Documentary about the Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female head of state, as she struggles to take control of a country devastated by civil war.
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You don't get...
You don't get inaugurated for the first time in our country's history as a woman...
and Africa is represented here so fully.
I think there's too many years
of pain through...
too many kinds of experiences. After a while, you get hardened
and you take it all in stride,
the good and the bad.
I think it'll be more international today.
And there will be more women.
'This is Star news bulletin with me, Comfort Whitfield.
'Today, thousands of Liberians crowded the streets of Monrovia
'to get a glimpse of the country's new president elect,
'the so-called Iron Lady, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
'Sirleaf will be sworn into office this afternoon.
'Africa's first elected female president
'has vowed to turn Liberia around
'after 14 years of civil crisis.'
the days of the imperial presidency
of domineering and threatening chief executives are over.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
I will talk to the women.
The women of Liberia...
..the women of Africa
and the women of the world.
'during the years of our civil war,
'gang-raped at will,
'forced into domestic slavery,
'yet it is the women
'who laboured and advocated for peace throughout our region.
'My administration shall endeavour to give Liberian women prominence
'in all affairs of our country.'
The future belongs to us, because we have taken charge of it.
Ummi always said to us, the day Ellen was born,
this baby is going to be great.
And so, over the years, we always laughed.
"Where is this greatness?" LAUGHTER
And we just hope that this will be the realisation
of those dreams and hopes.
This is Star Radio news. I'm Comfort Whitfield.
Today, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
announced her new cabinet which, as promised in her campaign,
will include a number of women in key positions,
including the Minister of Commerce, the Minster of Justice
and the Minister of Finance.
'Women have not been, to the same extent as men,'
party to all of the bad things of the past. They certainly were
very strong voices against the atrocities in Liberia in the war,
and they fought very, very hard
to make sure that the democratic process worked this time around,
and so this is our biggest opportunity to change Liberia.
So we've been focusing very much on getting the basic underpinnings
of the fiscal system back in place.
Clearly, the Ministry of Finance, as do all of the institutions that we've inherited as a government,
has very weak capacity.
We have to be able
to get payrolls out on time.
We have to be able to start getting money into the economy,
trying to correct all of these past lapses which we know were many, extensive.
'I didn't tell people it would be easy
'when I campaigned.
'The majority of the Liberian people are forgetting the past
'and want to put that era behind them.
'There are still a few diehards
'that want to keep bringing it back.
'Our challenge and responsibility
'is to make sure that nobody drags them back
'into so much suffering and death and destruction.'
CAR HORNS BLARE
They want to see basic services restored.
Lights in our capital city.
Water. They want jobs, to be able to send their children to school.
The things that people everywhere almost even take for granted
because they're so normal.
OK, then. OK, thank you, Chief, thank you very much.
(That was the President.)
That was my President! You saw how!
Yes, that's my chief,
the President of Liberia.
She's doing a very great job
and I have to be there to help her right away.
NEWS REPORT: 'This week, Liberia's new national chief of police,
'Beatrice Munah Sieh, arrived in Liberia for the first time
'since she was forced out of the country during the presidency of Charles Taylor.'
How are you doing, gentlemen?
'In her first bill of action,
'President Sirleaf asked Chief Sieh
'to begin clearing illegal market stalls
'from the streets of Monrovia.'
In the case of the marketeers,
everybody's got rights.
They have a right to sell but the motorists have a right to drive on the streets
because they buy their licence, they pay their taxes.
The market women have been understanding, they know their Old Ma is with them.
We're all together right now.
SIRENS WAIL AND CAR HORNS BLARE
Er, market relocation.
I think the Minister of Commerce who was chairing the task force can make a quick report on that.
It was agreed that they would be relocated themselves,
-on an interim basis, at the NTA yard.
-Ah. What I know we'll have to do
at the temporary sites is to put up, again temporary, shelter
because of the rains.
So you have to get something with sticks and zinc and whatnot to cover it.
Going to a shelter now, you're talking about a structure, then you're talking big money.
Clearly we understand the urgency and why it's been necessary to go ahead and pay for it.
We're trying to find a way to finance those requests
but we have to find a way to transfer resources
and to make the resources we have
available for things that they have not approved.
OK, hello. Who's in charge here?
No, the government didn't promise anything like that.
You're doing your part, we're doing our part.
We can't do everything. We can't do everything.
The government did not promise to fix nobody's table.
THEY ALL TALK AT ONCE
Excuse me... OTHERS TALK
EVERYONE TALKS AT ONCE
SHARP BLASTS ON WHISTLE
The issue with the marketeers is under control?
Reports are of them going back on the streets.
OK, then, I'll see you both shortly.
Some basic numbers
on the debt. We've talked about this 3.7 billion in outstanding debt
for Liberia. You see it there,
with the IMF, of course, as the largest of the creditors,
followed by the World Bank,
with the United States being the largest bilateral creditor.
So that's how the debt looks.
'Sitting here today and thinking of Liberia of only three million people
'with a debt of some 3.7 billion,
'it's quite mind-boggling. That debt is a drag
'on our ability to raise new financing from our partners,
'and so it needs to be resolved.'
Unless we do that, the risks of a re-emergence of conflict in Liberia are all too real.
Some of these debts represent bogus transactions.
Prudence on the part of the creditors is being questioned,
that they have caused our young Liberian generation
to inherit all this debt for things they cannot see as a result of that debt.
NEWS REPORT: 'As part of the President's campaign to restore law and order,
'the police raided Monrovia city graveyard
'to move out suspected looters and drug dealers,
'resulting in numerous arrests.'
My greatest fear is that a small group might succeed in trying to return us to conflict.
It will always remain a fear until we've done enough
in responding to the needs of the population,
rather than sitting around waiting for someone that may recruit them
for purposes of war.
'Former president Charles Taylor,
'who was apprehended while trying to avoid arrest in Nigeria
'where he was in exile,
'will today be flown to a special court in Sierra Leone.
'By agreement of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Taylor will be transitted through Liberia
'en route to Sierra Leone
'where he will stand trial for crimes in the region.'
The longer we waited, the more difficult it would be,
and the threat would not go away. As a matter of fact, it would intensify.
It was a risky decision, once again,
because we do have, um...
some persons loyal to Mr Taylor at home, that have made threats.
We will exhaust every avenue.
The man is innocent
until he is proven guilty.
IF they prove Charles Taylor guilty,
I will climb up on this wall and take this sign down.
Charles Taylor is innocent!
-Are you meeting the political party leaders today?
Would you let us know what the meeting's about?
The state of the nation.
And to also listen to some of their suggestions and advice
and see how we can be more inclusive,
see how we can have more collaboration, support and interaction.
..different areas of the package.
Certainly, an incentive to investment coming in
is land ownership and development.
Some issues that were raised - land reform. I think there's some work in that regard.
There's no doubt about it.
Land reform in its total sense,
we know it's a problem, you know it's a problem.
We're trying to get it straightened out. It will take some time.
We need to fast track...
this part of what we are doing in Liberia
so that we can begin to touch the lives of the people who are the grass-root people.
The land problem, in a way, can be attributed to the war,
to the fact that so many people were displaced.
Unscrupulous people, in an environment of indiscipline and lawlessness,
took land, sold it, sometimes to two or three people,
and it's going to be a very difficult task.
ALL SHOUT AT ONCE
I want to get the finance team in here
to find answers to, find answers to these problems.
Maybe the new team is going to sort it out.
Madam President, I would be the last one
to say or to suggest that the Ministry of Finance is perfect
or that it doesn't have huge problems,
but our problems at this stage is not just the Ministry of Finance.
People are not spending.
-The problem is in the Ministry of Finance.
-There is a problem in the Ministry of Finance.
There's been collusion. You know that.
People are still taking money in the Ministry of Finance.
If somebody wanted to be truthful here, they would say so.
They are still taking money. It's both a corruption and a capacity problem.
If you can't change the people, then I will insist you fire them,
and we'll go to the university graduates and replace them.
It's not a question now, are you trying to save somebody in his job.
It's a question of saving your own job, saving MY job.
You've got to correct that.
CAR HORNS BLARE
We again have a dilemma here.
The problem we have as a government is,
when we ask about setting programmes and they get delayed over things we have no control over,
because of other procedures and processes,
then we have a problem.
There are many reasons why they're not moving as fast as possible,
and the question is how fast the solutions are implemented.
Because the databases show that the country is still at war
it is something that is an international problem.
That's one example. In other cases, it's our own fault.
The government is already under serious criticism.
If we can't get these programmes going that will absorb these people,
then we'll never be able to do this, and we'll have problems.
We want partners to understand the difficulty we face here.
The implementation of programmes is just too slow.
I think we depend upon the support of some of our partners,
but I feel that, in many instances, we gave them some of our primary commodities in return.
We gave huge benefits to their corporations which operate here,
so it's not one-sided.
RADIO NEWS: 'At the Firestone plantation,
'workers are again threatening strike action against the company
'and some Firestone security personnel have been killed.
'The workers are demanding the government enforce a 37.5% raise
'promised by then-president Charles Taylor.
'Today President Sirleaf is expected to visit the plantation
'and announce the government's position on the wage increase.'
Welcome to Firestone, Madam President.
Just behind the houses.
Firestone has been here since 1926.
There is NO reason for the workers in Firestone to live in the conditions they live.
We are NOT going to accept it.
We are not going to accept the fact that people live in houses that have no windows,
that people live in houses where there is no schooling for them.
Firestone has made enough money in this country to have treated the Liberian workers much better.
Our responsibility as the government
is to make sure that the workers' rights are protected,
that their benefits are fair, that they are treated properly,
and this government is committed to that.
That is the message we are taking to the workers.
'There may be times when regional and international desires conflict.
'I'm not a perfect person,
'so when I have to make a political compromise, I struggle with my conscience.'
So there we...
'Nobody was willing to go and tell them the truth.
'They just expected another president who's gonna make a promise
'and will go back cheering, you know, exalting,
'and nothing was gonna happen. I may face demonstrations, anger,'
but I think in the end it's good for our country
and it's good for the path that we've chosen.
This one she's gonna wear.
'I keep pushing,
'pushing myself to do more every day.
'I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day.'
'Basically, I'm a very private person.
'Unfortunately, there are many times when I wish that I could do what I cannot do any more,
'go into a supermarket and do my own shopping.
'There are times when I don't want to see anybody,
'I want to read a book, watch TV, don't take any phone calls.
'Those are the times when I wish that I could just be the old me.'
'Today, tension between the executive and legislative parties of government reached a new high
'as the Speaker of the House, Edwin Snowe,
'accused the President of bribing law makers
'against her political opposition.
'This has divided the legislature into factions
'supporting and opposing the President.'
Even as we make -
and we MUST make -
greater effort at reconciliation and unity,
a few have not yet brought themselves to accept the people's will
as expressed through the October 2005 election.
They continue to plot and to plan and to strategise.
We will do all that we can
to gather the evidence to expose these distracters.
This president is not for reconciling this country.
This president is all for dividing Liberia
and we are calling on them to put a stop to it.
They have undermined previous governments.
They are now undermining the very government they are leading against.
CHANT: "We want Snowe!"
'Africa's going through a transition. Liberia's going through a transition.
'There are charges and counter-charges
'and that's what democracy and freedom does - it enables people to speak out.'
But, of course, this dissent could be...dangerous.
As a matter of fact, we've got recent intelligence
that even put the risk at a high level,
because of all that's going on with the tensions in the legislature.
And we just have to protect ourselves and wait until things settle down.
'As part of the continuing struggle
'between the executive and legislative branches,
'the President today ordered police to crack down on demonstrations protesting against her government.
'The leader of these demonstrations has been taken into custody
'on the basis of no permit.'
This man who was trying to do some agitation was picked up.
I don't think they should keep him incarcerated.
Like I say, we don't need to make a hero out of anybody for nothing.
'What's the point? They should let him go.'
OK. Thank you.
'They came in, they did the investigation.
'I have no means to challenge it.'
Their best guess - nobody's 100% sure - but their best guess is that it's electrical.
'I must confess, I didn't expect
'the kinds of problems that we now find we've inherited.
'When problems stack up, it has a ripple effect
'and that's why there are periods when when it rains, it pours.'
'The main streets in and out of Monrovia have been blocked
'by retired soldiers from the armed forces of Liberia.
'These soldiers, who were forced out of work under the comprehensive peace agreement,
'claim they have yet to receive their full back pay and pensions.'
Thank you. Please sit down.
Accountability and transparency is built into this
so the people know how much money comes in, who has signatory to the account,
and all of these things.
'I think I must be responsive to any group of people,
'whether they're retired soldiers or any group that have true grievances,
'even if they gather and there's risk to my safety. I take the risk.'
Who is the leader?
What solution do we have in our talk with them today?
What can we offer? What can we promise?
What can we draw the line in the sand and say, "This will not do"?
Well, the salary arrears, that's where you probably need to...
say something on salary arrears, because it's the last cushion for some of them in terms of cash.
My understanding is that those payments have been made.
Everybody received their full benefits in keeping with that agreement.
So the only other issue that may have some justification is pension.
-The arrears is about 5.5 million US dollars.
-That's big money.
-That's 21 to 25 months.
Like I said, Christmas is in the air. Part of the agitation is for Christmas money.
We have to say to them the salary arrears will be retired for a three-year period
because the government doesn't have the resources.
Thank you all. Please sit down.
It's been a long day for you, it's been a long day for me.
'I must listen to them in a way that says, "I want to hear you.
' "I understand your plight." That's the Old Ma approach.
'And it usually brings a positive reaction,
'because I'm coming as a mother to listen to them.'
'On the other hand, when people act out of order,
'I can have an effective response that will keep them in order.'
OK, thank you all.
'The lights of Broad Street were today lit for the first time in over a decade.
'While the President had praise for her administration's achievements in ten months,
'she also expressed continued frustration
'that many projects are impeded by Liberia's efforts at debt relief.'
The process does not work as well as we would have liked
-in terms of the involvement of the partners.
-It's a bit of a roller coaster.
We were very, very encouraged a couple of weeks ago
when the bank, the World Bank, had made the decision to proceed to their board.
We seem to have hit another road block again
-and I think something has to give.
-I must express disappointment
and say we'll have to look at other options.
We can't do all that we can as a country and a government to do the right things
and then you start backtracking and you start changing. We get assurances that we're going forward.
I wonder whether there's... true commitment here, whether this partnership is real
or are we playing games and whether we ought to look at all of our other options.
'We don't want to be hostage to the low geo-political games that are played.'
We can go beyond the traditional partnership.
We've got to find a way where we can respond to the needs of the people.
Tomorrow we'll be announcing...
officially, the visit of the...
They are very serious. In fact, they represent just the tip of the iceberg,
so I think we've got a real window of opportunity with that part of the world and we need to follow up on it.
'There's potentially huge financing from China that we want to benefit from.'
One of our challenges is to find creative ways to draw on Chinese assistance
without contravening some of our other commitments to our other partners,
powers like the United States, for example.
MILITARY MUSIC PLAYS
'The Liberian people came out in huge numbers.'
They're hoping that China will... will help to accelerate our development.
They'll be able to point to today that started it all and set us on an accelerated path.
< Madam President.
Mr President, I am pleased to welcome you in our office.
As a matter of fact, it's our Minister of Foreign Affairs office,
which you, which China has been very kind to fix for him.
Mr President, I have not seen the Liberian people turn out...
in the numbers like they turn out today.
I think that tells you the warm feeling Liberia has for China
and the strong relationship with our people.
So this visit, for us, is truly historic.
PRESIDENT SPEAKS IN CHINESE
TRANSLATOR: To be very frank with you, Madam President,
I was very much moved by the scene on the street.
How did you leave it with the Chinese?
Because somehow it seems to me that there is this...
large...cake that you really ought to get a slice of...
-from the Chinese.
-From the Chinese.
-So that's one line.
And then there's the other line, the US.
And you can tell the Americans that the Chinese made you this offer. LAUGHTER
Then I think one could get the IMF to...speed it up...
in order to liberate that money.
So go for the jugular.
His point is, by having such an offer in your hand,
going to them to say, "We know we can't do this but just look at the potential.
"You're not helping us, you're not allowing someone else to help us."
Today I'm going to meet with President Bush.
Just let him know how well we're doing,
get his political blessings for...
support on our debt.
The Chinese are still way down on the totem pole
when it comes to partnership and support for Liberia's development.
They're... Yes, they have big plans,
yes, they have big appetite for raw material, but...
for us the United States' relationship is still the number one.
They set the pace.
When they take a step, much of the rest of the world follows, including China.
And then I'm out of here, I'll get away from this ice.
Madam President, thanks for coming.
I'm thrilled to call you friend.
And we want to help you. We really do.
As we told you, we just needed to get this debt off our backs.
You were... You were...
wondering whether or not...
it was possible to achieve your dreams...
and you asked for our help.
I was impressed by your spirit and so I pledge our on-going help.
Thank you, Madam President. Thank you very much.
The United States currently holds
391 million in outstanding bilateral claims on Liberia.
We will cancel that debt - all of it -
under the framework for highly-indebted countries.
Sorry we're late.
'We've started. It's a long road.
'It was always going to be a long road. We need time to make more progress then sustain the effort
'to make the progress we have to make in Liberia.'
It makes me feel like a real woman.
I'm just kidding!
And it's been a good year...
but a tough year.
It has been a fruitful...
but a challenging first year.
Today, we can walk with pride and dignity!
# Liberia... #
'All of the progress that we have made can be attributed
'to the fact that we've got strong women leadership in the government.
'These are all strong women that have led a process of change and renewal.'
# Liberia... #
'With all the problems and all the scares,'
I remain optimistic that...
that Liberia will rise again.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd.
E-mail [email protected]
When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa's first ever elected female head of state, filmmakers Siatta Scott-Johnson and Daniel Junge were there to follow her. It was the start of an extraordinary year they spent with the Liberian president as she struggled to take control of a country devastated by years of civil war.
Together with her 'iron ladies' (the finance minister and police chief are also formidable females), she takes a firm hold on the government, trying to root out corruption and spend the tiny annual budget carefully. But it is not an easy task, and everything seems to be against her - even her presidential mansion burns down.