Liberians Elect Africa’s First Woman Leader
She’s Our Man – Liberians Elect Africa’s First Woman Leader
On a bustling street in central Monrovia, my favourite message of the presidential campaign is still scrawled on a wall; it reads “Ellen, She’s our Man”. Although the results of the Presidential run-off elections are not yet finalised, with all of the 3,070 polling places now counted, it looks like Liberia, and Africa, will soon have its first elected female leader.
Ex-combatants outside a polling station after casting their votes, New Georgia Estate, Monrovia.
Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of the Unity Party (UP), a politician and former UN-employee, has 59.6% of the votes. This gives her a clear lead over former AC Milan and Chelsea football star turned presidential aspirant, George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), who received 40.4% of votes.
For Brendan Sowerby, a New Zealander working for the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the day of the Presidential election, last Tuesday was a long day. Sowerby, works with the Liberia National Elections Commission to assist in the organisation and planning of the elections in an urban area on the outskirts of Monrovia. He said, the long, hot day was worth it. “It was amazing arriving at polling centres at 5 am while still dark, to find people already organising themselves into queues, and quietly waiting to cast their vote. Everyone I spoke to was adamant that Liberians are tired of war, tired of being ‘scattered’. They were voting for peace.” Despite concerns over possible violence caused by disenfranchised youth and ex-combatants seeking to disrupt and discredit the electoral process, the day was peaceful and calm.
Liberians queuing to vote, Monrovia.
International and national observers have reported that the election was free and peaceful. However George Weah and his supporters are alleging fraudulent activities by some polling staff, including the existence of pre-printed ballots. Weah’s CDC Party has issued a formal complaint to the Elections Commission. Over the past few days CDC supporters, most of them young ex-combatants, have held largely peaceful rallies in Monrovia and Zwedru, to protest over what they see as massive fraud during the Presidential run-off elections, some chanting “No Weah, No Peace”.
The official result will not be announced until Friday, as some results have only just arrived at the central tally centre in Monrovia. Many of the last ballots were collected from remote jungle areas, were the infrastructure was devastated during the war years; they had to be walked out on foot, or retrieved by UN helicopters. However, Sirleaf-Johnson has already claimed victory.
Women waiting for polls to open, New Georgia Estate, Monrovia.
She is popular among women and well educated Liberians and many of her supporters are quietly jubilant. George Freeman, voted for Unity Party confident that Sirleaf-Johnson has the ability and experience to lead the country and bring to it the ‘woman’s touch’ needed to heal the nation. Alvin Duo, who works at Firestone Rubber Plantation, is very relieved that CDC was unsuccessful. ‘It would have been a disaster for Liberia’ he says. ‘The members of CDC are all former warlords, who were just using Weah to regain control of the country. They would have bought us back to fighting, and targeted all those with an education, just like during the war. Liberians know our own people – we voted for Ellen because we don’t want to go back.’
Another of the Unity Party’s campaign slogans was simply ‘Vote for the Old Ma’. It seems Liberians have done just that. Let’s hope that Ellen is indeed the woman for the job and that after a long darkness, Liberia begin a new chapter in its history with hope and dignity.
Young Liberian woman voting, Monrovia.
Polling staff relax in a quiet moment on election day, Monrovia.
Queuing in the hot sun outside a polling centre on Randall St, Central Monrovia.
Imogen Prickett is a New Zealander working with the United Nations in Monrovia, Liberia. This is her first article for Scoop.