Liberians weigh Sirleaf's Nobel win

2011-10-08 19:30

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Monrovia - Liberians on Saturday weighed the potential impact of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's Nobel Peace Prize victory, which has been slammed as an unfair boost just three days before she seeks re-election.

Campaigning, due to wrap up on Sunday, infected the capital Monrovia, as small groups of supporters chasing trucks blaring music or handing out t-shirts took to the streets between thunder and bursts of rain from heavy black clouds.

On Friday, some 200 000 supporters of the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) brought the city to a standstill, with leader Winston Tubman, 70, urging them not to be swayed by his rival's Peace Prize win.

"Now, many of you don’t know the significance of this prestigious award of honour but we can see nothing in the record about Ellen Sirleaf that tells us that she has been promoting peace," the Harvard-trained lawyer told the crowd.

Opposition parties have used the prize to shine the light on some of the more controversial aspects of Sirleaf's career, as she briefly supported warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor when he ousted dictator Samuel Doe.

She has defended her actions, saying she became a fierce opponent as soon as the atrocities of Taylor's war became apparent, but the stain on her reputation has been seized upon by angry opposition parties.

'She hasn’t brought unity'

"What we know of her is that she brought war and that having now taken power, she hasn’t brought unity..."

Tubman's crowd-pleasing running partner, football star George Weah, added: "Is it a Nobel Peace Prize for corruption? Whether or not a Nobel Peace Prize, on October 11, she is going to leave."

Liberians seem to be wondering whether the prestigious prize so close to the country's closely watched second post-war polls was merited.

"The Nobel Peace Prize is timely, it is worth mentioning this is Africa's first female leader, who has struggled, who has gone to jail, who has been an advocate for women's rights," said 55-year-old retiree Bob James.

"It does not take a rocket scientist to see what has prevailed in Liberia," under Sirleaf's six-year rule since the end of the 1989-2003 civil war which left 250 000 people dead.

The Nobel Committee paid tribute to Sirleaf for her contribution "to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women".

Criticised over impunity

But Sirleaf, 72, is criticised over impunity for those who committed rights violations during the wars and a lack of reconciliation in a nation with a dizzying array of ethnic rivalries which still turn deadly from time to time.

She has also failed to implement the recommendations of a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report naming her on a list of people who should be banned from public office for 30 years for backing Taylor.

Dickson Totaye, 35, a former soldier under Doe who lost his job when the Liberian army was dissolved, and now a student of sociology and political science, said the Nobel win was "very very unjust. Let us X-ray her history, she is a lady who does not reconcile peace, who did not respect the TRC recommendations", he told AFP.

Referring to extreme poverty, unemployment and other social ills which still plague the West African nation, he said: "There is a serious economic war going on. Is there peace when people are going to bed hungry?"

Thomas Nimely, political scientist at the University of Monrovia, said whether the prize was merited or not "this is not the right time for such an event. We are about to go for elections, it was wrong to do that".

Economic disparities

Jewel Taylor, a senator and the wife of the former president who is on trial at The Hague for war crimes committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone, has thrown her weight behind the CDC, warning about economic disparities.

"The war was not fought because we didn't have roads or water or light or schools - the crisis in our country began because there were 10 percent of the population who had it all and 90% who continued to live below the standards that humans should be subjected to - that is the situation today."

At least 1.8 million Liberians have registered to vote on Tuesday, and security forces are on high alert for potential instability after recent post-poll conflict in neighbouring Ivory Coast saw armed fighters flooding into the country, hiding in the dense rainforest on the border.
Read more on:    george weah  |  winston tubman  |  ellen johnson sirleaf  |  liberia  |  nobel prize  |  west africa
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