John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Political Deal Likely Guarantees Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson Liberia Presidency

by John Campbell
October 18, 2011

Liberian warlord-turned-presidential candidate Prince Johnson campaigns in the village of Demeh in Bomi County, in the West African country September 14, 2011. (Simon Akam/Courtesy Reuters)

The first round of Liberia’s presidential elections left incumbent president Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson with about forty-four percent of the vote. Her principal rival, Winston Tubman (supported by vice presidential candidate footballer and youth idol George Weah) with about thirty-two percent, and Senator Prince Johnson with eleven percent. (While the Liberia National Elections Commission has not issued a final count, most of the polling centers have already reported.) There will be a run-off election between Sirleaf-Johnson and Tubman in early November because no candidate received a constitutionally-mandated majority of the votes.

Sen. Prince Johnson has announced that he will support Sirleaf-Johnson, virtually guaranteeing that she will win the run-off.

Over the past few days, as it has become clear that nobody had won a majority of the votes and that there would be a run-off, Johnson has gloried in his kingmaker role. Though I cannot prove it, almost certainly Sirleaf-Johnson and Prince Johnson did a deal. (Prince Johnson claims he decided to support Sirleaf-Johnson because he believes Tubman supporters want him tried for war crimes.)

If so, Sirleaf-Johnson has chosen to sup with the devil; I hope she has a long spoon.

Prince Johnson comes from Nimba County and has been the standard bearer of the Gio and Mano people. Nimba county is the second largest constituency in Liberia.

He is also a former warlord whose bloodthirstiness is legendary. During the first Liberia civil war he captured chief of state Samuel Doe and oversaw his torture and execution while drinking Budweiser. He had the episode videotaped and posted it around the world; it can still be viewed on YouTube. (You will not find the link here.) Like Sirleaf-Johnson, he was allied with Charles Taylor and later broke with him. During the Sirleaf-Johnson presidency, he has been a fierce critic of her administration.

Prince Johnson claims to have been Born Again and to be reconciled with Doe’s family.

Over the weekend there was sufficient electoral violence in Monrovia to prompt International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to warn that “resorting to violence will not be tolerated.”

Whatever the terms of Sirleaf-Johnson’s deal with Prince Johnson, the fact that it virtually guarantees her victory in the run-off probably reduces the likelihood of significant further violence. As I have written before, and as her Nobel Peace Prize attests, Sirleaf-Johnson is more popular outside of Liberia than in it. But a political deal with Prince Johnson – necessary though it probably was – will not burnish her historical reputation.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Charles JL Gibson

    I would have considered your article creditable until I read the last paragraph which states “As I have written before, and as her Nobel Peace Prize attests, Sirleaf-Johnson is more popular outside of Liberia than in it.” I beg to differ.

    I am not sure how much you know about Liberia Sir, but when making such a preposterous statement you must take everything into consideration. Popularity does not mean the President should win eighty to ninety percent of the electorates (especially knowing the education level of the Liberian electorates).

    The Liberian people, and I mean majority, know what President Sirleaf brings to the table. The opposition, in their quest to bring back the days of “business as usual”; where gangsterism rules and the wealth of the country is circulated amongst the few higher up in government(no schools, no hospitals, no roads, only huge homes for themselves); are the ones spreading this falsehood that the President is not popular.

    Let me set the record straight for you, President Sirleaf is very popular at home. Even if it was the United States of America, and you have sixteen candidates (although logically this may never happen) vying for the Presidency; it would be very difficult for President Obama to win a land slide; but this does not mean he is not popular.
    Please do not let your views be tainted as I do have a lot of respect for this media.

    Charles JL Gibson
    Minneapolis, MN

  • Posted by Forkpa

    To be frank, Ellen Johnson is not popular in Liberia. Her support is really out side of Liberia because of her dirty tricks with some individuals around the world.

  • Posted by mariah

    A rather compelling documentary following president Ellen Johnson’s first year in power is showing on Public TV’s World Compass, Global Voices. Called Iron Ladies of Nigeria. It can inform opinion on her popularity or not, and the basis within the coiuntry for either…

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