this in an address to the Liberian congress this year.
Added to this are accusations of nepotism after the president appointed her three sons to major posts in the government, albeit they were qualified for those positions.
Many of its youth are unhappy and express hopelessness as to present and future economic opportunities.
According to the United Nations, young people constitute more than 60 percent of the population, and youth employment is nearly 90 percent.
Again, even Sirleaf has been forced to admit this, calling it a major threat to peace and security in a 2013 address.
A majority of the population also has no access to electricity, power cuts remaining frequent across the country and those with access have to pay either a premium or get a private diesel generator.
This is also a country that had only 50 doctors for its population of 4.3 million at the outset of the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
But then her government has substantially improved infrastructure, including a hydro-electricity dam, and she has been lauded globally for pushing investment into the economy.
Sirleaf negotiated a $4.7 billion debt relief and gained the trust of an international coalition including the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and UNICEF to fight Ebola.
However, there are two major achievements that stand taller than the developmental growth and challenges she has had to deal.
First is peace. Sirleaf – sometimes called The Iron Lady – has overseen a reign of uninterrupted peace in a country that has been ravaged by two civil wars.
Sirleaf has also consolidated democracy. This is the first time since 1944 that a democratically elected leader will hand over to another in Liberia.
She has allowed a boisterous democracy to take shape that has attracted 20 candidates vying for 2.2 million votes, and guaranteed a run-off in a race with no clear favorite.
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