October 11, 2005


Liberia's second chance (Jonathan Power, 10/11/05, International Herald Tribune)

Two years ago I was here at the war's end. Nigerian and Ghanaian peacekeeping troops lined the road from the airport, backs to the road, scanning the jungle for movement. The roads were sandbagged. Telephone and electricity pylons had been stripped bare.

I arrived with President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who had engineered the removal of Taylor to exile in Nigeria and the introduction of West African peacekeepers, together with a contingent of U.S. soldiers. He came to the presidential palace, making his way through tumultuous crowds who shouted "bring us peace" and surprised the leaders of the interim government, made up in large part by leaders of rival militias, by admonishing them "to love one another and to forgive".

Two years later, I returned on Friday with Obasanjo. The peacekeepers were gone from the airport road, the sandbags had been removed and the streets cleaned. Tradesmen lined the road, selling everything from eggs to cellphone cards. People sat at leisure in open-air caf├ęs. There were signs advertising Internet service.

Obasanjo had come back to meet the interim government and the contestants for the Tuesday's elections - "the freest elections Liberia will ever have had," according to Alan Doss, the UN's special representative in Monrovia. This time Obasanjo thanked the interim government for overseeing a peaceful transition and bluntly told the more than 20 presidential candidates who had assembled before him, "Liberia can't have 20 presidents. It is no good telling your supporters you are 'sure' to win. That just creates problems afterwards."

The race appears to have come down to two candidates who are running neck and neck. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 66, is an experienced former senior Citicorp banker and one time finance minister. If she wins, she will be Africa's first woman head of state. Her main rival is George Weah, 39, a former African and World Footballer of the Year.

Weah appeals to Liberia's young people and Johnson-Sirleaf to those who know the country needs practical experience. Whoever wins, Obasanjo told me, "will have heavy demands put on them by the donor nations. And so it should be. Money can't be poured into resuscitating the country unless there are very tight controls."

Just another instance of how effective unilateral regime change can be. The main difference here is that the Left was actually supportive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 11, 2005 8:31 AM

We need more footballers running for high office.

Demarcus Beasley for US Pres.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 11, 2005 11:55 AM

Well, Lynn Swann is running for high office.

Oh, you're talking about soccer.

Posted by: jefferson park at October 11, 2005 1:34 PM