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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came to power in Liberia in January 2006 following decades of war, violence and coups, and became the first elected woman head of the state in Africa.
She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 alongside fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni rights activist Tawakkol Karman for her contribution to peace in Liberia and her work on women’s rights.
She has been hailed for her work both at home and abroad, but her legacy in Liberia is overshadowed by accusations of nepotism and corruption.
When asked to explain why, after pledging in 2005 to tackle corruption, her government failed to take any action against some 20 ministers accused of corruption by an independent watchdog, Sirleaf said it was “because our system is like that”.
“If you want to really understand Liberia, you need to dig a little bit deeper. You need to understand our culture, our values, our systems and the way to tackle it. It’s not always to just make a whole lot of noise about it,” she added.
When asked why she appointed family members, including one of her sons, to top government positions, she said it was because she needed a “specialised skill”.
She denied accusations her son Robert Sirleaf was in any way implicated in the collapse of Liberia’s National Oil Company, and said her other son, Charles Sirleaf who was arrested in March, was “illegally charged” over allegations he unlawfully printed local currency worth tens of millions of dollars.
The former president also defended her record on war-crime prosecutions in Liberia. She has been criticised for ignoring recommendations put forward by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Truth and reconciliation has gone to the courts, it’s left the courts. It has transformed into the Palava Hut. That process has started … and so I don’t care what you say,” she told UpFront.
This week’s Headliner, former President of Liberia and Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.