Speakers before her pointed to her records she can run with, not run away from. And when she finally stood to address the audience, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the standard bearer of Unity Party who was invited to the United States by her supporters to talk about her hopes for a new Liberia, had to wait a little longer; for a prolonged clapping and shouts of battle cry permeated the auditorium of the student center at the Roxbury Community College in Boston.
The Massachusetts Supporters of Ellen-For-President organized the midweek event last Wednesday, but Liberians traveled from as far as New York, Maryland, Connecticut, and neighboring Rhode Island to join in the town hall meeting which was interspersed with rallies to help raise funds for the campaign effort.
Smiling before an anxious audience, Mrs. Sirleaf expressed confidence that Liberians are ready to take up the challenge of rebuilding their country. Liberia, she said, is “blessed with natural and human resources” and assured that “we can build a new nation no matter the evil we’ve suffered.”
She urged Liberians to step out of the shadow of the past and turn their crisis into advantage, rebuilding a nation where each and every Liberian can call home. “If we make a new Liberia, then all that we have suffered had not been in vain, “ the presidential hopeful told her audience amidst thunderous applause.
Mrs. Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist, had earlier addressed an audience at her alma mater on wide-ranging issues encompassing her vision for a new Liberia.
The Unity Party standard bearer is among several Liberian presidential aspirants to contest the October 11 election intended to return the country to democracy after 14 years of devastating conflict said to have left more than 250,000 people dead.
Supporters of Ellen-For-President insist the task of rebuilding Liberia is just too enormous to be entrusted to a rookie.
Fourteen years of fighting left the infrastructure of the country ravaged. A semblance of economic activity is evidenced only by.a growing number of money exchangers chasing people. Liberians have had no electricity or pipe-born water over a decade. Schools and hospitals around the country are either nonexistent or hardly functional. The nation’s transportation system is a total nightmare. Thousands of Liberians are still clustered up in displaced centers and refugee camps. Corruption in government has skyrocketed in a nation where indiscipline rules a lost generation. Liberia stands in the midst of a serious confidence crisis occasioned by flagrant human rights violations and lack of fiscal discipline.
In the minds of many observers, Liberia needs a president who has the capacity to tackle domestic issues head-on while at the same time mending fences with the outside world, and Mrs. Sirleaf is widely believed to have an edge over other candidates at this time. She came second in the 1997 presidential election that brought former warlord Charles Taylor to power. Among other positions, she has served as minister of finance of Liberia, president of Liberia Bank for Development and Investment, vice president of Citicorp, senior loan officer at the World Bank, and assistant administrator and director of the Regional Bureau for Africa of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a position she used to help Uganda rise from the ashes of war to the fastest growing economy in Africa.
Mrs. Sirleaf is a mature politician who knows when to stand firm and when to compromise. When the warring factions gathered in Accra, Ghana to work out a peace deal that brought the current interim government to power, she knew that was not the best thing that could happen to Liberia. However, she accepted a position in the government to help with the “cooling process” as chairperson of the Governance Reform Commission. She resigned in March to accept the Unity Party nomination.
In 1985, Liberia’s “Iron Lady” refused a senatorial seat she genuinely won, as doing otherwise would have given credence to a fraudulent election that exchanged military dictator Samuel Doe’s camouflage with a 3-piece suit.
Mrs. Sirleaf told her supporters that the past few years had seen a culture of violence that imposed unimaginable difficulties on the Liberian people but indicated it was a good sign that a sector of the population is returning, with people seeking their lost liberty.
She promised that a government under her leadership would bring the culture of impunity to an end but cautioned Liberians against faultfinding and blame gaming.
“Liberia,” she said, “is at a cross road now because we have an opportunity to regain our country from those who have criminalized it.”