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Best Medicine for Ailing Africa

Posted on Oct 23, 2006
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
AP / George Osodi

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Monrovia, Liberia, in 2005.

(Page 2)

Still, Geisler agrees that African women deserve a place in democracy and governance. “After joining Africa’s colonial-era movements to struggle for freedom for their countries and themselves, they were marginalized after independence. Many went into nonprofit or civil society, or ended up just singing and dancing at airports as part of arrival ceremonies for male politicians. But now, with voter dissatisfaction rising, they are increasingly moving into politics,” she explains.

Anne Marie Goetz, writing in “Political Cleaners: How Women Are the New Anti-Corruption Force. Does the Evidence Wash?” (2003), also questions “the notion that more women in government will result in lower levels of corruption.” Goetz comments that the earlier papers that point to women as the fairer sex “fail to acknowledge the very real ways in which gender relations may limit the opportunities for corruption, particularly when corruption functions through all-male networks and in forums from which women are socially excluded.”

The presence of women in government could, however, ensure that the most important things are placed on the front burner. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda of the Kenya office of UNIFEM, the United Nations’ women development agency, says, “Because of their nurturing responsibilities,” women tend to value “education, health, water, food—things having to do with social security. Those are priorities before making the borders secure and the defense ministry well-resourced.” 

Besides, women have a vested interest in stamping out corruption. Transparency International says corruption has a disproportionately negative effect on women. “While women are less involved in corruption themselves, they are even more disadvantaged from the consequences of a corrupt system. 


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“Corruption decreases national budget resources. It also reduces, for example, the amount of public spending on health and social security, which affects women disproportionately. If there is a cut in public spending, maternal and child health services are more likely to be the worst-hit victims.” 

Roslyn Hees, senior advisor to Transparency International, stresses: “A corrupt legal system reinforces existing gender discrimination in many countries. Women’s civil rights are grossly unfair with regard to marriage/divorce, family law, child custody, financial independence and inheritance and property rights.

“In many countries, those who win cases tend to be involved with corrupt prosecutors and judges. Women simply do not have the means to compete in this way. Corrupt judicial procedures and the prevalence of ‘old boys networks’ makes it in many cases impossible for women to win legal battles in a transparent and open way.” 

Sirleaf herself believes that women bring transparency to governance. “There has been no woman’s name associated with major corruption. In fact, all the prominent role-model women have had integrity as one of their key attributes,”  she once said when asked whether a female president would indeed rid Liberia of official corruption.

Rwanda, with 49 percent, has the world’s highest number of women in parliament. Of the 50 legislatures with the most female members, 11 are in Africa. South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have female vice presidents. Five members of Sudan’s new cabinet are women.

A word has been coined to describe this emerging form of government, “Femocracy,”  a democracy headed by women—mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and grandmothers like Mama Ellen.

Sirleaf is not unaware of either her place in history or the heavy load of expectations on her shoulders. “We know expectations are going to be high. The Liberian people have voted for their confidence in my ability to deliver ... very quickly,” she told Reuters news agency after she was elected.

She has continually promised to “bring motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency.” She said at her inauguration, “We know that your vote was a vote for change, a vote for peace, security ... and we have heard you loudly.” Her vow to wage a war on Liberia’s “major public enemy,” corruption, was applauded by the large crowd that witnessed the ceremony.

She announced that leading civil servants and ministers would have to declare their assets. “I will lead by example—I will be the first to comply,” Sirleaf promised as she declared “zero tolerance” of corruption.

Sirleaf is on course to deliver on her promises. Everyone in Liberia seems to agree with her stance that nothing can be done unless corruption is stamped out. Recently, the lower house of the Liberian parliament ratified both the African Union and the U.N. international conventions against corruption. Both instruments are expected to create environments that will enable the civil society and the media to hold governments to the highest levels of transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs.

“All the men have failed Liberia; let’s try a woman this time,” Sirleaf says.

Olujobi, a journalist since 1984, is a Pulitzer Fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, and a research associate at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. She can be reached at

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By cris crawford, October 25, 2006 at 8:32 pm Link to this comment
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I don’t think individual men or women are necessarily more corrupt. I think large groups of human beings of male gender only do exhibit anti-social behavior. I’m not sure it’s always the case, or has been the case throughout all history. Unsupervised all-male athletic teams for example.

I think Hillary Clinton took bribes disguised in the form of chicken futures. Nobody makes a killing by day trading chicken futures while simultaneously attending an all-day conference. So she is as corrupt as any man IMO.

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By Zara, October 25, 2006 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment
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Women sucessfully run the majority of households in the world…. so they should be able to do as well with running a country, no?

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By Lisa, October 24, 2006 at 10:54 am Link to this comment
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It’s not amazing to me that there will be a great divide on this subject and on the woman who courageously is heading up the front for Liberia’s socio-economic plight.  It’s a great thing in history but what are her benchmarks, besides heads of state and other political leaders declaring their assets?  It’s a good start but what is her time table?  How much will the United Nations back her as far as resources?  They obviously need help and I applaud her valiant efforts to make people around the world aware of what has been her country’s corrupt disposition for decades.

God bless her efforts and stay the hands of her enemies because there is no way that she has not made any! I hope and pray that she will be able to revitalize her country and educate the women & children (especially the girls as poverty is a she) of her country!

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By Charles Newlin, October 24, 2006 at 10:00 am Link to this comment
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Worth a try.  But so far, women in power act pretty much like men in power.  I think it’s called equality.

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By linus agu, October 24, 2006 at 4:17 am Link to this comment
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I wonder what the writer would say about a seemingly stagnant socio-political movement by females in Nigeria to effect the kind of changes she talks about.
Isn’t ironic that Nigerian Women, whether they are in diaspora or at home who are better positioned than their counterparts from other parts of Africa to bring about change in Nigeria, where unfortunately such changes are most dire are now the ones standing on the sideline commenting on the same subject as it happense elswhere but Nigeria.

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By WAYNE, October 23, 2006 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment
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