Six years into her historic Presidency as the 1st democratically elected woman Head of State of an African country, the euphoria which greeted the event in 2005, is still well alive in Liberia and around the world. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has weathered the storm and lived up to the task, despite the daunting challenges that faced her when she walked into office. She was prepared and “hit the ground running.”
If there were any doubts concerning the impact of her Presidency in the African political arena, the President’s interventions at all levels of the political equation, could provide a clearer perspective of the influence the 1st elected female President of Africa continues to wield throughout Africa and beyond. No wonder why her wisdom in crucial matters is sought repeatedly in the sub-region when answers to some of the teething problems confronting the continent seem elusive.
The Mano River Union, dormant because of the civil strife which ignited the sub-region, is again alive, providing a much needed peaceful and stable environment in the region and is leading the way in the negotiations to bring a peaceful resolution to political stalemate in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire, which has joined the Union as well, owing to a large extent, the increasing political influence and statesmanship of the Liberian Chief Executive.
As current chair of the sub-regional Mano River Union grouping, President Sirleaf championed the peaceful resolution of the political crisis in that country with the acquiesce of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Today, Guinea, another neighboring country is experiencing the dawn of democracy, a novelty in its history since independence from France in 1958.
African leaders were full of praises for the New Guinean leader Professor Alpha Conde, who was also at the Addis Ababa Summit. Niger and Somalia as well as other behind-the-scene consultations are just but a few interventions where President Sirleaf’s wisdom has been sought. Liberia, the outgoing 3rd Vice Chairman of the African Union, continues to draw praises from African and World Leaders for the sound and distinguished leadership under the Johnson Sirleaf administration.
Liberia is now making a compelling case for leadership at the regional, continental and international levels, now that the factors which precluded the country from assuming any leadership role have been settled. The country is now in good standing with these bodies including ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations following the settlement of its obligations.
The just ended Summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa, provided yet another testimony of the respect and influence President Johnson Sirleaf and Liberia continue to woo. Acknowledged by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, when he spoke at the AU Summit: “Women’s empowerment is not just a question of rights or justice. It is an economic and development imperative. Countries with greater gender equality grow faster and are more competitive. Let us give company to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – only female head of state in Africa.”
This acknowledgement by the World’s first diplomat, in addition to good governance, has undoubtedly been at the heart of the leadership of the Liberian President, drawing worldwide attention to issues which affect women and measures to advance their cause not just in Liberia but Africa and the world.
The President’s election in Addis Ababa as the Co-chairman of the African Malaria Alliance during the Summit came as no surprise, owing to her commitment to issues which affect mankind, especially mothers and children. The Body is an alliance of African Heads of State working to end malaria related deaths. Malaria is the number one killer disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 80-percent of malaria deaths world-wide occur here.
“It is an honor to be elected to this position,” the President told a jam packed audience, urging the United Nations to continue to provide support in an effort to eradicate malaria.
As women issues continue to attract prominence, the United Nations has now established a new entity, that would serve to coordinate more efficiently and effectively women issues. The President, along with UN Secretary-General, at the unveiling of a logo for the new body, recalled that “until now, the entities with mandates and responsibilities for promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women read like an alphabet soup of United Nations acronyms.
There was OSAG and DAW and UNIFEM and INSTRAW, all doing great work to advance the cause of women, but difficult for people in the UN system, let alone an outsider, to differentiate.” The President welcomed the decision by the UN General Assembly to place the Office, the Division, the Fund, and the Institute under a single umbrella, the new United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The consolidation, she noted also brings together resources and mandates for greater impact.
In recognition of her role, the newly appointed Under Secretary-General for UN Women, Madam Bachelet, will join the President in co-hosting the celebration of International Women’s Day in March this year.
Another area which continues to win national and international applause is the Government’s commitment to the principle of good governance. Liberia took another major step in Addis Ababa by reaffirming its commitment to transparency and accountability when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed the document, acceding Liberia to the African Peer Review Mechanism, the 30th country to do so.
Chairing the session, Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi congratulated Liberia for the progress the country has made toward good governance and called on other African countries that have not yet acceded to this voluntary peer-examination exercise to do so.
“We can only wish that she continues to lead Liberia for many more years to come,” noted a United Nations Under Secretary-General. He was moderating an event when he made what could be described as a passing comment, but one so profound and no doubt echoes the sentiments of the silent Liberian majority who have witnessed the remarkable progress the country continues to make under the dynamic and progressive leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who so proudly bears Liberia’s growing re-emerging influence in African and world affairs.
It is undisputedly a recognition that has made this once image battered country, a post conflict success story; one that local and international bodies and institutions are increasingly proud to cite as reference, and one that Liberians are once again proud to call their home.
It is this symbol that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf continues to represent, a symbol that now presents Liberia as a peaceful, accountable, transparent and vibrant democracy that has now become the envy of other post conflict countries. It is this image, so desperately needed for post conflict reconstruction that Liberia must continue to preserve. The 16th Summit of the Ordinary Session of the African Union provided that platform and the President again emerged with pride, a pride not for self but for a country which she so dearly loves and cherishes.
Liberians can also do likewise unless I am proven wrong.