President Bush has awarded Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom. The medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by the US government and is presented to an individual for meritorious contribution to the security or national interest of the United States and to world peace.
President Sirleaf was one of eight people who received the award in a ceremony Monday at the White House. VOA English to Africa reporter James Butty monitored the ceremony and described it live to Kim Lewis, the host of Africa News Tonight.
President Bush likened the Liberian president to former South African president Nelson Mandela and other former prisoners who he said stood up to tyrannical regimes.
“She loves Liberia and she loves all its people. After a cabal seized power and plunged that country into years of upheaval and corruption and civil war, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stood up for the democratic rights of her fellow citizens. She never wavered, even though the consequences were house arrest, foreign exile, death threats, and imprisonment,” he said.
President Sirleaf is the first woman ever elected to lead an African nation. President Bush said he first learned of her abilities from First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“She was inaugurated last year, with Laura and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as proud witnesses. I remember asking Laura and Condi what kind of person I'd be dealing with. They said to expect a woman of depth and ability who know how to get things done. They were right. See, when the president (President Sirleaf) comes to the Oval Office, she walks in with a to-do list,” Mr. Bush said.
He described President Sirleaf as a woman with a natural-born executive and the gentle instincts of a mother.
“Not surprisingly, the Liberian people have given her two affectionate nicknames. They call her the “Iron Lady,” and they call her “Ma.” She’s begun an age of reform in a country with deep historic ties to the United States. As she said to a joint meeting of our Congress, “Liberia will become a brilliant beacon, an example to Africa and to the world of what the love of liberty can achieve,” President Bush said.
The citation for the Presidential Medal of Freedom described President Sirleaf as a force for democracy and opportunity.
“She has helped heal a country torn apart by over 14 years of conflict through perseverance, personal courage, and an unwavering commitment to build a more hopeful future for her homeland. The first woman elected president of an African nation, she has striven to improve the lives of people in her own country and across her continent. The United States honors Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for her dedication to freedom, democracy, and human dignity,” the citation said.
President Sirleaf said the award is another manifestation that Liberia is once again accepted by the United States and the international community as a reliable partner.
In a statement from the executive mansion, President Sirleaf thanked the government and people of the United States for the award. She said the courage and determination of the Liberian people to create a better country have propelled her to work toward an improved country, which will become a post-conflict success story.
President Sirleaf said receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom has renewed her resolve to continue to work towards a better Liberia, which will provide equal opportunities for all Liberian citizens.