This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President

This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President

by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061353482
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/13/2010
Pages: 353
Sales rank: 840,712
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has received several prestigious awards, including the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom. She holds numerous degrees, among them a master's in public administration from Harvard University. President Sirleaf lives in Monrovia, Liberia.

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This Child Will Be Great LP
Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President

Chapter One

The Beginning

When I was just a few days old, an old man came to visit my parents, to see the new baby and to offer his good wishes, as people did both then and now in my country and everywhere. My mother brought the old man into the room where I lay kicking and cooing on the bed. As the story goes, the old man took one look at me and turned to my mother with a strange expression on his face.

"Oh, Martha," he said. "This child shall be great. This child is going to lead."

My mother and sister and I used to laugh whenever my mother told this story. We would laugh and laugh and laugh, because at many of the junctures in which she recalled the words of the wise old man my life seemed anything but great. Perhaps I was watching all my friends go off to college abroad while I stayed at home in Monrovia, trapped with an abusive husband, four young sons, and no future in sight. Perhaps I was struggling to pursue my education, build my career, and divorce that husband without losing everything I had. Or perhaps I was being hauled off to prison by order of my nation's president—or maybe even plotting an escape into exile to save my life.

"Where's all this greatness that was predicted?" my mother would ask. Sometimes she laughed, sometimes she cried. Always she prayed. "Where's that old man now?"

Over the years and as the path of greatness unfolded, whenever I reflected on the prophecy of the old man, my scientific orientation of self-determination would clash with the Presbyterian teachings of predestination I hadreceived.

Which one, I have long wondered, is the way life really is?

Early on during my historic 2005 campaign for the presidency of Liberia, rumors began to circulate about my ethnicity. My detractors began whispering that I was an Americo-Liberian, a descendant of one of those first American-born founders of our land—and thus a member of the elite class that had ruled our nation for long.

This was an explosive charge. Given the historic cleavage in our society and the long-standing divide between the elite settler and indigenous populations, many Liberians wanted nothing to do with another Americo-Liberian president. And although I was well known in my country—so well known that most people, including the swarms of children who would come out to greet me as I campaigned, simply called me "Ellen"—still, there was danger that the rumor would find traction. It could not be brushed off or ignored, not if I wanted to win. It was crucial that the people of Liberia know my background was not unlike their own. They needed to know where I was coming from.

In truth, my family exemplifies the economic and social divide that has torn our nation. But, unlike many privileged Liberians, I can claim no American lineage.

My paternal grandfather was a Gola chief of great renown. His name was Jahmale, sometimes called Jahmale the Peacemaker, and he lived, along with his eight wives, in the village of Julejuah, in Bomi County. Jahmale used to travel from his home village to the ocean, a distance of some twelve or fifteen miles that, in those days, took months and months of slow walking through the dense forests of coastal Liberia. During his travels he learned to speak the languages and dialects of the many peoples whose path he crossed and so became a kind of negotiator when troubles erupted between the indigenous people and the settlers in Monrovia.

In this way his reputation grew, and it was because of this renown that my grandfather was sometimes visited by Hilary Wright Johnson, Liberia's eleventh president. Johnson was the first president of Liberia to be born in our country. He was also the son of Elijah Johnson, one of the original settlers.

At that time there were few roads in Liberia and none at all outside the capital. So when the president traveled into the hinterland to visit villages, he, along with his entourage, would be carried about in hammocks, welcomed with food and dance and celebration and perhaps the gift of a young woman as a wife. The president in turn brought excitement, gifts, and connection to the country's power base back in Monrovia. It was President Johnson who encouraged Jahmale to send my father to the city as a ward.

As with many aspects of Liberian society, the ward system, its history and legacy, is not simple to parse. Its origins seem to lie in a complex combination of tradition, expediency, and need; the motivations of its participants varied greatly, as did the way in which it was executed.

In the simplest explanation, the ward system flourished in early Liberia because it met the settlers' crucial need for cheap labor. Those early transplanted families, not having enough children themselves, needed help with the heavy housework of the nineteenth century: hauling water, collecting firewood and coal, cooking, cleaning, and tending crops.

At the same time, it was, in many villages, an African tradition for chiefs and wealthier villagers to have guardianship of children whose parents were either dead or too poor to care for them. The extended family system in Africa assumes that everyone is his brother's keeper; it is one of our strengths. Likewise, it was common at the time for chiefs who formed alliances with other tribes or chiefs to offer women as wives and children as wards to validate the agreements.

The American Colonization Society, recognizing how the tradition could be used to spread Christianity among the indigenous population, encouraged the settlers to take local children into their homes. In many cases these young people, once accepted into the family, were treated equally and given the same duties, responsibilities, and opportunities as the family's own biological offspring. Often settlers grew so fond of their wards that they provided for them in their wills, as did Samuel C. Coker, a settler farmer from Bensonville, who gave generous grants of lands to three of his wards—provided, he wrote, they remain "among the civilized elements."

This Child Will Be Great LP
Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President
. Copyright (c) by Ellen Sirleaf . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 The Beginning 7

2 Childhood Ends 23

3 America Again 43

4 The Tolbert Years 65

5 The 1980 Coup 93

6 Climbing the Corporate Ladder 113

7 The 1985 Elections 119

8 The Attempted Coup 137

9 Escape 155

10 Equator Bank and the Charles Taylor War 165

11 ECOMOG 187

12 UNDP and Rwanda 195

13 War Some More/1997 Elections 205

14 Self-imposed Exile, or Exile Again 221

15 Accra and the Transition 235

16 Becoming President 245

17 Inauguration Day 269

18 The First Hundred Days 275

19 Some Challenges Ahead 291

20 The Future 309

Appendix: Inaugural Speech by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 317

Acknowledgments 335

Bibliography 337

Index 339

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This Child Will Be Great 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Bushchicken More than 1 year ago
"This Child Will Be Great" is a story of every Liberian told by one Liberian who was able to survive and rise against the tide of the traditional male dominated Liberian society and become the first elected African female head of state in Liberia. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's memoirs provide a piece for every reader. The historical perspective provides a backdrop about how Liberia was formed in a cauldron of inequities and false promises. It also provides a biographical account of her life, and answers the question of her ethnicity. Many political pundits on all sides debated her origins during the elections. The memoirs spell out her roots in no uncertain terms, detailing her Gola, kru and German ancestries. For those who lived in Liberia and around the world and had listened to BBC and other world news during those war years in Liberia, Johnson Sirleaf memoirs provide detailed accounts and fill in the gaps about the various coups, battles and purges and her roles in each episode. Like a cat of nine lives, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf explains how she narrowly escaped the jaws of death. She narrates her encounters with Doe at the mansion on several occasions, her meeting with Charles Taylor in the forests of Liberia, and most importantly she tells of her low points and the regrettable utterances she made during the heat of the civil war. The book also talks of the extent of her support for Charles Taylor, her association with Tom Woewiyu and the ACDL's final decision to cease support for, and distance itself from the man who brought Liberia to its knees.. Politicians and student of politics will take great interest in her narration of how she campaigned and won against the fantastically popular George Weah in the elections of 2006, and her meetings with heads of states and presidents during the course of her life, and the support she galvanized from her family in Liberia and powerful people around the world. The book is filled with surprising anecdotes and historical footnotes and even offers a hint about whether there will be a run for the presidency during the next elections or whether she will receive the prestigious Mo Ibrahim award for ex African leaders who transfer power democratically and peacefully after their terms. And for those hoping to get a glimpse into what her policies and plans are, the last chapters offer a lot of that and more. The book, "This Child Will Be Great" is the memoir of a remarkable life by Africa's first woman president, published by HarperCollins and dedicated to all the people of Liberia who have suffered so much and now look forward to reclaiming the future, and in memory of Martha Cecelia Johnson, mother of Ellen who dedicated to her kids the value of hard work, honesty and humility.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ellen does a fantastic job of telling her, sometimes difficult, life story. From the domestic violence she endured, to the horrible treatments in the prisons, to her journeys to the United States, to her assent to political power, her story is alway from the heart. She has a great voice throughout, and her thoughts on situations challenge you intellectually. It is also a unique experience to compare her life in Liberia to one in the United States. I would definitely recommend this book, especially to young female politicians. Here is a woman who has overcome many barriers and lived to tell the tale.
RPCV1977-80 More than 1 year ago
Aside from the amazing story of President Johnson-Sirleaf, she created a vivid historical background to the events of her life. It brought back a lot of memories (and some tears) for me.
HeatherBKC More than 1 year ago
I have been buying this book as graduation gifts for young women.
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Dan45 More than 1 year ago
America has George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. South Africa has Nelson Mandela. Liberia has Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. This is an amazing autobiography.
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