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Liberia gets its 'man'

November 18, 2005

ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF'S campaign slogan was fitting: "She's our man." A week after Liberia's first election in more than 14 years, the tough-minded Johnson-Sirleaf is on the verge of breaking into Africa's "Big Men" club, becoming Liberia's new leader and the first elected female head of state in Africa's modern history.

Allegations of voter fraud may delay her confirmation, but it is unlikely there are enough (if any) tainted votes to erase her 20-point lead. If confirmed, Johnson-Sirleaf is well-equipped for her new task.

A Harvard-educated economist and 67-year-old grandmother, she has been Liberia's finance minister and has held positions at the United Nations and the World Bank. Her journey to president-elect hasn't been easy. In the 1980s, she was jailed for statements against autocratic leader Samuel Doe, and she has been criticized for her early support of Charles Taylor, the brutal dictator now in exile in Nigeria. (She now admits her support was a mistake.) And she has had to overcome widespread gender discrimination.

To say that she will inherit a country in dire straits is an understatement. The nation is still reeling from a 14-year civil war that ended just two years ago, claiming the lives of 200,000 and leaving more than a million refugees. Insurgents still hold senior positions within rival parties.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 19, 2005 Home Edition California Part B Page 18 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Liberia: An editorial Friday on incoming President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said the recent balloting was Liberia's first election in more than 14 years. Liberia held an election in 1997, although international monitors questioned its legitimacy.

One of Johnson-Sirleaf's greatest challenges will be restoring the faith of an electorate that for 20 years has suffered at the hands of corrupt leaders. The United States, whose historic ties to Liberia remain strong, can help stabilize the damaged region.

Johnson-Sirleaf will also be able to rely on her own formidable reputation. When she asked President John Kufuor of Ghana if he had a problem with a female president, he replied: "I don't consider you a woman." He meant it as a compliment.

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