Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as the president of Liberia on Monday, making her the first democratically elected female head of state in Africa. The presidential term is six years, during which time Johnson-Sirleaf will have to address the manifold difficulties that remain after the disastrous presidency of Charles Taylor, who is in exile, and the preceding political chaos.
Johnson-Sirleaf herself was twice a political prisoner and worked for both the United Nations and the World Bank when she was exiled after arrests. Liberians hold high hopes for their new president, and the election has gained attention worldwide. According to the New York Times, both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush were present for the inauguration, as was George Weah, Johnson-Sirleaf’s main opponent in the race, who initially refused to concede.
In her inaugural address, Johnson-Sirleaf spoke to concerns specific to Liberian women. She said, “My Administration shall empower Liberian women in all areas of our national life. We will support and increase the writ of laws that restore their dignity and deal drastically with crimes that dehumanize them. We will enforce without fear or favor the law against rape recently passed by the National Transitional Legislature. We shall encourage families to educate all children, particularly the girl child. We will also try to provide economic programs that enable Liberian women Ð particularly our market women Ð to assume their proper place in our economic process.”