Humanosphere is on hiatus. Many thanks to our web design, development and hosting partner Culture Foundry for keeping the site active while we plan our next move. Culture Foundry builds, evolves and supports next-level websites and applications for clients you know, and you couldn’t ask for a better partner to help you thrive in digital. If you’re considering an ambitious website design or development project, we encourage you to make them your very first call.

Liberia’s Presidency: Two sides to the same leaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is well regarded in many international circles. She has the Nobel Peace prize to prove it. Her administration publicly states that it is committed to ending its reliance on foreign assistance within 10 years.

“Goal number one…If we continue on the path with the investment we have, and we open up the economy, and our capacity proves our infrastructure is expanding; in 10 years, Liberia will not require foreign assistance. We have to do it and I’m convinced it can be done,” she said in 2011.

Much like other Western darlings in Africa like Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Malawi’s Joyce Banda, the legacy of Johnson Sirleaf is not all sunshine and roses.

Readers of Canada’s Globe & Mail who do not know much about Liberia were presented a depiction of the flawless leader.

When Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” he might have been talking about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Writer David Israelson proceeds to extol Sirleaf Johnson ahead of her appearance at the We Day celebration led by the nonprofit organization Free the Children and its for-profit partner company Me to We. The column seemingly celebrates the accomplishments of Sirleaf Johnson and uses her as a challenge to Canadians to follow her along Ghandi’s path.

In addition to being a game-changer for young people, free education sends a strong message in a world that still struggles against child labour and military conscription. Ms. Sirleaf also signed into law West Africa’s first freedom of information legislation.

A thinly veiled response from Doug Saunders in the Globe & Mail counters the idea of Sirleaf as a “Gandhi of West Africa.” He points out examples of nepotism and corruption in the Sirleaf administration. Her two sons were removed from high profile government jobs in the past year due to mismanagement and allegations of corruption. The country has made many important gains since the end of its civil war a decade ago, but it is not the perfect model that all others should follow, says Saunders.

This combination of record-breaking economic growth and poverty alleviation with extreme corruption and ill-considered resource deals makes Liberia an imperfect model. While Ms. Johnson Sirleaf deserves credit for making her country a peaceful and relatively stable place, it’s time to temper that with some caution.

Struck by the PR nature of the Israelson, Aaron Leaf wrote to the Globe & Mail editors for more clarification about the nature of the article.

“Many of my colleagues in Liberia and elsewhere have expressed shock that such an uncritical article could ever appear about any politician, especially one embroiled in several scandals around chronic corruption and the imprisonment of Liberia’s top newspaper editor,” wrote Leaf to the Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

Stead responded defending the decision to publish Israelson’s OpEd as a news story. The full conversation can be read on Africa is a Country.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]