Student’s aunt 1st female African president

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's nephew called her a "very tough lady" who can get the job done in leading Liberia.

Elizabeth Giorgi

Keeping a low profile is not a concern for one University student whose aunt was elected as the president of Liberia earlier this month.

University graduate student Momolu Sirleaf, the nephew of the newly elected president, was excited to see his aunt win after losing the previous election.

Some University students and faculty members are celebrating the recent election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who is not only the first female president of Liberia, but also the first female president in Africa.

Sirleaf knew his aunt would run for president again after she lost the 1997 election, he said.

Johnson-Sirleaf has been active in Liberian politics for more than two decades, Sirleaf said, and was energized to run a strategic presidential campaign in Liberia.

Sirleaf said he initially was skeptical about whether his aunt would win because she was running against popular African soccer player George Weah.

“I wanted her to win, but this guy was so popular,” he said.

However, Sirleaf said, he was hopeful for his aunt because of her experience.

Johnson-Sirleaf’s active voice in civil rights and human rights will make her a great leader, he said, but people need to understand it will take time to get the state of the country back to the way it used to be.

Problems with the economy as well as the effects of civil war will take time to repair, he said.

The country has seen changes in its local governments, Sirleaf said. Women have won most of the local-level elections so it is not surprising Liberia was ready for a female president.

Johnson-Sirleaf visited the University this summer to campaign and spend time with Sirleaf and his family, he said.

The family understands the downsides of her election and presidency, but knows it is important to remain hopeful, he said.

Many times when some people feel a leader is not doing well, groups of people in Africa will take it out on the family, he said.

“She is a very tough lady; she can get the job done,” Sirleaf said.

Remi Douah, coordinator for the Multicultural and Academic Affairs Office, said women in Africa have been putting a new level of importance on developing different types of leadership skills, and they have not been given the chance to put those abilities into action until recently.

“It is common in many African cultures to hear the sentence that goes, “When you educate a man, you educate an individual, and when you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation,’ ” he said.

The changes that are taking place in Africa have been seen as a positive step in the right direction, Douah said.

“It is my hope that more women will step up and excel,” he said.

Douah said he is hopeful Johnson-Sirleaf will bring Liberia forward and surround herself with prime ministers that will lead the country in the right direction.

“It is a beautiful day,” he said, “(Johnson-Sirleaf’s election) reminds me of Nelson Mandela.”

Mandela overcame imprisonment for his beliefs and eventually was elected the president of South Africa.

Momolu Sirleaf said there are many people looking to his aunt for great things.

“Expectations are high because she is a female,” said Seyon Nyanwleh, a global studies and political science junior and president of the African Student Association.

Nyanwleh said it will be exciting to see which leaders she will choose to surround herself with, because the choices will help determine the success of her presidency.