Liberia's first female democratically-elected president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has now stepped down as the country's leader, following the effluxion of her term. She inherited a broken country, and did all she could to mend it. She has registered success, and failure as well.
Ellen is a beacon of the great strides of female emancipation on the continent. She is the continent's first female democratically-elected head of state, and for the empowerment of women that is a major, unprecedented feat. Her legacy as an embodiment of female empowerment will live forever through history. Ruth Caesar, co-ordinator of the Liberian Women Political Forum, says Sirleaf “broke the glass ceiling”, inspiring other women to enter politics, and this year, 16% of house of representatives candidates are female, the highest proportion in history.
However, According to UN Women data, Liberia ranks just 146th of 190 countries in terms of women in the legislature—women account for 11.66%. The executive branch consists of 21% women and women account for under 6% of leadership positions in local government, from the village to the county level. The data shows that in this year’s election, just ten of a total of 58 candidates in Sirleaf’s Unity Party are women.
It is of great importance to note that Sirleaf took over a country that had been ravaged by civil war for an agonising period of fourteen years, in which more than 250,000 people were killed and another million displaced (about a quarter of the population). She has done all she could to restore the fragile nation to normalcy, a country where rape, murder, mutilation and lawlessness had become rife and internalised. She however has admitted that she could have done more to repair the damage that had been heavily inflicted on the country.
Her spirited peace efforts must not go unmentioned. Having inherited such a damaged country, she had the onerous task of ensuring peace and sanity prevailed in the country. at her final address to the United Nations General Assembly last month she outlined her government’s positive impacts. Under her rule the government had “reshaped” security services, she said, adding that “Liberia has remained stable, peaceful and secured”. In 2011, she was one of a trio of women who won a Nobel Peace Prize; four days later she was re-elected president.
The Ebola crisis did severe damage to the country's economy. In the same speech she said the economy had transformed from a negative growth rate to more than 8.7% in 2013, until Ebola struck the nation, and the plummeting price of export mainstays iron ore and rubber brought a downturn. However, Liberia is still plagued by poverty. In the 2016 United Nations Human Development Index, Liberia ranks 177th out of 188 countries.
Sirleaf was chairwoman of the Economic community of West African States (ECOWAS) when she mediated for the peaceful handover of power from Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh who lost the election to Adama Barrow but refused to go. Jammeh, in power since a 1994 coup, lost the 2016 election to businessman Adama Barrow, but the authoritarian leader contested the results in a move condemned at home and abroad.
She has done all she could. She could have done more. Considering the heavy odds that were stacked against her when she took over the country, she has done tremendously well in making sure that the country recovers. She is a woman of power and of peace.