The Liberian Run-Off: What It Means for Democracy and Women

By Miriam Kirubel

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in as the 24th president of Liberia, she not only accepted the critical task of bringing peace and stability to a country plagued by years of violence, but also of displaying to women all around Africa that they too can lead. These efforts were recently awarded on a global-scale when she was named one of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipients.

Given that the Nobel Peace Prize announcement was made only days before Sirleaf’s bid for re-election, journalists and pundits in Liberia and around the world questioned the Nobel Committee’s decision. While the Committee maintains that it had no intention of influencing the election, the decision has sparked an interesting discussion; has Sirleaf’s award had any effect on her campaign for re-election, or on the issues of corruption that continue to swarm the democratic process in the country?

In 2005, Sirleaf inherited leadership of a decimated Liberia after 14 years of brutal dictatorships and civil war. Remarkably, Sirleaf altered Liberia’s image from a country marred by a bloody past and child soldiers, and showed the world that it could, and would, be something more. She negotiated $4.6 billion in debt relief, promoted major foreign investment in the country, encouraged economic growth, and spearheaded efforts to improve human and women’s rights throughout the country. 

But Liberia still has a ways to go – particularly in regards to poverty, unemployment and corruption. Allegations of corruption, in particular, have played a large role in this election cycle. The opposition party continuously spoke out against Liberia’s National Elections Commission in weeks prior to today’s second trip to the polls, accusing the Commission of skewing the October results in Sirleaf’s favor. The Chairman of the Commission stepped down from his position in lieu of this pressing criticism. While the international community continues to dub the election fair, free and transparent, Sirleaf’s run-off opponent, Winston Tubman, has followed through on his threats to boycott the second round of elections, causing many to question the legitimacy of the country’s democratic process.

Despite these complications, Sirleaf continues to receive support from many well-respected figures, including Togba Nah Tipoteh of the Freedom Alliance Party and Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party. Her most unlikely and infamous supporter, however, is current Senator and former warlord turned born-again Christian, Prince Johnson. Though Johnson initially planned to support Tubman, he decided against it when the opposition pledged to enforce Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s recommendation to send Johnson to the International Criminal Court for his involvement in the civil war. While some do not like Sirleaf’s unspoken acceptance of this support, Johnson – who came in third place during the October elections – could have provided Sirleaf an additional constituency of support as Liberians cast their ballots. 

Sirleaf has publicly acknowledged that she has not been able to solve all of Liberia’s difficulties during her six years as President. Despite her initial pledge to only serve one term, Sirleaf believes that running a second-term will afford her the time to address the concerns of corruption and calls for justice in the country. “We still have more work to do,” she said at a recent rally.

All of these factors will continue to be scrutinized as polls come to a close, and journalists and pundits once again begin questioning the issues of Liberia: what has Sirleaf accomplished for her country, what is left to be done, and what can she achieve through her status as a Nobel Laureate and as the two-term President of Liberia?

For more on the election results

Voice of America, "Vote Counting Underway in Liberia"

Mmegi Online, "Thousands gather to protest disputed Liberia elections"

The Daily Beast, "Leymah Gbowee's Back for More"

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