Liberia’s ‘Iron Lady’ Snares Peace Prize, Sparks Controversy

Posted October 7th, 2011 at 10:05 am (UTC-5)
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The choice of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as one of three Nobel Peace Prize winners this year is already sparking controversy.

Mrs. Sirleaf tells VOA she is humbled by the award and called it an achievement for the Liberian people. But skeptics are questioning whether the Norwegian-based Nobel Committee is interfering with Liberia's domestic politics, choosing Mrs. Sirleaf less than a week before she stands for reelection. And her main rival has said Mrs. Sirleaf does not deserve the award.

But such a fuss is nothing new to the woman nicknamed Liberia's “Iron Lady.”

The 72-year-old mother and grandmother rose to international prominence in 2005 when she became the first elected female leader in Africa, winning election following a bloody civil war that killed a quarter of a million people and left Liberia's economy in ruins.

Following the election, she promised to fight poverty and promote reconciliation. She subsequently won praise for luring international investors and getting creditors to write-off some of Liberia's debt.

More recently, she has come under criticism from political rivals for her ties to former rebel leader President Charles Taylor. Critics also accuse her of failing to live up to her promises of reconciling Liberia's many factions, pursuing justice for war crimes victims and of corruption.

Fellow presidential candidate Winston Tubman told the French news agency Friday that Mrs. Sirleaf was undeserving of the peace prize, because she “committed violence in this country.” Tubman also said that giving her the award days before the country's election was unacceptable.

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told reporters Friday that the committee does not consider domestic politics in its selection process. And Liberian National Election Commission spokesman Nathan Mulbah told Reuters the October 11 election will go ahead as planned.

Before being elected president, the Harvard University-educated Sirleaf served as finance minister twice. She also held key jobs at the United Nations and the World Bank.

After winning the 2005 election, Mrs. Sirleaf compared the job ahead of her to that of former South African president and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela.