Emory Report
Sept. 5, 2006
Volume 59, Number 2


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Sept. 5, 2006
Halle Institute opens fall session with Liberian president, EU ambassador

By Lailee Mendelson

This month, The Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning’s Distinguished Fellows Program brings two major luminaries to campus: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state, and John Bruton, the European Union (EU) ambassador to the United States.
Johnson Sirleaf will attend a dinner in her honor on Sept. 14 attended by students, faculty and staff, as well as friends of Emory from the Atlanta community and the local consular corps.

A Harvard-educated economist, Johnson Sirleaf’s life story has been deeply interwoven with the last 40 years of Liberian political history. She is generally regarded as a beacon of hope for a country that recently emerged from 14 years of civil war that left 200,000 dead, half the population displaced, and the capital city of Monrovia largely without electricity or running water.

After receiving a master’s in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1972, Johnson Sirleaf returned to Liberia to become the nation’s first female minister of finance. Her career was cut short, however, in 1980 when the military coup of Samuel Doe forced her into exile in Kenya. There she served as the director of Citibank in Nairobi for five years before returning to Liberia to join the opposition as a senatorial candidate. As a result of campaign statements made against Doe, she was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Pressure from the international community secured her release after a short time, and Johnson Sirleaf moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for HSCB Equator Bank, and from 1992–97 as assistant administrator and director of the United Nations Development Program for Africa.

During her time in exile, she remained active in Liberian politics, and in 1997 was drawn back to the country to mount a losing bid for the presidency against Charles Taylor, the former warlord whose 1989 invasion of Liberia ushered in 14 years of civil war. In 2003 an internationally brokered ceasefire sent Taylor into exile in Nigeria.

Often referred to as “The Mother of Liberia” and the “Iron Lady,” Johnson Sirleaf won the 2005 election on a platform of reconciliation, creation of jobs (unemployment runs as high as 80 percent in some areas), tackling corruption and restoring electricity to the capital. She was prominently in the news last spring when she submitted an official request for Taylor’s extradition from Nigeria on behalf of neighboring Sierra Leone, who had indicted him for his role in that country’s civil war.

Johnson Sirleaf has four sons and six grandchildren, several of whom live in Atlanta.

On Sept. 14, The Halle Institute turns its attention to Europe, when Bruton, the EU ambassador, delivers a lunchtime lecture on “Building Peace and Prosperity: How the EU-U.S. Partnership Creates Jobs, Trade and Security for Europeans and Americans.”

Bruton’s appearance at Emory is the centerpiece of a three-day visit to Georgia and an opportunity for Atlanta-area institutions of higher education to solidify ties with the EU, which is the state of Georgia’s largest export market. A special guest at the lunch will be the newly appointed Finnish ambassador to the U.S., Pekka Lintu, who is accompanying Bruton on his visit to Atlanta. At the moment, Finland holds the presidency of the EU, which rotates among the 25 member states.

Before being appointed ambassador, Bruton served as a leading member of the caucus that drafted the European Constitution, signed in Rome in 2004. He was vice president of the European People’s Party from 1999–2005.

Bruton served as Ireland’s prime minister from 1994–97 and was instrumental in helping to transform the Irish economy into one of the fastest growing in the world. He also was deeply involved in the Northern Ireland peace process leading to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. While prime minister, Bruton presided over a successful Irish EU presidency in 1996 and helped finalize the Stability and Growth Pact, which governs the management of the euro.