As I write this Liberians are voting for a president. The incumbent, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is an international darling. She is celebrated as the first sub-Saharan African female head of state, and over the weekend she was one of three women awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for working for the advancement of women’s rights in male-dominated societies. Her chief opposition is Winston Tubman, nephew of a former Americo-Liberian president, a former finance minister, and a former U.N. and World Bank executive. His running mate is George Weah, a soccer star who lost the presidential run-off to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005. Both President Johnson-Sirleaf and candidate Tubman are graduates of Harvard.
President Johnson-Sirleaf is probably more popular abroad than at home. Within Liberia, corruption remains ubiquitous, and shortages remain of electricity, running water, health care and education. UN troops are still there. Liberians also remember Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s earlier association with warlord Charles Taylor and her promise in 2005 that she would not seek a second term as president, as she is doing now. Tubman has already questioned the timing of the announcement of the Nobel prize only days before the election, though I doubt that that the prize committee sought to influence the outcome of the election. Having Weah on the ticket probably enhances Tubman’s chances. So, despite the advantages of incumbency, the president will not necessarily walk away with the elections.
The Liberian electorate is small, with 1.8 million registered voters. There are some fifteen other candidates vying for the presidency, increasing the likelihood of a run-off election between the two candidates with the most votes, most likely the president and Tubman. That is scheduled for November 8, if necessary.
On another note, on October 12, the State Department’s Office of the Historian is offering a workshop at the New York Public Library on using the Foreign Relations of the United States series for research. The workshop is titled “New Perspectives on Postcolonial History.” Later on the same day there will be “A Conversation about Security and Transparency in the Cold War Era,” a discussion on the debates waged over the creation of the volumes covering the fifties. Available online, this series is a collection of U.S. government records covering virtually every aspect of U.S. foreign policy. Normally, the volumes in the series appear thirty years after the events they discuss when most of the relevant documents are subject to mandatory declassification.
Transparency requires me to mention that I was acting historian of the State Department just before I joined the Council on Foreign Relations. Among other things, that office is distinguished by having one of the largest number of Ph.D.’s in American history of any institution.