Sunday, October 9, 2011

Two Messages from President Sirleaf

President Sirleaf herself has, in addition to her public appearances and press interviews in the final weekend of campaigning, issued two public statements in the last three days. The first came as the official response to her Nobel Peace Prize, and the second was her close-of-campaign, eve-of-election Presidential address to the citizens of Liberia.

I found both to be on-message in her eloquent manner and forthright admission of the challenges the country still faces. With a graceful, calm, and unifying voice, Sirleaf's messages may be the best demonstration her suitability as a national leader. The acknowledgement of the Nobel prize in particular centers on a recognition of the sufferings common to those she governs which is all too rare from leaders of many nations.

Two extended excerpts. I've decided to share them in reverse order, as, somewhat paradoxically, it is her Sunday evening Presidential Address, marking the end of campaigning, that is both more self-congratulatory, self-referential, and also more partisan. Yet its gentle appeal for calm, and clear endorsement of the rule of law, is rather gracious:

As the President of Liberia, as the President of all partisans, it is befitting, on such an historic night, that I bring you a message of great hope and abiding faith. Our country is at a defining moment in its historical journey. For more than three decades, we have never had back-to-back elections. We had free, fair and transparent democratic elections in 2005, and we are about to repeat it. If we do this well, and I'm convinced that we will, we MUST be proud of ourselves.

I thank all Liberians that have contributed to a campaign that has been violence free, and we call upon all of you, as we pray, that the election phase will be equally violence free.

As a country, we have seen and experienced too much: our people have suffered; our people have died; and our people have had to run away in order to survive. In the three decades of struggle for peace and democracy, I have been personally victimized, jailed more than once, forced into exile several times, and subjected to many years of verbal abuse. But we all thank God that under my leadership, the last eight years of peace and tranquility have been better than the previous fourteen years of violence and civil strife. We don't want to go back there!

...we will be grateful and appreciative for your votes so that we can together consolidate the gains we have made over the last six years and usher for you and your children the kind of enormous economic prosperity, tremendous opportunities and social justice you deserve. If, however, you decide to elect someone else, we commit ourselves to respect your decision; we commit ourselves to accept the results announced by the National Elections Commission.

...We sincerely believe that respect for your decision and acceptance of the results announced by the National Elections Commission are absolutely necessary for the promotion and enhancement of our young democracy; the peace, stability and social justice we have enjoyed over the last six years can only be continued if we all commit ourselves to respect your decision and accept the results of these elections. I therefore call on my fellow compatriots who are competing in these elections to similarly publicly commit themselves to respect your decision and to accept the results announced by the National Elections Commission.

My Dear Liberians,

All awards belong to the people whose shoulders one sits upon.

This is a defining moment in Liberia's history. In a few days, you will choose the future and direction of this country. I In doing so, I ask you to look around, see that progress has been made, see that a foundation for a new Liberia has been built. But I also ask you, to look into the future with me and see where Liberia is going, to see its potential, to see the possibilities for your families, your children and your children's children.

As I have travelled across the country, county by country, village by village, I am pleased to see how much progress we've made in the last 5 years rebuilding what had been destroyed over the previous 20. But I know we must do more. I know that the paved roads has only made it to the edge of town, and that the way to your village remains dirt and rutted. I know that Schools have re-opened, but that reliable power and quality teaching remains a challenge. I know that the town clinic is now open, but there are not yet enough doctors to care for the people. And I know that maybe your neighbor has a job, but you are still looking. I understand many Liberians are struggling to feed their families.

It is my commitment to you, my promise, that the road will soon reach your village, that our teachers will become better trained, that more lights will be turned on across the country, that the investment we have made will result in hundreds and thousands of jobs for our young people, that our children will not go to bed hungry. Brick, by brick, stick by stick, stone, by stone, this is the foundation.

Dear Liberians, now is the time for national reconciliation. Let us forever put the pain and burden of divisions and conflict behind us and work together to share in the opportunities and promise of a New Liberia.

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