While Americans celebrated the Martin Luther King holiday, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated for a second term as president of the West African nation of Liberia, capping off a reelection campaign that further cemented the country’s post-civil-war stability.
Sirleaf was recently elected to a second six-year term in the West African nation that was founded by freed American slaves in the 1940s. The only woman head of state in the continent of Africa, she has gained increased international celebrity as a recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
President Sirleaf first came to office after Liberia had emerged from a brutal 14-year civil conflict that decimated the nation. The first round of balloting in last year’s presidential campaign went relatively smoothly, with international observers saying that the voting was conducted fairly.
However, the runoff election produced some violent clashes, as Sirleaf’s opponent, Winston Tubman, withdrew from the contest and claiming that the earlier results were corrupted by fraud. Leading up to the runoff election, supporters of Tubman as well as others skirmished with police in conflicts in which at least one person was killed.
In her inauguration, which was attended by many African heads of states and United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sirleaf said that there was a need to mend fences with her political opponents.
“The cleavages that led to decades of war still run deep,” Sirleaf said in her inaugural address on the grounds of the nation’s legislative building in the capitol of Monrovia. “So, too, does the longing for reconciliation.”
She asked for all of the nation’s political groups to set aside their differences in order to further rebuild the nation. The 73-year-old president added that she would not run for reelection again, a pledge she also had made in her first successful presidential campaign.
“Patriots freely and openly and even passionately disagree about what is best for the nation they love,” she said. “Patriots acknowledge that those who may not embrace their particular views are nonetheless acting out of their own understanding of what is best for their country.”
Many Liberians said that they considered a positive signal the presence at the inauguration of Tubman, the leader of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change. Prior to the ceremony, Tubman and Sirleaf met and had discussions on Liberia’s future.
“We are ready to work with the government,” Tubman said after his meeting with the president. “We will be ready to work with the government in any way that is offered to us and that which we can serve in.”
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(Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)