Anyone who knows the situation in Liberia would take issue with Daniel Bergner’s characterization of President Sirleaf as an “uncompromising woman.” Any leader of a country in a situation like Liberia’s will have to compromise every day in every way with giant donors like the World Bank, the E.U. and the U.S. State Department, not to mention the competing interests and demands of a war-ravaged population and a political class that is constantly fighting over a very small plate of spoils.
Global Leaders | Liberia: An Uncompromising Woman (October 24, 2010) President Sirleaf has done a masterful job of presenting Liberia as a country on the move; this despite the continuing presence of 10,000 U.N. troops, an unemployment rate over 80 percent, a private sector controlled by foreigners and a mind-boggling set of dysfunctional social realities that range from corroding political corruption to completely broken health, education and social-welfare systems.
In addition, the government has yet to issue its official position on the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report of last year which called for the banning of President Sirleaf from political office for 30 years because of her involvement in the conflict and for the creation of war-crime tribunals (whose first customer would most likely be one of her main opponents in the 2011 election, the senator from Nimba County, Prince Johnson).
It is disheartening to hear Sirleaf’s optimism about the positive effects that potential oil discoveries would have for Liberia given the impact of the “oil curse” in other West African states. Liberia doesn’t need oil; it needs a new set of ideas that Sirleaf and her clique are unlikely to provide.
The real hope for Liberia lies with young Liberians now studying inthe United States and elsewhere who might be enticed to return home and try their hands at nation-building.
President Sirleaf will very likely win a well-deserved second term, but she is still just a placeholder for the generation of Liberians who can really createan uncompromising space for the citizens of their fascinating but terribly ravaged country.
Center for Democracy and Development
John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies
University of Massachusetts, Boston