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October 18, 2011

Former Rebel Leader Endorses Liberian President

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is heading to a run-off election with the backing of a former rebel leader from the country's civil war.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Prince Johnson are not an obvious political match.

She is a Harvard-educated economist and former minister of finance who has worked for the World Bank, Citibank, and the United Nations Development Program. She just shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

He is a former rebel leader best known for a video in which he drinks beer while his men torture the former president. A born-again Christian preacher who found God during exile in Nigeria, his career in the Senate has been spent largely campaigning for former combatants from the war.

Prince Johnson joined other opposition candidates Saturday in denouncing vote results as fraudulent and demanding the dissolution of the electoral commission.

He told reporters that it is a sad day for Liberia when a president who has advocated justice and accountability - who refused to accept her Senate election in 1985 because the vote was rigged - is now the one to rig elections.

But when President Sirleaf failed to top 50 percent of the vote, her party sought Johnson's third-place endorsement for the run-off. He agreed, calling her the lesser of two evils.

“Senator Johnson believes in adaptation. That's what I believe in. I adapt myself to a system that I know is working for the good of the people and the country. And so if I said something before, I have the right to change,” Johnson stated.

Johnson says he chose not to endorse second-place finisher Winston Tubman because the former justice minister's supporters want him tried for war crimes.

Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for charges against Johnson for his time atop a rebel group that controlled parts of the capital early in the war. The commission said he should be barred from public office for 30 years, as should President Sirleaf because she raised money for Charles Taylor rebels.

President Sirleaf testified that she raised about $10,000 for Taylor but stopped when his rebels began committing human rights abuses in their march on Monrovia. Johnson says there is no evidence of his committing war crimes, noting that the video of Samuel Doe's torture does not show him killing the former president.

Jerome Verdier led Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “Prince Johnson committed crimes in the war in Liberia. He had arms. He rebelled against the state and killed people. So if Prince Johnson is not punished, what stops Prince Johnson from starting another round of conflict? What stops another Charles Taylor from doing something of the same kind? What stops another Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from resourcing and financing another group to come out against whosoever wins the elections? So we seem not to be making progress on the fundamental issues that matter simply because there is no political will,” he said.

The truth commission's report was submitted to the legislature, where there has been no action.

With Johnson's endorsement, President Sirleaf faces Tubman in a run-off November 8th.