Q&A: Liberia needs church’s support, new president says
|A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf answers questions during an interview with United Methodist News Service.
Jan. 23, 2006
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
MONROVIA, Liberia (UMNS) — On her third day in office,
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf met with a delegation of United
Methodists from the United States and Liberia.
At 67, Sirleaf is the first woman to be elected a head of
state in Africa, and she is a member of First United Methodist Church,
Sirleaf discussed the role the church has played in the
peace process and expressed her hopes for the future of Liberia in an
exclusive interview with United Methodist News Service.
Q: What part did the United Methodist Church play in the
peace process in Liberia? What influence has the church had on this
A: The churches, through the bishop and several pastors,
have brought to the sensitivity of the Liberian people the need for
peace and reconciliation through their sermons and through their visits
throughout the country. I know Bishop (John) Innis has gone throughout
the country talking about the need for peace, for reconciliation, and
for our young children to move away from guns and warfare into peace.
The bishop and the church have also played a role in the
Interreligious Council, which has met with leaders in West Africa to
talk about peace, has met with the warring factions, and supported women
organizations which have been supporting peace.
The church has just been instrumental in promoting peace. On
an individual basis, those who go to church for prayers and for comfort
— that has all contributed to the peace. Our nation is a very religious
one, so the church has played a very dominant role.
Q: How might you as a woman succeed in this leadership role where men in the past have not?
A: (Smiling) You know I always start off by telling people I
am a professional, I am a technocrat who happens to be a woman. I bring
to the job the requisite competence. But then I also think I have the
sensitivity of being a woman and a mother, and so the caring and sharing
that comes from that will enable me to be more concerned and to respond
more to the basic needs of human beings — particularly children.
I believe that my personal commitment, the experience that I
have working both at home and abroad, brings to the task what it takes
to get it done. My commitment of course, I believe, will make me have
the chance of succeeding and excelling much more than my predecessors
who were all men. (Laughing)
Q: In your inauguration address you spoke especially to
youth and women. Do you feel that is where the future of Liberia lies?
A: Absolutely. In the case of the youth, we have a lost
generation. So many of our young people have been exposed to violence
for so long and have not had the opportunity of an education. We have a
very unique situation here where the current generation is more educated
than the younger one — something that is completely the reverse in a
normal situation. Every generation that comes is better equipped, more
educated and more knowledgeable, but in our case it is the reverse, and
that is so sad. That is why we have to address the youth. We have to
make up for lost time; we have to give them back a future.
The women, as I mentioned in my statement, in a way have
become full citizens only a couple of decades or so ago. And they have
still not had the equal opportunity to enable access, for example, to
the factors of production — land, credit. They still have difficulties,
even though there are no legal restrictions anymore. But there are still
social barriers and habits. We have to come out with the enforcement of
policies that will grant them equal opportunity. The girl child is
still more disadvantaged compared to the boy child in terms of access to
education. We have to take measures that will reverse that and give
them an opportunity. Just promoting women’s rights and enhancing their
role in society (will be important for the country’s future).
I am having trouble filling 50 percent of my cabinet with
women — which I am committed to do. (They are) just hard to find, so
that just shows you we don’t yet have the critical mass that suggest
equal opportunity. I have to work to try to make up by trying to give
the women better opportunities.
Q: What should United Methodists in other parts of the world know about the church in Liberia?
|A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert
Bishops Peter Weaver and John Innis pray for Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
A: To know about the role the church is playing. Our church
promotes schools, hospitals in rural areas where the need is the
greatest. Our church supports higher education, through the university,
which we don’t have enough of in our country. I hope they would assist
our church to be able to expand our services in this regard or to lead
the effort, even if it means mobilizing among several church groups.
The United Methodists in United States should recognize the
important role, the historical role, the United Methodist Church has
here that is so profound. They should know the fact that it has
continued and continues to grow in importance and in service to the
nation. I hope more of that story could be told.
Bishop Innis as a spiritual leader moves us all. You know
(that) when he preaches like he did at the inauguration sermon, which I
think people are still talking about in town. Those are all the things
we think United Methodists should know, and we hope you will spread the
Q: Do you have a favorite Bible verse you keep in your heart?
A: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” — and the rest of 23 Psalm.
Q: What are you praying for?
A: Courage, strength and good health to do the right thing.
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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