Emory Report
November 28, 2005
Volume 58, Number 12


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November 28, 2005
Africa’s 1st woman president elected

Deborah Hakes is an intern in the Carter Center Public Information Office.

On Nov. 8, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the first female elected president in an African nation when she won a runoff vote to become president of Liberia; The Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) sent joint observer teams to monitor both the country’s runoff and its Oct. 11 general elections.

The October election saw 22 candidates vie for the presidency, but none obtained the simple majority needed to win; Johnson-Sirleaf, an economist, and former soccer star George Weah went head to head in the runoff. The Carter Center and NDI observer teams found that both elections met international standards and credibly reflected the will of the Liberian people.

The Carter Center has worked to foster peace, human rights and democracy in Liberia since 1991. The 2005 presidential and legislative elections followed a two-year transition period after the adoption of a comprehensive peace agreement in 2003, ending 14 years of civil war. The center observed the entire election process, with field staff and long-term observers posted in the country since July.

“This election was absolutely critical for Liberia as well as the entire West African subregion because of the inter-linkages between the societies—and some of the conflicts— in the region,” said David Carroll, director of the Carter Center’s Democracy Program. “The success of these elections means that Liberia has its best opportunity in 25 years to try to set a new course for peace and democratic development.

“The main challenges for the future,” he continued, “are to take steps to end insecurity and implement a program for transparent governance and economic development.”

Liberians turned out in large numbers to vote in both rounds of the election. About 75 percent voted in the general elections, and nearly 61 percent voted in the runoff less than a month later. In addition to the election observation missions, the center helped fund Liberian grassroots organizations that conducted voter and civic education in communities, schools and displaced persons camps.