LIBERIA: FROM DESPOTISM TO FREEDOM
Today a special court at The Hague found former Liberian president Charles Taylor guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was convicted of aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone who committed horrendous acts—including rape, murder, and recruiting of child soldiers—during a civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002. An estimated 50,000 people perished. Taylor’s Liberia also suffered terribly under this warlord turned president.
Forced from power and into exile in 2003, Taylor stands in sharp contrast to freedom advocate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who in 2005 was elected president of Liberia and became the first woman democratically elected to serve as a head of state in Africa. “[W]e inherited a devastated country, dysfunctional institutions, destroyed infrastructure. A debt overhang, debt-distressed country. Trauma. But we also had a population that was tired of war. And wanted to be normal again,” Sirleaf said in an interview for the Bush Center’s Freedom Collection.
No longer among the ranks of the world’s “not free” countries, according to Freedom House, Liberia today is an electoral democracy in which corruption is under attack and basic rights are generally protected. Sirleaf acknowledges that “Yes, there are a lot of…disappointments and dissent…[P]eople think that their lives are going to change immediately, and there´s going be a magic wand….Just the ability to make it happen takes longer than we think.” But she also rightly sees that “we´ve come a long way. And that the future´s bright.”
Amanda Schnetzer is Director for Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute
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