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Liberia's 'Iron Lady' Peace Prize Stirs Controversy

  • Peter Cobus

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with President Barack Obama (file photo).

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with President Barack Obama (file photo).

The choice of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as one of three Nobel Peace Prize winners this year is already sparking controversy.

Sirleaf says is humbled by the award and calls it an achievement for the Liberian people. But skeptics are questioning whether the Norwegian-based Nobel Committee is interfering with Liberia's domestic politics, choosing Sirleaf less than a week before she stands for reelection. Her main rival Winston Tubman has said Sirleaf does not deserve the award.

But such a fuss is nothing new to Liberia's "Iron Lady." The 72-year-old mother and grandmother rose to international prominence in 2005 when she became the first elected female leader in Africa, winning election after a bloody civil war that killed a quarter of a million people and left Liberia's economy in ruins.

Following the election, she promised to fight poverty and promote reconciliation, and subsequently won praise for luring international investors and getting creditors to write-off some of Liberia's debt.

She has recently come under criticism from political rivals for her ties to former rebel leader President Charles Taylor. Critics also accuse her of failing to live up to her promises of reconciling Liberia's many factions, pursuing justice for war crimes victims and tackling corruption.

Fellow presidential candidate Tubman told the French news agency, AFP, that Sirleaf was undeserving of the peace prize, because she "committed violence in this country." Tubman also said that giving her the award days before the country's election was unacceptable.

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told reporters that the committee does not consider domestic politics in its selection process. Liberian National Election Commission spokesman Nathan Mulbah told Reuters the Oct. 11 election will go ahead as planned.

Before being elected president, the Harvard University-educated Sirleaf twice served as finance minister. She also held key jobs at the United Nations and the World Bank.

After winning the 2005 election, Sirleaf compared the job ahead of her to that of former South African president and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.