Robert Sirleaf is reputed to be his mother’s favourite. Along with the President’s older sister, Jennie Bernard, he heads her inner circle of advisors. She appointed another son, Charles Sirleaf, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia in February. Her nephew Varney Sirleaf became Deputy Minister for Administration in the powerful Ministry of Internal Affairs, also in February, and son Fumba Sirleaf is the Minister for National Security, as he was during her first term. Jennie Bernard, her husband Estrada Bernard (an unofficial legal advisor to the President), and Robert Sirleaf are reputed to have power of veto over any senior appointments. Presidential brother Carney Johnson is on the board of the mining exploration company AmLib.
From “Keeping it in the family,” a gated Africa Confidential article.
Tony Blair is visiting Liberia through his Africa Governance Initiative (AGI). The Guardian did an amazing interview with Blair and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in part about legislation that criminalizes homosexuality. In the interview, awkward throughout, Sirleaf clearly does not want to talk about the issue. She says she will not sign any law decriminalizing homosexuality because Liberia has traditional values that she wants to uphold. She uncomfortably repeats that line a few times, but says nothing else on the matter.
Blair looks on the verge of laughter (is this how he always looks?). The interviewer then asks Blair what he has to say on the matter, given that human rights and good governance go hand in hand. Blair explicitly refuses to comment. The interviewer pushes him: “So good governance and human rights don’t go hand in hand?”
“Do you know how long I’ve been doing these types of interviews?” Blair retorts. ”I’m not giving you an answer on it.”
Watch the video from 2:33 for an interruption by Sirleaf. ”AGI Liberia has specific terms of reference. Carrying out their function within those terms of reference, that’s all we require of them.” Blair laughs out loud, and then bites his lip to stop.
Others points of note:
- A bill to make punishment of homosexuality stricter has been introduced by Jewel Taylor, Charles Taylor’s ex-wife. ”We are just trying to strengthen our local laws. This is not an attempt to bash homosexuals,” she says. Whatever one’s position on gay rights, that logic makes no sense.
- The gay rights debate in Liberia began after Hillary Clinton announced that US aid would be tied to protection of gay rights.
It’s fascinating seeing the mixed reactions to this interview on my Facebook feed.
From an excellent [gated] Africa Confidential article on events surrounding the Liberian elections:
The events damaged the President, who is getting off to a shaky start and attracting criticism for suppressing free speech. Shortly after the shootings [of CDC supporters], the Justice Ministry obtained a warrant to permanently close down four popular FM radio and television stations. Heavily armed [Emergency Response Unit Liberian police] officers shut down Love FM, which is owned by Benoni Urey, a confidant of ex-President Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor and a key CDC supporter; King’s FM, owned by George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah, Tubman’s ex-international footballer running mate; and Shatta FM and Power FM, owned by Aaron Kollie, journalist and friend of Taylor. The paramilitary ERU, trained for counterinsurgency, carried out the warrants even though the law says that is the job of court sheriffs.
From Glenna Gordon:
Voting in Liberia’s elections yesterday was calm and organized. I spent most of the day in Bomi County waiting for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to vote, and then came back to Monrovia in the evening.
EJS stood in line for nearly half an hour before a special line for the “elderly” was created so she could be vast tracked to vote. I hear the Tubman and Weah didn’t wait in line at all.
Pictures on her blog are here.
Johnny Dwyer on Sirleaf winning the Nobel Peace Prize:
…Liberia is a complicated place, in the midst of a crucial election. President Sirleaf has been uniquely adept at telling her story to Western audiences which is a crucial element of governing a nation so reliant on donors. Ultimately, though, her primary audience is the Liberian electorate. On October 11th they will decide whether she deserves the nation’s ultimate prize: the Executive Mansion.
Comments from a public Liberia elections-oriented Facebook group:
My first thought on seeing the announcement this morning was to recall Sirleaf mentioning in her immodestly-titled memoir that she hoped (or maybe even expected?) to get the Nobel Peace Prize.
Chris Blattman has some thoughts here.
That’s the title of this A. Leslie Lumeh cartoon from Liberia’s Daily Observer.
“I say Borbor, I hear say Pres. Sirleaf convoy passed through CDC children dem without any problem when George Weah and Winston Tubman came?”
“Yeaho: dey president’s convoy passed without trouble despite the CDC children dem songs dey were singing against her.”
From the Liberian Journal:
[Ellen Johnson Sirleaf] has been holding a number on private meetings in Washington, including one held on Sunday, May 23, with members of the Unity Party in the United States. The UP members have been embroiled in a leadership dispute involving two rival groups, one headed Mr. Gayah Fahnbulleh and the other by Mr. Sam Gibson.
I’m not sure what the dispute is about, and I suspect her commencement address at Harvard will not shed light on this.
Liberian Leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has for the first time spoken on the political stalemate [in Cote d'Ivoire]. President Johnson Sirleaf frowned on the use of force to remove incumbent Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, terming the African leaders planned action as disastrous. [...] President Johnson Sirleaf cautioned West African leaders about the negative effect military intervention will have on the sub region [...]
That’s from the Daily Observer. Hat tip to Until Our Independence (an English-language blog on Cote d’Ivoire, written by an Ivorian).
The Economist has a very good analytical article on Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia. (Hat tip to @RealClearAfrica) Here’s an excerpt, though I think it’s a little misleading to imply that the hierarchies of these former rebel groups have remained strong since the war ended. (Can someone remind me who has written on that topic? Their name is escaping me at the moment.)
Two main groups [from Liberia] are involved [in Cote d'Ivoire's crisis]. One comprises former members of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, known as MODEL, a rebel group once based in Côte d’Ivoire and created by Mr Gbagbo. Back in the 1990s, he opposed the forces of Liberia’s bloodthirsty president, Charles Taylor…With a strong presence in and around Toe Town, MODEL’s fighters hail from Mr Gbagbo’s Krahn tribe.
The second Liberian group that has popped up again, previously known as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, was once sponsored by Mr Taylor, who backed Côte d’Ivoire’s northern rebels in their vain effort to oust Mr Gbagbo during the Ivorian civil war in 2002. Abandoned at the end of that conflict, this group’s militia has swapped sides to fight for Mr Gbagbo.
And the article makes a point I hadn’t thought of:
Liberia has its own elections in October. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, seems likely to be re-elected. But opposition politicians may be tempted to use gunmen returning from Côte d’Ivoire to stir up trouble.