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Reelection No Guarantee For Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Catherine Green |
October 8, 2011 | 4:36 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2010. (Vaner Casaes/AGECOM)
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2010. (Vaner Casaes/AGECOM)
The Nobel Committee thought highly enough of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's contributions "to promoting economic and social development" in Liberia to award her a third of the 2011 Peace Prize, but the country's constituents aren't so supportive.

Liberia's president risks losing Tuesday's election, the country's second since the end of a 14-year-long civil war. According to a report Saturday by The Wall Street Journal, she faces a pool 15 candidates deep, the biggest threat of which coming from former Justice Minister Winston Tubman and his running mate, soccer champion George Weah. The latter has become an icon for a young, dissatisfied population struggling to find work.

WSJ reported:

Perhaps the biggest challenge of her presidency is youth unemployment, which is stuck at virtually the same level where it was during the time of her predecessor, President Charles Taylor. Mr. Taylor is awaiting verdicts on 17 counts of crimes against humanity at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Today, more than half of Liberians are under 20 years old; 70% of them are unemployed.

Ms. Johnson Sirleaf has chalked up a series of economic achievements. She has managed to preside over 6.7% annual economic growth during her time in office. She has also secured $4.6 billion in debt relief from creditors, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the U.S., the European Union and the African Development Bank. Her government has attracted billions more in foreign investment from AcelorMittal SA, BHP Billiton Ltd. and Chevron Corp.

But many say these successes haven't spawned opportunities for ordinary Liberians.

"There's a lot of frustration with the growth there is—it's not transforming into lots of jobs," said Africa analyst Alex Vines at the London research group Chatham House. "In a decade, wow, the place has changed, but in terms of your average Liberian and their expectations, of course that's way too slow for what their dreams are."

Global news agency AFP reported harsh words from her opponents.

Opposition parties have used the prize to shine the light on some of the more controversial aspects of Sirleaf's career, as she briefly supported warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor when he ousted dictator Samuel Doe.

She has defended her actions, saying she became a fierce opponent as soon as the atrocities of Taylor's war became apparent, but the stain on her reputation has been seized upon by angry opposition parties.

"What we know of her is that she brought war and that having now taken power, she hasn't brought unity," Tubman said.

Tubman's crowd-pleasing running partner, football star George Weah, added: "Is it a Nobel Peace Prize for corruption? Whether or not a Nobel Peace Prize, on October 11, she is going to leave."

About 1.8 million Liberians have registered to vote in Tuesday's election.

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