Leadership for a Nation in Crisis: Liberia


By: Abraham James, Ph. D.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 7, 2005


The Liberian nation is at a major crossroads, and Liberians are being called upon to select one of two candidates to provide effective presidential leadership beginning this January. The nation is in crisis and needs a leader with crisis management abilities.

Progress in establishing democracy is measured in small steps. The vote on October 11 to elect a president, vice president and members of the legislature was peaceful, transparent and fair. There were many surprises. The exercise will serve as a useful learning experience in the evolution of Liberia’s new democratic society.

Because none of the 22 presidential candidates received a majority of the vote cast, the two frontrunners, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and George Opong Weah, will contest a runoff vote on November 8, as provided for by the election laws of Liberia.

The important issue at hand now is this: Which of the two candidates is more adequately prepared to provide the leadership needed at this crucial moment of Liberian history? A great deal has been written and said about both candidates. Their individual strengths and weaknesses have been discussed and debated at length.

The nation of Liberia is normally referred to in the media as an impoverished country due to the disastrous effects of two decades of civil conflict. During this period, approximately 200,000 lives were lost. The infrastructure of the country has been devastated. Electricity, pipe-borne water, and the health-care delivery system have ceased to exist. Unemployment has risen to 85 percent. For the first time in the nation’s history, the older generation is better-educated than the younger generation. The great institutions of our country, including our education and legal systems, have been adversely affected. Greed and corruption have become pervasive in the Liberian society. Aspects of the ethnic tendencies that have created dangerous divisions in the country have begun to resurface. Our standing among peer states in the African region and the larger international community has declined substantially. Liberia has even been referred to in international circles as a failed state. Liberia is in a crisis, and the nation needs a seasoned leader to cope with the situation. It is against this background that the choice of an appropriate leader should be considered.

In considering the capabilities of the two candidates, it seems to me that Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf is the better choice to lead our nation at this point in time. Her training and experience over the years have equipped her to handle the problems of a country in crisis, such as ours. Her record as a successful public servant and her ability to work with individuals of various backgrounds as an advocate for human rights and her compassion for people will help her to handle the problems of uniting the Liberian people. Her years of service at the Ministry of Finance, the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank, and other financial institutions will help her revive the Liberian economy and provide job opportunities for Liberians in all segments of society. Her election is also likely to inspire Liberian professionals in the Diaspora to return home to help rebuild the nation. And her contacts with international agencies will create a favorable environment for foreign investment in the country.

For these reasons, I appeal to my fellow countrymen to vote wisely on November 8 by putting Liberia first. Vote for unity and peace in our country. Please vote for candidate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and give her a clear mandate to lead Liberia toward recovery.

About the author: In recent years Abraham James served as Visiting Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, Department of Government, and Adjunct Professor of Government at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. He is currently working with various umbrella government organizations in the United States including the University of Liberia Alumni Association, the Grand Cape Mount Association in America and the Federation of Liberian Counties in the United States.