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The Significance of Johnson-Sirleaf's Victory

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza


Today, at last, postcolonial Africa has got its first democratically elected female president, Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. She was inaugurated at a colorful and moving open-air ceremony to the pounding of drums instead of the traditional twenty one gun salute in the war-torn capital of Monrovia vigorously spruced up for the historic occasion that was attended by several African leaders and foreign dignitaries and thousands of women from across the continent. This is an extraordinary moment for the troubled beacon of liberty, Liberia, Africa's oldest modern republic founded by African Americans in 1847, and for Africa at large, long ruled and ruined by men, as well as for women everywhere who are still largely invisible in the corridors and councils of power. Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf triumphed in a fraught election that pitted her against twenty-one other candidates in the initial round of voting, then against a popular international soccer star in the final round, a race in which gender, generational, class, and rural-urban cleavages and interests jostled for primacy. She joins an exclusive masculine club of global political leaders as one of only six female presidents (the others are in Finland, Ireland, Latvia, the Philippines, and Chile whose first female president was elected yesterday). Thus her inauguration is an occasion for celebration but also censure, reflection and reproach: it is milestone memorable for its rarity, a testimony to the limited advances women have made in rising to the highest levels of national and international politics.

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JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

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