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Africa's First Elected Female Leader Takes Power in Liberia

  • Nico Colombant

Africa's first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is being sworn in Monday in post-war Liberia.

African leaders, first ladies and convoys of women's groups traveled from the international airport to the parliamentary grounds along pot-holed streets, under the watch of U.N. peacekeepers, to attend Monday's inauguration.

The head of the U.N. mission in Liberia, Alan Doss, calls it a momentous occasion for Liberia, founded for freed American slaves in the 19th century, but recently ravaged by 25 years of conflict, corruption, rebel and military rule.

"I think it marks the end of a chapter, a very sad chapter, in the history of this country, the first independent African republic, and it also marks the opening of a new chapter. That chapter has yet to be written, obviously, but I think the promise is good," he said.

He also said having Africa's first elected female head-of-state marked an important moment in women's emancipation.

"I think that has to be a tremendous step forward. So, it is an important day for Liberia," he said. "But, I would think it is an important day for Africa, and, I would say, for the world as a whole. There are very few women leaders in any part of the world."

In an earlier interview with VOA, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf talked about her priorities during her first 100 days in office.

"[We need to] get better market conditions for our market women, get the government machinery functioning again, get the management of our country's resources in good order, so that we can have right priorities and begin to respond to the needs of our people," she said.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a grandmother, Harvard graduate and former government minister, U.N. official and Citibank economist, defeated popular soccer star George Weah in a disputed second round presidential vote in November.

She replaces a post-war transitional government, which has been mired in accusations of corruption, and unable to get electricity and piped water running. Mrs. Sirleaf also faces pressure from the international community to help get exiled former leader and warlord Charles Taylor before a war crimes court.