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Liberia’s new president is a Methodist – vows to work for change

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia is Africa's first woman elected head of state. United Methodist News Service photo by Joseph Zeogar
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the 23rd president of Liberia, pledged to work for economic stability, create a brighter future for youth and children and empower women in her inauguration speech 16 January.

"We will work to change," she said.

The first woman elected head of state in Africa, Johnson-Sirleaf acknowledged many challenges lie ahead for her country.

"I understand what you ordinary citizens go through each day," she said, speaking to her people.

"I applaud the resilience of our people, who have been dehumanized by poverty and shackled by 14 years of civil war, who had the courage to go to the polls and vote – not once but twice – for me and Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai."

Under cloudy skies, the new president began by reflecting on her two illiterate grandmothers and parents who taught her "to be what I am today." She also called for a moment of silent prayer.

An active member of First United Methodist Church, Johnson-Sirleaf spoke of her faith several times during her 40-minute speech. On Sunday, 15 January, a thanksgiving and intercessory service was held at her church and officiated by Liberian Bishop John Innis and Bishop Peter Weaver, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops. Weaver presented Johnson-Sirleaf with a Bible signed by the bishops of the church.

Johnson-Sirleaf made a special point of thanking West Africans who "died for us and denied yourselves to assist and pray for us."

In a statement given to the press, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan congratulated the people of Liberia for a peaceful and transparent electoral process. The establishment of the democratically elected government brings a close to the two-year transitional period in the peace agreement signed in 2003.

The new president faces a number of challenges, including restructuring security, strengthening the economy, protecting human rights and establishing basic services such as electricity and running water. Liberia’s civil war decimated most of the country’s infrastructure.

Liberians have high expectations for their new president, and Johnson-Sirleaf said she will work to put Liberia’s economic house "back in order."

"We need to put Liberians back to work and bring our economic and financial house in order."

Johnson-Sirleaf extended a hand of friendship to those who ran against her in the election, at one point speaking directly to George Weah, her closest opponent, who attended the inauguration.

"I believe democracy is best served when the opposition is strong and actively engaged," she said.

She asked those Liberians who had fled the country during the war to return and join in rebuilding the nation. She also said she would help those living in refugee camps rebuild their lives.

"Your job as citizens is to work for family and your country," she said. "The government’s job is to work for you."

Johnson-Sirleaf promised the days of terror by corrupt chief executives were over and said "corruption will be enemy No. 1" in her administration. She pledged that everyone in her administration would be required to declare their assets. "I will be the first to comply," she said to the applause of those in attendance.

"I am a president for all the people," she said. "No one in my administration will pursue any vendettas, and we will have no policy of exclusion."

Before ending her speech, Johnson-Sirleaf closed with words for the women of Liberia, Africa and the world.

"Women have endured injustices and inhumane treatment … yet it is the women who have labored and advocated for peace."

She thanked the women in Liberia who "had an unmatched passion" for her candidacy. She said she would work to make sure women had their proper place in the economic process.

She ended on a determined note. "We are good, we are kind, we are forgiving and we are God’s. … We have a future of promise and hope, and we will not fail."

(c) United Methodist News Service

Photo : Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia is Africa’s first woman elected head of state. United Methodist News Service photo by Joseph Zeogar