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March 31, 2009
Africa’s first elected female president lifts Liberia

Fractured by a 14-year civil war, Liberia is trying to pick up the pieces, facing staggering unemployment and lackluster infrastructure.

Halfway into her first term, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — an economist educated at Harvard University who won the presidency at age 67 — is leading that recovery.

As Africa’s first elected female head of state, she has taken on corruption, gotten some of Liberia’s debt canceled and rebuilt the army with the help of the U.S.

Worldfocus correspondent Lynn Sherr and producer Megan Thompson report on one extraordinary woman trying to remake life in war-torn Liberia. Tune in for Worldfocus’ four-part signature series on Liberia airing the week of April 13.

In this extended interview, Sirleaf discusses the position of women in Liberia, the country’s recovery and relations with the U.S.

Lynn Sherr also interviews Sirleaf at The Daily Beast: Africa’s Powerhouse Prez.

Read producer Megan Thompson’s blog from the field: Liberia rebuilds but fragments of the fighting remain.

Read correspondent Lynn Sherr’s blog from the field: Liberian summit celebrates African women with laughter.

Read more about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s memoir, “This Child Will Be Great.”




Madam Sirleaf is doing a lot for Liberia; examples include, negotiating the cancellation of nearly 80% of Liberia’s foreign debt accrued by past corrupt governments; allowing press freedom and freedom of speech –no jailed pressmen or political opposition; building of new infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals etc; rebuilding and relocating the multi-million dollar new University of Liberia campus 20 miles out of congested Monrovia to the expansive campus at Fendall ; expansion of the financial system with the increased number of banks from 3 to 8 in four years including Liberia’s first solely microfinance bank; increased the number of young girls enrolled in school; established the Liberia Market Women Development Fund being professionally managed to improve conditions for market women; crafted Liberia’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) with benchmarks for rapid economic development and expansion; met the benchmarked decision -point of the Heavily Indebted Poor Country’s Initiative (HIPIC); met requirements to join the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) ; rebuild with technical support from the US and Nigeria, a newly recruited and trained army; instituted a professionally-trained Rapid Response Police unit to handle violent crimes; got Liberia’s first Anti-Rape Law passed; increased foreign investment notably, the starting of Buchanan Renewable Inc, a company using sustainable bio-mass technology to produce energy; developed a pilot for one of Liberia’s first large scale mechanized rice production programs; established Liberia’s first Anti-Corruption Commission; working on reforming the auditing and public financial management system (including biometrics) to improve accountability and transparency against corruption; takes the government to the people by periodically conducting cabinet retreats in the rural areas to highlight the development challenges of the rural poor; etc, etc, etc.

In spite of all these many accomplishments, there is a strong political opposition that is using every means possible to discredit, undermine, slander, and besmear the good record and image of this wonderful woman and what she is attempting to do for her country. Responsible and accountable opposition is paramount to this fledgling democracy. But unchecked disinformation by elements of the opposition within an environment of widespread illiteracy can be a dangerous recipe. It would be one thing if those doing the slandering were themselves capable and honest, but they are far from meeting any lofty attributes. Such political opponents, are taking advantage of the large number of parentless, disengaged, uneducated, and unskilled youth, mostly from the slums of Monrovia and its environs . These comprise a large number of former war conscripts who have yet to be rehabilitated. They are a dangerously vulnerable mix of youthful exuberance. Rather than pursue opportunities for learning new skills and become engaged in productive endeavors, they are easily influenced by soccer notoriety. The opposition forces are feeding of off this disengaged facet of the population and promising the unattainable. They do not challenge these youth to take personal responsibility and seek opportunities that are available to them to learn new skills. Rather, they blame Madam Sirleaf for all the personal troubles that these youth face. And in spite of being highly uninformed, these youth are extremely politically charged and have mob-like tendencies. Sadly, the propaganda to blame Madam Sirleaf and her administration is starting to resonate. The intent of these political opportunistic forces is power in order to reintroduce the opportunity to loot the country’s resources and return it to anarchy. They don’t offer solutions but unsubstantiated allegations in a press environment that is not yet adequately trained to check facts before publishing. The Liberian independent press heavily breeds of off unchecked sensationalism. Freedom of the press and speech without a vibrant legal system of accountability to protect against slander and misinformation can be a dangerous recipe for chaos. Besides, there is still this fear that as a woman, Madam Sirleaf would accomplish what male leadership has not achieved in Liberia since its independence in 1847. It is no wonder why there are over 100 bills by the administration before the largely opposition legislature that have not been reviewed for possible passage. Notwithstanding; this very legislature, has not reintroduced any alternative bills.

I ask the international community to watch Liberia keenly as there is a strong wave to undermine its work and that of Madam Sirleaf and return Liberia to anarchy. Liberia is still a fragile democracy and coming out of a 14 year civil war, needs time to consolidate the gains it has made in the last 4 years. It is not that Sirleaf is a perfect person but that she has the discipline, international connections, knowledge, and work ethic to meet the challenges to rebuild war ravaged Liberia. Unfortunately, most of Liberia’s political class lacks such characteristics. If I may conclude, what Sirleaf lacks is time in the midst of a fast approaching 2011 presidential elections and a public relations machinery to counter negative propaganda by an unwholesome opposition. While she busies herself on development issues, the opposition is plotting to slide the rug from under her feet.


My honourable aspirations and appreciaion goes to you, president Johnson. We will never stop praying for your adminstration. Born Sierra Leonean living California USA. God blesss Liberia and God bless Africa.


I am grateful to the proponets of World Focus. I felt solaced when I heard women talking about recontruction. Many times I cried when I think about the harm the senseless war caused the proud people of Liberia. There is a hope folk, there is a hope for our country again. It might takes time but it will be better than even. Lets work together and accept one another as one househood. We were and we can be again. I was so euphoric when I saw and heard the women of Liberia speaking about forgetting the regress liberians have experienced. I appreciate their innovative ideas and I urge them to stand strong and remain tenacious to dreams for Liberia. I love Liberia, the home of hopeful people. Thanks again to World focus.


Madam President Ellen J. Sirleaf,
I just want to express my great appreciation and
heartfelt thanks to you and your government for the nice job you are doing in developing our once upon a time,pirate state or country. I was hopping to have seen you to extend my thanks an appreciation in person when you visited Minnesota, U.S.A but because of timing and others reasons, I di not meet you in person at the Minnesota University
setting or at the Liberian Community Organization’s dinner party. By the way, you might by other means know me when you in 1987 visited Atlanta, Georgia and was a guest speaker at my installation program as prersident of the Liberian Community Organzation of Atlanta. Georgia, U.S>A. Thanks and May the Lord Blessing shines on you. Long Live you and Liberia.

Joseph B.G. Weanquoi,

MInnesota, U.S.A.


[…] The Rwandan parliament is a world leader in terms of female political participation, with 56 percent of its seats held by women. Liberia now has Africa’s first elected woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Watch Worldfocus’ signature story and an extended interview with Sirleaf: Africa’s first elected female president lifts Liberia. […]


[…] to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield,discusses the positive example set by Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and some of the challenges faced by a country rebuilding since the aftermath of its second civil […]


Lynn Sheer adds a new dimension to the journalistic endeavor of World Focus. Her exceptional documentary experience allows her to provide the viewer a clear and concise glimpse at very complex issues in five minutes or less. It well may be your editors that help that process, but the fact remains Ms. Sherr is truly a professional who adds so much to your broadcast. Her ability to humanize the stories makes watching World Focus a highlight of my day. Thank you for bringing this brilliant woman to your program.


This is very important moment in the world today that has shown that women have the ability to run a country as we have seen in liberia, and had a chance to see in the past election in the u.s.a. I am a born liberian that been living in the u.s over 20yrs.,and if we can get the communication of understand how important liberia is to the United States. But especially my African American family here in the states. IF YOU FORGET YOUR PAST YOU DOOM TO REPEAT IT. Try researching liberia true the library of congress.


its very funny that white people only bad parts of africa,how about on my station thursday at 1:30 i;ll show the usa ,only have nsaty trailor park white folk, so show the good, thank you.

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