Mama Ellen brings Liberia hope

By Alphonso Toweh in Monrovia
January 17, 2006

Backed by the US  Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf sings at a church
service on Sunday.

Backed by the US Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf sings at a church service on Sunday.
Photo: AP

LIBERIA'S Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was due to be sworn in as Africa's first elected female president yesterday, in the presence of the US first lady, Laura Bush, and watched over by two American warships heading a big security operation.

The high-level US delegation, which also included the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, signalled strong support from Washington for the Harvard-trained economist who has promised to lead the war-scarred West African state to a better future.

The 67-year-old former finance minister beat the former soccer star George Weah in a November run-off poll.

Liberians, weary after years of conflict, have high expectations both for the new president they call "Mama Ellen" and for the US, which they look upon as a kind of godfather.

Africa's oldest independent republic was founded by freed American slaves in 1847, and US-Liberian links run deep.

"I want the US to help with reconstruction of this country because we have been in darkness for over 15 years America has a moral responsibility," said a street salesman, Ben Sckor-Age.

US officials say Washington spent more than $US840 million ($1.1 billion) last year on Liberia as it emerged from a civil war that ended in 2003 after killing 250,000 people.

But ordinary Liberians want to see even more US aid to restore crippled electricity and water systems, repair ruined hospitals and schools, and train judges and a new national army.

"America must help build our country because Liberia is an offspring of America If they fail to help this new government and this country, God will hold them accountable," said an onlooker, Victory Sieah, 46.

Two warships, USS Mount Whitney and USS Carr, were standing guard off the coast while Laura Bush, Dr Rice and a bevy of African presidents and other international dignitaries attended the ceremony.

US secret service agents mingled with United nations peacekeepers in the capital, Monrovia, where bullet-scarred walls have been painted over and new trees planted in a facelift.