Madame President

Just got back from a talk by the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. She talked about building Liberia back up to a normal society after 20 years of civil war.

She opened the talk by drawing comparisons between the United States founders and Liberia's founders in 1847. Americans fled religious persecution in Europe, Liberians fled American slavery (when she said slavery the word cracked like a whip). Both sets of founders disregarded indigenous peoples. 'Both sets of founders' beliefs were flawed, but we admire them for their courage.' (Paraphrasing).

Basic points - elementary and vocational education, leading to job opportunities for the thousands of former child-soldiers who have no employable skills, financial controls on corporations so they don't loot Liberia like they have since 1980, empowering women (EJS's primary constituency is market women), and building up the country's security forces to ensure basic security once the UN peacekeepers leave.

After the talk she took open questions from the audience (imagine that). One question was from a member of the Georgetown faculty, saying that she was a member of the Peace Corps in the 1970s in Liberia in Lofa County, and asking whether the Peace Corps was coming back. The President said that the machinery is already in motion for the Peace Corps to come back to Liberia, and that she has requested lots and lots of teachers.

President Johnson-Sirleaf is an excellent public speaker. All seats were taken (Gaston Hall probably seats about 400 people). She speaks slowly, so you're able to concentrate on what she's saying, and her voice has a very hard edge, although surprisingly she mispronounced a few words (although she did go to Harvard, not Brown). She exudes an aura of authority. When compared to our president... it's clear why her nickname is the "Iron Lady" and our Presidents' is "Shrub".

No comments: