Feted internationally, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is finding her shiny new Nobel Peace Prize isn’t universally welcomed at home. And with elections just around the corner, no one’s quite sure if the award will help or hinder her campaign. By SIMON ALLISON.
Politicians are divisive figures at the best of times, so it’s to be expected that when the Nobel Peace Prize Committee awards its top honour to a serving politician, not everyone’s going to be happy. This is the case with this year’s laureates Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, fellow Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakul Karman, which has received a decidedly mixed reaction in Liberia.
Of course, there were plenty of accolades offered in support, not least from the president herself: “One has to look at my life story…to see what I have done. It’s not just this election or 2005 elections. It goes back to the 1980s. I have a paid heavy price here that many people don’t realise. I have gone to prison more than once, more than one prison at the time that many people did not know of this struggle, and over the years I have been very consistent about the things I believe in.”
But Johnson Sirleaf also has more than a few detractors. Opposition presidential candidate – and Johnson Sirleaf’s most serious rival – Winston Tubman told a campaign rally: “She does not deserve it. She is a warmonger. She brought war on our country and spoiled the country.”
The award was also criticised by Jerome Verdier, the head of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which previously recommended that Johnson Sirleaf be banned from politics for her previous links with Charles Taylor. He described her government, from his perspective: “Corruption, lack of public integrity, impunity, inequitable distribution of public resources…do not ever build peace or contribute to it.”
It’s unclear how Johnson Sirleaf’s award will play out in November’s elections. Analysts are divided over whether it will convince wavering voters that she’s the right person for the job, or whether it will be successfully used by her opponents to show that she’s just a Western stooge. DM
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall