Insight News

Feb 07th

Review: “This Child Will Be Great” by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

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thischildwillbegreatBeing a political animal can be very rough.

Just the getting there is daunting, with the months-long campaigning and the lack of rest that comes with it.  Once you’re in office, you’re responsible for things both light and heavy. Everybody knows your business, and they all have opinions about it.

But at least your political position won’t get you nearly killed.

In the new book “This Child Will Be Great” by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, you’ll read about the life and life’s work of one woman whose country was constantly on her mind, even in the worst kinds of danger.

Born in Liberia to a privileged family, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf remembers an idyllic childhood and a huge extended family. That family was important as a support system, especially when Sirleaf and her husband, Doc, were given permission to study at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and their four young children had to be left behind in Liberia.

Some two years later with diploma in hand, Sirleaf returned to Liberia and took a position as head of a division at the Treasury Department.

“From my spot… I had a clear and unimpeded view of our nation’s economy,” Sirleaf says, “and the view wasn’t rosy.”

She began publicly speaking out about the problems her country was having, but it gained her many enemies. Sirleaf, recently divorced, was warned to leave Liberia, so she traveled to America with her mother and third son.

When President William Tubman died in 1971, Sirleaf watched the “wild, unsettled, turbulent” change in leadership in Liberia from the safety of America. “Always, always, always looking for the opportunity to return”, she went back to help her fellow Liberians under the new president Stephen Tolbert, but again, her blunt observations and brave candor got her in trouble. When Samuel Kanyon Doe came into power upon the assassination of Tolbert, Sirleaf was put under house arrest.

Later briefly jailed, Sirleaf was threatened with death, rape and torture several times but was miraculously unharmed each time. She left Liberia and returned home again and again, always with her beloved nation and its people in mind, always with a wish for democracy.

“This Child Will Be Great”, of course, finishes with a happy ending: on November 23, 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was declared the twenty-third president (and first woman president) of Liberia.

With a wry bit of humor (on arriving in Wisconsin in September, “I was… a little cold.”), wonderful storytelling, and frightening tales of politics and war, author Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shares an account of a country’s troubles, the kind that can only be told by someone who was there inside the walls of its government. 

That means, of course, that this book is very heavy on politics and foreign affairs, so it might not be for everyone.

Still, it would be a shame to miss “This Child Will Be Great”, if only for Sirleaf’s deftness with words. If you’re up for a fascinating memoir from a smart, outspoken woman, this one gets a big nod “yea”.

“This Child Will Be Great” by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
c.2009, Harper
$26.99 / $34.99 Canada
353 pages, includes index


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