President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia visits Dallas

Liberian president discusses global issues

DALLAS - Madam President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia visited Texas this week. The current leader of Liberia has broken barriers during her career.

In 2011, she won the Nobel Peace Prize alongside two other women for "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work," according to the Nobel committee. She's also been named one of the most powerful women in the world by Forbes.

"I think the title I like the most is 'Iron Lady.' I'm also called 'Mother Africa' or 'Mother Liberia,' but that one shows strength," Sirleaf said.

Sirleaf was in town on diplomatic business. She met with Governor Gregg Abbott, where the two discussed another famous Texas political figure, former President George W. Bush.

"He's a straight shooter. He tells it like it is," Sirleaf laughed.

Sirleaf worked closely with President Bush during the beginning of her administration. When she was elected in 2006, Sirleaf made history by becoming the first democratically elected female head of state in all of Africa. Shortly after Bush made a presidential visit to the small African country, she says the Bush administration's policies were "instrumental" in helping Liberia move towards peace.

"And we appreciate him. I think he's done a lot for Africa. The programs he's started are programs that have really helped the majority of our country," Sirleaf said.

When Sirleaf took office, Liberia was in disarray having been devastated by years of civil war, corruption and financial collapses. Sirleaf's career in public service spans decades, and she credits her experience in part to why she was able to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling.

"That took a lot of climbing the ladder, different roles, different ways, different places. I also like to tell people I'm a technocrat, so I came into the position with a lot of experience with a lot of knowledge having worked at home and abroad. So that acceptability made it easier for me than many others," Sirleaf said.

While in Dallas, Sirleaf was an honored guest and speaker at T.D. Jake's Megafest during a women's empowerment event. Hundreds of men and women showed up to hear the world leader speak.

"It's about having the courage to figure out what you want and then sticking with it," Sirleaf said.

Liberia had a direct connection with Dallas in 2014 when a Liberian man named Thomas Eric Duncan came down with Ebola while visiting family in North Texas. Sirleaf says she was in communication with health and government officials in North Texas during that time.

"I saw a lot of fear. There to children who had never been to Liberia told they couldn't go to school," Sirleaf said.

Ultimately, the case in Dallas helped get world leaders to devote more attention to the Ebola outbreak in both the United States and Liberia. Some 4,000 people in Liberia died from the disease.

"We used that experience to do good," Sirleaf said.

As the first woman to lead Liberia, Sirleaf weighed in on the 2016 election when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump.

"You had an opportunity not too long ago and you let it pass to our dismay," Sirleaf said.

While Sirleaf had a close relationship with President Bush, she seems weary of the country's current leader. She described how she believes the rest of the world is looking at the United States at this time.

"There are concerns and doubts. Where is the leader of the world heading? Hoping that it's a short-lived situation and things will be returned to what we know, it has been and perhaps ought to be," Sirleaf said.

Sirleaf also mused on why a war-torn country like Liberia could elect a female head of state before the United States. She didn't mince words, saying women, society and voters simply haven't worked hard enough to make it happen.

"At the end of the day, it means voting and voting in numbers. Voting with a purpose and voting with a goal. Women in this country are as capable as the men anywhere. But politics can go different ways in different places," Sirleaf said.

While most women, and men for that matter,  will never be the president of a country, Sirleaf said there is a simple formula for people who want to achieve their dreams. As the interview with WFAA wrapped up, she offered this advice for women with a dream.

"Once you get on that road, and you identify the goal you want, then it's the courage to stick with it. To stay focused to rise above the obstacles and to show commitment and strength," Sirleaf said.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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