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Analysts Generally Give Liberia's Johnson-Sirleaf Good Marks; But Point to Failures

One year into the term of Liberia's post-war President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, many foreign analysts and aid workers are joining Liberians in giving her good marks for a job well done. But they also point to several mistakes and warn of many challenges ahead. Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa Bureau, in Dakar.

In terms of governance, Tania Bernath from London-based Amnesty International, says Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has reacted very quickly to anything that could be seen as an internal obstacle to her aim for a better, more transparent, more efficient and less corrupt Liberia.

"When problems have arisen, there has been an effort to address them, immediately," she said. "Maybe, if there is ethnic tension, then a commission was formed immediately. There have not been delays on things and I think with former governments that has been a problem. Things have not been slipped under the rug. There are just efforts to address problems before they become too large."

Phillip Samways, from the British charity group Oxfam, says President Johnson-Sirleaf has sometimes almost reacted too quickly.

One of her promises during her Inauguration Day speech was to quickly restore electricity. This has only happened in a small part of the capital, Monrovia.

"This is serving a very small [part] of the slightly better, wealthier end of the city, with some limited amount of street lighting and some traffic lights. It is high profile," he said. "The president actually said in her inauguration speech, this government will get power back on within six months. And, they did actually achieve that, but at a very considerable cost. The generators they brought in are not as efficient as they had hoped and the fuel bills are just exhausting their meager financial resources at the moment, so it is possible that the power may have to go back off again."

Samways says many in the aid community feel some of the electricity money may have been better spent on the gargantuan task of getting more schools, roads and hospitals operational.

He says most slum-dwelling Monrovians and Liberians outside the capital have seen little immediate improvement to their lives since the newly-elected government took office.

Economists point out the new president has been working on renegotiating resource contracts for the long term and also creating a better business environment.

Another one of President Johnson-Sirleaf's first actions was to fire hundreds of officials from the Finance Ministry, because of alleged corruption and incompetence.

Rolake Akinola, from the London-based Control Risks Group, says she has also worked closely with foreign monitors in key ministries, despite the risk of alienating even more Liberian civil servants.

"It is quite important to know that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has faced a lot of obstacles. A lot of externally-backed policies are not entirely popular with the Liberian population, itself," she said. "These are really hard, crunching reforms we are talking about and we do know that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, through her hard-hitting reforms, is stepping on a lot of big, heavy political toes. She will continue to face an uphill task. But, as long as the country's external donors continue to be involved and engaged in the process of reform, I think we should see major breakthroughs over the next couple of years in key areas."

Aid workers warn there is a gap right now between emergency funding that is drying out and longer term development aid that has yet to start arriving as massively as is needed.

They also say tens of thousands of former fighters remain outside the rehabilitation process that was supposed to give them training and jobs. Some of these youths initially protested President Johnson-Sirleaf's election victory, alleging widespread cheating, even though no proof was given. But resentment and frustration remains, which some analysts say, could boil over into street protests and higher criminality.