Friday, August 7, 2009

She Rocks

This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President
by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

I'm trying to figure out when/how I could get to Liberia and if I could get a meeting with this extraordinary woman. She is truly charismatic, and I would love to meet her sometime. Not only is her book a compelling account of her own life, it is a helpfully concise history of Liberia. She takes the reader on a journey that reveals the heritage of tension and strife culminating in 14 years of disastrous civil war beginning in 1989 (as well as an earlier bloody period beginning when Samuel Doe assassinated President William Tolbert in 1980). The fraudulently elected Charles Taylor (a dictator, really) was removed as President in 2003 with the help of the United Nations, and Sirleaf was elected President in 2005 in the first truly democratic elections ever in Liberia.

Sirleaf writes with a lot of humility (and even occasional gentle humor) about her rise to posts of prestige in the Liberian government, her American education, and her eventual speaking out against corruption and nepotism in the Liberian government. She spoke against the brutal leaders Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor at tremendous risk to her own life. These guys were not messing around - hundreds of people were executed for "treason"and "sedition" during those horrible years. There was virtually no rule of law to protect dissenters. She still is not sure what saved her from the same fate (and at times it looked as if death was surely coming for her), except the providence of God. I think "Mama Sirleaf," as she is called in Liberia, is a prophet for our time.

Having said that, she made her share of mistakes along the way. It seems that her deepest regret is that she cautiously supported both Doe and Taylor when they initially seized power. In both cases, she thought they would be better than their predecessors and she was willing to overlook that they had been part of assassinations to gain power for themselves. It makes me respect her more that she acknowledges her regret about those mistakes in her book. A Liberian friend tells me that she has also publicly apologized to the Liberian people for her unintentional part in bringing about what they call "the dark years." Perhaps the mark of true leadership is the ability to admit mistakes, learn from them, and move forward.

I hope and pray that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf can help Liberia turn things around and become a peaceful, productive land. She certainly seems to have the will, the energy, and the faith for the task. Most press accounts indicate that she also has the support and goodwill of the Liberian people behind her. She and Liberia and all its people deserve our prayers and support. This is a moving, inspiring book that helps the reader understand not just the situation on the ground in Liberia, but in all of West Africa as well.

Reverent Reader


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