Tuesday, November 15, 2005

'The Iron Lady' to become Madame President

Kudos to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was the convincing winner in Liberia's presidential runoff election. The 'Iron Lady' was credited with 59.4% of the vote against former soccer star George Weah. Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf, 'Ellen' to supporters, thus becomes Africa's first elected female president (though Ruth Perry briefly served as Liberia's appointed interim head of state in the mid-90s).

While Weah's supporters originally took to the streets and their champion cried fraud, things appear to have settled down. Weah called on supporters to abandon protests and his concession is reported to be imminent.

Owukori over at Black Looks blog opines that George Weah never had a chance. I profess to being surprised by Ellen's victory and shocked by the margin of her win.

Weah is a high school dropout whose main claim to fame is as a soccer star and UN goodwill ambassador. He also achieved appreciation from Liberians for personally funding the country's national soccer team for several years. Ellen, for her part, has served as Liberia's finance minister and held positions with the UN, World Bank and Citicorp. She has a master's degree in public administration from Harvard.

There is no question who was the more qualified candidate, but as everyone knows, such candidates don't always win. Weah had strong support from young men, traditionally soccer fans. He was also endorsed by all the losers in the first round runoff, including former warlords Alhadji Kromah and Sekou Conneh (something which may have done more harm than good in the end). And frankly, she did have to overcome the perception that women don't belong in the presidency.

On the other hand, she probably appealed to those who figured: men have completely messed up Liberia for the last 150+ years, particularly the last quarter century, so why not give a woman the chance? She also stood up to former dictators Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe, so there can be little question about her courage.

She has a very difficult task, rebuilding a completely destroyed country where corruption is rampant and the rule of law weak. The last three heads of state (save the appointed Perry) have left office involuntarily. But I can't think of a single Liberian more qualified for the job.

I also congratulate Liberians for looking beyond flashiness and celebrity and self-interested endorsements and choosing the most qualified person to lead their country.


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