Book Review: Madame President

In October of 2017, Liberians will return to the ballot box to choose their second democratically elected leader since the end of the civil war.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s tenure as Africa’s first female president has not only helped to bring stability to Liberia, but it has inspired other women across the continent to pursue the highest office in their respective nations.

While Sirleaf’s rise has been viewed as part of the continuing catalyst for change and equality for women in Africa and around the world, her journey to becoming Liberia’s commander-in-chief reveals a harrowing story of bravery, determination, and strength.

Helene Cooper’s 2017 eloquently penned biography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf narrates the life of a woman that could indeed only be described as extraordinary.

Cooper’s writing illustrates life in Liberia for a young Sirleaf early in her marriage and during a time when women’s roles were often viewed as subservient to men. Sirleaf’s struggle to maintain her position as a wife and mother, and continue to pursue her professional aspirations, is narrated through anecdotes and experiences relatable to many women today.

Women’s issues have become a rallying cry around the world as the global community continues to demand true equality for all. The biography reveals that Sirleaf’s rise to power was also shouldered on the women of Liberia.

While the international connections and financial prowess President Sirleaf is lauded for can be directly traced back to her tenures at both the World Bank and the United Nations, the book illuminates the challenges Sirleaf faced concerning her political motivations and professional engagements.

The degree to which President Sirleaf was able to leverage her personal and professional connections for the betterment of Liberia has been widely deliberated. Her advocacy for international assistance in Liberia is revealed more adeptly in Cooper’s book.

From her detention as a political prisoner to her first successful campaign to becoming Liberia’s president, the ability of Sirleaf to overcome insurmountable odds can only be described as a woman destined for greatness.

Cooper describes Sirleaf’s knack for adapting to various environments as one of the ways in which she was able to earn the support of the Liberian people to redirect the nation’s path and reinstate a semblance of stability.

Not without incident and criticism, the fabric of Sirleaf’s presidency undoubtedly will bear the stains of many of the administration’s shortcomings.

Historians will likely consider the Ebola outbreak response and management to be Sirleaf’s greatest challenge. In the biography, Cooper’s eyewitness account of many of the government’s strategic planning and actions around this national crisis are also impartially documented.

Beginning with an elderly man’s prophecy over Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s life as a young child that “this child will be great” to the country’s eventual victory over the Ebola epidemic, Sirleaf’s was a full life of accomplishments, defeats, pain, isolation, joy, and eventual peace along the way. Helene Cooper’s biography reveals the intimate journey of a woman’s life who has forever removed the bounds of the hopes and dreams of girls and women in Africa and around the world.

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Amelia is a Contributor and the Content Curator with The Bush Chicken. She graduated from Temple University and is completing a Master of Art in Teaching at Mercer University. Amelia currently works in the insurance industry for a company based in Atlanta, GA.

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