Presidential elections are the big thing going on Liberia these days. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president was elected by the Liberian people in 2005 and is now running for a second term. I didn’t know much about her and knew even less about the other contenders, so I decided when I was home to buy her autobiography for the trip back to Liberia. I just finished it.
She is quite the lady. But beyond just her own story, I learned so much more about Liberia. She described her country this way, “Liberia is a wonderful, beautiful, mixed-up country struggling mightily to find itself.” Wow. And that, my friends, is the best summary I’ve heard so far.
I appreciated her honesty about the meager condition of Liberia while maintaining an authentic posture of hope. It’s true. Liberia is a mess. When Ma Ellen (as the Liberians call her) took office, half of the population was struggling to live on just 50 cents/day. Illiteracy rates were reported to be as high as 70% and an unemployment rate of nearly 80%, many of those being young men who had been child soldiers.
The country’s infrastructure was almost completely destroyed. Ellen’s new government started working in buildings without functioning bathrooms and electricity. The electrical power grids had been systematically looted during the war. Likewise, water pipes had either deteriorated or been dug up and stolen (by Nigerian UN peacekeepers no less) leaving ¾ of the population without safe drinking water. The list goes on and on…sky-high HIV rates, malaria, malnutrition, inadequate school systems, run down and vacated hospitals, topped off with a massive $4.7 billion international debt owed to various donors.
Kudos to her for not throwing her arms up as I probably would have done…and sometimes do. And yet, here she is, running for another six-year term. I hope she wins. I know that progress in these areas has not come as swiftly as she or the rest of the country would like to see. But progress has been made and I hope the Liberian people recognize that.
A new campus for the University of Liberia just opened this last month and a brand new; state of the art hospital was constructed in rural Liberia where proper health care is scarce. The roads are a mess, but are slowly being rehabilitated. There is a long way to go, but they are headed in the right direction and I think consistency, slow and steady, is what it will take.
Elections will be held on Oct 11th. Good luck, Ma Ellen!