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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Toward African Leadership

According to Liberia’s president, what kind of leadership does her continent need?

October 10, 2011

According to Liberia's president, what kind of leadership does her continent need?
1. What has been Africa’s overriding political problem for the past few decades?

“When the post-colonial leaders exited the political stage, that ushered in a decline in the quality of African leadership.”


2. How so?

“It brought about a generation of military rulers with little or no vision.”


3. What do you fault them for?

“They indulged in the systematic plunder of the people’s resources. They invested in military hardware and adventurism, lavish lifestyles and grandiose projects of little relevance to economic performance.”


4. What should they have done instead?

“They should have invested in human capacity and food production, and focus on sheltering the teeming millions of homeless.”


5. Why did they succeed?

“These so-called new generation leaders spared no effort in keeping the people disunited — by pandering to ethnic and religious sentiments among the largely illiterate population.”


6. Where else did they fail miserably?

“They also deliberately worked toward minimizing the significance of quality education — an indispensable ingredient in stimulating growth and development in Africa.”


7. So what has to happen instead?

“We have to usher in a new path of governance — and provide leadership that is committed to peace, democracy and development.”


8. What is a major challenge in your view?

“Whether you look at my own country, Liberia, or plenty of other countries, we have to contend with the effects of many years of a system of centralized and dictatorial rule — where the needs of the state and the people were subordinated to the whims of an imperial presidency.”


9. How do you see Africa’s future?

“A new Africa is unfolding before our eyes. The African Renaissance is now at hand. It is within reach. It is embedded within the honest and seeking minds of the young, the professionals, the activists, the believers in our continent.” (July 2008)


10. How would you cast the importance of your election nearly six years ago?

“The election of the first female president in Africa has broken the glass ceiling in this previously strictly male preserve. And it has sent a clear signal for the need of an alternative leadership style.”


11. How have you tried to translate that?

“Beyond a passionate commitment to democratic governance, I am trying to lead [by the power of example] — with a healthy dose of personal modesty, quiet self-assuredness and a vision of one’s own place in history.”


12. What would you like to be known for when you leave office?

“As a leader who inspired hope and optimism. As a person that was short on rhetoric and grandstanding — and long on implementable policies aimed at improving the real lives of people who have long been disenchanted.”


13. And in a nutshell?

“In short, as a worthy citizen — not as a demi-God.”


Editor’s Note: Our “Read My Lips” series presents ten original quotes made by the featured individual(s) at the time specified in the answers. However, it is a “virtual” interview only — insofar as we have added questions in order to provide a better context to the thoughts expressed. All quotes presented above are drawn from a speech Ms. Johnson Sirleaf gave in London to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in May 2006, unless otherwise noted.