In an interview with NPR, the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf honestly and passionately addresses the issues in Liberia, from war recovery in 2006 to ebola recovery in 2015. When questioned about the criticism that her government faces she makes it clear that the countries’ budget when she came into power was equivalent to the budget for one high school in America. And yet the economy was growing at a rate of 7.5 percent before Ebola struck.”We have problems, we don’t have perfection,” she says. She urges her people: “Go fix it. That’s a call to everybody. Go fix it. In other words, do it yourself. Take charge. Empower yourself… We just always looked to the government, looked to the NGOs, looked to the U.S. You know, all of those were helpful. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to do it ourselves.”
Full transcript of interview below:
Does the fear that more cases could come across the border keep you up at night?
We’ll continue to have those fears. But I don’t want us to be consumed by fear. We had enough fear in August, in September, in October. We’ve already overcome those fears by aggressive action to contain the virus.
Do you think the image of Liberia has changed through this?
Yes, I think it has. We were the poster child of everything that could go wrong: disaster, death, destruction all over the place. We too, as a result of Ebola, had a re-energizing of ourselves. We saw a new opportunity to turn this crisis into something that will be good for the country. And it’s not just the leadership, It’s also the people in the communities. They were the victims but they became the victors because they were the ones who took responsibility. They all had a role to play. And because of that, we see this as a new resurgence. Our success, we think, has been heralded. If you look at the predictions that we faced in October, I mean, by the end of January there will be 1.4 million people dead. That was a wake-up call for us, a call to action. Our people rose to that.
Given the distrust of the government in some remote areas, are you convinced that everyone is feeling that kind of spirit?
Nobody can say to you that everyone in every community feels this engaged, feels this revival of hope and confidence. But I say the majority have. And, you know, the distrust was there because this was an unknown enemy. They expected that we knew the answer and that we would solve this right away. We did not have the answer. We did not know what to do. I was as fearful as anyone else in those early days of this epidemic. And so you can see that they expect if something goes wrong in the country that the leader’s going to be able to fix it. We couldn’t fix it
But I think we all finally realized that all of our lives were at stake. Everything we had worked for was at stake. That brought the coming together. We [won’t] convince everybody. I think by and large, Liberians are proud of themselves and of the unity as we fought this disease.
There’s criticism that the crisis exposed flaws in the government: corruption and how ill-prepared Liberia’s health care system is. How do you respond?
Which government is flawless? Do they know where we started in 2006? We led a broken country of people with no hope. Do you know from whence we [came], for 10 consecutive years from peace and stability? Do they know what we had to fix? We had diplomatic relations that had been severed for years. We had an $80 million budget when we came in in 2006. That’s [the amount] for one of your high schools. We had a collapsed economy. We were growing at 7.5 percent until Ebola struck. It’s back to zero. Unfortunately, we’ll have to build it again.
Yes we have problems, we don’t have perfection. Yes, we do have corruption in the country. It’s been there a long time. The deprivation that people suffered led them to a place of survival. And survival meant they had to do anything they could to feed their children and to live.
A lot of Liberians love proverbs. Is there a proverb that sums up what your country has been through and where it is today?
Go fix it. That’s a call to everybody. Go fix it. In other words, do it yourself. Take charge. Empower yourself.
Do you think that was lacking before?
Yeah. We just always looked to the government, looked to the NGOs, looked to the U.S. You know, all of those were helpful. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to do it ourselves.
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