In October 2005, Liberians elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as President, an erudite politician who adopted the popular moniker “The Iron Lady,” after defeating her opponent George Oppong Weah a world soccer star turned politician. This war torn-nation had experienced 14 years of violence and instability. Sirleaf swept a 60% majority votes, securing for herself an enviable place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first female President in Africa, whose political helm is culturally held by men.

Sirleaf is a 67-year-old Harvard-educated economist and a seasoned politician, with a political stature dating back to her days as finance minister under William Tolbert’s paternalistic rule. Her decades of trials and tribulations under the draconian rule of Samuel Doe, together with a wealth of administrative experience at the United Nations, where she worked during almost 20 years of exile, having escaped the ruthlessness of Liberia’s Charles Taylor, is tangible evidence that Ellen is up to the task.

Her political rival Weah accused her of election fraud in the aftermath of the election. The National Elections Commission, after an exhaustive investigation found no evidence of fraud, certified the results, and declared Ellen the bona fides President-Elect. The international community including former President Jimmy Carter also endorsed the elections as “free, fair and transparent.” She was inaugurated President on Monday January 16, 2006 at the Capital building. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, first lady Laura Bush, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and rival Oppong Weah were among the dignitaries that attended the history making ceremony.

These endorsements, on the other hand, do not mean Sirleaf is an entirely innocent states-woman. She helped to finance the invasion of Liberia, which led to the execution of Samuel Doe. Liberia has endured many coups and has a turbulent history of violence and bloodshed. However, she is a resilient woman who genuinely seems ready to bury the hatchet and offer an olive branch, unlike the previous bloody political campaign that once tainted her. She has installed a government of national unity that includes her opponent, Weah.

Her preferences includes a foreign policy that articulates and communicates amicably with her close West African neighbors, once plagued by warfare and instability. She has offered the olive branch to Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. Expelled and later indicted former President Charles Taylor, was once incessantly at war with his close neighbors. But Sirleaf is committed to establishing peace in the region. While Taylor was a ruthless leader, who jailed her for treason and almost executed her.

Her election is a component of many pieces of a puzzle that puts together this disjointed society ruined by war. Liberia is war-torn and destitute, and a reservoir of challenges and setbacks that will require the help of the international community. Africa’s oldest, autonomous Republic, it was once the pride of Africa and a settlement for freed American slaves known as Americo-Liberians. Indigenous Liberians militated against this small minority group from the West that once ruled their land in a paternalistic manner, which led to the execution of William Tolbert. Sirleaf is spending the political capital she has earned wisely, and has begun to heal and unite this fragmented nation. She brings a wealth of experience and leadership skills to the executive mansion, unlike Weah who has little education and political muscle. Liberia has had leaders with little or no management skills, some even proved ruthless or reckless. Liberians could not afford to make a mistake this time. Today, the legacy of Charles Taylor still haunts this battered nation.

While Liberia was engulfed in a civil war, the symptoms of a failed state were very visible. The most rational and bloodless ploy to reverse its demise, was to expel Charles Taylor to Nigeria. Sirleaf has a challenge to re-connect Liberia with the international community, but she is suitable and up to the task. Only four months in office, she has requested the handover of Taylor by Nigeria, to stand trial in Sierra Leone for his role in supporting the reign of terror campaign, and for crimes against humanity. She visited Sierra Leone to mend the broken chords of love and friendship. The nucleus of the talks included arrangements to transfer Taylor to face charges before the UN Special Courts in Sierra Leone. US Senator Burak Obama has fervently demanded the handover of Taylor to the U.N. Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had provided asylum to Taylor, vowed that he would only hand over Taylor to Liberia’s democratically elected president.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has met with Sirleaf to discuss matters of mutual interest to both countries. The issue of Charles Taylor was part of their discussion. His indictment and transfer to Sierra Leone was a very bitter pill for Taylor to swallow. And despite the numerous problems plaguing Liberia, he was often meddling in the internal affairs of his neighbors: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.

A pre-condition for ailing Liberia to receive developmental assistance requires the surrender of Charles Taylor to the Special Courts in Sierra Leone. And The European Union has clearly stipulated its terms for any aid assistance to Liberia that desperately needs urgent and tremendous assistance. After serious thought, Sirleaf has cautiously complied to global pressure to bring Charles Taylor to justice and fight corruption.

Africa and the rest of the world are cautiously optimistic that Sirleaf’s feminine charm and long experience will usher in a renaissance of peace and dignity to Liberia. To help this fractured nation regain its past glory as Africa’s “Little America.” There is genuine fear of a return of the old order: and restitution of “failed politicians or disappointees.” Sirleaf faces her initial test at home. A return to cronyism and a new breed of recycled politicians would be a terrible mistake that could paralyze the fragile peace now held by a thin strand of thread. Liberia had languished because it lacked good leadership. But she charms the world with her dynamism and wit for the job. We are longing to embrace this dynamic leader who has mettle, charisma and tenacity that will help to set Liberia on a new path towards peace and prosperity.

Only four months in office, there is evidence of harmony between her words and actions. In February she sacked every “political appointee” from the outgoing interim administration found tainted with corruption. She brings credibility and a newly resurrected hope to this ailing nation. A team of financial experts are working with her government to help combat corruption. Government Economic Management Assistant Program (GEMAP), has been planted in strategic positions to help “ring-fence” revenue and spending over the next three years. The major sites include the Port, Airport, Customs Offices and Forestry Commission. The foreign experts have assumed duties at the Central Bank of Liberia and the Cash Flow Committee sites.

Although Liberia is under sanctions from the United Nations on timber and diamond exports, Sirleaf hopes the sanctions will be lifted in June, after a review by the Security Council. Corruption was the endemic nine hundred pound guerilla responsible for fourteen years of civil war. A recent financial report released by her government for the first three months in office, showed a dramatic increase in revenue generation and collection. “The quarter showed very strong revenue performance and constrained spending, leading to the accumulation of a sizeable cash flow surplus.” It is the first report in twenty years in Liberia. The Finance Minister said, the revenue collected was US $26,200,000, this is 19% higher than the projected figure, which is thrice last years’s figure. Expenditure “plummeted to only US $ 11,300,000 compared to $ 18,600,000 last year - about 40% decline.” The new regime has collected unpaid taxes and computerized the banking system and revenue leakage, plugged projection for next year would exceed the goal. This is mainly due to a huge tax collection and efficiency machinery.

Africans, particularly women are excited or smiling, because a woman can do so much within a short time. “All things are possible” with Ellen, whose passion, sincerity and honesty meet or exceeds expectations. She took off her gloves without resorting to any form of violence to carry out a complete house cleaning. “Where there is a will there is always a way,” she believes. Sometimes it takes an ingenious woman with fortitude and charisma to restore sanity and harmony to a nation stalled on the rocks. Ellen is an inspiration to all women worldwide, especially African American women in the West. Indeed, every woman can do all things if they nurture the dream in their hearts.

Roland Bankole Marke is a poet, songwriter and freelance writer, and author of Teardrops Keep Falling, Silver Rain and Blizzard and Harvest of Hate. His work has appeared in several publications, including World Press, Florida Times Union, Liberia Sea Breeze and Jacksonville Advocate. He lives and writes in Jacksonville Florida.