I was delighted to learn this morning that the Nobel Committee awarded this year’s peace prize to not one but three highly effective female leaders: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, activist Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and rights activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.
Among the three recipients, I’m proud to have had the opportunity to get to know one, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. I have had the chance to interact with President Johnson Sirleaf many times over the last decade, and have never failed to be impressed: by her commitment to make the lives of Liberians better, one tough step at a time; her savvy (e.g. on getting debt relief for Liberia worth a total of $3 billion, on which Steve Radelet among others worked); her good grip on the economics of development in a difficult, post-conflict situation; her focus on women; and her patience – she knows development is for the long haul, and that institutions of good government and good politics are not made overnight.
For insight into President Johnson Sirleaf’s approach to tapping outsiders’ readiness to help, read about her speeches at CGD (here, here, and here); about the Scott Family Fellows Program; and check out Steve Radelet’s 2010 CGD book to which she wrote the preface – where her leadership beyond Liberia’s borders shines through.
As has often been the case with the Nobel Peace Prize, this year’s award is not without controversy and the timing seems unfortunate. Coming just days before a hard-fought presidential election in Liberia, the award announcement has inevitably given rise to allegations that the Nobel Committee is hoping to give a boost to the president’s re-election chances. But the committee must know by now that winning the Nobel Peace Prize is no guarantee of political success: certainly President Obama’s win two years ago didn’t do much to help his popularity ratings at home.