President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the “Iron Lady” of Liberia, made a visit to Jon Stewart’s show this week to promote her new book, This Child Will Be Great, a memoir about her life of abuse, imprisonment, and ultimately her role as the first female president in Africa. I’m a big fan of the Daily Show, but even I can’t remember a time when the host has been so genuinely enthralled by someone in the guest’s seat.
“What you have been through, and what you have accomplished in your short life is amazing!” gushed Stewart, in a surprisingly candid moment. “From domestic abuse, to the difficulty of raising children on your own, to getting involved in politics to being imprisoned. It’s a remarkable journey you’ve taken!”
When asked about her 2005 election to office, she said that there was one constituency that clinched her victory.
“You know how that happened? Women!”
“Women,” replied Stewart. “They saw in you their own story.”
“Women. They decided it was time.”
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While Sirleaf recognized that women played an important role in her election, many women have recognized the role that Sirleaf has played in African politics.
“She has turned the tide of male-dominated control over the commanding heights of African politics, opening up the possibility that the 21st Century is the century of the African woman in politics,” wrote Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, a Nigerian international political economist, after Sirleaf’s 2005 election. “Indeed, this is a victory to be celebrated. As an African woman, I am proud of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for her accomplishments and achievements. Her electoral victory comes a path-breaking development in African politics and a watershed moment in Liberia’s history.”
“As the first woman ever elected President in Africa, Johnson-Sirleaf is an example of what can happen when girls are educated,” wrote Laura Bush in a 2006 profile for Time Magazine.
But what makes Sirleaf so inspiring is more than just an education—it’s something more intuitive. It’s chutzpa. It’s dedication and fearless urge to lead. And hopefully it’s a sign that more honest politicians— both male and female—will rise in African nations.