Monday August 29, 2005

She has come a long way. She has survived the ravages of one of Africa’s worst military dictatorships, been accused of Treason, thrown into  jail and almost killed by a megalomanic dictator .For Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia’s ‘Iron Lady, ‘ it  appears as if she has  come to the defining moment of her chequered political career .

With only few months before Liberia’s first ever democratic elections, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is one of the hot favourites for the crown in what could boil down to a two-horse bitter race between her and ace football hero, George Oppong Weah. COCORIOKO’s Editor-In-Chief Wilfred Leeroy Kabs-Kanu looks at the chances of a woman who could become the first ever elected woman President in Africa :

Liberia’s forthcoming Presidential Elections  may not be fought around the pivot of who is the cleanest candidate of them all because the electorate seems to have something against  all of them. For Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the woman who has gone through  the crucibles of dangerous African politics , the complaints against her are  firstly that she was one of the power-seeking Liberians who helped lure the much -adored Brigadier-General Thomas Quiwonkpa to his timely death at the hands of brutal dictator , Samuel K.Doe , via the Saturday November 12, 1985 military misadventure.

Fingers are also being pointed at Mrs.Johnson-Sirleaf as one of the backbones of the December 24, 1989 invasion of Liberia by Charles Taylor who turned an innocent attempt to get rid of a dictator into the bloodiest incursions ever  in modern African warfare. Innocent people on whose behalf the putsch was launched turned out to be its victims. Mrs .Johnson-Sirleaf has already apologised but her enemies have held her mistakes infront of her like a trump card.

But given the fact that none of her opponents can be truly said to be without  faults, Liberians could forgive Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf and vote her into the Executive Mansion if they decide to look for the candidate who holds the  best promise for ushering   the war-destroyed nation  into a fruitful era of national recovery and national reconstruction. .Liberia ‘s most dire need today is to rebuild , after a devastating war that destroyed the country in every sphere of life . That passion to reconstruct their nation may yet shape the minds of Liberian voters on October 12.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf may have committed errors that were  really unintended and unforeseen consequences of a driving passion  to get rid of Samuel Doe but  many Liberians  I have spoken with believe she presently holds the key  to  inational reconstruction in Liberia ,  considering the more serious credibility problems affecting most of the other candidates and the inexperience of her most bitter rival, George Oppong Weah.

Liberians giving thumbs up to Mrs.Johnson-Sirleaf point to her tremenduous political experience as Finance Minister under the Tolbert administration ,  as one of the opposition leaders during the most difficult era of Liberia’s political history and her international connections and credibility as one-time  top executive of the Britton Woods institutions, the World Bank and the IMF. The Harvard-educated Mrs.Johnson-Sirleaf is not only an internationally-reknowned economist ; she has excelled at the World Bank and the IMF and her exemplary performance in these institutions and her international credibility may help Liberia get the financial assistance she needs to rebuild and reconstruct. That is the main promise of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Though there is never any guarantee that a leader capable of generating foreign economic support for a nation could turn out to be a successful President ,considering the experience of Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in neighbouring Sierra Leone, Mrs.Sirleaf has to her credit a reputation for scrupulous financial management . At least, with all the calumny poured on the Tolbert regime after its April 12, 1980 overthrow by Doe for rampant corruption, there is yet to emerge hard core evidence linking Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf with wilful money mismanagement, thieving and wastage. Those who have worked her have commended her for her stringent habits with money and strong principles, though success for her will hinge on the kinds of people who work with her and her willingness to clamp down seriously on corruption and economic wastage.

In neigbouring Sierra Leone, nobody has yet provided any authoritative evidence linking President Kabbah with personal financial aggrandizement and thieving , but he presides over a kleptomanic government  famed for misappropriating national funds .A leader may have profound international connections and he may be financially prudent and scrupulous but if he surrounds himself with thieves, he is not likely to emerge successful.

It is still too early to predict a winner in the Liberian elections as there could still be a resurgence in the fortunes of even less reckoned candidates like Winston Tubman , not to mention a  likely universal acceptance of George Oppong Weah’s inexperience and naivety as being more preferable to  the tarnished image of recycled politicians . But Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has turned on the heat with vigorous campaigning  and impressive speeches like her condemnation of violence and her promise to clamp down on corruption in Liberia. .And when all is said and done and push comes to shove, she may be the candidate to beat in the elections.


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