Liberia: Sirleaf promises to tackle youth unemployment and corruption

By Peterking Quaye, Monrovia, Liberia – The Inauguration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf saw over 30 heads of state, among them several heads of state from the African continent.

The entire streets of Monrovia were clear with all attention focused on the President inauguration ceremony, despite initial fear of massive demonstration by the opposition part-CDC. The Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was sworn into office for her second term this Monday but the 73-year-old Nobel laureate begins her six-year term under a heavy cloud.

An acrimonious election campaign against the main opposition party, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), was capped off by violence on the eve of the runoff and a CDC poll boycott. The entire ceremony will be climaxed with a state dinner at the Executive Pavilion later this even, Liberia is currently enjoying the presence of many international dignitaries.

Madam Johnson Sirleaf has a series of challenges ahead as she attempts to continue the reconstruction and reconciliation started in her first term.

The biggest challenge is unemployment, which is stuck at a staggering 80 percent. Young people have been the hardest hit, and they make up the bulk of CDC supporters.

Johnson Sirleaf got a taste of just how volatile Liberia’s youths are last month when they rampaged through the streets of the capital Monrovia after the government delayed payment of wages for community work. Rioters smashed cars and shopfronts, poured garbage onto the streets and clashed with police. Johnson Sirleaf must find a more long-term solution to the high youth unemployment if their anger is to be soothed.

Reconciliation will also be a priority. The contentious elections exacerbated deep divisions that have not been healed since the 14-year war ended in 2004.

“These elections deepened the sectional lines, the tribal lines; you might even say class, they deepened it,” said former Maryland County Senator Gloria Scott, who lost her seat in the Liberian legislature in the 2011 polls.

Johnson Sirleaf has won widespread praise on the international stage for being the first African woman elected president and for presiding over peace and economic growth in a troubled country that had long unsettled the whole region.

Johnson Sirleaf used her cachet to attract $16 billion in international investment into the country and win relief from a crippling $4.6 billion debt. But that international support and her recent Nobel Peace Prize win have fueled criticism that the president spends too much time courting international favor rather than cementing the fragile democracy at home.