After winning a run-off election against former soccer star George Weah in 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia. But despite a long career in both national and international politics, her ascendancy to the presidency was not free of controversy.
Some critics are wary of her because of her previous support for former President Charles Taylor, whom Johnson Sirleaf later campaigned against. As of January 2008, Taylor is on trial in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, charged with war crimes for his alleged ties to the rebel insurgency in neighboring Sierra Leone. The Johnson Sirleaf administration has launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses and claims of war crimes during Liberia’s 14 years of civil war.
Since taking office Johnson Sirleaf’s administration has faced monumental challenges. After decades of war and corrupt leadership, Liberia’s infrastructure and economy were in ruins. The country had an unemployment rate of 85 percent and owed billions of dollars in debt. Monrovia had been without electricity and running water for nearly 10 years. During her first year in office Johnson Sirleaf opened a large investigation into corruption, including members of the Taylor administration. Many Taylor supporters remain in Liberia, including his former wife, Jewel Howard Taylor, who is a member of the Senate.
Perhaps Johnson Sirleaf’s most significant accomplishment to date as president has been her successful appeal towards debt relief. The cancellations of more than a billion dollars of debt from creditors including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United States government, much of which was accumulated illegitimately under the Doe regime, allows Liberia to concentrate on reconstruction and development. Recent efforts by the Johnson Sirleaf administration include fostering foreign investment opportunities with countries such as China and providing free, compulsory primary education for all elementary-school-aged Liberian children.