“There is No reason for us to be poor,” says Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 4, 2005


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Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
The Standard Bearer of Unity Party, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf accorded an exclusive to the German Television station ARD at her residence on Sunday, October 2, 2005. Mrs. Sirleaf touched on a number of subjects and we have transcribed her answers to the questions posed to her by the German television crew.

Comparing herself to George Weah, the man now perceived by the “international press” as her main competitor amongst the 22 candidates:

The popularity of Mr. Weah is based upon his stardom as a football player and his youth. In my case, the attraction is that we can address the challenges facing the country, particularly the challenges of development and reconstruction. The contrast is sharp and I think the voters are going to be divided based upon what attracts them the most. Many of our war-affected youth, former combatants are attracted by Mr. Weah’s status as a football star. But I believe the majority of Liberians are concerned about what we can do to get this country back on track, to begin with meeting the basic needs of the people. We are working with the youth to see the future rather than just fall for a populist attraction. Our country has been subjected for 20 years to the downplay of education and the strive for excellence in professionalism because it was ruled by people who represented violence or came to power through violent means.

Is Africa ready for a woman president?

Oh yes, definitely. Africa is ready for a woman president. The continent has many strong professional women in very key positions and they have demonstrated competence and courage. So the population is ready, the challenges and responsibility will be great and if elected, I will make sure the doors are open and I will demonstrate in every way that women are equal and they excel because of the extra-sensitivity and honesty they bring to the task beyond professionalism. With the example of professionalism and honesty set at the highest level, we will see more women challenging and winning.

Improving the conditions women working in now with NGOs…

Women have not enjoyed the same opportunities as men in our traditions. Usually women got married too early. Whenever there was a choice to send a boy child or a girl child to school, the boy got sent to school to become a professional while the girl got married to become a housewife. So we will work hard on gender equality by stressing the education for girls. We are also concerned about our market women, many of whom are illiterate. We will prioritize adult literacy programs so that they can learn to read and write. At the professional level, we will stress the presence of women without sacrificing competence and qualifications. It will be like putting in place a sort of “affirmative action” plan for women.

About America’s influence on her policies

My broad experience is really beaded in my country. That experience comes from the background of my parents who were from an indigenous stock but benefited from the settlers’ culture. My family’s past has shaped my views about what needs to be done for the rural population. My professional life has not just been in the US. I have done lot of work around the world, especially living and working in other parts of Africa on development issues. My views and experience go beyond America, although I have learned much from there through my education and work. I also value some of the ideals of democracy in America, such as freedom of speech and association and others things that we might want to emulate in Liberia.

On US-Liberia relationship

We have a good relationship with the USA and the American government has been very forthcoming for us in the current peace process and provided great humanitarian support throughout the years of war. With peace coming, we would like to take that relationship a step further, towards a relationship based on mutuality of interests, a relationship more responsible than being America’s stepchild in Africa. We have natural resources they need and they have things that we need, especially in our attempts to build the pillars of democracy. I hope that by responsibly running our government and the management of our resources, we will be in a position to work with America. We have to take full responsibility for our own development. We are an African country and we are going to promote and respect African culture, we are going to strengthen our relationship with both regional integration and cooperation. But we do have privileged cultural, economic and political relationships with the United States and we will work to strengthen them the best we can.

On her vision for Liberia:

A strong economy that will respond to the needs of the people, a balanced development throughout the country, people participating in decision making so that they become whole stakeholders in their society. Our population is small in a small country. We have been blessed with tremendous natural resources. There is no reason for us to be poor. My motto is Growth For Development.

On her alleged support given to Mr. Charles Taylor:

I am just sad that Mr. Taylor’s propaganda has been so effective because that’s what it is. My support for Charles Taylor compared with the support he received from the Liberian people generally is so small. In the early days of this movement when we were fighting the military regime and felt that the pressure he brought would contribute to our achieving the kinds of changes we wanted in a military regime under which we suffered greatly, we tried to help. We had been through prison and we had been terrorized by this regime. Unfortunately, we didn’t know Charles Taylor and just took his movement at face value; he was never a colleague of ours. We were in the United States with an institution and tried to support him but just six months into the movement, we found out that all he really wanted was power and personal enrichment. Some of our colleagues were killed by him, and since then we have opposed him. I have challenged successive governments for their failures to meet the needs of our people. I have worked consistently on the same principles. So the one thing they could come up with is that I supported Taylor.

What to Do with Taylor if she is elected:

Mr. Taylor has been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. Liberia is a good standing member – and a founding member – of the UN. The laws must take its course. Whatever he did in Liberia is a matter for the future, right now he needs to go defend himself before the special court that has indicted him for crimes committed in Sierra Leone.

About Weah’s future if he does not win the election

Mr. Weah is a tremendous asset to our country. He has a great following, especially among your youth who have been victimized by the war one way or another. We hope that he will join the government in whatever capacity and continue to work with the young men and women that look up to him and we can all put together programs that will benefit them, to give them a future so that they no longer fall preys to gun and wars.